October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  There’s pink everywhere!

Slightly less well publicized is the fact that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – you might notice a few purple items mixed in with the pink.

Even less well-known is the fact that October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I’m not sure if there’s a color associated with that one. Yet.

My life has been touched by two of these, and so I thought I’d write a blog post about my experience with Domestic Violence today.  You might not want to read any further – really, I wouldn’t blame you one bit if you didn’t.  It’s not pretty (although I’ve managed to leave out curse words).  You’ve been warned…

A long time ago, back when I was omniscient, infallible and immortal (you know, when I was 16…), I met and started dating a guy who was 3 years older than I.  He had graduated from high school, with what seemed like a decent job and a car.  And still living with his parents, which I didn’t find particularly odd at the time.  There were other things that I didn’t find particularly odd, but looking back with the perspective of experience, perhaps I should have…

Like the time I had to comfort him because he had a day-long tantrum when his mother had chosen to spend part of his 20th birthday at the hospital with her older daughter, who was giving birth to her first child.  And the time when he asked (hypothetically, of course) if I ever HAD to make a choice between him and my music, which would I choose (he didn’t like the answer)?  And the time he got upset because I impulsively went to a party with some friends after a football game – without consulting him first (he learned about it from a mutual friend who was also at the party).  Or the times he insisted that he drive me to school instead of me taking the bus.  Or maybe most especially the time when, in the middle of enduring a lengthy “lovemaking” session on the hard floor of his sister’s apartment (remember, he was still living at home, and so was I) (and by “lovemaking” I mean essentially that I was laying still while he pounded away interminably) I complained about being uncomfortable and reminded him that there was a person underneath him, he responded “so what.”  Yep, that one should have been a BIG red flag, as it really kinda summed it all up – he didn’t care about me as a person.  There were also several instances where he broke up with me (of course it was because of something that I had done, so it was all my fault) and only consented to come back after I’d cried and begged and utterly humiliated myself.

Nope, at the time, most of that was pretty flattering (even, in some twisted way, the humiliation – I mean, in spite of all my obvious flaws, he still wanted to be with me…).  I guess I didn’t realize what low self-esteem I had in high school.  If I’d been healthier, I probably would have been able to stand up for myself and not get pulled into his web of influence.  Shortly after I started my senior year, he proposed, and I accepted.  Most of the incidents I mentioned in the paragraph above (and others like them) actually happened after the engagement.  You know, after I was committed to going through with the marriage (refer back to my comment about being infallible).  In hindsight, I wish I’d heeded my parents’ concerns about how young (and immature!) we both were, but refer back to my comment about being omniscient, if you will…  I loved the whole romantic idea of getting married, of being the star of the show, of showing off to all my friends and family that I was special enough for someone to want to MARRY me and spend the rest of his life with me!

Ick…

It was a pretty busy summer for me – I graduated in May, got my braces off in June, turned 18 in July, got married in August and started college a week later as a Music Education major at the University of Texas at Austin!  Not having given up my music (of which, understandably, he was very jealous, as it was something he couldn’t really share or understand, but mostly because it was something I wouldn’t give up for him), I was a member of the UT Symphony.  Being in a group like this means there will occasionally be performances that one is required to participate in.  Our first such performance was on a weekend when my new husband had been drinking rather heavily with his friends.  He wasn’t interested in going to my concert, he didn’t want me to drive myself (we only had the one car), and so my parents took me to the concert, then drove me home to my apartment when it was over.  It was actually fairly late when I got there, and he was quite drunk.  He immediately accused me of going out to a party after the concert – which I truthfully denied.  I told him that my parents had brought me straight home, that there was no party, and if he didn’t believe me he could call them and ask them – to which he replied that they would lie for me.  I had enough of a backbone left it me at that time to make some sort of smart-aleck comment, and he punched me in the gut, knocking me back into the door and down onto the ground.

I was so stunned (and out of breath), that when he reached his hand down to help me up, I actually took it.  He pulled me up, then threw me on the bed, wrapped me in the comforter and started pummeling me.  I’m not sure why he wrapped me in the comforter first – to make it more difficult for me to get away? To muffle my screams? To somehow soften his blows so they wouldn’t leave marks?  At any rate, scream I did – hoping that one of the neighbors might hear me and come to help.  No neighbors came, but he did stop – I think in part he came to his senses and realized that if I kept screaming someone MIGHT come see what was going on, and he’d be found out, I don’t really know what was happening in his head at that time.

I managed to get up and get myself into the bathroom, where I locked the door.  I told him to call my parents to come get me, that I was leaving, and he started crying and apologizing and promising that he’d never do anything like this ever again, claiming he was just so worried about me, and scared that something might have happened to me, that it had been the alcohol talking, that he didn’t want to lose me and he loved me so much, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t know why I bought into that, but for some reason, I did.  I guess I didn’t want to admit to myself or to anybody else that I’d chosen poorly and that my marriage was already a failed one.  He was good to his word – he didn’t hit me anymore (at least for another couple of years), but the emotional abuse didn’t stop.  I didn’t have any friends that weren’t his.  Whenever I had homework, he would come up with something to distract me – I did not do well in school and eventually dropped out after only 3 semesters with a very poor GPA.  Looking back, I know that he disliked my ambition for a higher education – mainly because he didn’t have any of his own, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want his wife to be better educated than he was himself.

Somewhere along the way, he lost his job, and couldn’t manage to find and hang onto another one for longer than a few months.  We ran out of money and ended up moving back in with his parents.  On Hallowe’en night, we’d been out with friends, and we were very drunk.  I was so drunk that I didn’t have the ability to resist when he raped me anally that night – with me screaming into a pillow so I wouldn’t wake his parents (I didn’t want them to know how shamefully I was being treated under their own roof), and while I was screaming my pain, frustration, anger and humiliation into a pillow, he was telling me “go ahead and scream, I don’t care.”  Once again, telling me explicitly that I meant nothing to him more than a convenient aperture to seek his own satisfaction.

Amazingly enough, I still didn’t leave him at that point.  I felt like damaged goods, and was quite certain that nobody else would ever love me again (I was only 20!).  I continued to put up with the constant put-downs (I was a lousy cook, a lousy housekeeper, a lousy lover, etc.), I continued to watch him leer at attractive women and make lewd comments while constantly accusing me of cheating on him with my co-workers, with his friends, and even with random strangers.  Eventually, it became useless (in my mind) not to become what he already thought I was, and I did start cheating on him.  I discovered that I was attractive to men, and that I enjoyed that feeling.  I didn’t yet realize that I had a great deal more to offer a man than my body, and the cheating certainly didn’t help my self-esteem at all, but I started to enjoy the game.  I became adept at flirtation, and I got to be too good at lying (thankfully, a “skill” that I seem to have forgotten).

He did hit me once more – about a year before I actually left.  We were in a dance club with friends, he was sitting with his arm around me, I was people-watching, and some drunk guy came up to ask me to dance.  I politely declined – three times before he finally left.  When I returned to our conversation, he asked me who the guy was, how did I know him, and what I had done to “make” him come ask me to dance.  I stood up and let fly with my smart mouth, making sarcastic comments that just *maybe* some other man might find me attractive and want to dance, that it wasn’t necessary for me to do *anything* other than just sit there and look good.  About that time, he punched me in the mouth.  His best friend later told me that it looked like he realized what he was doing just a fraction of a second too late, and that he tried to “pull” the punch to no avail.  His sister told me it had only been a “slap”.  But I ended up with a fat, bleeding lip.  Did I leave when he hit me?  Did I turn around and run to the nearest bouncer?  No, I stood there and screamed in his face that I TOLD him if he EVER hit me again I was leaving him for good.  Which gave him time to get a vise grip on my wrist so he could drag me out of the club – angry at him for hitting me, and mostly angry at myself that I was too embarrassed to make any more of a scene.

I stayed for another year, but mentally and emotionally I was completely checked out.  I went through all the motions, and mostly let him have his way with my body (it was easier than getting into a fight where it always ended up that there was something WRONG with me for not being interested in sex), but I was a million miles away and more active with my extra-curricular activities than ever before.  I’m still really amazed that with all my reckless behavior I didn’t end up with a case of the “never-get-overs.”

What finally happened that gave me the strength and courage to leave?  To this day I’m not really sure.  Part of it had to do with one of the men I got involved with during that time.  We actually became good friends, and he helped me see that I was (and still am) loveable, that I deserved to be treated better, and that even if I never did find someone else to love me (unlikely), I was better off alone.  Part of it had to do with his own best friend telling me that I needed to get out.  Part of it had to do with the fact that he started talking about having kids, and the thought of bringing HIS child into the world (and therefore still having him involved in my life in some capacity forever…) absolutely terrified me.  I could see that it wasn’t really something he wanted, but that it was something that would only serve to bind me to him more strongly.  Whatever it was, I’m glad I left.  My sister came and helped me pack up and move EVERYTHING out within one day while he was at work.  I left a note in his car, parked in front of his sister’s house.  He begged and pleaded and cried and made more empty promises, but I never looked back.  His best friend cheered me on.  My parents let me move back in with them while I rebuilt my life and my self-esteem.  It took a long time, and in some ways it’s still something I’m working on, but I can look back with pride knowing that I did the right thing.

It’s my fervent hope that I will be better equipped than my parents were to help my daughters recognize abusive behavior – whether it’s directed towards them or towards someone else – so they can avoid it, and so they can help those who are experiencing it find a way out.

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