CW: graphic sexual & physical abuse
The first signs
The first six months were what every fourteen-year-old girl hoped for: presents, sweet letters, and constant compliments. It was as if this boy had come straight from a romance movie. When you’re that young, it is so hard to see any red flags. But even in the first six months, there were warning signs.
From the start he would get upset when I hung out with other people, claiming they must be more important to me. He would be cross if I didn’t text back within five minutes. But I never felt I wanted to leave. A few months into our relationship, I had to go to an anniversary dinner for my grandparents. He wanted to hang out that night and when I told him I couldn’t, he said “Shut the fuck up. You can go fuck yourself. When you get back tonight, I’m dumping you.” I begged and begged for him to calm down, not to leave. I told him I was sorry and that I would figure out a way to skip the dinner. Suddenly, he realized how simple it was for him to manipulate me and he became worse. After that day, he would constantly dump me anytime he got mad and listen to me cry and beg for him back. I guess he liked the feeling of me needing him, because it never got old for him.
Spending time with his family, I saw how abusive his dad was to him, his sister, and his mom. His dad would name call and physically harm him and his sister. I could see how his dad made his mom feel like she was nothing and expected her to only cook and clean. He would always question her about who she was texting, where she was going, and it wasn’t long before I saw that in my boyfriend too. My parents picked up on the nature of his home life, and being the kind people that they are, they took him in. They treated him with love and respect and did everything they could when he was around to make him feel safe. He became close with my boy cousins, although he told me I wasn’t allowed to talk to them when he wasn’t around. I couldn’t imagine taking away the relationship he had with any of my family members, even when he was rude to my sisters or wouldn’t allow me to pick up my younger sister because she had “given him attitude”. It was still early days, so I chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. I let him tell me what to do.
Very early on, he pressured me into having sex with him. It was something that I wanted the first time, but never after that. There were times I would cry because it hurt so bad and because I didn’t want to, and he would get mad and yell. He told me it was how he wanted to show me how much he loved me. I was terrified to ever say no, because when I did he would throw things, punch things, or threaten me. He would yell and argue that the only reason I wouldn’t want to have sex was if I was having it with someone else. It has taken me a long time to call that rape. As messed up as it is, we all have a vision of rape in our heads and I wasn’t able to identify it here because it didn’t match up to that vision. But I didn’t say yes, and I cried and protested every time. One time it was hurting so bad that I was sobbing and started to pull away and yell. He yanked me back and covered my mouth, and said “Shhh… I’m almost done.” I told him once that he had raped me, and he laughed. It’s still really hard for me to say, but I was raped almost every day for over two years.
Within the first six months or so, he had been nasty and called me names, but I didn’t feel I could call it abuse. I assumed that’s how fourteen-year-old boys were, and I allowed it to continue. By about a year, he had become very controlling, and I had developed a set of skills that I had never planned to acquire. I was sneaky: I had become good at deleting texts, hiding snapchat histories, and untagging myself from pictures on social media. Not because I was doing anything wrong, but because I needed to protect myself. I would delete texts from male classmates who texted me about homework because I wasn’t allowed to talk to another boy. I would hide my snapchat history with a girlfriend who he didn’t want me to be friends with. I untagged myself on Instagram pictures or made my friends delete them when I was pictured doing something I had not asked his permission to do. I learnt to lie a lot – about going to my friend’s houses, about spending time with my friend when her boyfriend was also there, about how close boys sat to me in class. I didn’t want to be good at lying to him, or anyone for that matter, but unless I wanted everything to get worse, I had no choice.
Whenever I was around other boys, even in class, he would make me send pictures of where I sat in relation to them and would always accuse me of being in love with them. He made me unfollow all boys on all social media, including my cousins. Whenever one of my cousins would text me, I was expected to tell him and not open it until I was with him. He once accused me of wanting to give oral sex to my younger cousin, just because I wanted to visit them. Even if I spoke to boys he was friends with he would say I was in love with them and make me delete their number. When we were in public, if I looked around, I would be screamed at for looking at other boys. I started to constantly look down when I was outside out of fear and isolate myself from all the men in my life.
Small insignificant things would make him mad. I would accidentally drop something or make a tiny mistake, and he would tell me I was a fuck up, incapable, or retarded. He would talk to me like I was stupid and scream at me for messing things up. Then, when I would cry, he would call me a crybaby or tell me that I was over-sensitive. He called me every name in the book and it always hurt. He told me I was worthless, a whore, a bitch, a fuck up. Sometimes, he would even tell me he hated me and that he hoped I would kill myself or get in a car accident and die, just for not texting him before I got into class.
He started shoving and kicking me about eight months in. I constantly had grab marks on my arms in the shape of handprints, but he hadn’t hit me yet, which gave me a reason to not call it abuse. His sister once asked me about a hand mark, and when I told her it was a burn, she looked at me with sad eyes and told me she knew that wasn’t a burn. The only girlfriend I had left had also seen my bruises before but kept quiet because I told her saying anything would only make it worse. Once you have been physically hurt, making any wrong move is terrifying. I was constantly holding my breath, thinking I was going to get hurt again.
The first punch came almost two years in when I was sixteen. I had wanted to play golf at school since freshman year (I was now a sophomore), but there were two boys I had dated in junior high on the team, so he said I only wanted to play because of them and that I was a whore. One morning, I woke up feeling brave. I lied to him and told him that the golf coach had encouraged me to play the following year. This led to us fighting all day over text. But for some reason, I felt strong. I did not give in to his threats or demands at all that day. He made me pick him up once he got home from school and told me we were going to drive around. This would usually mean that he was going to calm down and not be as angry. However, he got into my car that day without saying a word. I didn’t look at him. I started to drive away from his house when his fist hit me on the side of my head. I didn’t know whether to scream or cry so the noise that escaped my mouth was more of a yelp. I held on to my head, not knowing what was going to happen next. I was in complete shock. He always told me he would never hit me. He always told me would never hurt me. He yanked the wheel while I continued to cry. He kept shoving my head into the window and pulling my hair while hitting me in the nose. He then got me in a headlock and held me there, screaming, “Say you won’t play golf!”. Unable to see the road, I kept trying to brake so we wouldn’t hit another car. People afterwards asked me what my car was doing swerving and randomly stopping in the middle of the road. As I drove past the street behind my school, he repeatedly hit me in the nose while yelling “I’ll hit you again bitch!” I was beaten in the car for an hour. There was one point when I actually accepted that I was going to die in my car. I continued avoiding looking at him and cried as loud as I could, hoping a passer-by would notice.
Once we were behind the school, I got out the car and ran. I had no shoes on and he was faster than me. I ran down a hill and into the softball dugout but realized it was over. There was nothing more I could do. He was going to catch up to me and he wasn’t going to stop hurting me. I sat under the bench crying, curled in a ball, with my arms around my head. When he yanked me out from under the bench and we finally made eye contact, he began to cry and back away. He told me that it wasn’t him, that there was no way he did that. I brought my hand to my own face and I could then see all of the blood from my nose on my hands. I could not see the black eye I was already getting, or the bruise on my face from the popped blood vessel. I could not yet see the handprint-shaped bruise around my arm from being yanked around, but the knot on the back of my head from his first hit was throbbing. I ended up comforting him while he cried about not wanting to break up. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I covered my black eye for two weeks and said the popped blood vessel was a burn from my straightener.
That summer was the first time we both had jobs. He worked outside all day, and I worked evenings almost every night. This was my first taste of what it was like to not have to talk to him during the day or be with him at night. I was beginning to picture what my life would be like if I was free. I went on an annual trip to a lake with my dad’s family, and he had had a fit when I was tubing and not answering his texts. He told me that if I got on the tube again with my cousin, he would break up with me. We then climbed a cliff to jump into the lake. I have always been an adrenaline junkie, and I have jumped off several higher cliffs. But when I stood on the top, I froze. I couldn’t feel my legs and I started to cry. I realized he had taken away my courage, my bravery and the sense of freedom I had always had. I decided then that I wanted my old self back.
That night, after he went to bed following the usual fight over the phone involving him name-calling and threatening me while I cried, I called his best friend. I told him everything, and although they were like brothers, he told me how messed up it was and that I needed to get out. He told me I had to tell my parents and to tell him if there was anything else he could do to help. I didn’t feel able yet to tell my parents what had been happening, but that night, through tears, I asked my mom to find me a therapist, which she did without question.
I have never cried so much as in that first therapy session. I told her everything, and she helped me make a plan to tell my parents and get out. However, it had to be postponed because we were leaving for vacation the following week and taking my boyfriend with us. He had already bought his plane ticket and I felt I couldn’t end things before the vacation. I was actually doubting whether I could end it at all. I decided that if vacation went well, I was going to stay in the relationship and not tell my parents. However, the vacation included the normal amount of name-calling, physical grabs and disrespect towards my mom and sisters. I reluctantly went back to therapy afterwards and told her it wasn’t that bad. She told me that no one changes in two weeks, and he would be violent again. She told my mom that within the next week I needed to have a conversation with them to make sure I followed through.
That day was also the first day I went to golf practice. He texted me the whole time telling me golf was stupid and I had to quit if I wanted to keep dating him. He made me pick him up right when I got back, and I was again terrified. He was screaming in my face and I thought he was going to start hitting me again, so I pulled into the convenience store in town where I saw a police car. I knew he wouldn’t do anything in front of them. While there, I called my mom to make sure someone was home before I drove us there. When we got to my house, he told me to stay in the car, but I said no, ran inside and locked the doors. He started to cry and scream and ran away from my house into the woods. I ran to my room and just sat there afraid to move. When I heard a knock at my window, I looked out and saw him hitting himself in the head repeatedly with a piece of firewood. I ran out and yelled to my dad for help, and we went outside where he was sitting behind a tree. I had already called his mom at that point and asked her to come get him. When she arrived, he said he didn’t want to go home because his dad would hurt him. I told him he had to go, and he started screaming and cursing at the top of his lungs.
As soon as he left, I told my parents that he had been emotionally, physically and sexually abusive. They helped me to text him, ending it, and block his number and all social media. They helped to save my life and my future. Twenty minutes later, he showed up at my house and I could hear him crying and yelling, but my parents wouldn’t let him upstairs to see me. I will always be so thankful for everything they did to help me get out that night.
I heard from him once after that, after he set up a fake name on snapchat. He told me that in time, my parents would forgive him, and we would get back together. People would show me the sad things he posted on his snapchat, and he even made an Instagram page with sad posts saying that he understood why I left but that I had broken a promise.
I was so overwhelmed by freedom in the first few months I didn’t even think about everything that happened to me. I was playing golf, repairing lost friendships, and loving every second. I took those months to live as fully as I could to try to make up for lost time. I started spending time with a boy I had once been friends with but didn’t plan to date anyone until I was in college and far away from my little town. He was caring and understanding, and we became close. When I told him I wouldn’t be ready for a while, he told me he would wait. When my ex found out, he started posting online about me and my family again, making it seem as though we broke up because I had I cheated on him.
When I got to the point of processing everything, I was so angry. I had never been an angry person but the fact that he could abuse me for years and then act as though I did something wrong made me furious. I wanted him to face consequences for what he did to me. Therapy really helped though, and I learnt new ways to channel my anger in a productive way.
A few months after we broke up, a friend asked me to talk to one of her friends who had started seeing him. I felt bad getting involved, but the thought of another girl going through what I did, made me sick to my stomach. I could not stay silent and let someone else be hurt by him, so I reached out to her. She was extremely sweet and thanked me for sharing my story and looking out for her. After that, his dad called my mom about me getting involved, saying it wasn’t my place to ruin his relationships.
Whenever I see him about town I feel terrified. My heart races and I feel the need to protect myself. I still struggle with constant apologizing, mumbling, and fear when in a car. Anything I did that shared my story would cause him to post more online about me and my family (the posts were always deleted not long after). His friends would also come and tell me not to speak to people about it. The friend of his who had helped me over the phone that night, now seemed to worship the ground he walked on, and belittled everything he did to me, which I still don’t understand.
I have since started a new relationship with the boy I had become close to, and it is happy and healthy. I am discovering new things that should have always been normal. He listens, does not keep tabs on me, and encourages me in everything I do. He tells me I am a badass, the very opposite of what my ex continuously told me. My friends have also been the absolute best. Even though I wasn’t allowed to talk to almost any of them during my relationship, they never gave up on me. They welcomed me back with open arms and have helped me heal and take care of myself again. I honestly feel I would not be here without my support system and I am so grateful.