I call myself Stitches for many reasons, but mostly because I had them. I have a little hill and valley that shows the only physical evidence of physical violence you could see on my body. If you didn’t know, if I didn’t point it out and guide your hand to the exact spot, you would never know.
I’ll never know what he intended to do to me that night. I only know that I learned I could climb backwards over a footboard and away into a locked bathroom.
I am clumsy by nature. I seem to have the rare ability to break bones simply by looking at them. It was never any surprise, then, when I “slipped in the shower,” “tripped on the bathroom rug,” or “fell into the corner of the bed frame.” Yeah, you know, I just bruise easily. I didn’t have an explanation for a dislocated shoulder, so I just didn’t tell anyone.
I didn’t realize it was my fault until he told me. It started out as compassion, you see. It started out as wanting what was best for me. I call him Bray.
When we met, I knew there was something a bit off. I didn’t want to date him even though I knew he was interested in me. There was an uncomfortable feeling in our friendship. It was as if I had to seek his permission, his approval, before we could do anything together. We were in college; we both wanted to go out around campus on Halloween, but he wouldn’t agree to accompany me until I had asked him in the right combination, enough times, told him how much it would mean to me. I didn’t want to go out alone because I was new to the city, and I was a skinny young woman with a recently broken ankle (all me). In the end, Bray didn’t wear a costume and made sure everyone we met knew I had talked him into it.
I got very ill during our friendship, and I had a quack doctor to treat me. Eventually, under Doc’s watchful eye and despite my best efforts to keep him informed of my concerns, I became addicted to the narcotic pain killers I was given. In a move that coincided with me eventually agreeing to go out with him, Bray convinced me to stop taking the drugs. I started looking for support groups or doctors that could help me through it, but he told me they are all self-interested; he would look after me. He moved into my teeny, tiny dorm room and only let me leave when accompanied by him or my parents (whom he said it was best to keep in the dark about it all). I felt safe and unsafe at the same time. I never really felt protected. I felt hounded but like I had to be because of what I had let myself become. I was constantly told of the shame of what I had become.
When I moved into a new dorm the following year, Bray said it was best if he moved in, too, just in case. I decided I would transfer universities and change degree programs because I was unhappy and assumed that was the source of my unhappiness (I’m sure it didn’t help.). Suddenly, Bray was unhappy in his degree and needed to change universities. We applied and were accepted together to a new college in a new town. He wasn’t meant to be in the same program as I was, but, come registration day, he took the list of classes for which I’d enrolled and enrolled for them all. At the last minute, I felt panicky and switched into a class that only had one open spot. I didn’t know why I felt like I was suffocating – I assumed it was anxiety over all the changes – but I just knew I needed something of my own.
Bray and I were a package deal. If I met someone I thought was nice, Bray had to meet them. He introduced me to all his new friends made in his one class without me, ostensibly so I wouldn’t be lonely but mostly so I wouldn’t be left alone. He found a job at a local restaurant. Every time I mentioned finding work, he said not to worry. He could get me a job there. He did. He got me to agree to our boss that he could have my paychecks. He would invite our new friends over for dinner, half-joking that I knew to have dinner prepared for him at 7:00. I did.
During this time, I met Melanie and, eventually, her own Donkey. I was never completely comfortable around Donkey, but I never knew why. I suppose he was more familiar than I wanted to admit. I always felt like there was something I had to prove to him, as though he might expose me as not being good enough. All I know is that, as Melanie moved closer and closer into the relationship and marriage with him, I felt the need to get closer and closer to her.
Bray and Donkey also met. They immediately hated each other, perhaps recognizing something in each other’s behavior that seemed familiar and unsavory. They constantly complained in each other’s presence. I don’t like his hair. He’s too short. Look at how he holds that spoon. I just don’t like looking at his face. And, the kicker, said by both of them: You could do better.
It wasn’t until I came home announcing that I was going to study abroad for a summer that things began to escalate. I borrowed money from my parents to be able to go. I was going to have a taste of freedom that I didn’t even know I desperately needed. He shoved me into the solid oak dining table so hard that I ruptured a bursa sac in my right hip and, as I fell, hit my head on the corner of a chair with enough force to cause a concussion. He said he was sorry, that he was stressed out and thought I was trying to tell him I was leaving him for good. Two weeks later, now two years into our relationship, Bray announces as an anniversary surprise that he got permission to work longer hours to be able to save up and go on the trip with me. He contacted the program organizers and somehow convinced them, even though the rules plainly stated no males/females of any age would share a room in our accommodation, that we should be sharing a room. He oversaw the packing of my suitcase and ensured that I did not bring any clothing which he considered flattering.
Despite his best efforts, the trip actually did change my life. Not because the beautiful scenery, the warm people, or simply the experience of a different way of life. It sounded like something out of a story (which it later was). As we lie on the bank of the Rhine River – that old river which gives life – he began to tell me all the ways he loved me. I wept. Not only did it sound completely false and out of character but I realized he had never actually said he loved me with any conviction. I suddenly saw that I had spent two and a half years completely unhappy.
Unfortunately, I thought I was the problem. I didn’t blame him but knew I wanted more. He asked me to marry him, and I said I needed to figure out who I was first. As soon as we returned home, I interviewed for and got a new job. I would soon work completely different hours than he did. I felt a surge of independence, and he read it as me breaking free. He began coming home drunk and high, later and later each night. He said he had to work late because of a promotion; I let him think I believed him. I started waking up in the night with his hand over my mouth, forcing himself on me, telling me it was a game and he liked it like that; I stopped sleeping except when he was at work. When I told him I was going to go stay at a friend’s house while her husband was out of town, to “have a girlie slumber party” I said, he pulled my arm around behind me until my shoulder dislocated and I said I wouldn’t go. When he read my email and found that I had made an off-handed suggestion that a male friend we both met on the study abroad trip should come and visit, he followed me through the house with a knife. He accused me of having an affair, of not being appreciative for what he did for me, for not giving him what he wanted.
As I ran away, I managed to grab my keys and my phone – I had just implemented “the place they go” so I wouldn’t have trouble finding them every morning – and lock myself in the bathroom. I kept washing away blood and pushing the skin back together in vain. I stayed in the bathroom until I heard him leave the next morning. I called a friend and had her take me to the ER. I knew I’d never actually get there if I tried to go alone. I’d convince myself it would be fine in a day or two and try to bandage it. She held my hand as the doctor sutured the wound. A month later, after I had ended the relationship, she would say it never happened and I was a terrible girlfriend to Bray. She would go from the person I most trusted to the person who publicly praised Bray for his patience with me. She would cease to be my friend.
I ended the relationship on the grounds that he wouldn’t stop doing drugs that fueled his anger. He grabbed some clothes and stormed out. I asked my father to help me change the locks on the house. He didn’t know why, but he knew I was scared. I boxed up everything Bray owned and waited. He returned for it when he knew I was spending Thanksgiving with my parents and phoned when he discovered his key didn’t work. He hurled insult after insult, loud enough that my father took the phone, listened for a minute, told him not to call me again, and hung up. A week later, he showed up at the door with a truck and a friend. I let him in because we wouldn’t be alone. I sat on the sofa while they moved boxes. I didn’t see when his friend left. He came into the living room, pushed me down onto the ground, and held my hands down while he forced himself upon me one last time. He broke my right index finger in two places when I struggled.
I was never alone with him again. Six months later, I graduated. I left town soon after. I spent almost my entire college life dominated by him. I threw myself at a former boyfriend just so I could think, perhaps, not all men were terrible. I willingly entered an unhealthy relationship to not be alone in fear. When we split, I assumed I would be alone forever because all men were, indeed, terrible.
I think my story is important not because I am special. I think it is important because it is clear with that 20-20 hindsight that I was in an abusive relationship for more than three years. I wasn’t in an abusive relationship for only four months – the length of time he actually physically hurt me. As awareness is the name of the game this month (as it should be every month), I think anyone in an uncomfortable relationship needs to examine it more closely. Just because you haven’t been hit, just because you haven’t got scars to hide and bruises to explain away does not mean you are in a healthy, non-abusive relationship. If you are not free to act, behave, think as you want because your partner doesn’t allow it, it might be time to reevaluate. If you are not supported by your partner, it might be time to reevaluate. If you cannot trust your partner, it might be time to reevaluate. If you can recognize signs that things just are not right, don’t wait to see if you might get hit.
Not all men are terrible. It’s taken me years to believe it. I’m now married to one of those not-terrible-actually-very-good guys. I can trust him. He constantly reminds me that I have equal say in our decisions and that he is not in charge. He actively tries to not hurt me. He protects me but doesn’t shield me from other people and the outside world. He has shown me that love and fear are not necessary bedfellows. I will always be grateful for the lessons he’s helping me unlearn that should have never been learned at all.
About the Author:
I fill my life with things that make me happy. I teach, blog, cook, and craft. I live on an island — though not a tropical one, by far — and have learned to love and be loved. I laugh everyday. I strive to be Supergirl, and I believe I am.