Twenty-three years ago at the age of 18, I was strangled, kicked, beaten, smothered, had my life threatened and my family’s life threatened and had a gun held to my head.
The perpetrator was my then 18-year-old boyfriend.
I didn’t come from poverty or ignorance (and even if I did, it shouldn’t matter). I was an honors student. I earned a merit scholarship to college. I was an athlete. I had a loving family and lots of friends who liked me and whom I liked. I thought my boyfriend was a good guy. He had friends who liked him. I liked him, as well…at first.
I was too afraid to tell my father about what this boy did to me. I was terrified that my father would end up killing him and spending the rest of his life behind bars. I opted not to tell my father or my mother.
I decided to tell the police instead, but that didn’t go well either.
One night in the late hours of a warm summer evening in 1990, my boyfriend stole my car keys and chased me along several residential streets, kicking me from behind. I could not outrun him. I tried. After what seemed like about an hour of being chased and kicked continuously and begging and pleading with him to stop, I finally started screaming loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
This seemed to work. My boyfriend got scared, tossed my keys in my direction and took off on foot back in the direction of his parent’s home.
After many minutes of searching and digging, I was able to finally find my keys in the darkness among the twigs, leaves and garbage piled in the gutter. I anxiously walked back to my car not knowing if, at any moment, my boyfriend was going to jump out from behind a house, a shrub or a parked car.
Once safely inside my car, I locked the door and thought about my options. Telling my parents was out of the question. I feared what they would do to him in retaliation. I also feared what my boyfriend would do in retaliation to their retaliation!
I was raised to believe the police and/or someone in authority would help me when I was in danger. So, I drove straight to the police station.
I walked into reception disheveled and frightened. Although I would describe my then 18-year-old self as healthy, pretty, smart and well-liked, I didn’t feel the least bit confident walking into the police station. For one thing, I had never been to one, and for another, I had never spoken to a police officer in my life.
I approached the reception window. The officer behind the glass looked up from his paperwork and asked,
“What do you want?”
His words echoed a few times in my head.
What do I want? What do I want?…I guess I want help.
I said, “I want help. I want you to arrest my boyfriend.”
The officer chuckled and laughed at me. I became instantly confused.
Why is he laughing at me? This is serious. Does he not believe me?
So, I repeated, “Will you please arrest my boyfriend? He tried to kill me.”
From behind the glass, the officer asked, “How did he try to kill you?”
I remember opening my mouth, but words were hard to find. I started crying hysterically. I couldn’t form a complete sentence to save my life! I vaguely remember mumbling and wiping the tears and snot from my melting face.
The officer interrupted me and said, “If you can’t control yourself, I can’t help you. How old are you?”
I screamed, “I am 18, and my boyfriend just tried to kill me!”
The officer, who was still seated behind the glass, said, “If you expect me to help you, you need to be more respectful, young lady.”
I stood in the reception area with the intense fluorescent lighting beating down on my face and tired eyes. I was so confused.
Can’t he see that I have been running in the dark along the streets for hours trying to get away from my boyfriend? Can’t he see that I have dirt and mud all over my knees and the palms of my hands from repeatedly falling after being kicked from behind? Respect? I respect him. What is he talking about? What is happening?
I started crying more. I put my hands over my face and backed up and sat in one of the plastic chairs along the wall.
From behind the glass, the officer spoke again, “If you can’t control yourself, I can’t help you.”
Control myself!? What the fuck was this asshole saying to me?
My tears turned to anger and frustration.
I dropped my hands from my face and spoke sternly, “I need you to take down my name and the name of my boyfriend.”
The officer retorted, “I don’t need to do anything.”
I needed the police, but the police clearly did not want to help me. In that moment, I knew I was defeated.
Rather than prolonging this pointless conversation, I turned and left. I hopped into my car and drove home. If the police couldn’t protect me from him, I needed to protect myself from him.
During the entire drive home, I plotted and planned ways to get my boyfriend to break up with me. Even at 18, I knew it had to be his idea. I was too afraid to break up with him myself. I feared the ramifications of my rejection of him.
Within a few weeks of the police-station incident, I cut my hair really short. I stopped wearing make-up and started wearing clothes that didn’t fit me. I resembled a homely 12-year-old boy more than the attractive 18-year-old girl I had been so proud of becoming.
I made myself ugly by cutting off my hair and dressing like a slob, and it worked! He broke up with me soon after I started my freshman year in college that fall.
One would think I felt free and relieved. One would think I would feel like a brave and courageous survivor.
One would be very, very wrong.
I told no one of the details of that night or any of the previous abusive nights with that ex-boyfriend. Although I am, by far, not the only female he has ever assaulted, I was the first. Every 2-3 years, I would receive word that this ex-boyfriend, now a grown man, had been arrested, yet again, for assaulting a friend or a girlfriend or even a police officer.
For nearly 23 years and with each passing story of his assaults, I felt more like a failure than a survivor for not speaking up.
Unlike the statistics will have you believe, I did not spend those 23 years bouncing from one abusive relationship to the next. On the contrary, I was very cautious about the men I chose to be intimate with. I chose good men, good boyfriends. Until, at the age of 36, I invited a sociopath into my life.
“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I refuse to take any blame for what was done to me at the hands and by the sharp tongues of my abusers. I refuse to blame the police, the courts, or the lawyers for the lack of justice I received on the heels of the injustices inflicted upon me by my abusers.
The only people who are to blame for my pain are my two abusers. And, like all abusers, what do these two abusers fear the most? My voice.
Since discovering and sharing my voice, I found much-needed validation and the true path to healing that had eluded me for so many years. Since sharing my story, I am more convinced than ever that I matter and that I am much more valuable than the darkness of my past.
I am Paula. I am a living, breathing human being with a story to tell. No one has the right to silence me. My abusers should have thought about the consequences of their actions before they made their choice to hurt, harm, shame and blame me.
Now, I have a choice. I choose to be heard, and I don’t foresee myself shutting up any time soon.
About the Author
Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and anti-domestic violence advocate who currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her blog.