Hurt

Warning: This is not a nice story.

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There are so many people hurting at the hands of others. Recently, on the interwebs, I’ve encountered some courageous women who are standing up and fighting their own personal injustices. These women have either taken a stand or they are about to. I will support them any way I can, because I have been there. I guess it’s about time I told my story.

I was one of the lucky ones. I got out. I didn’t have children involved in the abuse, so once it was over, I never had to see him again. I didn’t get justice for what happened to me, but I am alive. I survived and I’m still surviving. Every single day that passes between then and now is a victory for me, because he wanted me dead. He tried to kill me so many times. He very nearly succeeded. Towards the end, I wanted him to kill me just so that it would be over. I wanted to be dead rather than live another day with him. I stopped struggling. It was the second time in my adult life that I just did not care whether I lived or died. I just wanted this to be over.

I’ve been free now longer than the time I spent with Dickhead, which was almost eight miserable years. It’s been over ten years since the cops took him away, but that doesn’t mean it’s over. I’m still wearing the scars. I still can’t sleep at night. I’m still hiding because he’s still out there. I’m still so very angry.

I don’t talk about that chapter of my life much. I don’t hide it, but I don’t bring it up in polite conversation either. It’s difficult to talk about and most people don’t understand. I remember telling my boss that I had tripped over the cat and knocked my tooth out, rather than the truth that it was a fist. I would wear scarves around my neck to hide the finger-shaped strangulation marks. I bought stage makeup to hide my black eyes. I would wear long sleeve shirts in the summertime to hide bruises. I ran out of cover stories. Eventually, it got so bad that I had to use excuses like car accidents. I started calling in sick to work.

It wasn’t always that bad though. It didn’t start off that way; it never does. For the first couple of years, like a good little sociopath, he was funny, charming, outgoing and very charismatic. Everyone loved him and wanted to be around him. He was the opposite of me. I am not nor ever have been outgoing and what charms I have are limited. Or at least, that’s how I saw it at the time.

It took years of slow buildup for it to get as bad as it did. It started off with mild manipulation. He made me feel like I couldn’t survive without him. Manipulation quietly morphed into verbal abuse until I really did believe that I was worthless and stupid. Then it moved into financial abuse. He stole everything I owned behind my back and sold it. I found my camera replaced by a brick. He blamed it on a burglar. He took out credit cards in my name, sapped all the cash advances and gave me that money for rent. He stole my mail to cover it up so I didn’t even know about it until he was gone. He lied about everything. Everything. I don’t have any proof, but he killed my rat, one of my cats and both of my dogs. Once he was satisfied with his killing ability, he moved on to me. The physical abuse started in the last two or so years when he really began to lose it. The final night, he thought I’d put up with it as I always had. He would have been right, too, but he pushed me one step too far.

I had a female friend in from out of town. We all went to an art opening for a friend. Dickhead got drunk as usual and started acting out. He picked a fight with me and wanted to leave. I told him, if he wanted to go, he was more than welcome to, but he’d have to find his own way home since my friend and I were staying. That infuriated him. How dare you? After all I’ve done for you… yadda yadda. He smacked me across the face inside an art gallery full of people I knew and stormed off. Someone handed me a cocktail napkin to stop the bleeding.

My friend and I walked to the car, Dickhead having effectively destroyed our night out. I had no idea where he had gone and I didn’t really care. My car was parked in a small parking lot a couple of blocks down a fairly deserted street. We cautiously walked there expecting him to pop out from every dark corner. He didn’t.

We hurriedly got in the car and locked the doors. I was just about to put the key in the ignition when he appeared in front of my car. I fumbled the keys in panic. He banged his fists on the hood leaving dents that ended up being a lovely reminder the whole time I owned the car. He came around my side of the car and smashed the window with his fist. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out the broken window, cutting me everywhere on the broken glass in the process. I’m not a small girl. I’m 5’9″ of sturdy Nordic stock and I was being lifted off the ground by my throat. This is it, I thought. All he has to do is crush my larynx or snap my neck and it’s over.

My friend got out of the car and came over to try to get him to stop. He hit her in the face so hard that she slammed into the brick wall bordering the parking lot and slumped to the ground unconscious. That was the turning point. I realized that I didn’t want to die and I didn’t want my friend to die either. I could handle him killing me, but I could not tolerate him acting out on anyone else. Until then, I hung there like a rag doll, waiting for it to be over. I started fighting and never stopped. I kicked and raged, but it was no use, he was using both arms.

What happened next is second hand since both my female friend and I were unconscious. A guy I knew who had been at the art gallery happened to walk by. He saw me being hefted in the air by my neck and my friend lying unconscious on the ground. Well, this upstanding fellow just wasn’t having any of that and intervened. My personal patron saint said something to Dickhead about how it wasn’t nice to choke out ladies. Dickhead dropped me and took off running. He always was a coward when it came to fighting people who could kick his ass. He preferred to beat up on innocent women.

The next thing I remember was being shaken awake by the guy who had saved my life. I went to check on my friend. She had a nasty head wound from hitting the wall and a seriously messed up mouth. I was in even worse shape. Mr. Samaritan got into my car with the broken window and dents all over, and drove us to the police station half a dozen blocks away. We all gave statements. They took pictures of us and my car. They put out an arrest warrant for him, which was never cashed in.

There’s more to the story that maybe I’ll tell you someday, but I find myself spent after just writing that much of it. Domestic violence is exhausting.

When it was going on, I didn’t want to tell anyone because I was embarrassed. I would make up excuses for him and laugh off his behavior to friends. It seems strange to say, but domestic violence is embarrassing. I didn’t want the world to know how weak I was. I didn’t want people to know, to pass judgment on me, because I didn’t walk away. I heard people saying, “I know if I was ever in that situation, I wouldn’t stay.” Well, that’s nice to say if you’ve never been there, but it’s really not that simple when you are.

Even after getting out, it’s not something that I wanted to talk about. It was my shame. It was something I kept inside for so long, either because of his threats or trying to fool myself, that it was really difficult to get it out. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had to warn people not to take him in or help his crazy ass in any way, I probably would have kept it all to myself. Even with police reports, split lips and witnesses, not everyone we knew believed me. To add insult to injury, I lost a good chunk of my friends because of it. I told myself they weren’t really friends anyway. On the other hand, I had people that were mere acquaintances before who admirably stepped up and become lifelong friends. If there’s one good thing, domestic violence really shows you who your friends are.

It took a long time to reclaim myself, to know who I was, to not be a victim anymore. Like everyone who has ever been the victim of abuse, I wondered what was wrong with me that I allowed that monster into my life, but that was really Dickhead’s conditioning talking. It’s easy for me to chock it up to the result of other horrible experiences in my childhood, like sexual abuse or an abusive grandmother, but the fact is, domestic violence can happen to anyone.

Now, with ten years of perspective, I want to help those who are going through it. I want to wrap up every single person who’s ever been a victim of domestic violence in my arms and keep them safe forever. I want to tell them that it does get better. There is always hope. Never give up. Get out now before it’s too late. You are never alone, no matter what that monster tells you. I am here for you. We all are.

The story continues in Hurt: The Aftermath.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please, ask for help. In the United States, contact The National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for anonymous, confidential help 24/7.

This post is part of the On Being Series.