Three years ago I started dating my now ex-boyfriend. He was my entire world. I thought that no one would ever be anything close to the level of amazing that I saw in him. He was perfect. I made him perfect in my mind.
When we started dating, it wasn’t under the best circumstances. We had been friends for fifteen years. I had just moved out of my parents’ house to get away from their physical, emotional, and mental abuse, as well as their out of control drinking habits. I was dealing with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted and my parents refuting my rape claim – claiming I was just vying for attention. Heh, if only they had any idea that all the times I acted out as a teenager were linked to that one instance.
Of course, I didn’t know that back then.
We ended up moving in together after six months. It was out of necessity, really, since we didn’t have another option.
I loved everything about him. He was tall and strong and handsome and had beautiful blue eyes. He was the only man I’d ever fully given myself to, and he was the first person I ever had an intimate relationship with.
Everyone always teased me about staying a virgin for so long, but I wanted to wait until I felt I was ready. Looking back, maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t. More likely than not, I wasn’t. But in the turmoil of sexual assault, I wanted so desperately to be loved and wanted that I convinced both of us I was ready.
I took us having sex as us being “serious.” I didn’t know any better. Forget that I was 21 and not exactly naïve… I thought I knew it all. I forgave him for messing around with his ex-girlfriend behind my back. I ignored him trying to hook up with his friend’s sister at a party at my house (when he didn’t live there) right in front of me. I looked past how horribly cruel he was to me the moment he threatened to take his own life. He was perfect. More importantly, I was broken, and the only way I thought I could be put back together was the way he was telling me to.
The controlling started small. He would break things off, leave me devastated for a day or two, then come back and apologize, and swear never to leave me again. He felt insecure when he couldn’t perform when we were intimate, but he would blame it on me. Yep, the sexual assault survivor is to blame for everything that went wrong when we had sex. Even when I thought things went well, he had some problem with it. He never even turned off the TV. Christ, he never stopped WATCHING the TV when we were intimate. He would wake me up in the middle of the night to perform oral sex on him… then tell me to go to bed – I was slutty if I wanted something in return.
I learned to stop asking for sex. He would humiliate me and make me feel bad for asking, so we only had sex on his terms.
Eventually the controlling moved out of the bedroom. If I went out, he wanted to know every detail of where I was. It was casual; I barely noticed it at first. I went to a coworker’s birthday party and failed to mention until the next morning that I had stopped with friends to grab a bite to eat at a Denny’s on the way home. He was livid. Why was I hiding things from him? Was I being unfaithful?
Silly me: that was as much protective nature and affection as I got from him. So I chalked it up to him being romantic. Someone anonymously left me a flower at work one day and when he found out, he threatened to sit in the lobby of my workplace and beat the shit out of whomever it was. I laughed it off, but was never entirely sure he was kidding.
Eventually, I wasn’t supposed to dress-up or put makeup on. If I so much as brushed my hair out, he would make fun of me, ask who the hell I was getting all fancy for. We never went out anywhere. I wasn’t supposed to go out much any more, either, or I’d get lectures: “I was gone all the time” or “neglecting my responsibilities around the house.” Even though we lived with three other roommates, it was my job and my job alone to clean the house.
I was supposed to do his laundry. I was supposed to make sure everything was perfect. I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere or do anything. If I checked my mail, I had to give him every detail.
When we went out to group gatherings, he’d purposely act like a jackass so we would leave early. He would go out of his way to embarrass me in public so he didn’t have to stay. Work functions, my family get-togethers (he was a golden child at his family’s functions), even hanging out with my friends. He had to talk down to everyone around him.
I was only allowed to go to the bar on the nights he was working security. He had to be introduced right away as my boyfriend to anyone who talked to me, otherwise he would punish me by refusing to touch me in bed. Any affection was off the table: he wouldn’t touch me. He never held my hand in public. He never kissed me in front of anyone. He never once introduced me as his girlfriend.
He’d tell me I wasn’t an equal part of our relationship – I caused all of our fights. And I did. Mostly because if we were arguing, at least he was paying attention to only me. I’d try to stand up for myself, but it always ended with me in tears. He would say anything to make me cry, then tell me I was always crying and he didn’t sign up for my emotions.
This went on for three years. I slipped into one of the worst depressions I’ve experienced. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I could barely even get myself dressed for work. He hated when I went to work. Forget that I was the only one with anything close to a full-time job (he got paid forty bucks a weekend to bounce at the bar and went to school full-time), and I had to pay all of our bills. He hated my coworkers. They were all scum – I shouldn’t hang out with them.
On the other hand, his parents paid for everything – his rent, his car, his insurance, his cell phone, and handed him gas money every week. They paid for his groceries. I worked my ass off and was expected to pay our rent, utilities, my own cell phone, my own insurance, and for our groceries. What did he do with his money? Bought knives and guns.
When I was raped, my attacker used a gun in places I won’t go into detail about. My boyfriend kept all the guns in our closet, with the door open, on my side of the bed, so I had to stare at them. He complained that I’d never go to the shooting range with him. I can’t be near guns without shaking uncontrollably and losing it, but I went anyway. I fired guns, broke into tears, tried to improve because he was angry that I was a bad shot. But every time I cried, he comforted me, told me how well I was doing. That made him an amazing and caring man.
I was in and out of major depressive cycles. At the beginning of September, I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I didn’t know why I wanted to die, I just did. I tried to take a knife to my own throat. He stopped me. He talked me down. I checked into the hospital. I was transferred under a 5150 to another hospital. When he visited me, I tried to show him how well I was doing, because he was threatening to leave me.
I was discharged from the mental hospital, but he couldn’t come get me. If there was no other way, he’d get to it “when he had time.” So my best friend picked me up. That first night back at home, he was so glad to see me. He recreated our first dates, we were intimate on a regular basis, he was affectionate, and doing everything for me – just because. Our lives were finally on track now that I was finally medicated. Right?
A week later, he came home and told me he wanted to leave me – he didn’t love me and never had. He didn’t want to live with me anymore. We agreed I’d get my own place, and we’d work on us from there.
The next day, he told me he had been having an affair with some random girl from at the bar, so I had to move out of the house that day. I told him he couldn’t legally evict me, and I wasn’t going anywhere. He beat the ever loving shit out of me. I told him if he didn’t leave, I’d call the cops. Paranoid as he is, he finally left.
That night, I had been planning to tell him that I’d found out I was pregnant while I was in the hospital.
Where were my roommates? They’d taken his new plaything out to the casino while he dumped me, so, you know, she’d have a nice time and it wouldn’t be awkward for her. Excuse me?
I was angry, hurt, upset. I’d been sick to my stomach and couldn’t keep my medications down, which threw me into withdrawal. I thought I’d never feel again. I had no family, I’d been out of work, so I had no money, and nowhere to go.
I took every single piece of clothing he owned and threw it off the deck. I threw it up in the trees. I dumped it in the dirt. I emptied the entire contents of the fridge onto them and left them to rot in the sun. I packed up all of what had been ours – the bed, all the furniture, the dog, everything and moved into a girlfriend’s house.
I threw away everything that reminded me of him. It wasn’t much – in three years, he’d never bought me a birthday card or Christmas present. He always had the nicest I could afford, but I never even got flowers or a card.
Eventually, I told him that I was pregnant. He wanted proof; I gave it to him. Then I miscarried.
I called him, not sure what else to do. I figured it affected him, too. His response? “Deal with it by yourself, you’re not my problem anymore.”
I had bruises for weeks. The cops did nothing. When I went to collect the last of my belongings from the house, the new girlfriend was in his bed, and she bitched me out. We live in a small community; he runs his mouth every chance he gets: it’s my fault my roommate’s kids hate him; I tried to stab him to death (completely false); I stole the dog (I paid six hundred dollars for that dog and had him before we got together); I left him unexpectedly for someone else. There are a billion lies circulating that I have to deal with. He attacks anyone who knows me out of nowhere.
In that moment, I seriously thought my life was over.
Now it’s been almost three months. I don’t think about him much anymore, and I can appreciate the good memories we had. The more I look back on it, though, the more I realize how many signs I ignored.
So now I’m single. I am spending time with my friends and the people who matter in my life. I’m not dating yet – but it’s by choice. I want to spend some time letting myself heal and figuring out who I am and what I want not only from my life, but also from a life with a partner. I’m learning to define what values are important to me in a significant other. There are guys in my life, but I don’t feel the need to validate myself through them. I stick with my medications. I still go to counseling. I have started attending Al-Anon meetings in my area. I’m working on saving up to move to wherever I decide I want to be. I’m living. I’m surviving.
At the end of the day, I’m only 24 years old. The last three years do not define who I am. They will always be a part of me, and I am so thankful that I was able to learn these lessons before things got any worse. Are there still days when it’s hard? Of course. But sometimes shit just happens.
I can’t take the blame for his bad behavior. My responsibility is not to apologize for him. It’s not to make excuses for him. My responsibility is to better myself and learn from this so I don’t repeat these mistakes.
I ignored the signs for far too long and thought I could love us enough for the both of us. It still ended in heartbreak. I won’t do that again.
But LORD, did it feel good pouring all the disgusting stuff from the fridge all over his favorite outfits!
I feel terribly alone.
I feel like I’m in a black hole, like I’m caught in the undertow and everyone is a few feet away, not reaching out to help.
Hypersensitivity at its finest; any sound, color or person makes my bones ache and my head pound.
I scratch so much I bleed.
I sit in the dark staring aimlessly at nothing, my mind blank.
People suggest things. They just don’t get it.
No one does.
Hopefully, you do.
I have no friends – maybe I did it to myself. But I wouldn’t hate a hug from someone other than my mom. Often times I feel like I’m not appreciative enough of my family, but I want friends, too.
That isn’t too much to ask.
A while back, I was Facebook-friended by someone with whom I’d gone to elementary school, a woman I hadn’t seen in 15 years. In that same week, I was friended by another schoolmate, a man I hadn’t seen in 25 years. I’ll call these two people, who are not Facebook friends with each other, Leia and Mork.
I was happy to be back in touch with Leia and Mork. Leia and I, and Mork and I, in separate sets of messages, chatted in the way that long-lost friends do, telling each other where we live, how many kids we have, what we do for work. We exchanged several messages. A few messages in, both Mork and Leia asked me what sort of writing I did. And so I told them, as simply as I could: I write, under a pen name, about my son, who likes to wear a dress.
And you know what? Both Leia and Mork never wrote back.
Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe the conversations just dropped off in the way conversations eventually do, and it just happened to be after I dropped the pink-bomb on each of them. Maybe they both got busy, sick, or their computers went on the fritz.
Or maybe they got freaked out.
Because people sometimes do.
I notice that the tomboy in Sam’s grade who plays on the boys’ soccer team is cool and socially in demand, while Sam doesn’t get invited to many birthday parties. Sometimes people look at us strangely when we disclose that Sam, the long-haired kid they’ve taken for a girl, is a boy. Sam’s school administration can talk eloquently about diversity and acceptance up and down, except when it comes to gender, when they get all panicky and quiet.
I make it my business to talk to as many people as I can about Sam (while being careful of his privacy and his safety), to make gender nonconformity something that gets talked about, not something swept under the rug. Because when we hide something, we make it shameful. So I open my mouth, maybe even more than I should, and occasionally I lose an audience member or two, like Leia and Mork.
But maybe the next time they hear about someone’s son who wears a dress, they’ll remember that the woman they kind of liked back in elementary school mentioned something about her son wearing a dress, and maybe that will make it a little bit more OK.
This is the story no one wants me to tell – that no one wants to hear. But this is my story, and The Band gives me the space where I can tell it.
I was always a dancer. Nothing else mattered to me. It was my go-to activity after a bad breakup, I focused on what I could do: dance. Dance became all I ever wanted – my happy place, my home. I knew I was missing out on dating during high school, but no man could compare with dance.
I wasn’t supposed to go to that Big Band dance. I was supposed to be in bed, but my friend dragged me out, still in my PJ’s with stage hair and make-up from an earlier performance. And if I hadn’t seen that guy who hurt me dancing at that moment, I wouldn’t have gone for a drink. If I hadn’t gone for a drink, I wouldn’t have tripped. If I hadn’t tripped, he wouldn’t have caught me. He was Chuck*, a guy I knew through a friend. Soon, he became my own nightmare.
We talked the rest of the night, soon we were always talking, always together, and I found myself falling. Three weeks later, he told me that he’d gotten back together with his ex. We were watching a movie on my couch as we talked, and somehow, that night, we ended up making out — he got in my pants. I hated myself for that: I’m better than this, I told myself, but an evil voice whispered, He’s the only one who wants you. He is the ONLY one who will EVER want you.
He told me tales of his horrible, abusive mother and his girlfriend. He told me he truly wanted to be with me, and, like a fool, I believed him. This is how I became the “other woman.” Three months I sat by, believing that if I showed him how much I loved him, he would leave her to be with me.
Finally, in late January, I told him to decide who he wanted, and to stay out of my life until then.
He called me in March to tell me they’d broken up. We started fooling around again and I felt like less of a whore. Three days after my 18th birthday, in April, he asked me out, and a week later, I lost my virginity to him.
Soon I found myself at college, where I was studying dance. I thought things were great between us until he started threatening me. He’d tell me if I went out with my friends, he would break up with me, or how horny he was; how he was going to “give a shit-ton of chocolate and honey to a girl and get [himself] jumped.” This scared me.
Deep in my gut, I knew he’d already cheated on me over the summer, but I ignored it. I changed how I lived — made myself sick. I started to cut myself again, fell back into my anorexic ways, and hated myself. I was only happy when I was with him.
My wise Mama saw the signs, the downward spiral I was in. She tried to help, and I just shoved her away.
One night, I asked him if he’d ever cheated on me. This started a huge fight and he dumped me. After hours where I begged his forgiveness, promising I’d never to ask him if he’d cheated on me again, he took ME back.
I became so sick, so weak that I blew my knee out. My career was over. I was lost.
Chuck was happy – I left that college and moved home. I was half living with him, and still believed that I was happy. I swore I was happy even though he never took me out, never told his friends about me, canceled dates, and stood me up. I was never allowed to have a life outside of him. Another warning sign I wish I’d noted.
Soon, I was trying to rebuild my life when he broke up with me again: “We need a break so you can focus on healing yourself. But you’re always welcome to spend the night,” he said. Now I know he just wanted to keep me as a bed-warmer.
He left for a family vacation. During that time, I was raped by someone I’d trusted.
Chuck went crazy, calling me a worthless whore when he found out. A month after the rape, after I’d begged for his forgiveness, he took me back. Not as a girlfriend, though, because we still “needed time” to heal.
For the next four months, my life consisted of waiting for him to decide to take me back as his girl. If I denied him sex, if I didn’t risk falling asleep driving from my new college dorm to his place, if I didn’t skip classes to sleep because he’d kept me up all night, I was the most horrible human being in the world. If I did anything to anger him, he would scream, telling me how pathetic I was. When we talked, he talked down to me, as if I were a naïve child, incapable of understanding. If I countered him in any way, he’d yell and threaten me.
Chuck called me right after I found out my Mama had cancer. He managed to convince me he was going to break up with his girlfriend, and we would be together again. Like a total idiot, I believed him. But as my Mama got sicker, I spent less time with him and more with her. He made me feel guilty for it, but she needed me. Just four months later, she was dying.
At this point, Chuck was diagnosed with a disease that attacked his nervous system, but I couldn’t be in two places at once. When he was high on his medications, he’d become violent with me, so I stayed away from him. He was still with his girlfriend, and I was starting to have my doubts about him.
I lived alone at my parent’s house while my Dad stayed at the hospital with my Mama. My school was between the hospital and our house, so I became an expert at commuting. My friend, Tom, would stay the night with me – we took turns sleeping on the floor or couch because I didn’t want him to sleep in my room. When I had nightmares, he’d hold me until I fell asleep.
Dad and I were at lunch the Tuesday after finals. He had driven up to check on me, and as we ate, we got the phone call that Mama was gone. I hugged him as I cried, and went outside to text my friends before going back to force myself to finish lunch. When I got home, Tom was waiting for me. He held me as I sobbed uncontrollably laying on my Mama’s side of my parents’ bed. He held me until my Dad came home, and I finally let go of him.
Tom came to the funeral and sat behind me, rubbing my shoulder when I cried. Dad and my best friend, Cat, held my hands. Cat joined my family for dinner that night; Tom was over the next day.
Chuck sent a text four hours after Mama died. “I’m sorry, hon.” He didn’t come to the funeral. Didn’t even text or call to ask how I was.
Soon afterward, Chuck’s girlfriend asked Tom if he was cheating on her. Tom stayed quiet for me. He gave Chuck, his old friend, a choice: tell his girlfriend that he was cheating or Tom would. Chuck sent the two of us the same text: “I refused to pick between you two, so I pick neither.”
This was two weeks to the day after my Mama died.
I screamed at Tom; I felt so betrayed. But the worst, most hurtful thing that Chuck said to me: “You were nothing but something to keep me happy when she didn’t. I never wanted you. I was happy with her. Why would I ever be with you? You’re nothing to me. And now, because of you and your buddy Tom, she dumped me. Thanks. You ruined the only chance I had to be happy.”
Tom had, after all, told the girl she was being cheated on.
I was sick in bed for four days after that. I stopped answering my phone, deleted all texts from Chuck without reading them – I knew he was just being ugly. Finally, all the warnings I’d gotten and ignored made sense: he was nothing but a manipulator who’d used me. And I’d let him. He’d manipulated me into believing whatever he said. I believed that God had killed my mother as punishment to me for being such a pathetic excuse of a human.
Tom finally came to my door. I hugged him so tightly and cried until I fell asleep.
Tom became my lifeline and soon I was in love with him. He treated me better than any guy ever had, he listened, he tried to help me heal. I tried to deny what I felt for my friend, but when you feel nothing but shattered and empty, you hold on to any other feeling like it’s the only thing keeping you alive. We ended up sleeping together as we tried to figure out what we were becoming.
Tom and I were still trying to figure out what was going on when he decided to tell his ex-girlfriend – one of my best friends – Jane what had happened. Jane broke that night. She told me that I was a whore and never to talk to her again. Tom left and the last I heard from him was a letter confessing that it was all his fault and he was no better than Chuck. Jane moved home after school, and though I have seen her twice, she turns away and pretends I don’t exist while I fight not to cry or run up and hug her. I love her, and I hate myself for hurting her.
Chuck is gone from my life, and my Dad forced me into therapy. I find my wounds from Chuck are still bleeding. Because of him I am depressed, have severe anxiety, am a borderline alcoholic and borderline sex addict. I am also a survivor of emotional and sexual abuse. In relationships, I panic and shut down completely. I cannot handle being yelled at and actually went off on a professor when he began to say the same things Chuck had said to me.
Tom helped me, he made me a better person, and because of him I had the strength to return to my church and my faith after Chuck pulled me from it. I know my only path for forgiveness is in God, and through my faith, I have forgiven Chuck. I cannot manage to forgive myself for the years of pain I have caused. I pray someday I might be forgiven by both Jane and Chuck’s ex-girlfriend, Gina, and that I will be able to hug them each one last time.
I pray that, by a miracle, I can talk to Tom and find out how he feels about me. I still love him. The same voice of hope that whispered that my Mama was going to be alive to help me celebrate the end of finals, whispers that maybe Tom and I will have a chance at a future together….
I wish that somehow everything will turn out okay. I cannot explain how much I hate myself for what I did; who I became. I want nothing more than to hug my friends again and to feel that something in my life will be right again. I pray and wish and hope to be forgiven, even if I feel like I don’t deserve it.
This is my story. This is what no one wanted me to say, what no one wanted to hear. But it was time for me to tell my story, and maybe time for the truth to come out.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
When I was 15, my childhood best friend tried to kill herself.
My family had moved away two years before, so I wasn’t there. I wasn’t the one in school who she told that she’d swallowed all the Tylenol. I wasn’t there to watch her life fall apart and hold her hand through it all. I wasn’t there to see her slow descent into that darkness.
But the truth is, I knew.
I knew from her letters, from the sporadic phone calls. I knew from other people’s letters. I had been waiting for that phone call telling me she’d done it. Honestly, I’d been afraid no one would call me. I was afraid to send her a Christmas card in case something had already happened.
But when it finally happened, she was okay.
She had her stomach pumped and was admitted to an in-patient adolescent psych facility. She came out with dyed black hair, a teen bipolar diagnosis, and a cigarette habit.
She came out unrecognizable.
The next summer, I went to stay with her for a week, as I had the summer before. It was different. It was scary. Everything was just a little bit off. I sat in the waiting room of her psychiatrist’s office while she went for a check-in.
At the end of the week, her mother took me aside and asked if she’d been acting weird. I kind of shrugged and half laughed, but her mother asked again, telling me she was serious. That was when I realized something I hadn’t quite gotten before.
I was supposed to be watching her.
She stayed with me for a week after that. We went to the boardwalk. She flirted with the 20-year old ride attendant, and skipped down the boardwalk singing American Pie at the top of her lungs. She listened to the Beatles constantly, flipping the cassette of Abby Road over in the player whenever it ended, the music running all night long.
I was afraid. I was sad. I wasn’t strong enough to keep her from slipping out of control.
After that summer, there weren’t any more letters. I got a Christmas card from her a few years later, but I didn’t answer it. I didn’t call on her birthday anymore.
I’ve never really forgiven myself for that. If I could see her again, I would tell her I’m sorry, that I wish I could have been there for her, that I wish I had known how to be present and accepting of everything she was going through.
But I was 15.
I taught high school for 5 years, and if 15 year old me had been in one of my classes? I would have hugged her. I would tell her that it was a lot to handle. I would tell her that it wasn’t her responsibility to keep someone else from slipping.
I would tell her that it wasn’t her fault.
I guess I’m just not ready to tell myself that yet.
Good morning! It’s Monday again. Doesn’t it feel like Monday are always here? Seems like every seven days or so we have another one. Jeez…
But today we’re finding something to be happy about!
It’s been a rough week around here. I’m feeling stressed and anxious and downright grumpy.
But this week, the husband and I get to have some time by ourselves.
I’ve been anxious about a very impromptu trip to Memphis, but the closer it gets, the more excited I get.
Thursday we head to the birthplace of Rock & Roll. And even though I hate Elvis and don’t eat meat on bones, I’m pretty sure I’m going to love it there.
We’ll head home late Friday and then on Saturday, one of my best friends gets married in North Georgia. We get to dress up and have fun with old friends!
Now that’s something to be happy about this week, right?
What’s your Happy?
Don’t think you have one? Look harder. Something will make you smile today.
We want to know!