On Frying Pans and Fires

!!TRIGGER WARNING!!

This part of the story is going to come in two parts, much like my relationship with this individual. Yes, I was one of those women who left and went back. Hear me out, and you might find that despite some slight degradation from head injuries, our brains function close to the same. People don’t go back to an abusive partner because they like abuse. They go back because they’ve internalized and rationalized the abuse to the point where they may have even thought they imagined it.

Let’s begin at the beginning, however, because beginnings are incredibly important to the narrative of an abusive relationship.

Mine should have been telling. I moved out of my family home at 19, nearly a year after the incident with my stepfather. My mother and I had been having more and more vicious fights, and my stepfather’s sister offered to help me lease an apartment from a friend of hers. I hadn’t yet realized the woman was pure evil, so I was still okay with accepting help from her.

The apartment proved to be the perfect getaway. It was barely a one-bedroom, but there was a good-sized walk-in closet, a nicely sized bathroom, and even a little deck in the back. My immediate neighbors on the floor were fun and kind. There was a couple to my left and to my right, and halfway up the stairs you started to smell the pot smoke.

The left side were more hippie types, and to the right was a big, jovial black man and his sharp, smart-mouthed girlfriend. I would often stop by their place to smoke with the man and either play cards or watch trash tv. My friends left over from high school would visit, and I was given a little albino leopard gecko by a co-worker so I had a little companion as well. Things had been bad, but life had thankfully hit a lull.

Then one night I went out with a group from work. They knew a waitress who worked at a local restaurant and would serve us alcohol even though I was underage. I left mildly buzzing with a bartender I worked with, and she told me one of her friends had some salvia he was wanting to smoke with her. I had never tried it and begged her to take me with.

We drove out to a park bench by the river. Lightning occasionally flashed overhead, but there was no rain. It was a weirdly still night. We met up with the guy she’d claimed was a friend and another of our co-workers. I volunteered to try the first bowl, and the guy friend packed it up with tobacco and sprinkled some of the salvia over it. I lit it, inhaled deeply, and waited.

At first nothing happened, and I got halfway through asking if I should take another hit when laughter seized me. I couldn’t stop laughing, in fact. I doubled over with it, then snapped backwards as the trip began. My body felt like it was moving in still frames, and I could see a huge, hulking dark creature rising from the river. A chorus of buzzing voices were repeating a strange word over and over. I was convinced I was dead, we were all dead, and this was hell.

When I came to, I was on my back on the ground, my throat raw from screaming. The guy friend was bent over me, his face twisted in concern, repeating soothing things over and over. I struggled to catch my breath and slowly sat up. He told me later that I had made a run for the river, and he and the other guy had both had to haul me back and pin me to stop me from throwing myself in. Then I had started shrieking wordlessly over and over, and the other guy, afraid of how it would look if two guys were pinning a screaming girl to the ground, had run off. He had stayed behind to talk me down.

He got my number that night and texted me the next day to apologize again for my bad trip. He was sweet, charming, and an excellent conversationalist. I loved talking to him. He invited me out for a poolside date, and I readily agreed.

He brought drinks with him to the date, and I left already buzzing. He bought more and took me bowling with him and some friends. I got tanked to the point of blacking out and woke the next morning naked in my bed with him. I was mortified. I didn’t do that kind of thing. Slutty women did that kind of thing, and I was not a slutty woman. I told him as much, but I could see he didn’t buy it. I was all over him the night before, he told me, and I had enthusiastically invited him back to my apartment. It was okay though, he said. He still wanted to see me. He didn’t think any less of me.

Relieved, I agreed to another date. We started seeing a lot of each other, and I trusted him enough to leave him alone in my apartment. I came home one day to find it spotless and a note on the floor saying he had cleaned it and he loved me. I was absolutely touched.

I didn’t notice anything strange until one day when I was at my neighbor Luke’s smoking and watching trash tv. My guy was going to a college about forty-five minutes out of town, so I had some time to kill. We were texting back and forth, and I told him what I was up to. There was a sudden silence. I periodically checked my phone to see if he’d texted back yet, but I didn’t think much of it. Until forty-five minutes later, when there was a loud pounding on the door. Immediately, Luke and I exchanged fearful looks, as it sounded like the standard “cop knock”. He got up and went to the door, then burst into a smile and opened it. He barely got through a greeting when my boyfriend, who had dropped everything and driven home because I admitted to hanging out alone with a platonic male friend, snapped at me to go back to my apartment.

Confused, I followed him next door. And spent the next several hours trying to defend myself against cheating accusations and perplexing orders to stop smoking pot because it made me a drug addict. Sure, I’d turned to it in an effort to dull the pain of being kicked out of my family for being abused, but that didn’t make me an addict. Without any idea why I was suddenly being told I had done wrong, I agreed not to hang out with Luke alone ever again and stop smoking pot completely. He made me destroy my pipe to show I was serious.

This set the precedent for years of strict control over my behaviors, who I spent time with, where I went, and basically every other aspect of my life. If I had a different thought than him, I would have to spend hours, even days, trying to defend it before finally succumbing out of pure exhaustion and admitting that he was right and the very way I thought was wrong. He was a Christian and socially conservative, while I was an atheist and a bisexual who firmly believed in LGBT rights. I’ll leave you to just imagine how often we fought.

It became a daily thing. Everything I did, said, and genuinely felt or thought was something to find fault with. We’d fight into the wee hours of the morning, and if I had an early class or work in the morning and tried to sleep, he’d turn on the lights, shake the bed, and make sure I stayed conscious enough to continue the fight. It was inescapable. I finally had enough and told him I didn’t want to continue the relationship.

He asked me to talk it over with him somewhere else. I agreed. He drove us to his parents’ house where he lived at the time, and went inside to get something. I waited until he walked out holding a black plastic case, which he put in the backseat. It was his .44 gun. I began to get nervous, but I was incredulous that he would do anything to hurt me. Then he drove me out to a secluded forest preserve and told me to get out. Nervousness turned to terror. We started walking and talking about where we wanted the relationship to go. I finally got up the courage to ask if he had brought me out here to kill me if I left him. He acted as if that was the craziest question he’d ever heard. I pointed out that he brought me into the middle of nowhere with a gun, and he told me he had only brought it along “just in case”. Still, it shook me enough that I told him I would stay with him and try to work on things.

I ended up regretting that. The fighting continued, escalating at times into physicality. There was one night we went to a party a friend of mine was having. He didn’t want to be there, and he’d taken along a rather odious friend of his. We left early, which I protested against, and he told me calmly that I had a drinking problem and he wouldn’t enable it. He told me my friends were awful, and he and his friend had gone through their coat pockets and stolen from them. I got angry, and the fight commenced. I was packing my things when we got back to his place, telling him I wanted to leave and have no more to do with him. He wrestled the suitcase away from me, grabbed my shoulders and shook me hard, then picked me up and threw me (there was a significant height difference–me at 5’1″ and him at 6’5″). The rest of that night is cloudy, but I do remember that distinctly.

He requested my passwords for Facebook, email, etc., telling me that if I had nothing to hide, I wouldn’t have a problem with giving them to him. He gave me his as well, changing them soon afterwards and accusing me of violating his privacy when I brought up how unfair I found that. Of course he needed to check up on me; I was the one who had cheated on a significant other before, not him (this was a lie).

He brought in his father at one point to “counsel” us. His dad was a marriage counselor, and my boyfriend convinced me he could help us with the fighting. His father sat down, and my boyfriend began tearing into everything about me. I sat in stunned silence, trying not to cry and give him the satisfaction. When he was done with his rant, his dad quietly turned and looked at me, as if for an explanation as to why I was such a terrible human being. I excused myself to go outside for a cigarette. His dad left shortly after, and rage had replaced my sadness. I threw a glass into the wall, and my boyfriend called his dad again, telling him to come back because he was afraid I’d hurt him. The irony made me laugh, and he told me I was horrible for finding his fear of me funny.

The last straw came one night when I was supposed to be babysitting my siblings while my mother was out with a boyfriend. My guy brought his BB gun along for whatever reason, and started shooting at a rabbit in the yard. He pumped it full of BB pellets, then grabbed a tennis racket to beat it to death. Unable to watch, I snatched the poor animal up myself and twisted its head around. We ended up fighting so badly that night that I ripped a necklace he’d given me off of my neck and threw it out the car window. I slapped him at one point when he called me a whore, one of his favorite insults for me along with “dyke”, “crazy bitch”, and “kill yourself” (he knew about my depressions and past suicide attempts). The next morning, I told him I was done. I told him we were toxic for each other, and I couldn’t take it anymore. We worked at the same restaurant at the time, and he told me he was never going in again. I had to explain to our boss that he wouldn’t be back.

I need to add something to this: the sexual abuse. The first time it happened, I was in tears over being referred to as a “dyke” and a “freak” by his best friend in a message telling him why he shouldn’t date me. Ignoring this, he undressed me from the bottom down and started having sex with me. I had given no indication of wanting sex and told him this a couple minutes in, and he got angry. He wanted sex, and he wanted me, and his friend’s completely correct opinion of me shouldn’t make a difference. I shut up and waited for him to finish.

Later on, I would wake up to pain as he shoved himself inside me while I was sleeping. He wanted to wake up to sex, so I should want the same, he said. I told him not to do it anymore because it hurt. He laughed it off and continued waking me up to it. I didn’t realize for the duration of that relationship that I had an actual reproductive issue because I was so used to being in pain and bleeding when I wasn’t supposed to be.

In the second half of the relationship, I was on a sleeping pill that would often cause me to black out. Once, he took advantage of that fact. I came to some time during and tried to push him away and tell him no, but I lost consciousness again. I told my brother what had happened, and he tried to fight him. Later he told me to tell my brother that I had lied. After all, I even got the condom for him. Obviously I had wanted it. It wasn’t rape. It was just me being completely unable to consent and trying to tell him to stop when I was finally semi-conscious.

Even after we broke up the first time, I bought every one of his explanations. He wasn’t the bad one; I was. I had ruined our relationship with how bad of a person I was. I couldn’t be what he wanted, so I left. It took years to fully admit what had happened to me to myself. To admit that what had happened to me at his hands was not my fault. I hadn’t “made” him do anything. I hadn’t given his behavior some stamp of approval just because I didn’t recognize what was going on.

The second half gets worse. Again, though, that’s for another day. I need some blues, a smoke, and to forget again for awhile.

Abuse is often insidious. No one wants to admit to themselves that they “allowed” that kind of treatment. What they don’t recognize is that we didn’t allow it because we didn’t know what was happening. We thought it was our faults. It was caused by some failing in us. We thought it wasn’t as bad as it may have seemed, that people just didn’t understand our relationship. We made excuses for them to ourselves as well as to concerned friends and family.

No one wantsto be treated badly, especially by someone they love, someone they think loves them. It’s just plain silly to think people stay with abusers because they like or accept abuse. I will never understand why people actually think this way. It’s counterintuitive and incredibly harmful. It’s this and other thoughts like it that keep abuse victims in abusive relationships, and it needs to go away. If you have a friend or family member undergoing this kind of treatment, let them know they have your full support and understanding, and they don’t need to stay with that person. They can and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.

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