When I was a sophomore in high school, we were assigned the task of making a timeline of how our adult life would look. A map, let’s say of where we saw ourselves in one, five, and ten years; a guide of how we would get there. That sounds fun, right? We all know who we are at the age of sixteen and what we want to do with our lives, right? Of course we do.
I didn’t struggle one bit with this assignment. If anyone knew their life plan, it was ME. ME SO HARD. I was going to attend the University of Washington, major in pre-med, get accepted to their medical school and then put in SO MANY years of work to become a neonatal surgeon. Yeah, that was me. Ms. Dream Big. I even made a point in the assignment to point out that I would not waste my time on a relationship. I was going to do it by myself, sans distractions.
You see, all my life, I was overweight. I got teased for it and sometimes by people who didn’t mean to because maybe they got upset with me and threw some low blows to really drive home how pissed they may have been. It happens. We have all been guilty of saying things to people without really meaning it. When it happens, cheap shots get taken because we know what will sting the most for them. I get it. Needless to say, I had insecurities. Outwardly everyone thought I was oozing confidence, but inside I was hurting. Feeling inadequate because of external factors is a shitty feeling. I just chose to smile my way through that. And say I didn’t want anyone because I really thought no one would love me.
Flash forward two years. I was accepted to UW. I basically moved out of my parent’s house the day after graduation and traipsed off to Seattle with a big fat CHECK MARK next to my precious timeline. I got a job, started school. I was cruising through my plan. And then I met a guy.
Of COURSE, I MET A GUY. He was different in ways I couldn’t describe. He was a schmoozer who had this way of speaking down to me without me realizing it most of the time. My inner drive started to snuff out and I never even saw it happening. I knew, I always knew deep down we weren’t right for each other but my self-worth was so diminished that I was in a cloudy maze. I couldn’t find my way out of it. It was pretty early on in our relationship when we got into a heated argument. I want to say I got lippy, but honestly, I don’t even think it was that. I defied his view, strongly enough that before I knew it, he had slapped me. HARD. And then immediately changed his tone and demeanor. He blamed me for making him lose his temper but in such an articulate way. It was poetic how he twisted it around to make me think it was my fault. HE started crying, calling himself names and before I knew what was happening, I was CONSOLING him. I was apologizing while tears silently slid down my stinging cheek.
You see, abuse can happen in so many ways and often times it is gradual. At least, it was in my story. There are warning signs that we see, that I certainly saw, and yet I couldn’t break free from him. My intelligent brain had receded into a frightened state and I was lost. He promised never to hit me again. He promised so many times, promised how much he loved me and while I knew I didn’t really love him, I didn’t want to be on my own. I didn’t want to find out if anyone would ever say that to me again.
Less than six months later it happened again. Just enough time had passed of me walking on egg shells to believe he meant his promise. He had a friend visiting and I was catering to his every need when his friend jokingly said, “Dude, you don’t deserve her.” For some reason that infuriated him, I could tell right away. Later on, in the bedroom another argument started. Something petty but well thought out. He baited me and even knowing it was happening, I fell into the trap. He slapped me and I remember thinking, “Your friend will hear this! What will he say? Will he save me?” And then I realized that it hadn’t stopped at the one slap. He was straddling me, choking me with all his might, and instead of fighting, I was watching it from afar. I thought, “This is it, this is where I die,” because there was no doubt in my mind that I could ever break free from this death grip he had around my throat. Black began to circle my vision, it was fading out. There were stars, just like that cartoons and I remember far away me thinking, “Those Tom and Jerry folks did a great job at getting that visual right.” And right before the black took over, he let go. He sat up. Left the room. Just let me sit there, gasping for breath.
A few days ago, Kulia and Sammy were having a chat while Moose and I were engrossed in a deep conversation about breakfast food when I heard her say, “You gotta ask Mom because she’s the one who will reach out to your Dad and if he gets upset, she’ll take the brunt of it.”
Gah, talk about a trigger phase. In an instant I was back in that room, fighting for air in my burning lungs. I was back in the car with a bleeding nose. I was back on the concrete of our walkway in Hawaii with him crouching over me saying, “I hate you,” over and over again. I have always taken the brunt of it. Getting away was one of the toughest nights of my life. When I think back to it, which isn’t as often anymore, I find another detail, another moment where things could have gone horribly wrong, or worse.
Domestic violence is an undeniable health crisis, not only in our country, but in our county. It is an unbiased, all-encompassing act that disproportionately affects women. I was one of them. And while these aren’t easy memories to share, I do so because I chose to silence my voice for the entire eleven years I gave to him. I won’t be silenced for one more day. I didn’t say anything for so long because it embarrassed me. It made me feel dirty and undeserving of friends or sympathy. The more I have shared, the easier it has become because I’ve begun to heal. It is no surprise to me to hear that only 25% of all physical assaults, 20% of all rapes, and 50% of all stalking perpetrated against females by their partners are reported to the police. None of it shocks me. In 2015, there were more than 3100 domestic violence calls for help in Whatcom County.
I am currently working towards joining the board of a local organization to continue to share my story, of which this is a small snippet. I no longer consider myself a domestic violence victim but rather a victor because many women lose their life. I could count numerous times that could have swayed that way, even though he never beat me to within seconds of my life. I will use my experiences to help women and children get out and lead safe lives and if you want to join this cause, need someone to talk to or just want to help, please reach out to me.