Testimony of Terror
Has there ever been a moment where you wanted to write about something but at the very instant you are in front of the computer screen (or blank notepad), your thoughts go toward something else?
Dear Readers, Writers and Precious Patrons, this in unfolding first hand, before your very eyes. You see, I was all set to talk about some cool, light hearted spin on the theme of Issue 12. Yet, as I sit here, more pressing lines call for spotlight.
Who am I to deny the beat of the pen?
(play on words intentional)
This will be a very rare occurrence. I dare not say “once in a lifetime opportunity”. That falls in the same category as “never say never”. I will take off the crown and the flowing gown with shimmers of unleashed threads.
Horror is fascinating to read about in books and to see unfold on the big screen. Is it just as appealing when one is in a relationship that serves as a testimony of terror?
Growing up, I saw two different interpretations of what a relationship should represent.
One snapshot was the dynamic I had been around since the age of three—two people who supported each other and cared for each other through good and bad. The love may have not been stated through words but it was demonstrated time and time again through action.
The other picture was a bit more passionate, a bit more erratic: a woman who sought love despite opposition from others and would not rest until she was completely satisfied. This resulted in her track record for successful affairs not being very stellar. The latter also echoes what one would see in romance works that feature the “good woman vs. bad boy” portrait.
Since my grandparents did not want me to repeat the mistakes of their youngest child, they did certain things attempting to protect me. In doing so, their chains of protection were easily misinterpreted as the shackles deterring a natural growth in my adolescent years.
Quite honestly, the majority of my relationships prior to high school could not be considered relevant to the outside world. I just saw the guys during the timeframe at school and that was the extent of it. The few friends I did have perceived this set up as strange. The more they talked about the freedoms they had at their ages, the more skeptical my view became on my upbringing.
However, because I wasn’t involved with any guy who dared to challenge my grandparents’ arrangement, I didn’t feel like the rules were grossly unjust.
During senior year of high school was when I met my rebel.
In hindsight, I can say that it was the rebel in him that appealed the most to me—the way he conducted himself with no apologies and seemed extremely happy and content.
In comparison, I was solely existing.
Outsiders saw me as this female with a bright future ahead. Quiet, intelligent—the antipodal to my mother. Yet, this discontent simmered inside me. I battled whether all of these rules were not so much for me as it was for the people who raised me, serving as some type of redemption for their own guilt.
I did not want to try to figure them out. I was tired of not feeling like I was me. Who was I exactly? I was about to reach the next phase of my life, yet I still had no inkling.
I was practically grown but felt no older than eleven or twelve years old.
Damien* (name has been changed) admired my “good girlness” but detested the elements that made it so. He couldn’t understand why he was not allowed to come over to my house, or go out on dates. His favorite line was, “If you love me, you will do this for me.”
Soon, I was doing activities—things I wouldn’t normally do—all for the sake of maintaining a good relationship with him, to proving my love for him. The gift I wanted to save for my husband ended up being his present instead. I wanted to believe that Damien was the guy I would stay with.
Unfortunately, the moment he obtained my virginity, the passion of the Forbidden soon became the scorch of Hell.
Damien would throw tantrums if I went a day without calling him, or if I didn’t call him at the exact time we discussed. Calling him at 5:33 when we agreed upon 5:30 was unacceptable.
Tiny incidents escalated from a molehill to a mountain in zero to sixty seconds. Even when proof surfaced that his assumptions was incorrect, Damien would still treat his suspicions as gospel and handle me as if I were untrustworthy. Two examples of his behavior stick out like a sore thumb.
One day, I was using the curling iron to style my hair. The end of the wand grazed against my neck and left a tiny burn mark. I was running late for school that day, so I positioned my hair so the flaw was covered. When I had lunch with Damien that afternoon, he noticed the mark and fired off all types of questions:
“Why is there a passion mark on your neck?”
“Who left it there?”
“Do I know the guy?”
It didn’t matter how much I told him that it was in fact a burn mark made by the curling iron—Damien was convinced that I was cheating. This lead him to actually cheat with one of his ex-girlfriends and use his paranoia to justify why he did it.
This was his first incident of cheating. Most women would have hit the road. Damien was a master of mental and emotional manipulation: so much in fact, that he could take an incident which was unequivocally his fault, then provide expertly placed spin causing you to not only take the blame but also apologize in the interim.
I knew I hadn’t cheated. Damien convinced me that since unfaithfulness on my end was the more believable narrative, then I should have expected the retaliation since I “hurt him so much”. I was convinced to see his take.
Needless to say, I stayed.
The longer I was with Damien, the more I was out of my element. One particular adventure with Damien landed me in trouble. Since trouble and I were never an item, school officials stepped in and ordered Damien and I to end our relationship. All were convinced he was a bad influence and that once he was clearly out of the picture, I would be back on track.
To appease them and my grandparents, we made it look as if we terminated our bond. A close friend of mine (as well as his cousin) acted as the lookout, along with being the messenger when we had to rely on written correspondence.
This was when another example of his Damien’s aforementioned tendency surfaced.
Internally, I was torn. For one, Damien was behaving strangely and I had no clues as to why. For two, I was unsure whether I still wanted to invest in this union. The glee of going against the grain was wearing off. The instability made me look in the mirror and detest my reflection. Talking with Damien’s cousin always helped. It calmed me so that pertinent decisions made regarding Damien could be conveyed sans emotion.
That day, I sought that calm.
Normally his cousin and I would stay in the room a few minutes after class was dismissed. However, due to an after school meeting, we went outside. Everyone was waiting for transportation to get to their homes. We sat next to each other but kept our voices low so others couldn’t listen in on the conversation. Damien wasn’t there but one of the exes that he stayed friends with apparently was, keeping an eye on the cousin and me.
Everything came to light when a very irate Damien confronted me the very next day.
I was rearranging some literature as part of my duties as counselor aide. I couldn’t even get my version of events spoken without Damien calling me everything but a child of God. Then, he demanded that I give back a piece of jewelry that he gifted me, which I refused. Hearing the yelling, the guidance counselor came out just when he tried to grab me and snatch the ring off my finger. She ordered Damien to leave, adding that I didn’t have to return anything that was a gift. Damien and I did break up after that confrontation. I busied myself with final exams and preparing to graduate.
About three weeks after I graduated, Damien stopped by my job. We talked for a long time. During the talk, he apologized for how he treated me, said he missed me and still loved me. He pleaded with me to give him one more try, even offering to appeal to my grandparents to win their favor. Damien seemed sincere. Even his cousin claimed Damien was behaving better and becoming more mature.
The third time had to be the charm, so I believed. The belief was destroyed once another woman’s scent and trysts leftover from a sexual encounter—think small reenactment of 50 Shades—surfaced and was verified by our mutual friend.
My cuckold threshold was maxed out. I was finally able to put the nail in the coffin and bury my tempestuous relationship with Damien.
I cannot sit here and pretend that after Damien, my love batting average was terrific. As a matter of fact, the relationship after Damien was way worse. The reason I did not talk about that guy, who equated to the full embodiment of my terror, is that before a storm reaches full force, it all has to start somewhere.
Damien was my starting point.
Why am I talking about all this?
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The occurrence of domestic violence has shifted over the years from being rare to being quite commonplace. The face of domestic violence isn’t just one gender (although the focus is still primarily women). Despite more people being vocal, the percentage of abuse happening in relationships keeps rising.
Yes, a huge focus is on the violent aspect of abuse. However, there are also signs that mimic abuse that aren’t physical but just as harmful. Here are some things that Damien did that officially labeled him as my first abusive relationship.
- Embarrassed me with put-downs. Whenever I did something that upset Damien, he would be very quick to criticize me. He would put down my weight or call me stupid, not caring who was around. He tended to be louder and more abrasive in front of an audience.
- Controlled my actions. Regulating my phone calls, dictating where we would go and what we would do all the time were things Damien did constantly.
- Told me his bad behavior was my fault. Many times, Damien would claim I “would make him do certain things” or that I was just “being oversensitive and it was no big deal”. Anyone that tries to negate your feelings so that he feels powerful is a form of abuse.
- Badgered me about sex, not caring whether I wanted to perform. Despite telling him that I wanted to wait, he kept putting pressure on the issue, claiming the quicker we made love, the deeper our love would be.
It is those invisible scars that linger. One bad relationship can thwart how you see yourself and how you interact with others. It puts toxicity into otherwise healthy things. If one doesn’t have enough time or discernment to repair the damage, then others will swoop in like vultures to feed off the weakness.
As a result, a person entering into another abusive relationship is not strange to see. Usually, a person thinks the next mate is going to be better, only for the affair to unknowingly repeat the same rhythm.
I was lucky to have survived my erroneous choices in companionship. Some people were not so lucky, leaving family members and friends to grieve their losses.
I say all that to say the following:
- Real life terror is anything but beautifully thrilling.
- No relationship is perfect, but you have the right for your feelings, thoughts, and person to be treasured and respected.
- Manipulation is not love.
- Just because someone is not putting his/her hands on you doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing abuse. The impact of emotional and mental abuse can last for decades after the person has broken away from the perpetrator. Sometimes, behaviors associated with the trauma never go away. There can be times when a person can unknowingly trigger the behaviors, no matter how much treatment or self healing one receives.
- If you are that person who is always saying “Why didn’t she get out the first time? You must be dumb, don’t have a lot going for yourself, etc…”, I will let you know, not just as a survivor but one who has interacted with others, it is not that cut and dried: particularly if one has children, particularly if the abuser is the primary breadwinner. This is a whole ocean of grey and all dimensions of the grey have to be handled correctly. Abuse does not discriminate on race, sexuality, gender or educational background. Even a person with a Ph.D. can be so in love that she can dare to bend, even break her typical preferences and requirements.
- If you are an individual who is prone more to judgment than real assistance, then your approach may do more harm than good in terms of friendship. The person is already feeling some type of way about what she is going through. Do you really think shining a strobe light on the obvious (you need to leave) is going to make things better, or magnify things ten times worse because she knows you speak truth? If you can’t listen without condemning, then it’s best for you to not even pick up the phone. You aren’t the support she needs at that point. The abused needs someone that will applaud the attempt and provide the resources crucial for assistance. However, if things do not pan out, be that person who will remain a lifeline. Be that one who says “I’m still here.” Dare to be the minority because the majority have already wiped their hands.
I share this in the hopes that it will assist others. I will be that minority to others, to demonstrate what they can survive. I don’t want anyone to go through the spooks of abuse that can haunt them for years.
Don’t let flawed choices make you a prisoner of a potential cycle. Learn from it, grow from it. That marks the difference between mentally staying a victim and mentally evolving as a survivor.
In short: A Southern girl who went beyond surviving and is finally living
In long: A devoted granddaughter, loyal friend, fierce revolutionary, passionate poet, storyteller, creative eccentric, and a woman born with a lot of fight
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: