I knew he had been abused before he told me. I saw the scars on him, on his arms, his back and that glaring one on his forehead, which still makes me shudder when I think of how he got it. I saw pictures of where he grew up, heard him describe the violence and crime.

He told me early on in the relationship of all the pain he had endured in his thirty years of life: abuse as a child, the death of his sister and father, abandonment by his mother at the age of 6. He told me he was dead inside from the toll all of this had taken on him. Hearing his story, my heart broke for him in a way I never thought possible. I wanted more than anything to save him from this pain. Naively, I thought I could.

I thought if I loved him with my whole heart, held him in my arms every night, gave him constant affection, that it would be enough. And in the beginning it was. He told me over and over how happy he was with me and how it was all “a dream come true.” But before long he always needed more from me: I should have known what restaurant he wanted to go to, even thought he never told me, I should’ve known he liked mayonnaise on his sandwiches when he had always said honey mustard was fine, I should dress more fashionably and wear heels for him, I should be more like other girls, whatever that even means. He even told me that I should know more about sponges (not kidding, he was horrified when I didn’t know about every kind of sponge at the grocery store). I never measured up to his expectations. No matter what I did or said or how hard I tried, it was never enough.

He started to make a list of rules, of things I should or should not do. And it was up to me to memorize them by heart and follow them exactly, even though they changed constantly. One of the first rules was that I needed to stop wearing so much pink. I thought this was reasonable enough. Although pink is my favorite color, perhaps he was right and I should expand my wardrobe. The next was that I needed to be available for him sexually whenever he wanted it, whether I felt like it or not. The next rule, and what became the most threatening, was that I was not allowed to talk to other guys, ever. If a male stranger I didn’t know approached me and casually started talking, I had to immediately extricate myself from this situation, or at the very least, let it be known that I had a boyfriend. He threatened me about this one all the time, saying he would be “fucking furious” if he ever found me talking to another guy. I am not a flirt, but I am also not rude. If a person, male or female, is nice and starts talking to me, then I will continue the conversation like a normal human being. But this was not allowed according to him. I must be fully, entirely, his.

These rules became his way of trying to possess me and own me, and they worked. I stopped wearing my favorite pink t-shirts and replaced them with clothes he deemed “fashionable” (even though he was color-blind and admitted he had a horrible sense of style). My body was always his to do with as he pleased. He started taking on the lovely habit of grabbing me and touching me whenever and wherever he wanted, in the car, in rite aid, in bars, in a park in New York City; yet another way to degrade and own me. I cut people out of my life, rarely talking to my friends because I was so consumed by him and doing everything I could to meet his expectations. I lived in a constant state of fear, of accidentally slipping up and breaking one of these rules, and not knowing what would happen if I did. What’s more, in the back of my mind there was one thing he told me that no matter how hard I tried I could not forget: that he had been charged before by an ex-girlfriend for assault, battery, and rape.   I still wonder why he had even told me this. It wasn’t exactly like I had asked. But he did so at a time when I still believed he was the innocent victim and that is exactly the role he played when he told me. He said this ex-girlfriend tried to con him into a marriage because she was here illegally. When he found this out, she sought revenge by charging him. He was heartbroken because he had really loved her and he nearly lost his career because of her accusations. That was his story. And I believed him.

Despite all of these signs, the possession, the constant putting me down, the control, and even his previous charges, I never put the dots together. I never realized that these are classic signs of an abuser. I didn’t realize that up to 35% of people who were abused as children go on to become abusers themselves. This is not at all to say that having been abused as a child is a sentence to being an abuser later in life. I have known others who were abused and went on to become amazing people. But there is an undeniable correlation. All in all, he was a psych101 textbook case. And despite being an academic and spending much of my life buried in textbooks, I still didn’t see it. I ignored every warning sign no matter how obvious and apparent it was. He once even told me that “he was so in love with me that it was dangerous,” as if he himself was trying to warn me. But it didn’t matter. I looked the other way and tried to follow his rules and be the person he wanted. And I nearly lost everything.

Here is a poem I wrote about living in a world of rules, trying to be “enough” for someone and the prison that it all becomes.

Souls

Have you ever had a person steal your soul?
I have.
Now, what you may not know
Is it doesn’t feel so bad.
It always starts slow.
Change this.
Change that.
It’s better for you this way.
That’s what he would say.
So I believed
What did I know?
He was older.
He was more experienced.
Of course he knew better.

So I changed.
Piece by piece
I followed the orders exactly:
No more pink.
No more being silly.
I must be mature.
I must go dancing.
Heels and lace,
I must wear.
Thought I had no interest at all.
I really just didn’t care.

I did it for him.
I tried with all my heart
To become the person he wanted.
Until I fell apart
Until he stripped away everything that made me unique.
And made me into his mannequin,
That he could mold to this liking.
The transformation,
Rather striking.

A zombie,
A doll,
Call it whatever you want.
Without a soul,
There is nothing at all.
Empty, vacant stare,
A mere shadow of what was once there.

You may not notice.
But we are everywhere.
In the streets,
Schools,
And especially,
In perfectly manicured homes.
But what you wouldn’t know,
Is we have all been robbed,
By the men we have loved most.
So slow,
That even we did not know.
So this I ask of you,
Please find what they stole.
Please,
Find our souls.

 

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8 thoughts on “Warnings

  1. Holy crap!!! This just blew my mind gurl.. damn!
    We’ve been robbed .. yes! Of course we have, Haven’t we?
    The world is infected with ungrateful bastards! He may have robbed the most delicate feelings you had for him but he lost you and I hope that empty space stays empty for an eternity and beyond!
    Stay strong hun! ✌

    Like

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