Why I Stayed

I’ve been trying to decide for a long time how to tell this story. It’s a difficult story to tell but it needs to be told.

I met my ex when I was a senior in high school a month before I turned 18. He seemed perfect in those beginning days. He was thoughtful and sweet. He was everything I needed at the time. The relationship really shouldn’t have lasted more than 5 years but by that point I was so far in and so convinced that I had to see this through to the end that I couldn’t back out of it. I had the weight of expectations on my shoulders and I’d never ended a long term relationship before. I didn’t know who I was without him.

On the outside, he is the perfect type of man. Sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent, and kind. But inside is a much darker man. People ask me why I stayed so long. Why didn’t I leave? They think that surely I must have known well before the end what type of man I had tied myself to. It’s easy from the outside looking in to see the signs. But when you’re in the middle of it, it’s so easy to convince yourself that you’re overreacting. It sneaks up on you.

Abuse has many faces. Mental abuse is easy to disregard and yet can be some of the most damaging abuse. By the time I realized what was happening, he had isolated me.

It starts small. Simple things that are easy to explain or disregard. He’d alternate between insulting me and complimenting me. One moment, he’d tell me I was stupid for having an opinion and then the next he would be telling me how much smarter I was than him. First I was fat and he wished I’d lose weight, then I was beautiful and he never wanted me to change. Your brain will alert you at first. It’ll throw up red flags because you know the man you love shouldn’t be speaking to you that way but he’d apologize or belittle you for being too serious. For taking things too personally or being too sensitive and you’d think well maybe I am being too sensitive. After a while, those red flags are gone and you just accept it as normal.

The isolation happens in increments. He started by talking about how much he missed me when I was gone with friends or family. He would act mopey when I was back and give me a hard time about how I “left him all alone” even though he was more than welcome to come spend time with me and my friends and family. He never wanted that though. I did everything short of flat out begging him to spend time with me and the people important to me and he always refused. I went out of town with family for a week, an event he was more than welcome to participate in, and he spent the entire time texting me about how sad a lonely he was. He started fight after fight until eventually I just wouldn’t talk to him while I was gone. I didn’t post anything on social media because the moment it appeared I was having fun, he would text me and try to start a fight. Whenever I called him on it he would claim he wasn’t trying to fight with me. He was just telling me how he felt. He was just stating his opinion. Nevermind that his opinion and feelings were hurtful to me. After a while, I was conditioned to avoid situations I knew would upset him. So I stopped spending time with friends. Eventually they stopped calling. Then they stopped texting. Then they stopped inviting me. I’d go weeks without seeing family. Finally, my father would call me and ask me where the hell I was and I’d stopped by to see them.

The silent treatment was his favorite weapon. It wasn’t an easy silence. It was a heavy kind of silence filled with trepidation and red flags. I could feel the weight of this silence on my chest while I counted minutes until he left for work. All the while, he would slam doors or walk heavily through the house. It was just the smallest threat of violence that kept me glued to my seat until the obligatory goodbye kiss. And kiss him I must or it wouldn’t be silence I’d get.

When it wasn’t silence, it was screaming. He would yell, sometimes for hours. He would call me every name he could think of. I was a bitch, I was a whore. I was unworthy. To hear him speak, you would think I was sleeping with every man who ever crossed my path. I won’t sugarcoat my wrong doing. I cheated during our time together. To be frank, I’d make the same decision if I had to go back to that time. I don’t condone cheating but I will say that sometimes I can understand. In my case, cheating made me feel like myself again. I didn’t know what I needed at the time. But it was at the point in the relationship where I had sex with him only to stave off abuse. Saying no meant enduring the name calling and the screaming. It meant risking physical abuse. Sex had lost most of it’s meaning. I was an object. I was a possession. So when I met a man who made me feel human again, a man who reminded me that my body was my own to do with it what I wished, I didn’t hesitate. I knew it was wrong the entire time I was doing it but those memories got me through very tough times. I wanted to take back possession of myself. And so I did. I regret nothing. He went through my things and eventually found out and used that as the basis for most of his ire. He said he could get beyond it but he wasn’t being entirely honest with himself.

One night, while I waited for him to leave for work, he started a fight. I have no idea what the fight was about. There were so many times he did this that they all kind of blur together. And even when he wasn’t losing his mind on me there was always the threat of it to keep me in line. In any case, he was yelling. I had fallen back on my normal strategy of not responding. In these times, no matter what he said, I would not react. This was the best strategy because if I didn’t react then the situation couldn’t escalate. Usually I wouldn’t move from my location on the couch but this time I got up. On my way back to my spot, to my phone, he decided he’d had enough of me not responding. He got in my face and started to yell at me. I still didn’t react. So he grabbed my wrists, held them above my head, and slammed me against the wall. He continued to scream in my face. I’m not sure what caused him to let go of me. I asked if he planned to hit me and told him that if so, I’d prefer he get it over with. That may have shocked him enough for him to release me. He left for work and pretended it never happened.

A little over a year before I left, we got a dog. Well, I got a dog. It was my decision. I picked him. I named him. I paid for his food and vet appointments. Zombie was my dog. He merely tolerated the man in my life. Once I got Zombie, I started to really notice the darkness in my relationship. The only time I ever got so angry that I threatened to harm him, was over my dog. Zombie knew something was wrong with this man. He would stand protectively in front of me and growl and bark any time he began to yell or get angry with me. He was seeing the warning signs I couldn’t. It was business as usual one night, Zombie was at least a year old at this point, and the screaming started. Zombie did his protector thing and was posted up in front of me, scruff standing up, barking and growling a warning. He kept yelling at Zombie to be quiet but the yelling did nothing but make Zombie bark louder. Zombie has never been one to back down. Especially not if his human might be in danger. He grabbed my dog by the collar and yanked him so hard across the room I could hear him choking. He was screaming with this crazy eyed look and Zombie, terrified from not being able to breathe and from all the yelling, peed on the floor. He immediately stopped yelling and released him and that’s when I started. I think I went a little crazy. I told him if I ever saw him lay another hand on my dog they’d never find his body. It was in that moment that he began to realize he was losing control of me.

It got worse and better from there. By this point, I’d made a few friends. Well, other than the man I was sleeping with. I didn’t intend to make friends. Frankly, they didn’t give me a choice. They just decided I needed them and that was that. I’d tell them bits and pieces about my life. The look on their faces usually gave me all the clues I needed to realize I was living in some kind of hellish Lifetime drama.

It took me a very long time to find the courage to leave. I made up my mind to go a thousand times but something always came up. I always found some excuse. I realize that now. Waiting for the right time never works. The time will never be right to take action. We just fool ourselves into thinking there is a right time.

I had plans to leave but he changed my plans rather abruptly. He was yelling again. I refused to have sex with him. I just couldn’t stomach it in those days. I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t want to touch him. So when he asked if I wanted to have sex (how romantic) I hesitated. The hesitation was all he needed. He began to scream. The countdown began. Just don’t react. Zombie was barking. I was texting a blow by blow to my friends and the man I’d been seeing. Then in the middle of this he says, “If I didn’t tell you all the things you do wrong to make me angry, eventually it’d all build up until I just ended up murdering you. Maybe that’s what you want. Maybe that’s your way out.” Now my brain hadn’t been throwing flags in a while but there was a bit of a flutter at these words. He leaves for work and I decide maybe I should ask for a second opinion. Am I overreacting? Is this worrisome or something people scream in anger and don’t mean? Of course they did not think I was overreacting.

My brothers wanted me to leave that night. I couldn’t wrap my head around leaving that night. My world was changing in a matter of seconds and I didn’t know what to do. I put it off. I would leave tomorrow. Only problem was, in my panic, I had forgotten what day of the week it was. He wouldn’t be going to work again for another two days. Those two days were difficult. I had to pretend nothing was wrong. I have never been a better actor. I even managed to make it through sex. The final day, I was ready. Just a few more hours and I’d be free. Oh how I wish it turned out that way.

He cornered me while I was taking a shower. That was his favorite place to confront me. When I was most vulnerable. He locked Zombie outside the bathroom door. He had gone through some Facebook messages on my tablet. I didn’t expect him to go snooping that day. He couldn’t get into my phone but my tablet was never locked. How do you answer the question, “So you’re leaving me, huh?” without escalating the situation? Misdirection and avoidance. My old friends. I asked him where he heard that. Focused on anything other than the truth long enough for me to get out of the shower, grab my phone off the sink, and get out of the bathroom. I texted everyone. Code Red. This was happening now.

What a terrifying couple of hours that was. My youngest brother and my father headed over as fast as they could. I was throwing things into bags while he was alternating between insulting me and begging me to stay. He was crying, screaming, yelling profanities, begging. At one point, he was laying in the floor sobbing so hard I thought he might pass out from lack of oxygen. But I remained strong. No reactions. No remorse. I would not console him. He tried to tell me that he wasn’t letting my family in the house. I had Zombie to protect me but there was no way I was going to let him isolate me again. I had to threaten to call the police if he didn’t let them in. When they arrived, he hid in the bathroom and refused to come out. I took my dog and my cat and as much as I could pack and carry in such a short time and I left.

I’d love to say I’m healed and I’ve moved on completely but healing is a long road. I still dream about being back there sometimes. Cornered and alone with no one to protect me, I wake up breathing heavily and trying to remember I’m safe. I’m finally filing for divorce soon. A whole 11 months later. I finally feel safe enough. He says he doesn’t want me back. He seems calm. When I mentioned divorce, he didn’t freak out. I still have to retrieve my things from his house. I won’t be alone with him. Soon this will all be just a bad memory. Freedom is in my view.