When I read this post of Erin's (about last night's Oprah) I felt this sudden rush of shit to the heart. Erin mentions that she never knew that she had let herself become vulnerable to abuse and I know that not only did I do that once, but that I set that guy back into the world without saying a world.
When I was seventeen and a senior in high school I was in the process of just detaching from my life. I was going away to school, my friends were all staying behind, it had been a rough year with several deaths, my parents' marriage and our home life was not the best. It is normal for anyone to detach themselves a bit and in my situation I did it more extremely than most.
And I met a boy. A boy that wasn't like other boys that I ever dated. I went for the scrawny artistic type, who were full of themselves about the books they read and the music they liked. He was a football player, not going to college at all and was full of himself about sports teams and how much he could bench press. We spent a lot of time together that summer--I knew my mother was worried, worried that I wouldn't go to school, that he would ruin everything. I wanted to tell her that I enjoyed his company but I didn't love him, not to worry. But I kept things from my mother then--not because I wanted to hurt her but because I didn't really know not to.
And I went away at the end of the summer. We "stayed together" but I didn't consider us serious. But he did. He called me every night. He wrote to me, sent me terrible and unintentionally hilarious mixed tapes.
He was obsessive, calling over and over until I answered--even at 3am. And I was an idiot. I thought he loved me. I didn't break it off really--just let it keep going. I loved school but it was nice to have some one care about me so much.
And things happened at school, things that are too complicated to go into, but I wasn't going back the next year. I was welcome back but I wasn't going and I didn't know what I was going to do exactly. Get a job, go to school at home. Freak the hell out.
I got home and my friends had moved on. My parents were so crazy, I didn't want to live there. And they were angry with me--they thought I had come home for him. And, in a move that didn't prove them wrong in the slightest, I moved in with him.
And that is when he stopped thinking I was so wonderful. He didn't like my clothes anymore. Or my hair. He was the only one allowed to have friends. We ate what he wanted, watched the movies he liked, listened to only the music he liked. But I couldn't leave, that would be admitting I had made a bad decision. GASP.
So I stayed. I was so isolated. He manipulated me about sex--I wouldn't label it rape but it wasn't exactly consensual either. But still, I was an adult. It was my job to take care of myself and I was doing a shitty job. I was also falling apart. Until then I had been a fairly confident person. I thought I was intelligent and capable, funny and interesting. I wasn't afraid to try new things or meet people. I followed my impulses. But I wasn't that girl anymore.
Eight months later we were arguing about all the people he was having over, the drugs they were doing, it was just too much for me. And he slapped me across the face. We both freaked out a little. Staring at each other. And I realized that I was afraid of him. He outweighed me by more than 100 pounds. I would be hard pressed to protect myself from him.
And I left a week later. All the obstacles about pride and no support system and money just faded away. I felt blessed and feel grateful every day that I called my dad and he helped me.
He is angry with me about though. Even today. Disappointed. Because I didn't press charges. I didn't even report it.
I can't explain to him why exactly. I mean I give him the concrete reasons, how it was a slap which is sort of a gray area in the assault code. That I couldn't prove anything, that I had no bruises or witnesses. That all I could offer was me, the ex-girlfriend. What I couldn't explain was how I was grateful for that slap. How it pushed me into action. How I KNEW that was abuse, even though I had failed to recognize the things he had been doing to me for months. The things that changed me as a person I couldn't see. That slap woke me up.
I will never be the person I was in high school again. I mourn her. She was somebody I really loved. I like who I am now too, I think I am stronger for it. More watchful and wary. That is both good and bad.
I didn't press charges because I saw his face after that slap. Felt him watch me as I packed. And even though I fled that house as if he were chasing me with a torch he never attempted to stop me. I didn't press charges because I believe in the capacity for change. And we were barely adults, and maybe he grew up with that slap.
But I still worry. And when I hear stories of women abused I wonder if I betrayed my fellow women the way my father thinks I did. I have googled his name, not for the reasons that you usually check up on an ex, but to see if he has ever been charged with domestic violence.
It is hard to feel good even when there are no results. Maybe she didn't press charges either.