Growing up, we lived next door to a man who hit his wife. The routine was always the same. He would come home drunk, I would hear thumps that I later learned were the sounds of him slamming her against the wall, the kids would cry and she would run to our house for safety. All this happened past my bedtime, but I would try and peep through my keyhole to see what was happening as my father cleaned her wounds and my mother cradled her like a baby.
One evening, I was for some reason awake and got to see first hand what was happening. Her wrist was broken, she had blood everywhere and she was shaking. My presence was totally forgotten as my father, a doctor, tried to tell her he couldn’t patch her up this time, she need an x-ray, a cast and a hospital. He started to call the hospital and the police as she kept pleading with him to treat her as best he could and not report the assault.
At six years old, I remember looking at this woman and feeling angry on her behalf. I wanted to beat her bully up for her, to shout enough and take her away. I can’t remember what broke the reverie, but I was quickly put to bed as she was driven to the hospital.
I remember asking my mother the next day why her husband hit her, why she stayed and so many other questions. I wanted to make sense of the bleeding form in my living room. I got vague answers; she was jobless, he was a drunk, she had no family.
These answers formed my first idea of what an abused woman was. Weak, dependent, voiceless and most of all a victim. My other encounters with abuse solidified this. The TV ads on domestic violence always showed a weak, helpless woman. I made certain growing up, that I was strong, had a voice, options and most of all was a fighter.
Fast forward to 19. I met an older man that got me and most of all seemed proud of my fighting spirit. I fell fast and hard. Caught between a heady mix of love and intellectual camaraderie, I can’t quite tell when the insults started.
At first, it was a stab at my weight gain, which turned into making me know that touching me was disgusting. I left a million times, and came back a million times more. I cried so often, wondering who this weak person was. Whenever he would call and remind me of the man I fell for, I would go back. But there was never ever an apology, just a “Damn you” for being so infuriating and pushing me.
For 3 years, I kept coming and going, wondering what I lacked to just make it work, all the while trying to figure out who this person was that I had become. The last time, while out with friends, he called me a dog. I walked away and never looked back.
Six months later, I was “in like” with another man. The complete opposite of my older man. He adored me, bragged to anyone who would listen how intelligent I was and I got comfortable in my new role as his queen. One day, during an argument, he hit me. It was like time moved just a bit faster. One minute, his hand was raised, the next my cheek stung. I don’t remember much else. I got home and cried myself to near dehydration.
For months, I tried to come to terms with my reality. I had been in two back-to-back relationships with abusive men. I was emotionally and verbally abused. A man who claimed to love me hit me. It didn’t compute. Me with my ‘I wish you would’ attitude had been abused. Despite all my efforts to avoid being weak, I had been. Twice.
The truth ate at me for months. I tried really hard to bury it, to ignore that I had experienced abuse. Some things you can’t hide, though. I got emotional at a play, when during a scene, a woman was grabbed by a man. I refused to date, for fear that either I would meet another abusive man or would let on that I had been abused.
I finally dealt with my demons, while texting a male friend. I let the abuse slip and through his barrage of questions began to deal. I had picked two abusive men. I was letting the past dictate my present and future. I was being a victim by letting my fear stop me from trying again.
Those relationships taught me a few things: You don’t have to be weak to be abused. There isn’t a poster child for it. I survived. I am no longer a victim. The shame I felt was misplaced. I was abused, but I survived because I left.
My neighbors moved away shortly after her broken wrist. I often think of her and whisper a prayer that she, too found, the strength to walk away.