I am always floating above serious conversations, waiting to lighten things up with an inappropriate joke or a snide remark. It's my protection against bawling like a baby and telling my secrets to someone who might judge me. I don't want to burden them with my problems, don't like to seem like a dramatic mess, etc..etc...
I am, despite all appearances (and my big freaking mouth), a good listener. I 'listened' to Tara's story I'm a One in Four at Bite The Bed Bugs and felt the bile rise up in my throat. I want to be as brave as Tara and tell a story to make any girl out there do the right thing and run far far away from any man who might hurt her.
I also know that if I were 15 again and I was reading this post I would be callous and unconcerned. Even though I had experienced the terror of abuse first hand, I would have assumed that it was my fault and that my experience was completely separate and unique compared to anyone else's. I felt it was my fault because I messed with a practically grown man who was obviously unstable, even though I didn't really have much romantic interest in him.
I was in love with a man who didn't love me on and off for most of my teenage years. I thought we would eventually end up together when I was older, thought he treated me badly because he was so much cooler and adult than I was, thought he loved me as much as I adored him underneath it all. I treated people badly in response to his treatment of me, boys who gave me their hearts, friends who trusted me and most of all my family, who I lied to and used in order to be with this man. He used me and abused my trust, but he never physically hurt me.
Ironically the person who ended up bruising my body and mind was one of the boys I mistreated in response to my mistreatment.
I met him at the record store I worked at from time to time as a teen, which was owned by one of my friends. There was a tattoo studio upstairs and James worked there. He was lean and of middle height, covered in tattoos and spikes in every place it every place possible to be pierced. He had a very gravely voice, clear blue eyes and long dyed black hair with blond roots peaking from underneath. I admired his looks, liked his strong jaw and perfect teeth, thought that there was something underneath all the trappings of his outer appearance.
He drove a white convertible with as many metal band decals as he had tattoos and a sound system that shook the cement around us. I could tell from the first time we met he wanted to take me out, I led him on and teased him embarrassingly. Looking back I realize I was longing for attention but I have no idea why.
After weeks of leading him on, I finally let him take me out to get coffee after the shops were closed on a Friday night. We walked to the coffee shop and afterward he walked me up to my Dad's pharmacy and said goodnight. He was so polite and so gentle. I was starting to feel a bit more for him than I originally thought I would. The next day I was excited to see him and after work we drove around our small town with the top down. He dropped me off at home, this time kissing me very softly on the mouth. I skipped up the walk to my house with my fingers tracing my lips and the tiny pricks James's lip piercings had left there.
I spoke to my on and off again boyfriend later that night and learned that I was again in his good graces. He wanted to spend the next day with me, all day after school. I quickly forgot James.
I didn't go to the record store after school the next day, or any day for the next few weeks. I gave all my attention to my boyfriend, who was being so much more wonderful than usual. Later I learned someone had told him I had started to see another boy.
I didn't return James's phone calls, ignored him when he yelled at me out his car window (how did he know where I was all the time?), didn't pay any attention when I noticed he was parked outside my parents' house.
I went to a concert with some girlfriends a few weeks later and he unexpectedly cornered me outside a bathroom. He put his face inches away from mine and although the band was incredibly loud, I still heard every single word he spoke to me.
"You fucking bitch. I told everyone I know about you and then you ditch me for no fucking reason. I love your face so much. I wish I could rip it off and wear it all day long." I wasn't as afraid as I should have been and wondered how long it took him to come up with that speech...
He punched me in the gut and pushed me through the door of the bathroom. He kissed me and pushed his tongue through my pursed lips. I could feel his hands all over me rough and hurting. I yielded and began to cry. He stopped his assault immediately and stared at me, head cocked to one side like he was trying to figure out a puzzle. I think he was surprised I didn't fight back.
Just like Tara, I never said one word. One of my friends saw me with James and saw him being 'weird' with me. When she persisted and continued to ask me what happened I said he was a 'total freak of nature' and that we needed to 'stay the fuck away from him'.
I became wary of my movements, over thought where I was going and who I was with. I had a bunch of much younger siblings and didn't want them to get hurt, especially since James continued to follow me and park outside my house. But I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone. I didn't want to get blamed for the way he was acting, didn't want my boyfriend to know that I was such a colossal child, not able to deal with some random metal-head.
Eventually James 'gave up' and things went back to normal. My boyfriend started ignoring me again (later I learned he was dating someone his own age) and I was going out with a boy who I went to school with. He was taking me out for a coffee before I had to work at a teen center concert (I worked as a barrista at a teen center during my high school years). We pulled out of my parents driveway and started down the bouncy brick street when I felt my legs quiver and the seat start to vibrate. I can remember that exact feeling to this very day, the real terror that swept through me at that moment has never been replicated.
To make a very horrifying story shorter and less painfully cliche, he chased us downtown, right on our tail and yelling at us out the window. All of your classic psycho phrases plus one extra frightening one, "I have a fucking gun, you fucking bitch!".
My poor date was shaking and afraid. I suggested we park outside the teen center and make a run for the door, which I could immediately lock behind us. Plus, we always had security for the teen center's concerts and they would already be there setting up. James parked madcap directly behind us and because he was scrambling in his car (for what I at the time assumed was a gun) we made it inside and locked the doors. Security called the police and James stalked the outside parking lot until moments before the police finally arrived.
Once again, just like Tara, I refused to press charges. I made it seem like it was not a big deal. With the adrenalin gone, I was just embarrassed more than anything else.
He left me alone after that.
A few years later I was home from school on break and attending a party at a good friend's house. James walked in the house a few hours after me with some mutual friends and although it was clear he was not there because of me, I panicked. But instead of leaving I just smiled carelessly and said hello to him. He smiled at me every time I met his eyes all night long, but left me alone. I was creeped out but drunk enough not to be concerned for my well being.
Later that night, everyone was sharing stories about teenage love and he told our story. A very strange and twisted version of our short relationship. He even told the whole group about the car chase and everyone in the room became super uncomfortable. I laughed to lighten the mood and said, 'Holy Crap James! I thought you had a gun, that you were going to kill me!'
He looked right at me, serious as sin and said, 'I did. I was going to.'
After a few moments of silence he laughed heartily and said, 'Oh Geez, Erin! Lighten up, I am just kidding!'
And everyone believed him, except for me.
This month is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please be aware of the seriousness of stories like mine and Tara's. We walked away but very well might not have. Listen to the women and girls out there and help prevent tragedy from happening. Share your stories and reach out.