When I was 14 years old I convinced my grandmother to bring me to the mall. She probably shouldn’t have, as I was grounded at the time, but I had been grounded for a year straight and she took pity on me. Because I was alone and looked older than I was (albeit unintentionally) I was approached by two guys whom I would later discover were marines. They were 19 and assumed I was about their age and so spent the day wandering around with me. When I left they gave me their numbers and I held onto them for several days pondering what I should do. Eventually I called them, and as we spoke and time went on I was able to visit them, or they me, and we built a tenuous friendship. One of the two referred to me as his “little sister” and thus the friendship remained as it was. The other… the other decided to date me. As he seemed a model citizen and was seemingly respectful of my religious beliefs and family heritage my parents allowed it despite the five-year age difference.
The first few months were wonderful- we spent every moment we could together, which admittedly was not as often as I would have liked, and wandered around parks, malls, and the strip at the beach. We spent hours talking like any other teenage couple. But time went on and as he was an adult and I was most definitely not, he started buying me clothes. I’d wear them, as I was grateful and they were beautiful, and he was excited every time. Eventually I went back to wearing the clothes I had preciously, but he would get upset. Sad, really, and I could hear it in his voice. So I’d wear the clothes he purchased once more and see him get excited. After a few months of this I got bored again and went back to my previous wardrobe. Except this time he came back at me with things like “Don’t you like them?” or “I thought you looked really good in that dress.” Never mind that I didn’t wear dresses except at his request. So, feeling guilty and ungracious, I wore them again. And the cycle continued, except next it was anger. “I work my ass off to get nice things for you, can’t you just appreciate them?” And as I was a student and he was working and paying for nearly everything, I would wear them again.
It seemed like such a simple thing at the time. Clothes. What do they really matter, anyways? They’re designed to protect your body from the elements, so what’s the difference between one shirt and the next when it makes him so much happier to see me in the outfits he spent the time picking out and buying? So I stopped wearing anything he hadn’t specifically bought for me and that stopped the guilt and the arguments and the unhappiness for a time. After a while I didn’t think about it at all because I just removed everything else from my wardrobe.
From there it became food. “You shouldn’t eat pork, it isn’t good for you.” And I’d acquiesce because, why not? I had no particular attachment to pork. So I just stopped eating it. When my family would ask me about it I would tell them I was on a diet. That’s when the lying started. To me I WAS dieting. Just…not for the reasons they assumed. But I stopped eating pork. And then beef. And then Fish. And then most vegetables and fruits, too. Soon my diet consisted only of the foods he ate despite seeing him only on the weekends. And oftentimes only every OTHER weekend.
The most insidious part of this process was the isolation, though. “I don’t like the way he’s looking at you. He just wants you for your body.” (Irony, that.) I fought that at first- a girl can have guy friends. I always had before. But every time I would see that one person I’d get a barrage of questions that resembled an interrogation and eventually I gave up. My relationship was more important than my friendship anyway, right? So one friend went. And then another, but a few months later. And then another. Eventually I had only one friend- Him. I spent more time fighting with my parents, too. And I became a very angry person.
Sex happened in much the same way, and entirely too early. I didn’t want it-I was Christian, after all- but he did. And he was getting ready to be deployed. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I was going to marry him anyways, so what did it matter? So I visited him, and we had sex. I was 14 at the time. And…I hated myself. Loathed my entire being. Never once did I suspect he had any influence on that, though. I loved him. And not a soul could tell me what was happening, though it was obvious to all those around me. There was a point where my mother tried to tell me I couldn’t see him anymore and I tried to kill myself. My entire existence was wrapped up in him. I didn’t think about what I wore, or what I ate, or whom I spoke with. He obviously knew best, so I did what he suggested. And after a while he didn’t have to get angry. As soon as the guilt began I would comply. Who was I to make one of our servicemen feel guilty? Our job was to support our troops, not make their life miserable state-side. After we had sex I spent a good deal of time sitting in the closet with a loaded gun to my head. Rocking back and forth, wishing I was brave enough to pull the trigger. Hoping someone would come and do it for me so I wouldn’t have to. But he would visit again, and it would happen again, and every weekend was like that. Self-loathing. Utter hatred for the person I had become.
So he went to Iraq, and I found out I was pregnant. In what was the only subject on the planet that I would willingly fight at the time I refused an abortion. I prepared everything to drop out of school, so I could take care of my baby while he ranted and raged and told me I was going to ruin his life if I kept it (given that it would prove he had sex with a minor he was probably right). That baby… that baby gave me hope for the person I wanted to become. Because if I stood up for her then maybe I could stand up for myself. Except that I didn’t know where that thought came from or what to do with it, so I buried it. Nearing the third trimester I had a miscarriage and it broke me. Whatever hope I had shattered into a million pieces and I was a husk of a human being for quite a while. It was shortly after that that he came home from deployment (early, I believe), and came to visit again. I told him no that time, but he whispered in my ear that he would make the pain go away, so I turned my face away and didn’t fight. Not that I had much energy to do so even if I had wanted to, as I had stopped eating anything but the bare minimum for survival. He left after that weekend, came back the following and life continued much as it had beforehand except that he was very, very angry. If I didn’t jump to acquiesce his demands instantaneously he would shout at me. Or push me into things. Or block my entry or egress into or out of a given room. When it first started I’d jump to do his bidding. Then I started arguing. And then I just stopped talking. Around the time I turned 16 I had lost all hope. When I wouldn’t listen but still wouldn’t speak he would follow me around, stepping on the backs of my shoes. Sometimes he would use the little animal clicker in my ear until all I wanted to do was scream. Sometimes I did.
I got pregnant again shortly before I turned 16 and he was informed of another deployment. I didn’t tell him right away this time, but I began eating again so he must have suspected something. Two months into the pregnancy and about a month before he was about to ship off I told him and exactly the same fight ensued. I was determined not to argue so I kissed him and went back in the house as he drove off. This time he begged me, but as before, I was steadfast in my determination to protect my child. Convinced I had been given a second chance and determined to be a good enough person, a good enough mom, to deserve him. So I ate and I studied and I stopped arguing. I was the model student, child, and girlfriend. I did everything asked of me (with that one exception) and more.
He was about to leave for his second deployment near the end of the first trimester. In a fit of rage, because I had refused again, he pushed me. Hard. I remember the feeling of sailing through the air and smacking my head on the doorframe. I don’t remember much after that as I collapsed in a heap- I’m sure he chalked it up to my clumsiness when my parents asked. Another month went by and I had time to think as he left for Iraq again. I recognized that when he was angry, if I started bleeding, he stopped hurting me. It was as though he wanted to cause pain but not in so obvious a way. So I planned throughout his next deployment on how to survive when he came back. Now please note that I was 16 at this time. I was still technically a Christian. I was quite intelligent and despite my lapses in judgment my grades rarely slipped. But never once did it occur to me to leave him. I loved him, and to me, that meant that you stayed no matter what. There was no pain too great to bear, no anger too frightening to withstand. I had said I would stay with him no matter what and that was what I intended to do.
Unfortunately, at around the same time, I had another miscarriage. And once again it shattered me. When he came back, once again thrilled there was no baby to threaten his life and career, he wanted sex again. Just like before, I said no. And just like before, I was ignored. I was numb, at this point. He would push me and I would fall into whatever hard surface he aimed me towards. He would throw me and I would make no attempt to resist or protect myself in any way. He would lock me in closets or bathrooms or bedrooms and I would just…stay there. I remember one day when he couldn’t get a rise out of me he started piling pillows on top of me while I was lying on the couch, and about 6-7 pillows up he started adding dumbbells. When one of the dogs would jump on the couch the pillows would fall and the weights would land on my chest or back or ribs.
By the time I went to college I felt as though my fate was sealed, but three months into it and I finally gave up. I told him I wanted a break (not quite true) and figured that would be the end of things. He’d either kill me or walk away. Except…he didn’t. He stalked me for another 2-3 years, masquerading as other people in person and on line to determine my whereabouts. He followed me around campus and to my various jobs. He sat outside my dorm room window and watched me with other people. And he left roses with the buds cut off on my doorstep so when I picked them up all I would be holding was a handful of stems and thorns.
Never once did he hit me. He didn’t need to. Between how he had trained me into an obedient servant and the miscarriages the abuse came in other ways. Guilt trips, pushing, throwing. The cold shoulder. Whatever it took to get me to respond. Not all of it felt like abuse- does clicking what amounts to a dog training tool in someone’s ear really count as abuse? – but when he would follow me for miles down the road to get a response it did. It’s so easy to miss the signs. Graciousness, kindness, loyalty, and many other valued, positive traits can be twisted and manipulated into servitude and obedience. It’s disgusting, but true.
When requests become demands and you see the signs of isolation it’s time to walk away. Not “try to fix things,” time to walk away. If and when that person seeks help on their own, for themselves, the possibility of a relationship can be revisited. But there is no fixing something like that when the temptation to control and abuse is still at their fingertips. And honestly, the victim needs to find help, too. Therapy, counseling, whatever the case may be. Most schools have access to resources on campus for exactly that kind of situation. Counselors and often medics to treat any injuries that may occur. But as always, the best option is always to avoid and/or prevent anything like that from happening in the first place.
If ever there is a question about a situation like that, your friends are usually the first to pick up on it. If they say you’re acting strangely or that your habits are shifting, stop and take a closer look. Pick up hobbies and activities that correlate with your interests, and the kind of people that belong in your life will inevitably align their free time with yours. Some sacrifices are always going to have to be made, but never forget who you are or lose sight of your goals and dreams.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to help victims and survivors of domestic violence. Get help for your relationship abuse today.