Tainted love can happen to anyone

“If you don’t quit squirming, I’m gonna break it,” a man clasping tightly to my forearm screamed.

My 19-year-old self, at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 130 pounds, resisted. I found myself perceptively pressed against the strikingly white wall of my apartment, my socks slipping on the wooden floor as I struggled to free my arm, which the man held firmly behind my back. I was looking for an advantage. A weapon. A way out before he snapped my ulna like a No. 2 pencil.

Like a wounded animal, I let out a shrill cry for help.

The man was wearing a red polo shirt with a tiny tiger engraved where a front pocket could go. His hazel eyes glowed with anger. His spiky brown hair was disheveled, and his face was splotched with bright red tones, sweat dripping from his brow. He smoked at least a pack of Camel Wides a day, and he was out of breath.

My heart pumped powerfully too, and I thought, “How did I get myself into this?”

It all started innocently enough. The man’s name was Josh and I was immediately enamored with him from the first time we’d met. He had a bad-boy edge, which I’d later learn was all there was to him. Nine months later, he would grip my arm like a vice.

It wasn’t long before he started hitting me. It’s a tattered, torn memory, a long stream of torture and torment, and I relive it to you with apprehension.

But more powerful than my fear of being labeled, or blamed, or reduced to a stereotype, is my urge to reach out to other women who have been or are in an abusive relationship.

I want to help other women discover that they do not have to feel shame or guilt, that they do not have to cover, conceal or compartmentalize their pain with a forced smile, and that they, under no circumstances, have to tolerate insults, threats or physical abuse from anyone. But help them learn instead, that they can stand proudly and independently on their own, because an unloving relationship, no matter how comforting or familiar, is not worth staying in.

Even after I removed Josh from my life, the pain from the punishments he inflicted remained. Because I secretly felt that I didn’t deserve happiness, and all and all, I deserved to be beaten, not loved.

The pain never fully fades.

When I leave the house I have to check my reflection three or four times just to make sure I look normal. All of the things he said about my appearance still ring in my ears. You’re fat, ugly, no one would want you. Often I can’t even hold eye contact with a man for more than a second or two before nervously turning away.

And anytime something good happens I am crushed with an irresistible inclination to punish myself.

When my boyfriend brings home flowers, or I win a contest or someone compliments my outfit, I come up with a reason to question it, a reason to not be satisfied with myself. Because down deep, I felt responsible. Like it was my fault.

And at the core, part of me still associates love with pain. Sometimes I wish time could rinse the memories away, like the ocean waves wash away sand castles.

But other times, I want to cling to every detail. I want to remember the time I spent on the battlefield of domestic violence so that I will not forget that it happens to other women every single day.

I can still picture the dusty stack of books on the floor next to me, the pile of magazines on the desk, the broken glass bowl, once filled with leftover cereal milk, which he had plunged to the wall causing it to shatter at my feet, as I writhed with pain to free my arm. I can still remember the clothes I wore. And most clearly, I can still remember the anger piercing through his eyes.

Thankfully, a neighbor knocking on the door rescued me. He’d heard the struggle and wanted to check on things, make sure everything was OK. Josh didn’t get a chance to break my arm. I called the police, and in the cold, black night, while standing in the parking lot of my apartment complex, I gave my report to an officer in his ’30s.

My hands trembled. My fingers outlined the fingerprint bruises on my forearm, as the details tumbled from my mouth as quickly as they pour from my mind to my fingers and onto the computer screen now. Josh was charged and convicted of assault, and that coupled with prior convictions and dodged probationary periods, added up to five months in jail.

Five months for me to clear my head. Distanced from Josh, I was able to escape from the deadly grip of an abusive relationship.

I tell you this story because I know that there are women who are abused every day, and they needn’t be. If you are in an abusive relationship I want you to contact Tracy Williams from Baker’s Women’s Programs and Initiatives while you still can. She will provide you with the help you will need to begin your journey to an abuse-free life. And, most importantly, I want you to know that you deserve to be loved, not beaten or abused.

Sadly, due to low funds, we are losing Baker’s Women’s Programs next year, but I hope that students will still stick together and give the issue of violence against women a voice. It’s something that is too often associated with embarrassment and shame, resulting in a lot of mislabeling.

We are not victims. We are survivors.

And for everyone else, I want you to watch out for your friends, sisters, mothers and cousins, and make sure it doesn’t happen to them. Let’s break the cycle. Snap it like it’s a No. 2 pencil.