The coffee I brought to my lips further served to intensify the churning in my stomach. My cheeks were hot but my hands cold and shaking as I attempted to craft the message I was about to send. Sitting in a coffee shop, surrounded by strangers and inane conversation, I put together the words I knew would break your heart.
You acted like you hadn’t known. You must have known, the signs were there long before my exit. I cried almost constantly, I pretended to be asleep when you wanted to fuck me, your increasingly frantic repetitions of “I love you” had garnered fewer and fewer responses from me. In time, those words came to mean nothing to me, nothing at all.
Your voice over the phone sounded thick as you begged and pleaded with me not to do this, to come back home and talk it over. As you reassured me over and again that you hadn’t actually slept with Liz, the veterinary assistant you invited over that one time. That she had only sucked your dick, and that totally doesn’t count. That Maddy had meant nothing to you, nor had your other friend, Elizabeth.
So I confessed. I admitted that I’d read the messages you’d sent to Liz telling her I was a soul-sucking attention whore who made up stories to hurt people because I hated myself. Looking back, I realize you were accurately depicting yourself with that sentence. I had read the ones you sent to both Maddy and Elizabeth, using the same pet names and endearments I’d thought were only meant for you and I. You told Maddy time and again that you loved her.
“It didn’t mean anything,” you repeated over and over.
But it did mean something. Maybe not to you, but to me, it meant everything.
I had loved you more than anybody I’d ever met. I had slowly and systematically phased out every other person in my life to reassure you of my devotion. We were sick, we were co-dependent, we were needy. I was unable to see it at first, despite the warnings of my few remaining concerned friends. In retrospect, all the signs were there.
I remember well the day you first assaulted me. We were high on mushrooms, laughing about something, when suddenly you got angry. You grabbed me by the hair, pulled me upright off the bed, and wrapped your hands around my throat and choked me hard. “I could kill you right now,” you whispered in my ear, “and no one would ever find you.”
You were probably right. My family would have assumed I’d just decided to disappear. Afterward, you were shocked and remorseful, promising never to touch mushrooms again. You blamed the drugs for your behavior and I forgave you. Truthfully, I blamed myself.
The second time took place at my mother’s house. I’d woken from my sleep to find you sitting on the edge of the bed, crying. When I attempted to comfort you, you lashed out at me, saying it had been a bad idea to come with me, that you wanted to go home. You told me to go fuck myself and stormed upstairs.
I followed you, thinking there must be some way I could calm you down, make you stay the night and then leave with you in the morning. I was confused, I had no idea what had prompted this latest temper tantrum. I tried to grab your arm to stop you and you whirled around, grabbed my throat, and threw me to the floor. You choked me briefly, then went up the stairs. I tried to follow you again so you grabbed the garbage bin by the door and flung it down the stairs at me.
At that point, my mother woke up and threatened to call the cops. “If she does,” you growled between clenched teeth, “everyone in that house will be dead before they get here.”
I believed you. I thought of my mother, my sister and her boyfriend. I begged my mother not to come up the stairs, that I would handle it.
As you sat on a plastic lawn chair, angry tears streaming down your face, you berated me for coming between you and Liz. You told me you had really loved her, and I had ruined everything by telling her the truth about our relationship. I sobbed uncontrollably, my self-hatred skyrocketing to new levels.
Shortly thereafter, I began to starve myself.
In only a few short months I went from a happy, outgoing, musical girl to someone who counted every scarce calorie and wrote everything down in a bright red journal. Every morsel, every moment of weakness, and a massive list of what was wrong with me and why you treated me like shit. Of course I was the source and sole reason for your hatred. I was a failure as a woman and as a human being and had to be punished for existing.
The third and final time you beat me was the worst. I remember most of the details with frightening clarity. I was looking at thinspo pictures on the internet to stave off my aching hunger when you curled up on your bed and started crying. I set my computer aside and went to you, putting a hand on your arm and asking you what was wrong. In response, you turned around and screamed in my face.
I was immediately enraged. Somewhere, deep inside the recesses of my brain, the old me woke up and decided enough was enough. I jumped off the bed, gathered my computer and a few items of clothing and shoved them into my backpack. “Where are you going?” you demanded. “I’m leaving,” I snarled. “You just screamed in my fucking face, so I’m out of here.”
What happened next only comes back to me in flashes. You grabbed me once again by my throat and pinned me to the couch. As you tightened your grip, the look in your eyes frightened the hell out of me. Panicking, I tried to push my thumbs into your eye sockets but my arms were too far away to reach. I pushed and pulled at your hands, gasping and aching for breath, trying desperately to beg you to stop. “Please,” I tried to choke out. “Please stop, don’t do this.” Pulling back your arm, you punched me several times in the face, knocking my glasses askew. “You want to talk about abuse?” you screamed, “I’ll show you what abuse is.”
My mouth, my eyes, my cheeks, my jaw — each of your hits landed home with growing ferocity. As you pelted me with your fists over and over again, I saw the faces of my mother and sister. I saw them collapsing with grief when they inevitably found out about the circumstances of my death. I saw you committing suicide once you’d murdered me. I saw your brother discovering our lifeless bodies.
I saw my dead father, distressed and unable to help me.
For a moment, you halted. As you backed up, I attempted to get up off the couch. In response to my movement, you lifted a heavy computer screen above your head and told me in a calm tone that you would use it to smash my head in if I tried to get up.
So I stayed where I was as you went to your closet and got a baseball bat. For an instant I assumed that these would be my final moments, but instead you went out into the living room and threatened to kill your brother. Your brother had not helped me in spite of my screaming out his name as you beat me, so I stayed where I was. “Fuck him,” I thought, and to this day the lack of concern I felt in those moments chills me to the bone. What if you had killed him?
When you returned to the bedroom, you were crying again. My fragmented and distorted mind convinced me that my only mission should not be to escape the apartment, but rather I should try to calm you down and return everything to normal. My body trembled as I lowered myself to the floor and held you. “It’s OK,” I assured you. “I’m fine.”
My mouth was bleeding and my throat was raw, but so disordered was my mind that instead, I comforted you. I stroked your hair and told you it was OK that you’d beaten the hell out of me, after all, I had provoked you. It was then that you reminded me about my post earlier that day on Facebook. I had posted a picture of domestic violence statistics, and you felt I had been calling you out.
For that, I was severely punished.
As I rinsed my mouth with water and spat the blood into the bathroom sink, I was more tired than I’d ever been before or since. All I wanted was to go to sleep. I was no longer frightened or angry, I was simply deflated and exhausted.
So we slept, side by side, in the same room in which you’d almost ended my life.
The incredible part is that I didn’t leave you then. I went to work, spent the next night at my sister’s place, and came home the next day. I had wanted to stay away but having your father call me on your behalf and promise me it wouldn’t happen again was what did me in. I didn’t know how to say no in those days.
Eventually I did leave you, but not because you hit me. After the third time, you never again raised your fist in anger. True, you murdered my gerbil, but you never touched me like that again. I left because of the bedbugs, of all things. When I couldn’t stand being covered in mosquito-like bites every day, I left you in that decrepit apartment and didn’t even return to collect my things.
I called to say I wasn’t coming home, and I didn’t.
In spite of all the ups and downs, I still loved you. When I moved in with my new roommate, I loved you. When I fucked someone else just to prove to myself I could, I still loved you. Truthfully even as you attempted to choke the life out of me, I loved you. Such is the nature of disturbed, co-dependent relationships. We are very bad for each other, and yet I could not summon the courage to face life without you by my side.
The night before I left the city to move in with my mother and get better, I contacted you. I agreed to meet you at Kennedy station. I was overwhelmed when I saw you again, because you looked just the same as I had left you. We hugged, we cried, you pet my hair. I was tempted to stay in Toronto, but the arrangements for my departure had already been made.
And so began our trial run. A long-distance, and therefore safe relationship. Even now I can’t explain why I came back to you, or why my heart has refused to let you go even after you committed the most heinous act one can commit in a relationship. Maybe I really am broken, or maybe you just remind me of my father in his weakest moments. He was never violent toward my mother or my sister, but he was often down on himself and self-harmed on more than one occasion, much like you and I. On a twisted, subconscious level, if I can save you, I can save him vicariously through you and assure him of his worth.
Now I’m facing a new challenge. After living with my mother, healing my heart and mind, asserting my independence, making friends all on my own, and getting over my penchant for starvation and self-injury, I’ve moved back to the city I love. The distance between us is closing, and once I move into my new apartment all by myself, I’ve got to set and keep strict boundaries. I don’t want to become the person I worked so hard to change. I don’t want to fight with you over how much time you spend at my apartment. Is it even possible to fully repair a relationship as damaged as ours? I don’t know the answers yet, and I’m a little afraid to find out.
If I decide it isn’t working and want to part ways again, I’m afraid of what you’ll do. It has taken me two years to sit down and write about what happened. I’ve mulled it over, digested it, obsessed over it.. but this is the first time I’ve been able to put the events into words. I know you won’t read this, but even if you do I’m not ashamed.
I’m not the one who has anything to be ashamed of.
If you really want to prove yourself, you’ll continue to give me space until I figure everything out. You’ll respect the decisions I make, even if those decisions aren’t in your favor. And if I ask you to, you’ll let me go again with no anger, no begging, and no violence.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Happy anniversary.