What It Was Like Being Abused By My Boyfriend For Two Years And Why I Stayed
I remember being scarred as a child after watching Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got To Do With It. The entire film was just too much.
From the classic cake scene with Ike Turner backhanding her friend in the middle of a crowded restaurant to the insane studio moment that left everyone cringing, it was too much to handle. Too real for my innocent mind to comprehend being possible, the idea that someone could abuse another human being so viciously without remorse.
I couldn’t watch another Laurence Fishburne film for years. He is a damn good actor, but my mind subconsciously identified him with violence and evil. It wasn’t until his film Akeelah and the Bee came out in 2006 that I was able to separate the actor from the character he’d played all those years ago.
But Ike Turner was real. And all those terrible things I saw on that film as a child, they really happened.
According to Bureau of Justice statistics from 2013, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. Two to four million women are victims of domestic violence each year, with equivalent rates of violence across racial lines.
Twelve years after watching that movie on the floor in my family’s living room, I never envisioned I’d be that girl on the receiving end of an iron fist.
I was crazy in love with a musician. He was fresh out of the Marines. And we were engulfed in everything bohemian and poetic.
Rebellion was spewing out of me; I was too grown for my own good. And at 20 years old I moved out of my mother’s house, embarking on a journey into the city to live with my new boyfriend in the heart of north St. Louis.
Everything was beautiful in the beginning. Between school and work we frequented the best poetry clubs in the city; hanging amongst the spoken word elite and notorious wordsmiths of the streets. We indulged in everything literary. Eating and drinking in stanzas during late night sessions that morphed into full blown transcendent creative functions. Our lives were consumed with words–and one another.
We were in love. And dirt poor. But nobody seemed to care as the only thing that seemed to matter was the strumming of his guitar in the opposite room and me writing more.
But over time his anger revealed itself.
He rose into a jealous rage over the simplest things. Initially, his violent fits were subtle. The first time he pinned me down to the bed with his thick forearm plunged into my throat, I didn’t black out. But over time, I did.
I remember leaving his house that night but returning not long after, beginning a vicious cycle that would continue for the next two years. But for a while, things got better. Life seemingly returned to how it was and we lived in this fantasy world where everything was bliss. But it wasn’t.
Philly-based rapper Kareem Williams, also known as Lefty, recently released a song called “Jodi Ann Arias.” It’s a record about the convicted killer currently serving life in prison for the 2013 murder of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. During the trial, defense attorneys revealed that Arias was physically and verbally abused by Alexander; claiming she’d killed him in self-defense. Williams’s record brings that thought to the forefront, arguing that the media only portrayed one side of the story and that when people are in bad situations and feel unable to get help, terrible things can happen.
After listening to the song, I now wonder how I never reached that point after being physically violated so many times during those years. How was I able to maintain any sense of sanity and not just snap? I realize now that I just went numb.
Over time, the two of us sank into a messy routine. A few peaceful weeks would go by only to be interrupted by chaotic arguments and explosive blows. Small disagreements turned into punches through walls, barely missing my face. Oxygen was taken for granted every time I was pinned down and choked.
I found myself changing. I was losing weight at a rapid pace, and my face began to appear more sunken in and weathered. I was very slow to speak; always walking on eggshells trying to keep the peace, not sure what trigger would send him over the edge next. Each day I adjusted myself to fit my abuser’s environment with hopes of avoiding the chaos.
Every day was a bad dream.
The day Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, in the early hours of it, I caught the bus out to the polling facility. It was my first time being old enough to vote. I was so proud. I returned to the house later that evening, wearing my “I Voted” sticker on my blouse. The day was going well, and I started cooking dinner and cleaning up while I waited for my boyfriend to get home so we could watch the votes come in together. We were about to get our first Black president.
One of the cleaning products was labeled wrong. And when that green towel touched the table, bleach streaks shot up the cloth like lightening. I didn’t think much of it. The towel was old. Besides, we were the only ones who ever used it.
My boyfriend got home not too long afterward. We ate dinner and settled in for the evening. The news was providing immediate updates as polls closed around the country.
I didn’t think to mention the stained towel. After all, it could still be used and wasn’t for decoration. Plus, there were clearly bigger things to focus on. But when he went to the restroom he saw it, and all hell broke loose.
He was screaming about the towel. His eyes were blazing with rage as he yelled about how I didn’t value things and how we already didn’t have much. I didn’t understand. Everything was fine a minute ago. I tried to explain how I was cleaning up and got the products mixed up because the bottle wasn’t labeled. I said that the towel was old, and I would buy another one if necessary. I was falling over myself, saying “I’m sorry” as many times as I could. Anything to calm him down.
But that wasn’t enough, and before I knew it, my hair was caught up in his grasp. I remember begging him to stop, my fingers digging into the carpet and door frame as he drug me through the house. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for him to let me go as he proceeded to drag me down the steps, my legs banging against the banister rails, out into the November cold.
Finally on the porch, he let me go and walked back into the house, slamming and locking the door. My shoes and cell phone were in the house. My teeth chattered loudly in the darkness as I stood outside in my pajamas banging on the glass door panel.
I banged until my hand went straight through the glass. Blood ran down my wrist and forearm as lights began to flicker on in the windows of the surrounding homes. Someone had called the police, doing something I never had the strength to. It was the beginning of my way out.
As I sit here watching the final scene of What’s Love Got to Do With It all these years later, as Tina Turner bolts from that lobby and finally has the courage to run like hell, leaving Ike behind, I find so many parallels in our story. A story I once couldn’t fathom. A learned fear of our abusers kept us bound in a tragic situation. But it was our realization of our self-worth that gave us the strength to walk away.
Whether you’re a man or woman, being abused physically or verbally is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. It wounds the psyche in such a way that it maims its victims of their ability to move forward, leaving them stuck in a state of disarray and contempt.
No matter how much you love someone, the truth of the matter is that love doesn’t hurt. If violence is involved, love has nothing to do with it.