Bridgette* found the attentiveness she loved about her abuser would be the very thing to set him off when she wanted to do her own thing. Her ex played on her self-esteem and used physical abuse to control her, but once her daughter was born she found the strength to leave and never look back. Bridgette also didn’t let the abuse the father of her child put her through come between his relationship with his daughter, and she wants other women to know they shouldn’t either.
How did you first meet?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn and my ex’s family moved there when we were in junior high school. It wasn’t until we both graduated high school that we met over a summer day just hanging outside or whatever. He happened to come by with someone that knew some of the people I was standing with. We all were just standing around talking and that’s how we met.
I gave him my number and within two weeks we went out. We walked around just talking. Then a few times after that we went to the movies, just regular stuff. He was cute and ambitious. The other side of him — being angry — came out when he wasn’t getting his way in whatever we would be doing or talking about. Other than that, he was really nice and always wanted to spend time together. That other side was like, who are you? What is this?
Tell me about the first time the abuse happened
I was with him from 18-25 years old. The first episode happened sometime in the first year. It was the sign where I should’ve said “I can’t do this,” but of course, young and in love, I was thought, “Okay, he said ‘Sorry it won’t happen again,'” but it ended up happening again.
We had gone to do laundry together — something really simple. We were coming home with the bag and the lid on the bleach wasn’t tightened, and some of it leaked onto the clothes. A few of his items got messed up and he went off — shoving me, yelling at me, just all kinds of craziness — and apologized for it after. That was my first idea that I probably should’ve left, but of course in hindsight…
From there we had disagreements like any couple would and not all of them came to blows, but there were some that did. He’d push me or grab me really tight and be up in my face. I think it was more verbal like putting me down saying, “nobody is going to want you; I know you don’t think you’re all that.” Or he’d be controlling, asking “Where you going? Who you going with? If I tried to make plans with friends he’d say, “No, I don’t want you to do that; come do this instead.”
He had friends, but he didn’t really hang out with them so when I wanted to branch off by myself with other people that was a problem. He would also tell me, “You can’t wear that,” or ask, “What are you wearing that for?” All of those things in hindsight were him wanting to control things; at 18 and 19 years old I didn’t see any of that.
If we did have physical altercations he was always apologetic. I believed him and really wanted it not to be that way, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Although it didn’t happen a lot, one time for me is too much. Thankfully, I didn’t have broken bones, emergency room visits, or blackened eyes, but psychologically it was taking a toll.
Did friends and family have an idea of what was going on?
Probably a few of my close friends knew. They would say little things like “why is he always trying to stop you from going out with us?” or “you shouldn’t take that. Was he just yelling at you? That ain’t right.” Of course I made excuses for him. If my family knew they never said it to me directly.
What was your life like during that time?
I’d actually just gotten my diploma and went to business school for about a year and some change. Then I immediately started working. We got married four years into the relationship and moved to Queens, NY. It wasn’t a big change when we moved, but he was still controlling and domineering. The times I did decide to go over a friend’s place I came home and it was an argument. Sometimes it was shoving. He never really hauled off and punched me, but one time he reared back like he was going to punch me and I started yelling at him because I was about six or seven months pregnant. In my mind I was like, it’s bad enough this is happening, but I’m pregnant with your child, and you’re rearing back like you’re going to punch me. I was screaming “What are you doing? Are you crazy?” That was a point when I was like this can’t keep going on.
Why did you still decide to marry him?
When we both still lived at home I think the attentiveness when he was kind was really good. I didn’t really have a lot of dating experience prior. He was the second person I dated. Did I realize this probably shouldn’t be going on? Yeah. But I wasn’t thinking it was going to escalate to that kind of stuff. It was just the pushing or being controlling verbally in the pre-marriage time setting. As time went on he was shoving more.
What’s the worst memory of a fight you guys got into?
One time, which was the last time, we had a verbal argument after my daughter was born. He came home and I was in the process of getting her dressed to go out. Whatever he said, it escalated and he started pushing me. My daughter was in the car seat by the door and we were in the bedroom towards the back. He was pushing me and when he pushed me I grabbed his shirt so I wouldn’t fall back and then we started tussling on the bed. In the middle of that, we rolled off the bed and onto the floor. He pulled me by my ankles out towards the front of the house where the baby was. She was yelling because of the commotion and I was yelling at him, “Get off me, get off me, don’t you hear the baby!” In the middle of me screaming he was still hitting me. Finally he got off of me, and that was when I was finished. It was time to leave.
He had done this enough times to me but there would never be a day where I let him hit her. My daughter’s birth is the thing that forced me to make the decision to leave. She saved mommy because I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to get out of it and keep going without looking back or second guessing it.
Did he give you a hard time when you decided to leave him?
Actually, I found out that he was having an affair. One night when my daughter was six months old he was having a phone conversation with this other woman and I picked up the phone. At the end of the call he was saying to this person “yeah, I’m going to come over there and we’re going to resolve this,” and I said “good and while you’re there find where you’re going to sleep because you can’t get back in here.” He put the phone down and came running to the front where I was and yelling “I can’t believe you were on the phone.” I said, “Whatever you said, you said you were going so go wherever you were going.”
As soon as he left I called my friend who lived in Queens and told her “I’ve got to get out of here.” She said “Alright I’m putting my shoes on and coming.” She came to get me and I left. That was the last time I lived there. I realized when I was pregnant that he was having an affair and I knew I needed to start making some moves or whatever to get away from it. You aren’t going to be cheating and getting crazy with your hands when you feel like it. That’s just a little too much.
How did you get to a place of healing?
After I left him I started going to church and realized that despite everything we go through there’s one individual that loves you no matter what. I started reading the word and understanding God’s plan for my life and stuff like that. It made a shift in me to know that I’m not the things he said I was. He would say “You’re stupid. You ain’t that cute. Ain’t nobody going to want you. If someone does want you they just want to sleep with you. What do you think you have to offer somebody?” All types of derogatory things.
Because of that I was always in my head thinking maybe he’s right. I didn’t really have any previous relationships and I didn’t grow up with my father. I had a disconnect on how a man is supposed to treat me to begin with, and this was the first experience. I knew everyone wasn’t going through this physical thing, but again I didn’t know how it’s supposed to be. Afterward I realized people do like me, but it was still a process.
Has he changed?
I know his anger doesn’t really flare up as much. After we split we had to deal with each other because of my daughter. We would both be very argumentative with each other but I think, for him, when he realized I’m wasn’t coming back and he moved on in another relationship things changed. I don’t know if the relationship shifted him or if he just grew up some more, but the anger part is gone and even in different conversations we’ve had since then I can see he talks different now. It’s not aggressive with him trying to tell me what to do.
What was it like when you first realized he wasn’t that man anymore?
I was glad for him because the descent side of him was always really a good thing. I wanted him to have a relationship with his daughter so the better the person he is will ultimately make her life better as a result.
Does your daughter know about this angry side of him?
I waited a really long time to share with her what really happened. She was about 16 when I shared it with her. Prior to that I would just say, “Things just didn’t work out and we decided to live separately, but we obviously love you.”
It bothers me when parents tell so much of what happened in the relationship to children. Not that the child shouldn’t know anything, but you are hurting the child in the end because, though that parent did you wrong, the child still loves that parent and needs them. Now you’re putting your junk in the child’s mind and it shifts their thoughts about the parent. I didn’t want to be that parent.
I let her see for herself because her relationship with him is different than mine. I don’t want to dump my stuff on her and he’s trying to be a good parent and she’s looking at him sideways because mommy said you knocked her in the head. No child is going to be like “Dad I think you’re great and I know you shoved my mother.” No, that’s a problem so I didn’t want to do that.
How did she take it when you told her?
She was like, “Wow that’s a lot mommy; you should’ve let me know before. Why did you stay? You know that’s crazy right?”
What about dating afterwards, do you notice red flags sooner?
Heck yeah, you start saying something crazy to me I’ll be like “check please! We are going nowhere with this.” Sometimes I can observe couples and their interactions. He may not be physical, but I can see in their eyes, in her reaction, and how he’s speaking that something is going on behind closed doors.
What advice would you give other women to prevent it from happening to them?
Know that you are absolutely worth it, regardless of what anybody has told you. You do not deserve to be shoved, pushed, talked down to, talked about, or anything. If he’s not uplifting you, leave it alone. Period. I don’t care who you are or how old you are, leave it alone. You can go on and be okay without him. It’s going to hurt, but you can get over it. Low self-esteem is so horrible it really messes you up.