For the month of October, we are sharing stories of abuse survivors as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. See more tales from our Survivor Series here.
When *Ariel met her abuser he treated her like a queen. Any and everything she asked of him he did. They had amazing chemistry and he made her feel secure. She grew to love him deeply and looked forward to spending the rest of her life with him. The two were practically inseparable — until, the mentally, physically and emotionally abusive episodes began.
Soon, Ariel found herself trying not to trigger the man in her life. Because of his volatile behavior, she never really knew what would happen from one day to the next, but she could always count on him blocking her calls, them breaking up, and eventually getting back together. It was hard to believe this was the same man who resented his father for abusing his mother growing up.
“That was something early on in the relationship that he assured me would never happen, how he felt about men that did things like that and his attitude towards abuse in general,” Ariel said.
Through all the ups and downs, it finally clicked that she had to let her partner go and that her dreams of being with him forever and having a family weren’t healthy nor real. Here, Ariel tells us about the abuse she encountered, why she stayed, and how she finally had the strength to leave.
How did you first meet your abuser?
It was during the presidential debate, the second election of Barack Obama. We were the only two Black people at this restaurant in Washington, DC. We happened to be sitting alone, and he initiated a conversation with me. The interesting thing is we came in contact with each other on an online dating site prior to that. Nothing really developed from there. It just so happened we were at the same place at the same time. I was like, “You look kind of familiar,” and he was like, “yeah, you do too.”
Were there any red flags when you first started dating?
I mean hindsight is always 20/20, right? Looking back now there were definitely red flags. There were things I knew just by intuition weren’t right or were off, but he was very transparent with me. At least I was led to believe he was open and honest with me. He spoke to me about his childhood, how his mother was abused by his father. His father was a correctional officer and police officer at one point, there was a sense of fear there and he had deep resentment towards his father.
Similarly, my mother was in an abusive relationship at some point in my childhood. I did witness some of that, and she eventually got married when I was 12 or 13. We related to each other: both of us being from New York and having mother’s experience abuse from their spouse or partner. Early on in the relationship, he assured me that would never happen, how he felt about men that did things like that and his attitude towards abuse in general.
How did the abuse begin?
There were little things. He’s very charismatic. He’s very affectionate. It’s odd because he’s very protective as well. The first incident, or episode, as I like to refer to them, we actually were at his apartment just lounging around the house. He indicated he wanted to be intimate so I was like, “Cool, I have a surprise for you.” I bought some lingerie to spice things up a little bit, and put on a performance for him. I got up out of the bed and headed to the bathroom to change.
He told me, “No, what are you doing? I want to see you get naked and change right here. Do everything right here.” I did. As I’m undressing he made a comment about how I looked, and how my lady parts looked. Prior to that he had always praised my body, how I looked, dressed, carried myself, my hygiene, everything, but I hadn’t waxed. He expressed his disapproval by saying things that weren’t like him. He told me, “You look dirty, why wouldn’t you clean yourself?” A bunch of derogatory things that I wouldn’t expect someone I was intimate with and trying to be sexy for would say.
I decided to take a shower. I got out the shower and was looking for lotion. When I looked under his cabinet I saw there was a razor, and it looked like it hadn’t been used yet. I jumped back in the shower and shaved. I came out the bathroom with just a towel on, and he’s laying in the bed. I went over to him, showed him what I did, and said, “Is this better?” He looked and said, “What did you do?” It wasn’t in a funny, sexy, comforting, or loving tone, it sounded very cold and distant. I wasn’t used to him speaking to me like that, it caught me off guard. I said, “I shaved,” and he said, “What did you shave with?”
“What razor did you use?”
I told him I used a razor I found in the bathroom. He jumped out the bed and walked into the bathroom. He said, “Did you use the razor I use to shave my face with?”
“No, your clippers are on the sink, I used a regular razor.”
“That was a brand new razor, why would you use my razor to shave your coochie hairs?”
“You were complaining about how I looked, saying I looked dirty, and not like a woman but someone who is homeless. I was taking care of the problem. I thought you would be happy.”
“No, that’s the razor I use on my face, why would you do that? Are you stupid?”
“You know what I’m sorry I’ll buy you another razor.”
He took the razor and threw it on the floor. I picked it up, wrapped it in paper towels, and put it in my purse. He was yelling and saying whatever. Then at some point he says, “Where’s my razor?”
“The one you threw?”
“Where’s my razor?”
“Why do you want your razor? You just said it’s contaminated, and that I was dirty. I’ll buy you another one don’t worry about it.”
I walked away from him and went in the kitchen to get something to drink. As my back is turned, he walked into the kitchen and turned on the stove. I didn’t realize he turned on the stove. When I turned to face him he asked, “Where’s my razor?” again.
“Why do you keep asking about that razor? I’m going to buy you another one since it’s such a big deal. I’ll buy you a new one.”
There was a knife on the stove, and before I could process what was going on he took the knife and put it on my left arm. It cut me a little bit and the knife was really, really hot. I screamed so loud in disbelief and looked at him. He was so calm and so still. He was emotionless as if he was in the twilight zone or something. He was in a daze and I didn’t recognize him.
I was so confused because I didn’t know what to do. That wasn’t something I expected to happen. That happened in November and we started dating in August, we had a great relationship prior to that. He never yelled at me before, he never used anything but complimentary words towards me.
I bled a little bit, and I still have a bruise mark from the incident. It’s very very faint now but I know where it is on my arm. I went to the bedroom and started packing my things. I ran in the bathroom, locked myself in there, and literally cried so hard and so long. He knocked on the door. I didn’t let him in, but he came in on his own. I was sitting on the toilet, he kneeled beside me and said, “I’m so sorry I just got so upset.” He put his head in my lap. It was really weird. I didn’t talk to him until maybe a few days after.
How long were you together? How often did things like that occur while you were together?
We broke up several times over the years. We were together off and on for four years. I was in really deep, I loved that man so deeply. There were a couple of episodes. Another time we were at his house. When we first started dating he had an apartment and throughout our relationship, he purchased a home at some point. When we first met I wasn’t working full time, but I was freelance writing so I spent a lot of time at his place. He spent a lot of time at mine once he got the house because of the commute. It was too far for me to get to on my own.
He and I were sleeping upstairs, and my dog was downstairs in the basement or so I thought. He didn’t want her upstairs on any of the main levels because he feels dogs aren’t supposed to be in the house. I got out the bed because I hadn’t checked on her in a while, and she was awfully quiet. He’s like, “No don’t worry about it I took care of her. I fed her just lay down.” I said, “No, she’s a little bit too quiet; something is not right.”
I had on a t-shirt. I got up and went to the basement. It’s a four-level house so it was quite a little walk. I get downstairs and the back door is open that leads to the garage and patio area. I don’t see my dog. I’m calling her and she’s not there. She’s not responding to me, and I ran outside with no shoes or undergarments just a t-shirt.
I’m calling her and don’t see her. Someone said they saw her go down the street. I’m looking for her screaming and calling her name. He gets in his car, and is following me driving. He’s telling me to get in the car. I’m like, “I need to find my dog I don’t know where she’s at.”
He’s like, “Get in the car and we’ll go look for her.” I get in the car and he drives me back to his house. “Why are you driving back to the house? We need to look for her.”
He said, “Get dressed and we’ll go back out, you can’t walk around the street like that.” I’m like, “Yeah you’re right, you’re right I just wasn’t thinking.” I got dressed, and unbeknownst to me he packed my stuff and put it in his car. We get in the car and he starts driving towards DC. I lived in DC and he lived in Maryland.
I asked, “Where are you going?”
He said, “I’m taking you home.”
“What do you mean you’re taking me home? You said we were going to look for my dog, what are you doing right now?”
“I have to work tonight.”
“What do you mean you have to work tonight? I thought you called off work.”
At the time I was able to work remotely. He told me to tell my boss I was sick so I didn’t go to work that day because he wanted to spend the day with me. He told me he was going to take off from work as well. I didn’t go to the office and worked from his house thinking we were going to spend the whole day together.
We’re driving back to DC and I asked, “What’s going on? Don’t you care Brooklyn is missing? Where is she? Did you not hear her or anything.”
“Oh don’t worry about it she’ll be fine,” he said.
At this point I start going crazy. I’m yelling at him to pull over, and he smacked me — backhanded me. It busted my lip. I couldn’t believe it; I was in shock. He said, “Oh I’m sorry that was my reflex.” At that point I started cursing and yelling at him. How was that reflex? Reflex is if I hit you and you accidentally hit me back, not you hitting me first. That was the second time.
Another time, we had broken up, and I went to his house, knocked on the door, and he came out and said, “You can’t come in.”
I asked why and he said, “Because I said you can’t come in.”
He wouldn’t give me an answer, then he told me to follow him. We got in the car and drove to 7-Eleven. He told me to wait right while he went to the bathroom. He left me at 7-Eleven and just disappeared. I wasn’t familiar with the area he lived in because we drove everywhere but eventually, I found my way back to his house.
When I got there I saw him coming out, and there was a woman with him. She was coming out as well, and one of his siblings was there also. I saw him give the girl a kiss, put her in the car, and they drove off. He saw me out the corner of his eye when he gave her the kiss. He just looked at me. Once they drove off he walked towards me. I was standing there just watching like an idiot.
He pulled my shirt a little, not forcefully but rough enough, and told me to get in the house. I got in the house and he said, “What are you doing coming over here unannounced? You know better than that.” He was very angry. He said, “Yyou’re violating my privacy, disrespecting my home,” and he grabbed me and the next thing I know he started doing MMA moves, restraining me. He put me on the ground and pressed his knee into my body parts, holding my arms back. He didn’t hit me, but he was applying a lot of pressure on my body with his arms, hands, and knees.
He didn’t take me home that night. He dropped me off at the Greyhound station, it was maybe 11 or 12 at night, and the next bus wasn’t until 5 or 6 in the morning. I stood at the station and I waited. I called his mother, she stayed on the phone until I felt comfortable.
I remember one time he told me he was going to pimp me out to white men. It was a lot of mental abuse as well. He would try to make me dependent on him.
My cousin was killed a few months after we started dating and he wanted to come to the funeral. He hadn’t met anyone in my family yet, except my aunt. I didn’t think it was the right time to meet my family under these conditions. He told me, “Your family needs to know that you have a man in your life who loves and supports you and is responsible for you.”
But then when he got upset with me he wouldn’t talk to me for days. When we went out he would treat me like the queen of the world and that’s how he wanted people to see him. He cared about people’s perception of him, and he wanted people to think he treated me well. When we were together it was sometimes a different story.
One time, I told him if he ever put his hands on me I would call the cops on him, and he told me he is the police and if I ever tried to tell anyone that he would chop me up and no one would be able to find me. It was always in the back of my mind to err on the side of caution with him and not get the police involved.
One time we got into an argument and he pulled over to the side of the road then drove off the road to some backyard wooded area that I never been to before. He literally dragged me out the car. He bought me a chain after he cheated on me (one of the many times) he broke the chain from my neck and told me I didn’t deserve it. Then threw it in the yard and told me to fetch it if I wanted it.
How did you end the relationship completely?
There were a lot of things. I got pregnant in 2015, and when I told him I was pregnant the first thing he said to me was, “Whatever decision you make I’m going to support you.” Of course that’s what you want to hear. The next day he called me and said, “You know what, I thought about it and I don’t think you’re ready to be a mother so I think you should have an abortion.”
“What do you mean I’m not ready to be a mother? I take care of your kids, we talked about having children, you said that’s what you wanted, and now you think I’m not ready to be a mother when you got me pregnant?”
He said, “Yeah you’re not ready. That response was a very immature response. Someone who is an adult wouldn’t respond like that. They would ask me why do I think that and have a mature conversation. Your response lets me know you’re not ready to be a mother.”
I told him, “You know what I’m not having an abortion, you know how I feel about that. Either you’re going to be a part of this child’s life or you’re not.”
He told me, “You just want to have my baby so you can get my child support money.”
Then he hung up on me. I called him back he didn’t answer. I called back again and my calls went straight to voicemail. He blocked me for three months. I couldn’t contact him, and my emails weren’t going through. I called him the first time I was in the hospital from the hospital phone. He answered, and I told him I had a threatened miscarriage because I had a lot of bleeding, and that’s what they classified it as. He told me, “I’m in Jamaica right now I’ll talk to you when I get back in the states.” He never contacted me when he got back. That was really hard.
I just kept calling him two or three times a week just to see if the call would go through. Then my call went through one time and he picked it up. I said, “Hey, I really need to talk to you.” He said, “Okay when I get back in town I’ll give you a call.”
That was on a Saturday, I miscarried that following Tuesday at 18 weeks. He came to my house the following Thursday. When he came over, as soon as we saw each other he said, “I’m so sorry.” He kissed me and we embraced. He proposed to me. “I want you to marry me. I want us to be a family like I always wanted.” He got down on one knee, kissed my belly and said, “This is what I want, I want us. I’m so sorry I was just scared.”
I told him I wasn’t pregnant anymore and he said what do you mean. I told him, “There’s no baby. I’m not pregnant anymore.” He asked me what happened and I told him. He started crying. At that point I don’t know what state of mind I was in, but I never saw a man cry before. Seeing him cry and really show emotions, propose to me with a ring and everything it seemed really authentic. I thought things were finally coming into place.
A year-and-a-half after the miscarriage and proposal I was in a financial bind and he knew my financial situation. I was working on improving my credit, and working two jobs. It was a financially tight time for me. He came over to my place, and I had some money in my top drawer. When he left it was gone.
I had some people over for New Years, and he tried to make it seem like these people stole from me. This wasn’t the first time he had taken money from me or that money had been missing after he left my place. I didn’t understand it because he makes a substantial amount of money. It wasn’t as if he needed to take the money.
“Hey, I’m missing some money. I had $300 in my top drawer and it’s not there anymore, did you see it?”
“Oh, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about any money.”
“Well it was there and now it’s not there. We were the only two people in my room the entire night, don’t you think that’s kind of strange”
“I gotta go I’ll talk to you later.”
“I need the money because I need to do my hair”
“It’s $300. I’ll give you the $300”
“Okay, just let me know”
Time passed, he didn’t call me back. I call him back no answer. I call him back again no answer. I call a third time my call went straight to voicemail. Either he blocked me or he put his phone on airplane mode because that’s something he would do often as well. I sent him a very long text message:
“I know you took my money. You know everything that is going on with my life, and you know the financial burden that I have. Why would you steal something from me? You don’t have the best intentions for me, your intentions aren’t good and I don’t want anything to do with you. I’m moving forward in 2017 and I don’t want you apart of my life. Don’t call, don’t text, don’t email me.”
He responded with “You’re being dramatic” and I haven’t spoken to or heard from him since then.
How did your family and friends support you during the relationship?
One of my aunts that I’m very close to, when she met him she said, “There’s something about him I don’t like.” My grandmother never met him, but she saw a picture of him and said “He looked like an assassin, there’s something about his eyes I don’t like.”
When I told my mother we got back together she was very disappointed, but she said “Hey, if that’s who you want to be with. I don’t like him, and don’t want him for you, but I love you enough to support your decision.”
As far as my friends go, only two of my friends met him. One of them she met in a very short period of time so she didn’t have an opinion of him either way. My other friend we went on double dates, the three of us have hung out together, and at first she liked him. Then as time went on she was like “He’s sneaky, and something about him is off, you need to leave him alone, you can do better.
Since the break up 9 months ago, how have you been coping?
I feel like he’s all around me. DC is so small, and we’ve been to pretty much every restaurant out here. Anywhere I go I’m reminded of him. Its been very challenging to not think about him. I don’t sit down and think about him, but something will happen and it will be a reminder of him. A song will come on that we danced to or a movie we saw together.
I’ve just been staying focused on me. I started dating again very recently. I hadn’t dated in a while, and lost myself in a sense because he and I had so many similar interests. We loved hiking, bowling, we would go camping. We’d do all those things together. He was literally my best friend. When we broke up I had to rediscover the things I liked to do.
I had to start doing the things I wanted to do. I wouldn’t invite anyone out with me. I started dating myself. Every Thursday I take myself out on a date, and its something I’ve been doing since the beginning of the year. This is my me time for whatever I want to do. That’s my way of making sure I’m okay with being by myself and enjoy my own company.
I started writing again. Short stories, poems journaling. Anytime something comes to me that I want to talk about, but don’t want to share with anyone I’ll write it down. I’m more open now. I’m not uncomfortable or afraid to talk about certain things now with some people.
What was it about your abuser that made you stay with him?
He made me trust him and feel secure. When I met him I was celibate for two years. I told him I didn’t want to have sex with anyone until I was married. He made me believe we were going to be together forever. I told him I didn’t want to have sex with him until we got tested. We got tested, and he shared his results with me. Anything I asked for whether it was, “Hey I wanna go here and eat” or “Hey I need help with this” or “Can you do this” or “I just want to talk to you,” he always did it. There was no hesitation. He was reliable and dependable.
I got in some trouble and was stranded; it was maybe 2 in the morning.I called him because I needed help. He came and got me, no questions asked. It was that false sense of security. After two, three years I didn’t want to start over with someone new. I’m comfortable with him, he’s comfortable with me.
To be frank part of the reason I stayed so long was because of the false sense of security. My mom was a single mom, my father was in and out of jail. We grew up middle class, but my mom worked a lot. I had a two-parent household, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager. I wanted to be with someone that wanted a traditional family, and was okay with their wife being a housewife.
We had those conversations, and one of the great things about being a writer is I have the opportunity to work from home. I don’t want to go to an office and clock in and clock out, or have a desk job. He said he didn’t want his wife to do that either. He wanted her to raise his children. We had a lot of the same ideologies about family and same goals. In addition to that, he was very well off. I wanted to be with someone who could take care of me, and didn’t have to worry about anything, and just wanted me to be happy. Knowing that he was able to do those things made him very attractive.
Has the desire to be a stay-at-home wife changed now that you’re able to take care of yourself?
I still want the same things, but I think having that experience I can decipher when someone is telling me B.S. versus someone asking you what your goals and dreams are and telling me what theirs are. Let’s build and work on this together as a team, versus “I’m going to give you the world.”
*Names have been changed