There are times when I get misty eyed thinking back on the life I have lived. Although I’m only in my twenties, I feel like I have covered so much ground, endured so many things. One of the most emotional and difficult times for me is the month of October.
October 1st would have been my grandfather’s birthday. I always get a little melancholy when I slow down long enough to remember all of our times together.
Two days later is my ex’s birthday. I don’t know that I’m able to put my feelings for him into words. It’s so difficult because, in some ways, I feel that I learned a lot from him. I learned to be strong, I learned to fend for myself, and I learned what I didn’t want in a partner. But in another way, I feel betrayed by him. I have to remind myself that he completely stole my innocence; he ripped away an important part of my life that I will never get back. He made me insecure, pushed me to the point of leaving my parents, and kept me from any sort of normal life.
I would like to say he doesn’t haunt me anymore, that I don’t think about him at night when I’m home by myself, that I don’t worry about him walking into my place of work after all these years, but I would be lying. Because I think about it all the time. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know what I would do if I saw him in real life. My chest hurts just thinking about it.
The scars from mental cruelty can be as deep and long-lasting as wounds from punches or slaps but are often not as obvious.
As much as I would like to lay all of the blame on my ex-boyfriend, I can’t. It would give me a little bit of justice and closure to finish off this chapter of my story. But it’s not wholly true. And don’t misunderstand me; he deserves a lot of the blame, but a lot of what happened between us I take responsibility for. After all, I stayed with him for more years than I would care to admit.
We were okay in the beginning. Our fights were minimal (in comparison to what they became) but now, looking back, I realize that he wasn’t what I would call “normal”. He got angry about things that were unimportant. I remember one instance in particular where he was absolutely livid at me because of the outfit I had chosen to wear. He said to me, “Go back to your ex if that’s how you’re going to dress. You look disgusting.” I should have left his house that day and never returned. Instead, what I did as an insecure nineteen year old was drive all the way to my house, change into something he approved of, and drove back. It just seemed like the only available option.
As time went on, things got worse. I had a sickening feeling in my gut every day because everything was such a chore. If we went out to dinner and I made eye contact with the waiter for too long, it would turn into a huge fight. “Was I seeing him? Was I attracted to him? Did I want to have sex with him?” He could go on and on.
If we were out with his friends, and I agreed with something one of them said, if I paid the slightest bit of interest in someone other than him, it was war. If I wasn’t dressed the way he liked, put on the slightest bit of weight, happened to wear minimal makeup because I just wasn’t feeling well, he was ready to fight, guns blazing. If I mentioned something that another girl’s boyfriend did for her, made flirtatious hints about wanting a birthday or Christmas gift, or remarked on how happy a certain couple looked, he would fly off the handle thinking I was jealous of them. If I was ever out alone, and I didn’t call him when I arrived and right when I left, he would accuse me of doing something scandalous. “Where was I? Why had I forgotten to call? Why couldn’t I just let him know where I was? Who was I with? Why was I lying? What EXACTLY was I doing? Why was I such a scandalous bitch?” All hell would break lose.
I stayed and let him talk to me like I was a piece of garbage. I let him call me names that I wouldn’t dare repeat, I let him lecture me about my weight, I let him insult the innermost, feminine parts of me, and I just sat there and took it. I sat in his car, and I let him scream at me. Because screaming back became too much work after a while. What was the point, anyway? I would never be right.
For months, I did exactly what he wanted in the hopes of saving our relationship. I dressed like a surfer girl because that’s what he wanted. I got my weight down to 107 because that’s what he wanted. Shortly after that, he told me that I had lost too much weight. He said my chest was as bony as a bird, and I looked disgusting. I did everything with his parents (who were always very good to me) because that’s what he wanted. It didn’t matter what I wanted.
I always wanted a love that time would stand still for. I was fully aware, at the age of seventeen that nothing came easy. As I got a little bit older and allowed myself to get caught in his web, I just assumed that I had to deal with the good and the bad parts of him. I thought to myself, “sure, he can be really, really mean sometimes. But other times, he can be unseasonably sweet.” I used to tell my friends, “He’s a firefighter. He saves people all the time. He works crazy hours, and he has the pressure of life in his hands all day. Give the guy a break.” I was always training to be the perfect firefighter girlfriend: the girl who cooked for the entire house, treated “the boys” like they were part of her extended family, and boasted about how hard her civil-servant boyfriend worked. He saved lives. He ran into buildings when everyone else ran out.
But that was just another lie I told. Those unseasonably sweet moments were few and far between. And they were usually only because we had a huge fight, and he had to make up for breaking a lawn chair over my car, throwing a fork at my head, or ripping the Vera Bradley bag my mom had gotten me. He was never sweet because I deserved to be treated with respect. It always came with a price.
Maybe it was because I made him crazy. Because he thought he was out of my league. Because I wasn’t the girl he really wanted. Because he thought that since I had always stayed with him, since I had always stuck it out, he could be as big of a prick as he wanted. I would always come back.
The most frustrating part of all this is that no one believed me. I think that to this day, people still think I’m either lying or exaggerating. I sat at lunch with one of my dearest, oldest friends and she said to me, “You know, he told me he never laid hands on you.” I just stared at her and felt sick to my stomach. I changed the subject and downed my whiskey in two sips. If only she knew.
In domestic violence scenarios, people generally tend to put blame on the woman and assume that she’s the crazy one. Despite how backward and dated that might seem, it’s a reality. These women are commonly stereotyped. As such, these realities sometimes make me reluctant to share my truth.
Some days when I think about telling my story I still think, “What’s the point?”, but then other times, I think that girl from all those years ago needs a voice.
The other day, I was watching a speech by Emma Watson and got chills when she said, “If not me, who? If not now, when?” I felt as if she was speaking to me directly. There are so many women out there, women in every age bracket, who need a voice. They need an advocate, a person who understands them, a person who will hear them and accept them, despite whatever history may follow them. I want to be a vault, an open book, a shared story, an inspiration. I want to help people, listen to them, and hold them when things are hard.
I have learned so much from my ex. I learned that I will not allow ANYONE, much less my partner, to EVER speak to me in the manner that he did. I learned that what I went through was abuse. I’m not being a drama queen or attempting to ruin his reputation, despite what other people might believe. I could have put him in jail. But I didn’t. I just wanted to get away from him. I learned what I wanted in life and what I didn’t. I learned that I would never settle for being unhappy or subservient.
Most importantly, I learned how to survive. I learned how strong I really am: unafraid and unwilling to be treated with anything but respect, unable to accept anything but love and gentle affection from the person that I call my partner. And now I’m able to declare that I am an advocate. I’m a soldier in this war against domestic violence. I’m a survivor of violence, and I have learned to move forward. Domestic violence is a social problem that affects more people than we know. So today, I’m your voice. I’m here for you, and I refuse to back down.
Stay strong, ladies.
Kate Visceglie-Meyer is married to the man of her dreams and lives in Tarpon Springs, FL. Once a victim of domestic violence she is now a graduate of University of South Florida's School of Social work and is determined to advocate for those who need a voice. When Kate is not putting her thoughts out into the world on her blog, she is making homemade jerky with her husband and spending time in the Florida sun.