Sunday, July 10, 2011

"No woman leaves an abusive relationship...she flees."

If She's Lucky.

The title of this post is a line from the play "Flowers: A Thorny Romance Story," which is playing at the Workshop Theater Main Stage as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival (for tickets go here: I play the role of Marisol Hughes, a Fortune 500 executive who gave up her career to start a loving family and found herself stuck in an abusive marriage. The play reads like what my life could have been like had I stayed in an abusive relationship. I was lucky. As for Marisol...well, you'll have to see the play and find out - I highly recommend it.

1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime

I never thought I, a smart-ass from the Bronx, would be a part of that statistic, but I am. I met him while bartending. He was friends with the owner of the bar where I used to work. He'd always stop by for a chat with his boys and a couple of beers. He seemed nice, calm, and sweet - an All American Ivy League graduate. He was the quiet type....

It's Always The Quiet Ones....
Who would've known that underneath the facade there would be a spiteful, angry, hateful person? I didn't. He put his best foot forward, won me over and everything was great at first. But his true colors gradually came through and I just couldn't, better yet, I didn't want to believe that he was such a dark and ugly individual.

It started with verbal abuse, but I didn't think much of it cause they were just I thought. But those words were slowly breaking me down as my self-esteem diminished. Then things escalated to physical abuse, but, again, I didn't want to make much of it because it was just a push and a shove here and there. I didn't understand how he could go from building me up one minute to completely tearing me down the next. Intertwined with his apologies were the excuses that he couldn't control himself because he had never loved anyone this much and that I needed to develop tough skin since I was too weak and fragile, thus, he was doing it for my own good. Then he'd tell me that no one else would ever love me as much as he does. Was that sick? I didn't know at the time. All I knew was that the whole thing was so confusing and embarrassing that it was happening to me.

My acceptance into law school prompted him to talk about our future together. He had it all planned out - we'd get married and start a family as soon as I'd graduate from law school. While he spoke of marriage and children, in silence I'd be hoping and praying that this wasn't God's plan for me. Walking by jewelry stores was nauseating - he'd drag me in to look at rings and I'd walk right out telling him that I preferred to be surprised when the time comes. He also liked to talk about the irony of it all - you see, he had envisioned the future mother of his kids to be a tall blonde woman, the Stepford type, who would bear him blue eyed children to look like him. Bit much? I thought so. But why couldn't I leave him? Because I feared that maybe he was right - who else would love me with this much passion? It wasn't was a sickening obsession as he tried to take control of me.

Although the embarrassment kept me from telling anyone, keeping it inside was too burdensome. I had to tell someone and I did. I told a co-worker who had previously asked about a couple of bruises I had - I lied to her then, but came clean now. To unburden myself to her was relieving and empowering for a bit because I began to fight back. However, he wasn't one to back down and my fighting back just seemed fruitless and exhausting. I became numb to his fighting - he'd start and I'd completely space out as if he weren't even talking to me. I just wanted out of the relationship and resolved to move out as soon as law school began, but my decision was precipitated by a fight that topped all others.

The Last Straw
I came home late from work one night and found the coffee table completely smashed, things knocked over and holes in the wall. I thought maybe someone broke in, but that wasn't the case because he was sound asleep in the bedroom and the holes looked more like punches. It wasn't the first time he rammed his fists through the wall. I slept on the couch that night (but that wasn't unusual; I had started to feel repulsed by him).

The next morning, I found out that he had thrown a temper tantrum all by himself because the server hosting his business websites had crashed and lost all of his data. I designed those websites and maintained the databases for him (free of charge, of course, because it was my duty as his girlfriend - as he put it). That day he was leaving to visit his parents out of state for the weekend and wanted me to get everything up and running immediately. I was the general manager of a bar/restaurant and needed to open the establishment to let the staff in before brunch. He saw me getting ready for work and threw another tantrum because he couldn't believe how I wasn't working on his websites at that very instant. I told him that I'd work on his websites later. He gave me a whole speech about how he had priority and not some stupid job that I was planning to leave soon anyway. I told him that his sense of entitlement was starting to get on my nerves. He yanked the towel off my head, said "I don't fucking care" and then spit in my face.

I was sobbing uncontrollably, but continued to get ready for work. He freaked out and apologized profusely - he wouldn't let me out of the apartment until he was sure that I had forgiven him and that I would work on his websites that evening after work. I gave him the assurance he needed.

The Escape
That evening, he called demanding to know why the websites hadn't been up yet. I told him I was working on them and that they'd be up by the following day.  I lied.  I was packing up to move back to New York with the help of a very dear friend to whom I'm eternally grateful. I took all of my stuff and, inadvertently, took all the backup CDs I had made of the websites and databases with me. Oooopps!

I was long gone when he returned. He called me for months every single day leaving messages apologizing and begging that we speak. I had no desire to ever speak to him again until he called me from an unknown number on my birthday and surprised me. He asked to meet with me because he was a changed man and we owed it to ourselves to know for sure if the relationship was worth saving or not. I started to feel bad for him and agreed to meet, but when he called to confirm our meeting, I realized there was nothing worth saving in that relationship.

I Owed It To Myself
I owed myself the love, honor and respect that he (and I) had denied me while in that relationship. Many times, I think back and wonder why did I not speak up sooner or why didn't I call the cops on him? I had every right to do so and so does anybody experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse because we owe it to ourselves!

“No woman has to be a victim of physical abuse. Women have to feel like they are not alone.” -Salma Hayek

“This is not love. It is a crime, ... You can't look the other way just because you have not experienced domestic violence with your own flesh.” -Salma Hayek

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  1. Oh Sweetie, I am so glad You Found The Strength to Leave. I lost a best friend to domestic violence when we were 26 yrs old. We were both in the same situation at the time but, she had left and then needed to go back home to get some paperwork for a new job. He was home at the time... He murdered her. I was so afraid the same thing would happen to me that it took another two years before I found the emotional strength to do it. Of course, it was after he threatened my life... The Amazing thing that I noticed when I left was that I no longer was doing things WRONG on a daily basis... I truly believed nobody would ever love me the way he (supposedly) did. Thankfully, I was WRONG! I now have the best Husband and he is the Love of my life. Treats Me like a Princess and now I believe I deserve to be Treated That Way. Wonderfu;l writing my Beautiful Cousin!!! Wish I could see the play! <3

  2. I'm so sorry to hear that all of that happened Betsy. Domestic violence is a horrendous crime. It's intriguing how these abusers seem to operate in the same manner. I'm just glad that we're out of those situations and that you've found such a wonderful husband who treats you like the beautiful princess that you are :)) xoxo

  3. Vanessa- It's brave of you to share this and it makes me wonder how much of this nightmare you lived through brought 'Carmen' to life on stage. When I was in grad school I actually worked for an attorney who was beaten by her husband when pregnant and lost the child. She left him and worked her way through law school and eventually became a partner in a huge law firm. We all need inspiration....thank you for offering a dose :-)

  4. Thanks Sheri. It never ceases to amaze me how anyone could be so violent towards a loved one. Losing a child due to abuse on the pregnant mother is just beyond reproach. I hope that man is rotting in jail - he deserves that and worse. "Carmen" struck a lot of nerves for me - the abuse, the torment, the fear that your abuser is coming to get you - just chilling. However, it was therapeutic to play Carmen - it's the role that enabled me to take on Marisol and open up about my past situation. Thanks for that Sheri :)) I look forward to playing Carmen again soon.