Who knew that It would be the year that I needed to adopt survival mode. It was the summer of 1986. For all intents and purposes, it was a great year so far. I had traveled to France in January to study and be immersed in the culture of the country. It was an amazing experience that I would share with anyone who had an ounce of curiosity. I had wrapped up my junior year of college and was set to spend the summer working and enjoying friends!
About half way through the summer, I learned that my boyfriend of 2.5 years was spending a lot of time with a female student who was also on campus for summer classes. A lot of time; intimate time. When I asked him about it, he didn’t deny it. So I ended our relationship and spent the rest of summer in a saddened, depressed state.
We got back to campus in the fall and of course, I couldn’t avoid him as there were only about 1500 students and we had several of the same classes (and so did she). After a few months, he came to me saying they weren’t together. After many lengthy conversations, a lot of sweet talking on his part and contemplation and justification on my part (the first red flag missed), we got back together. It was okay, but definitely different. I was often on edge and always wondering if the same thing would happen again. I tried my best to believe it would be good.
Fast foward to May, 1987, shortly before graduation. This is where I should say “It was a dark and gloomy night”, instead of “It was a beautiful, balmy spring evening.” Many alumni were at the fraternity house for a party and I was outside talking with a gentleman who had graduated two years prior. After a while, we headed into the house. Straight across the living room was “his” room. The door was wide open and right there on the couch for the world to see was him and “her”. Let’s just say they were only about two steps away from needing to close the door or get a hotel room. The man I was speaking with earlier, grabbed my hand and said “Come on, let’s go outside or I will walk you home.” “No”, I said. “I will deal, let’s go down and join the party!”
Broken hearted, sad and angry, I walked past the room and, rather than being quiet, I yelled “Hey, why don’t you bring her out and “f&$k her for all to watch!” For most people, I would imagine they may be humiliated or embarrassed that they got caught…but no, not this “man”. Trust me, I use the word man loosely.
I headed downstairs where there must have been 200 others gathered and I am stood by the bar chatting. I am facing the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a blur of a body; 6 feet, 200 pounds, flying down the stairs. In the blink of an eye, he is in front me. I feel his hands instantly around my neck, starting to squeeze as he smacks my head against the wall—a concrete block wall. Not once but twice. It took five, yes five, guys to pull him from me; the strength present in his rage was overwhelming. They dragged him outside and beat the crap out of him before he got up and somehow ran.
A few others made sure I was okay—no blood, just a headache and pure shock. They wanted to take me to hospital, I said no. They wanted me to file a police report, I said no. Looking back, that was an extremely stupid decision.
I avoided him like the plague for a few days but I knew I would come face to face with him soon. He apologized profusely, told me how much he loved me, but why did I have to embarrass him in that way by saying that?
Wait! What? Why did I embarrass him? Are you kidding me? This was my first experience with a narcissist (a violent one at that), but it wouldn’t be the last. I was so flabbergasted however, that I really started to question myself and began to believe him—that maybe it was my fault.
I told him I needed some time. The more I thought about it, I knew it was not my fault. But, we were getting ready to graduate and our parents spent a bunch of money on a joint graduation party, with many guests, some coming from out of town and I knew there was deposit money they wouldn’t get back. So I shut down, stopped talking about it, sucked it up and said to myself that I can get through this next week pretending as if all is well.
All of that silence caused nothing but grief: I did not enjoy Senior Week, I played out fearful, nightmare inducing episodes in my head, the graduation ceremony was depressing. I hated the party and I hated that I was acting like all was wonderful with the world because it clearly wasn’t. The only thing that made me smile was that I briefly considered becoming an actress because I gave Oscar worthy performances that week and at the party—no one in our families had any idea there was anything wrong.
The second and final breakup was actually easy. He moved away for a job, and my anger set in. I still kept it all inside however. You experience all of the emotions as though it was a normal breakup but you also question yourself; did I do something wrong or something to deserve that behavior? (I know, how messed up is that thinking, but that’s the kind of power narcissism can put into a victim’s life.)
The nightmares began: what if this had happened while we were alone—could he have hurt me worse or killed me even? What if it sat dormant for a long time, then one day in anger he took it out on me in front of children or worse yet, harming the children?
I spent the next few years dating men who were narcissistic (although not violent, they were emotionally abusive), or had awful family lives or some other issues. I took on the role of fixer. Oh to know then what I know now. I can’t fix anyone but me, and I was the one who needed fixing to get out of the cycle of “fixer-upper” relationships.
Years later, I finally told my parents, albeit by accident. A weight was definitely lifted though. I found I could talk about it more and more. I got connected with the Women’s Center & Shelter of Pittsburgh. I will never forget the day I met with the CEO to discuss where my talents could best be utilized and I began my story. When I got to the part about the concrete wall, she took my hands and told me to stop and breathe: 27 years later I was telling the story and she told me I went white as a ghost and the fear was very present in my eyes.
This is the fear women (and men) live with daily, and many of them of experience much worse than I did. The fear is real, the threats are real, the sweet talking, “I am so sorry, I’ll never do it again” narcissism bullshit is real, the victim’s “I’m not worthy of any better” fear is real…I could go on and on.
It can take years before a victim can get the courage and resources to leave; it can take even longer to lose the fear, guilt, and shame and be on a solid path to recovery.
I was lucky and was able to get out after one event (even if I could have done better). I pray he has changed and I pray he has not harmed anyone else. Yes, I should have done more and yes, the guilt resurfaces now and then that I didn’t turn him in or press charges. So please, try and understand why it is often difficult for any victim to come forward when others abuse their power and hold it over the victim. I have also forgiven him. That forgiveness is for me and my healing.
On this last day of the official Domestic Violence Awareness month, please continue to support your family and friends who may have been victimized or are currently victims and are working hard to be strong survivors. Please be a voice for those who did not survive by donating your time, money and resources to your local organizations, and please, please, please…if you are the perpetrator—seek help! If you know a perpetrator, please speak up to prevent them from doing further harm.
We must not remain silent about this or any other harassment or forms of modern day slavery. To say “it’s not affecting me” is a lie based on statistical evidence and to stay silent in the face of injustice is to be complicit.
I share my story on this spookiest of days because nothing is as scary as the monsters that are very real walking among us. But also be happy because it’s a tale of survival and a tale of hope. As I continue to work to end the violence, I ask that you join me by being the voice, support, light and hope to someone else so that we may write many more survival stories.
I invite you to share your story as well if you are ready. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to share with others, I would be honored to post (you can remain anonymous) your story; I will treat your words with the utmost respect. Sharing stories gives inspiration and hope to others.