I had never broken any bones until one night, a month after I got engaged in 2011, when my fiancé twisted, pulled and hyper-extended my left arm until all of the ligaments tore and my bone snapped at the ulna. As he dragged me off the bed by my broken left arm and kicked me while I lay in a crumbled heap, he screamed in my face that I was “worthless trash that should be killed”, the spittle of his hatred landing on my face like acid rain. My sin? I had asked him to move over in the bed.
The physical pain was immediate; the emotional pain was protracted and haunts me every day. He told me that night that nobody would ever believe me (“who will ever believe you over me? So you better shut up”). The doctor at the ER begged me to file a report (“it is not going to stop. This is the classic domestic violence injury. He will this again and again until he kills you”). My fiancé alternatively pleaded with me or threatened me (“I will get sober, I love you so much…Look at you! You are disgusting, they will never believe you!). I did not report it. I felt compelled not to give up on him. I made a mistake.
I was not naive or unaware. I had heard of the cycle of abuse and I was intellectually aware, at least, that the bogey man did not always look like so bad on the outside, but I struggled to reconcile the Ivy League-educated, highly successful, former semi-pro sports professional, good-looking man (everyone called us “Barbie and Ken”) with the monster he became when I forgot to line his soda cans up properly in the refrigerator, forgot to put the toilet seat down or gained any weight (“you are disgusting, I am taking your wedding rings back and giving them to someone who deserves them!”). And by the time I really understood and recognized that I was being abused, I had already kept silent too long and I had lost my voice and sense of self.
After I married him, the abuse escalated (“who would ever love you? You are not worthy of love! Why would anyone ever want to be with you?”). He hacked into my phone, my email, my work email, accused me of having an affair (I was not), destroyed my belongings, isolated me from friends and family, and a whole host of other disgusting, evil things. When I gathered the strength and the courage to tell him that I was leaving him, he threatened to kill me, got drunk and called my employer spouting off hateful lies. My employer then penalized me for not having reported the abuse sooner (“it calls into question your judgment and your ability to represent us. And really, why would you have stayed with him if he was so abusive? You know that we can tell if you just fell and that’s how you broke your arm…Tell us the truth. He doesn’t seem like the kind of person to do such a thing”).
Truth. The truth about ‘truth’ is that it is a deformed, pimply, warty little bastard that nobody wants at their birthday party and only much later, when I turned in my medical records that clearly showed a pattern of abuse to my employer, did my employer stop asking for the ‘truth’. Because when they actually got the ‘truth’, they threw it out of their house like an under-age, over-served party guest. The truth is uncomfortable and it reflects poorly on us all.
I am not ok. Maybe I never was and that is why I put up with such abuse to begin with, but six months ago when someone whom I had just met drunkenly told me that “nobody likes you and nobody is a fan” (echoes of “Who would ever love you? Why would anyone ever want to be with you?”), I was rendered mute. I did not stick up for myself and my disgust at my own impassivity and voicelessness ripped off the dirty, bloody little Band-Aid that I had sloppily placed over my soul, sending me into a spiral of depression. When I recently tried to reclaim my voice by telling that person how I felt, like a child pointing at their boo-boo saying, “here, here is where it hurts, please acknowledge my boo-boo”, I was told not rehash it and again rendered voiceless.
This month is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. ‘Awareness’ is not the problem though; people are aware that there is domestic violence. I doubt that there are many people who actually believe that domestic violence is a fallacy; the problem, however, is that when confronted with it, people turn away. ‘Apathetic awareness’, I call it. After I left my ex and started telling people what had happened in my marriage, I lost ‘friends’ and people spread rumors about me to justify their own ordering of the universe (“he is so nice, she must have really upset him! He’s not the type.”). My family was amazing and a core group of friends supported me even at the expense of their own professional reputations, but in the end, I felt desperately alone with my own annihilated sense of self.
The scars live on; not so much the physical scars – though with the changing of the weather, my broken left arm aches and my bruised ribs (probably once-broken) throb – but the emotional ones that leave me unable to sleep some nights, unable to conceptualize a world in which I may actually be worthy of love. Who would ever love me?.
This story is not over. I wish I could say how strong I am, how far I’ve come. Those things are not untrue, but they are also not wholly true. The complete story is much more complicated, not unlike the ‘Truth’. And so, with these words, I am eviscerating everything inside of me that held on to some muddy-colored vision of perfection’s reflection and allowing my carefully constructed facade of ‘perfection’ to crumble unceremoniously at my feet for the world to use as welcome mat. This is my voiceless truth and shame on you if you turn away from it.