Umbilical Cord

I didn't have to be me, which felt even more daunting than being figuratively attached at the hip to someone else.

I never really went to college. My body attended classes, I graduated, but my spirit was with Matt. Matt was twenty-one and I was sixteen when we met. At eighteen, when I was supposed to go away to college, I could not handle the thought of being ripped from my father figure and thrust into the scary world of other people and opportunities. I was determined to stay with the Siamese twin who owned me.

Matt was a short man, owned guns, hated people of color (even though I am one), hated people in general, shot animals for fun, but he professed that he loved me.

When it was time for me to depart for college, I chose a school as close to home as possible. I wanted to move in with Matt, but since I was still financially dependent on my parents, I was ‘forced’ to live in the dorms.

Matt informed me that every person I’d meet in college would be an untrustworthy idiot. I believed him. He had told me my mother was a prima donna, my father was an asshole, and my sister was a twat. I believed him.

A few hours after I moved into the dorms (thirty miles away from Matt), he drove down to pick me up. We sat in his truck drinking beers. I was petrified of the threat of my new experience, as was he. As we blasted Judas Priest on the car stereo, I howled as if I were a fetus being ripped from her mother’s womb. I sobbed uncontrollably for at least two hours, determined to stay attached to this man and his way of life. Matt victoriously comforted me, telling me no one would ever come between us; he’d make sure of it.

I made no friends in college; they threatened any potential time from my Matt. I did not participate in any activities either; every moment out of the classroom was spent off-campus with Matt, drinking beer in his truck, listening to Slayer, Judas, and King Crimson, and talking about how much we hated everyone in the world.

To be owned by someone may seem oppressive, but as an insecure child, it felt comforting. I didn’t have to be me, which felt even more daunting than being figuratively attached at the hip to someone else.

I did, on a whim, attend one college party. Matt accompanied me, of course. It was in a rented-out basement with a garage band and many drunk co-eds writhing to the music. I danced with other women and men, while Matt watched, fuming. I was so drunk (as was he) by the end of the night, I don’t remember what we argued about driving back to his apartment. I do remember screaming, crying, and thrashing, as he pushed my face into his mattress. The following day, I had four purple finger marks on the side of my face.

Since I had no friends in college, no one asked me about those bruises.

I actually suffered more emotional than physical oppression, and I stayed with Matt eight years in total. I had minimal contact with my family and no friends from the ages of sixteen to twenty-four.

I would love to say there is some lesson to be learned in all of this. That I am an idiot? That teenagers are naïve? That from the beginning, my parents should have had him arrested for statutory rape? That insecure girls are a target for Napolean-esque angry cavemen? Perhaps.

I’ve spent the past fifteen years trying to forgive myself for giving eight years of my life to Dr. Evil. It hasn’t been easy. Whenever I read about of a hate crime or of a death from domestic violence, I scan the page for his name.

About five years ago, I ran into Matt’s parents in an airport somewhere in the middle of the country. I had always liked his parents, and to this day cannot figure out how they spawned such a person. As I exchanged typical small talk with them, his mom spontaneously broke down crying. I never knew why; we were all late for our flights and had to separate.

Maybe that is as much of an “I’m sorry” I’ll ever get. I'm sure his poor parents (he had punched his father in the stomach before he ran away from home a year before I met him) had an idea of what I'd been through. Perhaps he has changed. Perhaps he now listens to Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens. Maybe he even donates to the ASPCA or a Women’s Domestic Violence Shelter, to make up for his earlier years. But I cannot, for the life of me, hear Judas Priest blaring on someone else’s stereo without wanting to hide my cats, dogs, family, and run for shelter myself. My apologies, Judas.

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