Behind Closed Doors
“He’s cute,” I told my best friend, Karen, while we were standing in the commons area at school during break at the beginning of the school year. The guy was about six feet tall, 185 pounds, with an athletic build, and green eyes so bright that he always seemed to be smiling. His name was Nathan, and he was a junior while I was a mere sophomore. Although his family name was not the most reputable in our small town of Vernon, I didn’t care; I was never concerned with social status, nor did I believe that you should be judged by your family members’ actions. You can’t help who you are related to, so that was never an issue with me.
Through shameless flirting, childish notes to each other, and finally a phone call, we began dating the fall of my sophomore year. He was my first real boyfriend. I was always “one of the guys,” while my friends were the hot girls that everyone wanted to date. So once this older guy started giving me attention, I became attached quickly, thinking he was my one true love. It started off great; he was sweet, his family loved me, and we shared the same interests. There was no way the relationship could be better. I tutored a freshman girl during the spring of my sophomore year, and she confided that her friends tried to model their relationships like ours. What a compliment! School ended the same way it began; I was with Nathan, I was happy, and I thought nothing could go wrong.
But things weren’t okay from that moment on. The mild abuse from that night was a precursor to the emotional, verbal, and physical abuse that came soon after. It began small, as most abusive relationship do. He destroyed my self-esteem, constantly calling me fat and ugly, saying I was lucky to have him as a boyfriend. He would buy diet pills for me to unwillingly take. At the age of 16, I played all sports, was a cheerleader, stood five feet and five inches tall, and weighed about 120 pounds. I was not even close to being fat, yet I became bulimic, throwing up anything I ate, from a chip to a hamburger; because of the hurtful comments from Nathan, the guy who was supposed to love me, I began destroying my body. My friends began noticing this drop in self-esteem and the change in my behavior, and were concerned that something was wrong. I calmed their worries, hid my pain, and continued acting as though we were the ideal couple. He was still worrying constantly about whether I was being faithful to him or not. (Although since he thought I was fat and ugly, I don’t understand why he was so threatened.) I had always been outgoing, and I talked to everyone at my small school. But Nathan grew tired of that part of my personality. In less that a month, I had cut myself off from all of my friends, but I had Nathan—which is all I thought I needed.
I first sexual encounter was with Nathan, and it was not my choice. I repeatedly said no as he was pushing himself on me, but I finally gave up hope and took it. I wasn’t ready for that step in my relationship, and I told Nathan afterward that I did not want to do anything more than kiss from then on, but he did not accept my decision. Two to four days a week, either before or after school, he would come to my house or we would go park somewhere so that we could have sex. I can remember crying the entire time we would have sex, but it never stopped him. He would turn up the radio or television, to keep from hearing my sobs, and continued as though I wanted him to. That was bad, but telling him no when he suggested we had sex was much worse.
One afternoon, after most students had left school, he asked me to go park again. I said no, and he threw me against his truck, hard enough to leave bruises where my shoulder blades had hit the door. I had countless bruises on my body where he had punched, grabbed, slapped, and beat me. There were bruises on my arms and legs from where he had held me down to keep from squirming or trying to get away when we were having sex. He busted my lips numerous times, and he would sometimes hit me hard enough to black my eye—although he was cautious about leaving too many visible marks that would bring suspicion from others. Twice, I ended up in the hospital—once, with a dislocated shoulder from him jerking me back toward him, and another “accident” where he busted my nose bad enough that I thought it was broken. It may seem odd that all of the physical evidence would go unnoticed by everyone, but as an athlete and cheerleader, I always had an excuse. Then, of course, there was always the overused “I ran into something” excuse.
After he punished me, he was always attentive and sweet, telling me how much he loved me, so I stayed with him. I had convinced myself that most of the abuse was my fault for making him so mad. By this time, my self-esteem was so low that I couldn’t imagine myself without him. He had turned me against all of my friends, and, soon, against my family. My parents never liked him much; I think it was partly because of his family’s reputation, but mostly it came from a parental instinct that our relationship was not what it seemed. I even went three weeks without speaking a word to my father after a fight one Friday night when I tried to run away. We reconciled, but, to this day, I regret turning my back on my family more than anything.
Toward the end of that fall semester, I became unable to deal with our relationship and the abuse, realizing that he was not my first love, but rather, the first guy who gave me any attention. Being brought up in church, I prayed to God every night for the strength to leave him, and received an answer sooner than I had imagined. Two weeks after I had begun praying, my grandfather, whom I was very close to, passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for years. Nathan never said a word about my grandfather’s death or how I was felling; his only concern was when we were going to have sex. He did, at least, stop with the abuse the week of my grandfather’s funeral; I guess he did have some compassion. Then it happened. He was mad because I hadn’t told him that I was going to be late, and after about ten minutes a swollen bruise on my jaw from his fist, he broke up with me. His reason for ending our relationship seemed so absurd that I decided that it was God’s answer to my prayers. I accepted Nathan’s decision to end a year and a half-long relationship and walked to my car. I drove home, surprisingly content, never shedding a tear.
I had always wondered why a girl would stay with a guy who was abusive, and I have vowed to never be in an abusive relationship again. But truthfully, it is never as easy as it looks to get out. I was one of the lucky ones who got out of the relationship “safely,” without too much permanent damage. Even after we broke up, I carry the scars of his abuse, although the emotional scars are harder to see. Because our relationship existed during an important time for any teenager in terms of developing an identity and building self-esteem, I still have very little self-confidence and often emotionally abuse myself the way he did for so long. I still struggle with purging whatever I eat—some days I do and some days I don’t; however, I do have physical scars from years of purging. Through his sexual abuse, I learned that sex was a way to make guys like me, rather than a meaningful act between two people who care about one another. Although I have had two long relationships since Nathan—both of which were, for the most part, non-abusive relationships—I still have significant trust issues. I still flinch whenever guy starts to raise his voice or lose his temper, and I still do not like to be grabbed or touched forcefully, even in a playful manner. Now, it is extremely difficult