Written By: Hanna Wenter
TW: Domestic violence
Eighteen years ago, I was escaping. It was my freshman year of college, I lived in the dorms, and I had just broken up with my first real boyfriend. He was the first boy to tell me he loved me, though he wouldn't be the last. He was also the first boy to promise he would kill me. He would be the last of those.
I grew up in a small town and came to college naïve and trusting which were vulnerable traits, especially when combined with my gregarious personality and tiny frame. Academics had always come easy enough that I’d managed straight A’s in high school with minimal studying, leaving plenty of time for socializing. I looked years younger than my peers and even though I had always been a part of various circles and party crowds, I never seemed to be the one that caught the boys’ eyes—at least, not the boys I hoped would notice me.
We met in our dorm courtyard, college students navigating independence for the first time. He was the center of attention while I was trying hard to fit in. I had an extroverted presence—loud and goofy, warm and welcoming to everyone—and he noticed me.
We became friends quickly and then I eventually saw him in a non-platonic way with the encouragement of friends who seemed to be jealous of his crush on me, and some booze at a party. In classic college fashion, we made out when we were drunk and from then on, we were just kind of . . . together, as they say.
The abuse began subtly, with nasty comments that grew more vicious each day. He would remind me that I wasn’t special or as appealing as other young women, guarantee that no one else would ever want me, tell me that his friends didn’t know what he saw in me, and be outraged with jealousy if I so much as smiled in the direction of another boy. He shoved me down a couple of times, and once he slammed me back into a brick wall so hard that the back of my head came away bleeding. But, mostly, his attacks left no visible trace: cruel words said for destroying and, like drops of dirty water, when their numbers grew they puddled into my mind and drowned away my sense of self.
It is harder to see how wrong it is when it's mostly just words, how it hurts you, and how it truly is a form of abuse. You cannot deny bruises on your cheek but you rationalize painful words until you absorb their meaning and believe them to be true.
I was certain I had caused this, I deserved this; I guess it just made sense in some way after being told so many times that his cruel words and behavior were my fault. I had not started this journey of abuse as an overly confident girl, but after just a few months I was broken down into a shell of myself. The boy that had been charming that first week of school and then paraded his crush on me around our circle ended up terrorizing me, and I did not see it coming.
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