I still can't bring myself to forgive him, though it's been more than 30 years. As much as I've tried to forget this part of my life, he's (curiously) the only boyfriend in my past who enters my dreams.
I first met my abuser when he came to visit a coworker of mine. Guy (not his real name) was tall, strikingly handsome and charming. He made me feel like I had been especially chosen the moment we met, as if there had been a contest and I was the lucky girl worthy of the special prize. Wherever we went together, women's heads turned. It felt like being with a celebrity.
To try and explain the various pieces that need to fall together before you find yourself in a situation that you could never imagine is a complicated task. To begin with, the abuser has to make you believe that anything he does to you is strictly your doing. If you wouldn't have worn that tight skirt, that strange man wouldn't have looked at you. And your abuser wouldn't have had to lose his temper over you dressing like a slut in public. You become brainwashed, and even though you recognize the patterns of this behavior, you eventually agree that you're somehow to blame for whatever it is you've been accused of.
The brutal truth was that He did it — as he often told me — out of a burning love that even he was powerless to control. He said he loved me so much that he needed to be with me all the time. He told me there was no one else in the world who will ever love me the way he loves me. It's what some girls wait their entire life to hear. Or that's what it seems like in the beginning. You don't view any of the subsequent horror as a problem; you view it as a result of something you did wrong. He'd often say that he didn't know what he'd do without me — right in the middle of a violent episode.
Guy was a twisted manipulator. It still makes me sick to my stomach when I think about what he did to a quiet, introverted, trusting young girl. He knew exactly who would fall for him, and who wouldn't. The abuse began verbally and emotionally, and then spiraled into total domination. Are abusers smarter than the rest of us? Not at all, but they are adept at repeating whatever has worked in the past. They quickly figure out your weak spots and continue to prey on them, and it often feels like there's no escape.
It's impossible to know what lies ahead when you're in the belly of the beast. There's no manual for navigating your way out of a nightmare, and every time an abuser hits you, he mumbles an apology and promises that it will be the last time. It becomes the last time over and over and over again.
I knew Guy was planning a trip with friends. So I also planned. I was going to move to a new apartment in a different city. I was going to leave my job and tell no one about any of this. I was going to save myself.
And that's what I did. I remember driving away with my heart pounding through my chest, terrified by the threats he often made about what would happen if I ever tried to leave him. Luckily, I never heard from him again.
Until about a year ago, when out of nowhere, I got a friend request from him on Facebook. My hands trembled, as I wondered what he could possibly want. How could he have forgotten what he did to me?
Then I remembered what my life was like back then. It all made a kind of terrible sense. He saw nothing wrong with the way he had treated me. He just wanted to be friends.
I didn't block him. I'd never do anything to anger him again. His request just remains in my message box, where he can't hurt me. Now if only I could get him out of my dreams.