Even though it was in 1986, I remember the first time he hit me like it was yesterday. He was very controlling, but I thought that was how all men were. I was two weeks into college and grew up with a controlling, verbally abusive father. He was my first serious boyfriend, and, at 17 years old, I guess I didn’t know any better.
Back then, domestic violence was still extremely taboo. No one talked about it openly until after Nicole Brown Simpson was killed. The OJ trial put domestic violence on the front page of newspapers and even earned discussion at family dinners. That trial changed laws across the world and made people realize that it didn’t just exist when someone you loved punched you or was physically violent with you. It also brought verbal and mental abuse into the limelight. Before then, everyone looked the other way about it. You might suspect that your neighbor is beating his wife, but you wouldn’t do anything about it. People didn’t want to get involved. There were no resources in place within the community to deal with these type of issues or to get help. There were very few shelters, and the issue of female-on-male abuse was never discussed. It was socially unacceptable to talk about.
As I said before, I had just begun college. Originally, I had been accepted into the Mechanical Engineering program at Ohio State. When I met him my senior year of high school, I decided to stay closer to home and was accepted to the Vocal Music program at the University of Akron. I was getting used to being away and making new friends, enjoying classes and the party atmosphere of the weekends. The Saturday night before it happened the first time, I had gone out with some friends drinking. I had been playing the drinking game “Quarters” in the guy’s dorm. He came to visit me the next day, and we had gone out for something to eat. When we came back to my room, someone had left a message on my door saying how much fun it had been to meet me and how I was so great at playing Quarters. He saw it and got very angry with me. We walked down the street from the campus to a local high school and sat on the steps, arguing more. Out of nowhere, the fight escalated to screaming at each other. Then, he hit me. I stopped cold and was in shock. When I realized what he had done, I burst out crying. He immediately apologized and started saying how he had ”seen red,” not realizing what he was doing. I forgave him, truly believing that he would never do it again.
A week later, I left school and moved in with his family. He didn’t hit me again for two months. We had another fight, and he did it again. This began a cycle that kept going for years. I got to the point where if he moved too fast I would jump. We discovered that he was bipolar as well. Eventually he began a medication regimen that worked, and things were great until he did what many people with mental illness do. As he felt better, he felt that he didn’t need the medication anymore and stopped taking it. It took coming very close to having a total mental breakdown to realize that he needed to be compliant with a medication regimen.
All in all, I was with him for 27 years. I was married for 23 of those years. There was always an excuse for why I never left him. My self-esteem was gone, I kept gaining weight, and I was scared to leave him; I had such excellent insurance through his job. Having been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2003 and having undergone multiple surgeries (current count is 23), I was scared of what my medical future would be without his support. We also had a daughter who is now 27 years old. I didn’t want to bring her up in a one-parent household, like I had been. I thought I was doing the right thing by staying. Honestly, I was just ignoring the reality of life. It took his being involved with another woman for me to finally say that I had been through enough. Four years ago this past October, I kicked him out. I decided that it was time for me to move forward with my life. I had sacrificed so much to my marriage and my child and was beyond dealing with yet another huge hurdle.
Once I kicked him out, life got better instead of worse. I realized that I was able to stand on my own. I still had decent medical and was able to start focusing on myself more. My close friend, who was always there for me to talk to, helped me see that things were going to get better and helped me deal with some of my past issues. He is now my husband and going to school for his Master’s in Mental Health Counseling. I’ve learned that I should respect myself and that no one should be in control of me. I’ve worked through a lot of my issues but still have a long way to go, in my opinion. I will get there eventually. The biggest thing that I’ve learned, though, is that I matter and that love shouldn’t hurt.