I was told to expect them, the nightmares. As I allow myself to work through the healing process, my mind begins to bring to the surface long-suppressed memories.
I can accept this as reality.
But, oh… So much pain.
I had a boyfriend once, many years ago. He was the second boy I dated. My first boyfriend, my high school sweetheart, tried to dump me without actually dumping me by not speaking to me for a few weeks. When we finally did connect, he told me he no longer liked me. Well, to a just-turned-17-year-old with deep insecurity issues, this was quite a blow. Quite a blow indeed.
When this second boy showed interest in me, I was immediately hooked – despite having a crush on someone else. (Funny how that works). We’d been friends for awhile; he was funny, enjoyed many of the same activities I did, was part of my social circle. What could be more natural than to become this boy’s girlfriend?
It began subtly. Within a week of “going steady,” he told me he loved me. I recoiled from this. I wondered how it could possibly be true. Looking back, I wonder at my lack of trust in my own instincts. I should have run – fast and far.
Little jabs were dropped into our conversations. I wasn’t living up to my girlfriend potential. Why was I friends with other guys? Why did I want to spend time with people other than him? That was stupid, unfair. I was stupid.
I didn’t say anything, to him or anyone else. I don’t know why. Who in her right mind would allow that?
It was clear to me that I was being manipulated, but I didn’t know how to stop it.
The timetable is muddled in my head, but I know it wasn’t that long before he pretended to kill himself while on the phone with me. Said he had a gun in his hand and was going to blow his brains out. I begged him not to do it, but he hung up the phone. I couldn’t reach him after that. I spent the next hours in sleepless agony. No, I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t call the cops. It makes no sense, I know. I was trapped. It was my fault if he really were dead.
At school the next morning, he laughed. Treated it all like a big joke.
He hit me once, after I told him that I was afraid he would. “What, like this?” he asked. Whack! Hard as he could, right against my arm. I bruise easily, so nobody asked about the dark stain on my pale skin. I bit back the tears of pain as he apologized profusely and asked for forgiveness.
He always asked for forgiveness.
On graduation day, he screamed at me, calling me words that I don’t care to repeat here or anywhere else. I had ruined his high school experience. It wasn’t fair that I was at the top of the class and he wasn’t. I should have made him do his homework. I should have pushed him into more activities. How could I do this to him?
Amazingly, I stayed with him for another three-and-a-half months. I devoted an entire year to this guy – who forgot our anniversary and blamed me for not reminding him. Finally, after revealing what had been going on – the name calling, the threats, the manipulation – to a friend I trusted, I broke up with him. (Only after this friend plainly told me that I was in a dangerous situation and needed to get out).
That’s when the trouble began.
I worked in a public place with a staff that didn’t make a habit of kicking people out. He would show up when I was there. He followed me around, spewing hatred and obscenities. He followed me home from work. I remember going to the front windows of my parent’s house to close the blinds one evening, after being home all day, and watching, frozen in terror, as his car slowly went past. He called a few minutes later to say that he’d seen me.
Still, I said nothing. Told no one.
Again, the timeline is muddy, but I know that after we broke up, there was a big group of us who went to the movies together. I don’t know if he had been invited by someone in that group or somehow found out that we were all going, but he was there. Seated a row behind me. Saying I couldn’t wait to get out of there would be a gross understatement. Ensconced between close friends who knew all about the situation, I tried to pay attention to the movie. I don’t even remember what we saw.
Nervously I stumbled out of the theater, hoping to get to the car without him seeing. He had disappeared, however. I relaxed a little. Our group went out into the chilly night air, chattering and pushing as 18-year-olds do. A few split off. I stopped in the lane to wave goodbye when his car appeared. Headlights trained on me, he hit the accelerator, tires squealing. I have no doubt that he intended to kill me in that moment. I don’t remember if I jumped out of the way or was pushed. He screamed intelligibly out the window as he continued on.
Foolishly I held on to the ridiculous hope that we could be friends somehow. Who tries to be friends with a person who wants her dead?
We were at the same Christmas party. He left early. He called me. Stupidly, I answered. The most vile things spilled out of his mouth.
I began dating another boy. We went in together to buy my ex-boyfriend tickets to a play that we knew he wanted to see. The three of us went together – in his car. (I know, I know). It seemed to be all right until we drove home. Again he pushed the pedal to the floor and veered off the road, heading toward a tree. At the last second he swerved away. This time, he said nothing.
At last, after a year-and-a-half, I cut off all contact. I have no idea how long the stalking continued. I did my best to pretend that he didn’t exist, though it had become habit at that point to look over my shoulder. I heard through the grapevine that he failed most of his classes that first year of college, and somehow that was my fault.
His mother claimed that I destroyed his life. She also spread the rumor that I “had” to marry my husband, if you catch my drift.
I’ve been having nightmares about all of this. He appears and tells me I’m horrible. Worthless. Useless. Ugly. I awoke this morning after sleeping for 14 hours feeling like I’d been up all night running a marathon. I’m afraid to close my eyes now.
He’s married now. Has been for…three or four years, I think. I hope and pray that he’s changed. That God has worked a miracle. I hope that he has learned to love. That he’s learned about compassion and kindness.
As hurtful as these memories are, as rotten as the nightmares have been, I bear him no malice. I don’t share this with you so that you’ll get upset. I really do long for him to have allowed the Lord to take control of his life and to demolish that terrible, dark anger. I’m not making excuses for him. Obviously he worked a lot of chaos and left behind a lot of damage. I have to contend with that. But I don’t have to give him further power over me by hating him – which I did for a lot of years.
It is very difficult for me to acknowledge that I walked into and stayed in an abusive relationship, ignoring all the warning signs. Ignoring the Holy Spirit. I believed that I was worthless, so I found someone who would treat me as if I was. I didn’t stand on what God had to say about me. Don’t read me wrong – abuse is never the fault of the victim. I don’t think that for a second. I do, however, think that the victim has a responsibility to understand why he or she has chosen that role.
I don’t know who is reading this tonight. I don’t know what kind of nightmares you face. What I do know is that you are valued by God. He did not create you to be someone’s verbal, emotional or physical punching bag. He did not call you to take the role of victim. You do not have to accept contemptible behavior. I pray that you – and I – would believe Him. Take Him at His word.
For all the posts in the What Depression Means to Me series, go here.