When I was 14 years old, I met the young man who would be my boyfriend for the next 5 years. He was my third “boyfriend” in my life which meant he was the third boy I had ever liked so much that we held hands in public and I acknowledged him as my boyfriend and wasn’t all awkward about it.
He was so sweet to me and I loved the attention he showered on me. He was a football player (though hardly a star) and he had some friends in the “in” crowd that I was nowhere near a part of since I was one of those “smart band kids.” He was complimentary, kind, attentive, romantic (as romantic as a 15 year old gets), chivalrous, funny, and we had fun together. Because we had two very different groups of friends, we had to sort of learn about each other’s peer groups and each other’s friends. We argued sometimes, but not anything more than little teenage spats.
When we were 16, however, things changed. And they changed fast.
All at once, my mother’s alcoholism grew to unprecedented levels and then my parents were going through a divorce, my brother was on drugs and spiraling out of control, our house was chaotic, we had no money. My grades began to drop.
My boyfriend became extremely controlling – he basically dictated how I was to wear my hair (in a ponytail, off my face), what outfits I was allowed to wear (t-shirt and jeans only, no shorts, no skirts, no v-necks), that I must wear his class ring at all times, his letter jacket even when it was hot, and I was not to drive, or walk to and from class without him. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or paint my nails.
If he caught me sitting by a male student in class, he quizzed me after class about what we said, why we sat there, etc. I was not allowed to sit in the band hall with my friends at lunch anymore. I was barely allowed to have friends at all – all of the girls I hung out with since middle school were suddenly “sluts,” “whores,” “bad influences,” etc. He checked on me while I was in class – peering through windows, making me arrange to get out of class at certain times to “check in” with him, telling me that I had to write him one one-page note per period so I “kept my mind on him.” He monitored my pager for any unfamiliar numbers that might have paged me. He came to my work and would sit in the lobby for hours drinking and refilling his soda so he could make sure none of my coworkers were “inappropriate” with me.
And I went along with all of it. All of his control was under the guise of his “undying love” for me, his desire to “protect me,” to “keep me pure,” to “make sure no one tried to take me from him.” I had to dress modestly and avoid makeup because he didn’t want other guys to notice how beautiful I was. I had to wear his clothing so everyone would know we were together, like in the movie “Grease” (which I adored). He didn’t want me to talk to other guys because they might try to “take advantage of me” or “rape me if they got me alone.” I truly thought he wanted to protect me, to make sure I was safe.
And then, the summer before senior year, he hit me for the first time, but not the last. We were in his truck and I was seated in the middle, my legs astride the stick shift because I had to be closest to him at all times. He asked me point blank if I thought a friend of his was a good looking guy and I said, “yeah, sure I guess.” (He had caught me off guard – I knew better.) He didn’t even break his focus on the road. He balled his right hand that was on my thigh into a fist and he slammed it into my leg as hard as he could. I yelped and began to sob. I tried to pull away from him but the shifter was in my way. I screamed at him to let me out of the truck. We came to a stop light and he turned to me and his face contorted into the most hideous face and he spat at me words I will never forget: “You are mine. You will be mine forever. I know everything about you. And if you never want anyone to know what a filthy whore you are, that your brother and parents do drugs, that you are a liar and a cheater, you will never go against me again.” Then he calmly continued to drive, pull into a fast food place, and then order his food (and mine of course since I had long ago ceased to order for myself). He hit me at least once a day, every day almost, for our entire senior year.
When we graduated, he enlisted in the military. On the day he left for basic training, my father and I drove him to his hotel. My father went to get gas and left us alone for a bit. During that time, he proposed to me. I accepted. In my heart, I thought I could love him enough to make him realize that he shouldn’t hurt me. I thought the military would change him, make him honorable and sweet again. I went to college that fall. He wasn’t there to control me. It took 3 months of consistent encouragement from a couple of friends to get me to put on a pair of shorts to go to the lake. And somehow, those friends (and those shorts!) helped me understand that I had the freedom to get away from him. That I could be myself one day and that I had value and beauty and worth without him.
I broke up with him (via telephone) on January 19, 5 years to the day from our first date. Turns out, he was already living with a girl he met in the service. Apparently, several months later, she had his first child. I don’t really know. Because I never looked back.
If you’ve read this much, and especially if you know and love a teenage girl, you have to tell her. Tell her that if he does ANYTHING described above, she has to get out and get out fast. Boys like my ex-boyfriend become (oftentimes) abusive husbands and fathers. PLEASE, before you do another thing, check on your daughter, your niece, your cousin, your little sister, your friend. If you suspect that she’s being abused, she will NOT admit it. She will defend him. She will say he loves her, wants what’s best for her, wants to protect her. Be there for her. Help her any way you can. Show her this post. Print it out and put it where she can find it but he can’t. Maybe, just maybe, if she knows that someone else went through it and that control IS abuse, she’ll make a way out.
That’s what I want you to know.