I was a naive fourteen-year-old, dating an older boy. It was my first real experience, but not his. The first time we met up, he kissed me, my first real kiss, but he didn’t stop there. I was in pain, but that didn’t bother him. He accused me of not being a virgin. I didn’t even fully understand what sex was, and I had no idea of the hell I was about to go through, but I was afraid.
I was a damaged fifteen-year-old, dating an older boy. He kept me awake at night. If I hung up on him or fell asleep, he would keep calling until I answered. If I didn’t answer, he said I would regret it. One night, I put my phone on silent. I woke up with over two hundred voicemails and text messages, berating and belittling me. If I talked to any males, even my close friends, he would threaten me, or worse, threaten them. He had a gift for finding people’s weaknesses. If I tried to walk away, he would reel me back in with lies. I didn’t know what to believe, but I was afraid.
I was a broken sixteen-year-old, dating an older boy. He isolated me from my friends and family. He told me what to wear, what to say, how to feel. He told me he was just trying to protect me because all men were predators. He taught me to fear, not only him, but everyone else. He told me that if I ever left him, he would have to prove his love to me by killing himself because he couldn’t live without me. But now, he told me, it was my turn to prove that I loved him. If I really loved him, I would do exactly what he said. He tore me down, piece by piece so that I couldn’t walk away. He cheated, constantly, and blamed me every single time. The worst part was, I believed him. He showed me a world that was so unlike my own. It was full of chaos, excitement, rebellion; full of fear.
I was a seventeen-year-old that had lost her soul and had nothing left to believe in. He lost his temper, but it would never happen again, he said. He pinned me to the ground. He left bruises around my wrists. He threw knives at me. He forced me to sit in a hot car for hours. He spit in my face. He broke me. Deep down, there was nothing left. I lost who I was. I lost friendships, I lost hopes, I lost dreams. I lost all respect for myself. I hated who I had become. I blamed myself for being too weak to walk away. I blamed myself for letting him destroy me. Eventually, it got so bad that I stopped fighting back. I lost my voice. At seventeen years old, I lost my will to live.
I had accepted death, but nothing prepared me for the challenges I’d face once I survived.
At some point, your friends have to walk away and you can’t blame anyone but yourself. They try to help you, but when you have to make choices between them and him, survival always wins, and they don’t always understand. You know how weak and pathetic you are, not being able to help yourself, but all your energy goes into just trying to make it through the day.
I had to rebuild these friendships and relationships, the ones that I hated myself for neglecting, while also trying to find my soul. I was lost. Could I ever go back to being who I was, that unsuspecting fourteen-year-old girl that knew very little about the darkness of the world?
The answer is no.
Today, I’m grateful for how far I’ve come, but that doesn’t erase the past. I’ve had to work harder than I ever expected. It’s been ten years and some days are still filled with dread, but it’s no longer every day. Some days I wake up wishing I could just disappear because I lose the hope that I’ll ever be able to feel happiness, but it’s no longer every day. Some days, I look in the mirror and am instantly filled with self-hatred. I can hear his voice telling me that I’m disgusting and worthless, that no one will ever love me. Some days, I still believe him, but it’s no longer every day.
Some days, I feel like I’m the monster, like he stole a piece of me and replaced it with a piece of him. After all, he taught me everything I know about love.
I’m ashamed to still think this way because so much time has passed, but not all of the wounds have healed. It feels like it’s never going to end. To be honest, I don’t even blame him anymore because, deep down, I know that someone broke him first. Still, though, every time I meet someone new, he lingers over my shoulder. He brings out the worst in me.
I see his face all too often. Sometimes in my nightmares, sometimes in other people, and worst of all, sometimes in myself.
And I’m still afraid. Afraid that I’ll never know what love actually feels like. Afraid that I’ll never forgive myself. Afraid that every person I encounter sees weakness all over me, that I’ll never be strong enough. Afraid for every innocent fourteen-year-old that is taught to believe that they aren’t worthy of love.
Notice: The names in this story are fictitious to protect the request for anonymity.