By Ally Wall
I sat on the edge of a dock. Cool spring air floated across the water. The stars twinkled above me and kept my mind from the swirling darkness in my heart. In this moment I forgave myself. For the fists left in purple and black on my arms from the first. For the lack of strength I had holding back the hand that groped me from the second. For the mental and emotional chains I found myself imprisoned in from the third. I forgave myself.
But it wasn’t my fault.
I was fourteen when I started dating my best friend, the first. He asked me to be his girlfriend during the first slow dance of homecoming. The next day everything changed. Every day I was told that I did something wrong. I would be belittled and ignored. After just two months I had lost so much weight I was close to looking like a skeleton.
He loved playing this game where he would act like he was going to hit you, and if you flinched, you lost. The punishment was two hits to the arm. “Two for flinching” were words I heard every day. Everyone played the game, but he always picked on me. Over the course of the two months my punishments got more and more aggressive. Then the day came.
We sat on the bleachers in the gym. Everyone was too caught up in their own thing to notice what happened to me. He threw his hands up. I flinched. He began the two punishment hits, but he didn’t stop. When I looked into his eyes I didn’t see the person I called my best friend. He was gone. The hatred that oozed from the stranger in front of me stained my arms for weeks. I was ashamed, confused, and hurt.
Dec. 18, 2014 I finally got away from guy number one. The rebuilding process began, and I plastered on a fake smile. “Fake it till you make it” was a motto I began to tell myself regularly. A few months later I entered into a new relationship. It wasn’t the best move I made, but I said yes because someone was giving me attention in a way the first did not.
One night one of my friends invited me to have a double date at her house. There are only two things I remember from that night. Guy number two pinning me against the side of her house in the darkest shadow the night could create, and watching a movie while he decided to explore my body. I remember trying to fight off his hand, but he was much stronger than I was. I didn’t stand a chance.
I got out of that relationship at around the two month mark as well. I stayed single for a long time. I was terrified of guys, and terrified that these kinds of relationships are all that I would find myself in. Then I met guy number three. He changed everything. He didn’t do the same things the other guys did. He did it differently.
For three and a half years I told myself things would get better. They didn’t. My life was full of empty promises. There seemed to be an argument every day. Arguments would lead to days of silence. “Would you want to go on a date” were words I couldn’t trust. I’d be in the bathroom finishing my makeup or my hair ten minutes before he should have been at my door when my phone would ding with another “I’m not coming.”
He cracked jokes. I called him out. He stormed out of my parents home, and sped off making sure the entire town could hear the sound of him leaving. He put me in danger. He would yell at strangers that made honest traffic mistakes, never stopping the yelling regardless of how much I pleaded. Never once did he defend me. Not to anyone. His family hurled words of hate. Calling me words no woman should be called. Fabricating lies to support their unprovoked animosity towards me. “He would’ve given you everything.” “You treated him like ****.” “Don’t be the one to get in his way if all you’re going to do is drag him down.”
I came last in his eyes. I was a doormat he couldn’t step on enough. A doormat they all couldn’t trash enough. I was disposable. But I loved him. I loved him more than I loved myself. I was willing to suffer for a person that would never view me as more than the lies they crafted. One day it just clicked.
One day I was able to look at myself in the mirror and say “you don’t need this.” It took everything I had left in me to let go, but as soon as I did, I was free. The weight that was lifted off of my shoulders was liberating.
As a little girl, I never expected to grow up and become one of the statistics. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, more than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. I’m a statistic.
But I’ve also learned that this doesn’t define me.
It’s so unbelievably easy to turn our heads. To look the other way. To pretend that nothing is going on. Try saying that to my face, or any of the other men and women who look at their overpowered bodies in the mirror with horror and hatred. One fourth of my life was stolen from me. Five years of damage.
At least I took something from them as well: Lessons. Things are never as they seem. People are not who they proclaim to be. I’ve learned how to never let anyone in. I’ve learned that the only person I can trust is myself. I learned how to close myself off from the world.
But those were the wrong lessons to take. Over time, I’ve learned some new ones. Like how I have the opportunity to love others the way I wasn’t loved. I have the power to control where my passion takes me. I have the knowledge of how I deserve to be treated. I have the opportunity to wake up every day and become someone’s inspiration. I can look in the mirror and find beauty. Our scars are a thing of wonder, even if we can’t see them. They reflect the pain we’ve faced, but they become assets in guiding us in the right direction.
I forgave myself for not believing that I was strong enough to leave and be on my own. I forgave myself for loving another person more than myself. I forgave myself for losing sight of my own joy.
I don’t know why this all came to me that night on the dock, but for the first time, it gave me the opportunity for reflection. The breeze soothed my soul, the stars filled my heart with peace. In this moment I was finally free.