There are things I tell no one at all. You are hearing of this because the topic demands that I bring it to light, but I write reluctantly. Shame guides my secrecy; for although my rational, intelligent self knows that I have no reason for shame, my heart feels it strongly, and my body still bears the memories of curled-up crying, of making oneself invisible, of the deep under-the-surface scars that mistreated flesh always bears.
I once had a boyfriend with whom I lived for less than a year. At first many things were wonderful. I felt free, loved, desired. But even at the beginning there were nagging, insistent doubts. Now that we were living together instead of just dating, he seemed self-centred, less willing to give of himself. He liked to be waited upon. He slept till all hours and expected absolute silence until he woke. He talked much and listened little, and acted like an expert in all fields. Despite our poverty, he smoked heavily and ate greedily and plentifully, literally leaving me to starve towards the end of each month.
From annoyances and grievances, things got worse. Much worse. At first there were just threats. The very first time I didn’t take it seriously. It was a hot July day and I had made a jokey sarcastic remark, the type that I made all the time, and do to this day, and he said “I should hit you for that”. I was nonplussed, said “I’d whack you back!”, and continued on my way. At the time it seemed like good-humoured give and take. As July went by, and I got ready for our move to the big city at the beginning of August, the threats got more and more intense. Still, it was hard to believe that he’d ever harm me. Sure, he was a selfish sort, useless, proud, arrogant, but definitely not violent.
On August the first we moved to Toronto. On August the second he came after me with a butcher knife. All it had taken was the safe distance from my family and friends to give him the freedom to turn into the psychopath who was now facing me with shining steel and cold blue eyes. I don’t know how I escaped that one: whether he wasn’t really trying to hurt me or whether I have lightning reflexes, but other than a couple of scrapes on my ankles, the only damage was the living room ceiling, as he did manage to rupture the water bed, spilling its contents far and wide. The fire brigade had to be called to contain the water, and the neighbours called the police.
Lost in the commotion of a live-action waterfall in my living room and flashing blue lights out front, I went for a walk, the big-city streets looking much safer than home. When I came back I told the cops that the waterbed had burst “by accident”. It was the first of many lies that I would tell the authorities. And despite a law that required police officers to lay charges themselves if they thought women were being abused, so that those same frightened women didn’t have to, none of them did until November.
After this episode, the abuse became a regular thing. I tried throwing him out, but he wouldn’t throw. There were kicks and slaps and full-out beatings, sometimes triggered by something he said I’d done or failed to do, sometimes just because. In the middle of this hell, he developed a liking for a new form of fun. He would beat me and then force me to have sex. When someone I thought I knew is wielding his penis as a weapon and attacking me with sex that involves a dry vagina and blows to the body during the sex act itself, it turns into the worst violence I have ever experienced. I felt violated in a way that I have never felt before or since and I grew to hate sex with him, viewed love-making as a penalty, my body’s curves and flat stomach as accessories to a crime.
Finally, luckily, he dislocated my jaw, leaving my face bruised in a way that no police officer could fail to notice. I say luckily because I was terrified of admitting the abuse to the police, terrified of the consequences, so when the young officer who came to my house in early November saw the bruising, the swelling, recommended immediate medical treatment, it was a relief to me that there were finally obvious physical marks on my face so that charges would have to be pressed. I went to a friend’s house to spend the night and the next day sought medical treatment. He, knowing that there was a warrant for his arrest, moved back to his family home in the hometown we shared and I applied for, and got, a restraining order in case he changed his mind.
The next year was a full one, with schooling, court dates that he repeatedly missed, and finally a suspended sentence with probation for this, his first offence. It was with horror that I learned through a friend that he had been missing court dates so that he would have no police record when he applied to an Anglican seminary. I mailed every bit of information I had about the charges over to the prestigious seminary double-quick. He is dead now, by his own hand, and it frees me to never have to worry about what he is doing to another woman who was taken in by him like I was.
It was a full year before I started dating again. I met a man at school who seemed kind, and whose eyes spoke of gentleness. Nonetheless, I vetted him very thoroughly before I allowed him to take any steps into my life, into my bed. What I found there, between the sheets, was a world of tenderness, of sweetness, of a man who loved my body and was delighted to be intimate with it, with me. My experiences with him put my body and my emotions well along the road to healing from the abuse that had been levelled at me, and although our relationship was a brief one, I remember it as a happy time, a period when doors were unlocked and bruises mended, and although love did not blossom, spring peeked in and made the corners of my heart fresh and green once more.