It was an innocent question.
Just a random question, which in a different place and a different time with a different person would’ve led to a normal conversation. But there was alcohol involved, and anger. When the question was posed to a jealous insecure bully, it became something entirely different.
I looked into his eyes and saw the change occur. From normal to glassy-eyed and hard. I could see the anger boiling up, which would soon become a full-blown, terrorizing rage.
I argued back, I yelled back, trying to make myself heard. Forgetting that there was no reasoning, there was no way to calm the anger I had somehow caused in him. It just made him angrier.
I tried to remember how we had gotten to this point. This was not the same person I had met and came to care about. This was not the person who bought me flowers, who held my hand when we went for a walk. This was not the person who made me feel safe and smart and lifted my spirit.
This person hid behind that façade. He hid it well and slowly began to isolate me and grind down my self-esteem. Subtly, not blatantly at first, he made me feel vulnerable when I spoke my opinion. I no longer said what I thought for fear of being ridiculed or put down or shamed and laughed at.
The blow came fast. Faster than I thought it would. Quicker than the last time. Or the time before. Or maybe just the same speed and I didn’t duck fast enough. The blows to the side of my head sent me reeling and scrambling but wouldn’t show if someone decided to ask what was going on. He knew what he was doing.
Then came the names, “bitch, whore, don’t talk back to me…” Always the same. The last blow came so fast and so hard, I could only see blinding white light. My eyes closed tightly.
Waking up, hours and hours later. Without clothes, on a mattress on the floor. For a few seconds, my mind went completely blank. No pain, physical or emotional. Split seconds of peace where there was nothing but a void. And then the rush of emotions came flooding through, along with the physical pain. The violation, the depression, the grief, the unanswered question, “Why?” The guilt, the fear, feeling overwhelmed.
In the back of my mind was a tiny glowing ember. A small spark that contained my self-esteem. I saw the tiny red flame when my eyes were closed. Slowly it dawned on me that I didn’t deserve this. This was not who I am or who I am meant to be. The tiny ember grew bigger and the flame higher as my courage and strength returned to me. I heard the crackling of the fire now as I breathed in deeper and my soul became stronger and more determined, and I thought to myself, I don’t have to put up with this anymore.
And I left.
I thought of my adult daughter―this was not the example I wanted her to see. I want to be seen as strong, capable, and content with who I am. Not the scared, intimidated person with no self-worth, the one he had slowly changed me into.
He came to my work after sleeping off his drunken rage. I refused to be afraid. I refused to be intimidated. I took back my power and did not give him any. I told him I wasn’t scared of him, and I saw his face fall. I was no longer under his spell and would not put up with his abuse anymore and he saw that strength in me.
The police were called, a report filed, and a restraining order was served.
Journaling and therapy are a big part of my healing. I look back at my words in the beginning of this journey and how different they are from the words I read now. I no longer cry when I read them; I have grieved for that person and am grateful that I am no longer in that place.
Healing is a process. An ongoing, continuing process. I may never be completely healed but I WILL be okay. I will be/I am the best person I can be today. I endured the trauma and I survived. The experiences I have lived through have made me and molded me into the amazing person I am today.
REBECCA NELSON is a Native woman, spreading her wings. She is opening up a non-profit to benefit Seniors on the East Side of Saint Paul. She writes, “My writing skills are beginning, but hopefully growing.”