We were fighting, yelling at each other. I told him to get out of my dorm room, but he decided to take all the time in the world to get his things. I picked up his phone to give to him, and all at once I was against the wall, his hands around my neck. He was choking me. I couldn’t breathe. My feet were off the ground. Who was this man? It couldn’t be my boyfriend. I looked into the eyes of the man that still slept with a teddy bear, and it wasn’t the same person. His eyes were wild like an animal’s. I tried to pry his fingers off my neck, but he was too strong. Nothing was working, not slapping at his hands, not kicking my feet. I was becoming more and more panicked. How long would this go on?
And then he threw me. He threw me across my dorm room, and my body skidded against the carpet. I got rug burn on my arms. I had never felt the amount of rage boiling inside me as I did at the moment. How dare him? But truly, I was scared. I was terrified. And I knew I was in danger. I ran to the bathroom and locked myself in. He banged on the door as I sobbed in fear and confusion. Why had he choked me? I didn’t do anything.
I remember I called my grandma, and then my mom. I texted my best friend. All he said over and over was, “Are you going to tell someone? You better not tell anyone!” He knew what he had done was very wrong.
Sobs shook through me as I sat on the bathroom floor with my feet pulled to my chest. What had just happened? Why did he do that? Later, he would tell me that he thought I had picked up his phone because I was going to throw it. I had picked it up to give it to him. But even if I had been intending to throw it, that was his explanation for throwing me across my dorm room? What if I even had thrown it? Would he have killed me? The thought scares me to this day.
Finally, he left my dorm room, and my parents came to pick me up. In the car, I cried and cried until my parents pried out of me what was wrong. “He…He choked me,” I burst into tears all over again. They were shocked. I was, too. At the time, I didn’t recognize all the little signs leading up to the event. He had been abusive all along, pinning me against the wall, pushing me, yanking my hands behind my back, cornering me. Sure, those things were annoying, but I never thought of them as abusive until it his hands were around my neck.
My parents looked at me and decided I was fine. I think that’s why they weren’t more alarmed. All I had were some small bruises on my neck and rug burn on my arms. Still, why weren’t they more angry at him? Or scared for me? Were they at a loss at what to think? Over the past year, my boyfriend had become like a son to them. Did they not want to face the truth? Did they think it was my fault?
My parents sat us down and had a stern talk with us. They blamed both of us for what happened, calling us immature. They said violence was not acceptable. I felt I was to blame. I had yelled at him, screaming to get out of my dorm room. My parents placing the blame on both of us reinforced my belief that it was my fault he had hurt me. I was mad at him for all of one day, and then I got back together with him. I was codependent. I couldn’t imagine my life without him. But I had one condition: he had to tell his mom.
He claimed he did, and that all she said was, “Maybe she was just having a bad day.” That’s all she said. Why would she say that? I wondered. Her response only made me feel to blame even more. What she was saying was that I must have been having a bad day if I was yelling at him to get out of my room. We weren’t close, so I never asked her what she meant by it. I was in disbelief, but I stayed with him for six more months. He even came on family vacation with us. I tried to break up with him several times, even on the vacation, but he would just say “no, that’s not going to happen,” and I was too scared to argue with him, to put my foot down, until I got a job and started making friends of my own. It wasn’t until then that I began to see a life was possible without him.
When I finally got up the nerve to break up with him six months later, he threatened to commit suicide. Later, he made up a big story about how his new girlfriend’s family was abusing him. We’d been broken up for a month and, he was still bothering me., guilt-tripping me for dumping him. I believed him, though. Even then, I was still so naive. I talked to the girlfriend, and she told me he made the whole thing up. From what she said, it was clear he had indeed lied. He had been lying to me since the day we met.
I did not know then, but when he, his mom, and my parents placed the blame on me, my self-worth was snuffed out like a candle. When I broke up with him, it was like I was bursting through the surface of a murky lake. I had been drowning ever since he put his hands on me, laying at the bottom of a lake, watching the air bubbles leave my lips, wondering how I could be such a horrible person. I thought I was unlovable. I thought I drove men mad, so mad that they had no choice, but to hurt me.
But the truth is, none of it was my fault. He was abusive and manipulated me into thinking it was my fault. Yelling at him to get out of my dorm room because we were arguing does not, under any circumstances, warrant him to hurt me. Even now, two years later, it’s still so liberating to type that. It was never my fault. It was never my fault. It was never my fault. I say those words and breathe deeply. I can move on knowing that I never did anything to deserve what happened to me, that I am, in fact, lovable and worthy of affection.
August Pfizenmayer is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer, blogger, and mental illness advocate. She loves reading, sweets, and warm weather. She writes confessional poetry, personal essays, and articles. Her poetry was published in the 2014 edition of Georgia State’s Undergraduate Art and Literary Journal called Underground. One of her current projects is a collection of prose poetry available on Wattpad. On April 11th, the next volume of The i’Mpossible Project will be available for pre-order with her story about life with schizophrenia featured in it. It will be in stores November 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.