#WhyIStayed: Carrying the Weight

When the #WhyIStayed hashtag came up on Twitter, I decided it was time to find some relief for the pain that would rise in and then wash over me. I put out seven tweets the night I discovered it, sighing as domestic violence survivors across the internet shared alongside me.

I wish I didn’t have to carry those seven years around with me now, where sometimes I find myself so desperate and practically clawing at the ceilings in depression. Where I would ask why I couldn’t have been a good girl and stayed with my ex and everyone around me has to yell, “No!” in order to get me to come back to this place and time. It’s a place where I look as fine as most people can be, but I am still fighting a battle that no one knows about.

We met at a rabbi’s house in college. I was the weird, far girl who was too loud, ambitious as hell and spoke her mind. My sister got all the boys, and I was the weirdo. He was desperate to get married, and it really didn’t matter who came into his path. After being rejected by a boy who I had a crush on a few weeks earlier, I wanted to be in a relationship so bad. And here he was: Buying me flowers, taking me on dates, introducing me to his mother, holding my hand. I wasn’t alone. And everyone was so happy that we were together.

There we were, married and lovely, this couple who was the centerpiece of a community. Whose dinner table you hoped to be invited to, as she was an amazing cook and fun host. Who loved that married girl, the girl who was fun without being overbearing, who was instrumental in getting people together and sharing warmth and love. But behind closed doors, he made her feel small and tackled her to the bed, calling her a fucking bitch. Other times, it was just yelling at her when she would get sick, and when they would have an argument and he wasn’t winning, he would tell her that she was living in a fantasy world. A concept he knew she hated, because while they were dating she told him. She gave him a weapon against her.

Maybe a part of me always knew that he was abusive. No matter how many times he would shout to the universe that he loved me, I didn’t believe him; it was like a liar who was trying to cover up the ultimate falsity. A simple request of telling him to talk to me respectfully was met back with yells of, “You’re censoring me!” If something bad happened, like a car accident, I would force myself to have a crying fit or panic attack so he wouldn’t come after me.

A part of me prayed he would just give up and leave me, even though I knew that he never would. Yet I wanted to be like my grandparents. Together forever. Through thick and thin. Support my husband, because that’s what women do for their men.

I didn’t believe that it could happen to me. I was a good feminist, supporting my female friends and volunteering for domestic violence awareness. After all, my ex claimed he was abused by two previous girlfriends, so of course I supported him by supporting this cause. I recorded video of testimony of this, which is stocked somewhere on my computer still. There was no way he could do it to me because it was done to him, right? The first time I figured out that he was abusive was two months after the divorce, when I hung out with a guy friend and told him some of my stories, which were relatively tame. The first words out of his mouth were, “Wow, he was abusive, huh?”

Then came that night after the baby shower. As I saw him throw a tantrum over a bill and run around the house hitting things, I sighed, as I was used to it. It was a regular occurrence by now. But I didn’t have to be used to it. And any child that I brought into the world wouldn’t be used to it. And if he hit that child, I could never forgive myself. It was my job, even before that child was born, to be a good mother. So I had to figure out what I was going to do.

When I told him I wanted a divorce, he became erratic. My friends caught him checking my text messages and he listened in on my phone calls. He called my family and friends and tried to get them to convince me to stay. There had to be precautions placed at work. I felt scared sleeping next to him, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to wake up the next day. And when I told him I didn’t love him anymore, he said, “I don’t care if you love me or not, I am never letting you go.”

I had planned a safe house, just in case there was a worst-case scenario. I had to think about who I was going to, and it was planned to the tiniest detail: A friend who was not in the Jewish community, and outside of Orange County. Where he didn’t know where she lived, and he would never expect I would go. I never thought I would have to use it. Until the night she set up a bed for me on her couch, with my red duffel bag poised at the foot of it, and we were watching Goodfellas, trying to collect what the hell happened that night.

I remember how people called me after the divorce and were crying more than I was then. Maybe I wasn’t crying because I was scared. Am still scared, although I am much better at hiding it now. Almost three years later, though, and the littlest rock in the boat can sometimes cause me to capsize.

There is the ebb and flow of being okay versus having to center myself and hold on until the feeling passes. Three years later and his family is still trying to find where I’ve gone, adding me on LinkedIn and then asking me immediately where I live. But it’s not the physical concept of my ex that’s the problem. I know I can rule any room that he’s in and deep down know that my conscience is clear in the abuse. It’s the mental issues that shake me.

Three years later, and I still struggle if a guy I’m dating wants me to sleep over; in the rare event that I do share a bed with him, I’m awake half the night. There are certain words, phrases, even people I meet who look like or have similar mannerisms to my ex and trigger my fear responses. When things aren’t going according to plan, those questions of how my life would have been plague me. Yet when my fingers go to the keys and I write about it yet again, that inner voice inside of my head that always acts as an outstanding asshole sighs, “Aren’t you over this shit yet? No man is going to love a broken basketcase. You’re never going to find someone who loves you, just like he said. Get over yourself.”

Deep down, I’ve wanted to forget, but I can’t. I remember sitting in a room where a rabbi was talking about relationships and I was the one who brought up the question of domestic violence. His body visibly squirming before changing the subject showed me the proof: That although I love my faith, this community views it as an “over there” problem. We can’t have it here because we’re too rich, too upper class, too… whatever. It reminded me of getting out. When so many people turned on me and I had to face the darkness and realizations as an individual apart. Imagine my surprise when a rabbi liked several of my tweets.

Even though I’ve written about it, I didn’t want to exploit myself as an abuse victim because I didn’t want that to be all that I am. I’m a writer, a comedian, a dreamer, a woman beyond those seven years of my life who loves to laugh and be social. The #WhyIStayed hashtag was so important because I could hide myself on Twitter; most of my friends aren’t there. I could emote in private and feel the comfort of an anonymous universe catching me.

Then came a Facebook status about the Ray Rice case. “Isn’t it clear that she elbowed him first?” he said. “She provoked it.”

I watched as my friends started blowing up at him (with good reason). And then one of them messaged me. “You have to say something,” she said.

Normally I would say no, but deep down, like how I knew my ex didn’t love me, I knew she was right. She knew I was a survivor through some of our personal talks. And as a survivor, I couldn’t let victim blaming go quiet.

So I owned it in a way that I never had before. Yes, I am a survivor of abuse. Yes, that has prevented me from getting close to anyone in a relationship over the past three years. Yes, I am still trying to fight against my fears through my art, whether in written word or comedy.

But no, you do not know a relationship from a simple video. You don’t even know what mine was from my words or my tweets above. What you see from TMZ is a woman being knocked unconscious and dragged callously from an elevator, and then later becoming his wife. What you see here is a woman who left a horrible situation that is still trying to come to terms with it. You never know anything until you see it behind closed doors; I’m just trying to let some light in.

I am one face of the one in three women who are or were in abusive situations, whether non-violent or violent, across the United States. And #WhyIStay here is because I am breathing and will do anything in my power to stop it from happening again. If I can help one person with my story, it will be worth it. And in the meantime:

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Posted on September 12, 2014, in Dating, Female, The past, The present and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I had no idea, Reina…
    You are strong and inspiring. I’m happy that you left. Nobody deserves that.
    Love you!

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