By Queen Franklin
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
We know that October has traditionally been known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. A lot of progress has been made in support of domestic violence victims and in holding abusers accountable. It’s also a month that’s very personal to me. My personal experience with domestic violence is an opportunity to help someone who has gone through or is going through something similar.
When I met him at the age of 17, I’d already experienced my first heartbreak. In fact, I was existing in heartbreak the entire time we were together. Then, he took my heart and crushed it repeatedly until he got tired. I just took it. I had no fight left and I’d decided that my heart wasn’t worth restoring.
He wasn’t my type physically. I wasn’t immediately attracted to him. But as a freshman in college who spent her first semester doing every possible irresponsible thing one might imagine, I figured, what the hell? He seemed to be smitten enough with me that I let him love me for a while. Something happened though, fairly quickly.
He made me stop talking to my friend-guys. He insisted on walking me to and from every class, even to the cafeteria. He wanted it known that I was his girl. I was suddenly swooning over him. Surely he was in love with me. He claimed me. The others didn’t. I had a real boyfriend. This was it. I didn’t know it then, but this behavior is typical of abusers.
I gathered with my friends – mostly guys – one day between classes. We were joking and laughing loudly at each other. He popped up, grabbed my arm, and pulled me away. The guys noticed but were too shocked to even address it.
“What did I tell you?” He yelled – yes, like I was his child. In fact, I felt exactly like a kid being chastised. I retreated and apologized. It didn’t dawn on me that this was probably not cool. That should’ve been an alert to what being with him would be like. But some part of my immature, naive mind told me this was what men do when they’re in love with a woman. He was strong and protective. He loved me. I had convinced myself of that.
Some time later, I went to the gym to watch him play ball. I was expected to do that whenever he was there. I sat on the bleachers, keeping a pretty far distance between one of the guys that I’d had to tell I couldn’t talk to him anymore. Of course, he thought that was strange, and he called out my name. My heart started beating fast. I was scared. “Should I just leave? This is bad,” I thought.
He kept calling me. I left knowing there was no way I’d win this one. If I leave, he’ll be mad. If this guy keeps calling me, he’ll be mad. I figured if he reacted, at least I wouldn’t be in this gym with all these people. Plus, he was still playing. Maybe he didn’t hear him.
“Hey!” I heard him calling and running toward me. I turned to him, terrified. He said, “What was that? What did I tell you?” I said, “You’re tripping. I can’t control people talking to me.”
Like a strike of lightning, he punched me square in the face, and I fell to the graveled ground in disbelief. I was so ashamed and afraid. I remember seeing pebble prints on my palm. I must’ve landed on my hand, probably from trying to break my fall. I closed my eyes to release the tears. He lifted me from the ground and began to hold me tight. “I’m so sorry baby. I’ll never do that again. Please don’t leave me.” I looked at him and apologized for making him hit me.
That punch was the beginning. My reaction to it gave him license to repeat the abuse. We excelled at that song and dance over the years. I’d say something “mouthy”. He’d hit on me. I’d cry. He’d apologize and promise never to do it again. I’d forgive him. Oftentimes, when it was really bad and I’d try to break up, we’d have sex. Lots of it. I called it make-up sex. It was actually him manipulating me and controlling my behavior.
I never told anyone but my best friend. I wanted to protect him because after all those years, I’d never be able to explain to anyone how I stayed, and I didn’t have the confidence or self-love to leave. It wasn’t until I was in therapy years later, after my mom passed, that I understood not only why I stayed, but why I ever even dated him to begin with.
I had a gaping hole in my heart from that first heartbreak – my father’s transition. Daddy was stern and powerful. In my grief and depression over losing him, I welcomed someone to fill that hole. And he did. I took his controlling nature as discipline. My father was a stern disciplinarian, and he loved me.
So, I believed this discipline was tough love. I needed to feel the love my dad showed me. I simply didn’t know how to exist without it. I gave this man permission to carve me into a shell of myself. I was a version of myself that was not at all the person my parents taught me to be. I didn’t have to try or think or question. I found that to be much easier than trying to face life without my dad.
This guy swooped into my life when I was broken, lost, vulnerable, grieving. He hurt me. He broke me. I carried the baggage of mental, verbal, and physical abuse for many years. In some ways, I’m still healing from it. It prolonged the grieving process for me so I was basically soulfully empty for 10 years of my life. Putting those pieces of my broken heart together again was difficult because I didn’t recognize that my heart was broken. I didn’t know love of self so I couldn’t demand fairness, fidelity, or respect.
Now, all my life’s work is dedicated to helping people identify their pain, its cause, and how to heal from it. It can be done. Even when the baggage and triggers go unacknowledged, healing is still possible. Wholeness is possible. I know it doesn’t feel like it for many. But, I’ve been there, I know it is not only possible but necessary. My heart is full now after being broken repeatedly since I was 13-years-old. It took a good chunk of my life, but the fullness I’ve accomplished in healing and learning why this happened to me has created a life for me that won’t permit regret. I wish that for any person reading this who owns a story like mine.