I was fifteen, almost sixteen, and I was lost. I was under the influence of a vulnerability I think most women experience at that age. It was just a few years after my parents had lost their relationship with each other, and eventually me. I didn’t have much of a relationship with anyone to be honest, except a handful of friends; they were associates really if we’re telling the truth here. Between life, hormones, and peer pressure, a nagging storm cloud loomed over my existence. That’s all I was doing, existing, not living. I cursed the people who stressed that this was the best time of my life.
The month following my sixteenth birthday, I met him. A couple of friends and I were hanging out, just driving around in the despair of thinking there’s nothing to do when your sixteen. After much hesitation (because anxiety and strangers do not mix), I agreed to go to someone’s house I didn’t know. To my surprise, my life was going to change forever in the few short hours to come. I was always a fairly shy girl when it came to people I didn’t know. The people in the house included an assortment of about five, of whom I strained to remember went to school with me, although maybe a little older. As I walked in the kitchen I seen him, the person who was going to flip my world upside down, and I felt it. There was a presence in the air I’d never before experienced; it was suffocating and invigorating at the same time. I’m fairly certain the whole cliché about love at first sight originated from a sixteen year old.
I didn’t feel shy. For the first time in my life I actually wanted to talk to someone. In that moment I felt like I already knew him, like I’d been waiting to meet him for so long. His name was *Jackson. He was eighteen and the most beautiful person I’d ever seen; on the outside. Jackson and I spent the next several months together on cloud nine without a care in the world. We laughed, we cried, we loved, and then one day he yelled at me. No one had ever yelled at me like that before, although I was confused it actually scared me a little bit. There was no argument for fuel, it was random and hurtful. His apology was so sweet and sincere though; I shrugged it off as stress. I thought little about it afterward of course, until a few days later he did it again, and even belittled me in the context. This became an ongoing event. Every day was an argument about nothing, and for some reason every day I found myself struggling to keep him happy. It were as if his happiness was a job I didn’t even apply for, but if he wasn’t happy I wasn’t going to get paid; It seemed like I really needed that money. The aforementioned fear quickly faded into a deep depression. Honestly, most of these days have since been buried in my subconscious.
I wasn’t allowed to have friends, because he hated something about all of them, and I “shouldn’t hang out with people like that”. He fed off of the strained relationship I’d already obtained with my family, and pulled me further into him. I was so blind. He was the first person I’d ever trusted, the first person to tell me he loved me after I’d felt unloved for so long. He told me I was beautiful, and for the first time I believed it. I couldn’t imagine admitting to myself that this wasn’t right, and that the one person I’d give anything to was literally taking everything from me. I journeyed down paths with him I’d like to forget, but I can’t. The parties, the drugs, the detached world we were living in; he had me exactly where he wanted me. Most days were an out of body experience. As I cried myself to sleep almost every night, living with my mother at this time, her and my father had decided it was time to let Jackson go; which made me despise them even more.
Keep in mind I’m still in denial at this point. We went behind their backs talking and seeing each other for months, until I got caught at his house while I was supposed to be at school. I, the straight A student, was losing my honor roll, my grades, my potential future scholarships I used to long for, for him. Unfortunately, we’d still manage to find ways to sneak around. I never saw how toxic this relationship was. He’d threaten to tell my parents we were going behind their backs to see each other- I have a ridiculous fear of disappointing people. He’d threaten to deface my car if I tried to leave his house-and actually attempted this a couple of times. He’d even hide my cell phone just in case I decided to call for help, or my keys so I really couldn’t leave-I had to fish them from a trash can once. I was stuck, and I know, that’s another cliché. I was afraid. I was afraid of getting in trouble by my parents, I was afraid of getting in trouble by him. He built me up to gain his trust, and then broke me down to gain his control. He was stealing my youth, and I hated him for it. What was I supposed to do? In the end, it was easier to just go along with whatever the day had in store. I had no more fight left in me, my body and mind simultaneously gave up.
Then one day I woke up, literally and figuratively, and I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care who he told, or who got mad, or if I got into trouble. I looked at myself in the mirror and I cried. The person looking back wasn’t me. This girl was pale, she was skinnier than I remembered, she had black bags under her eyes, and the smell of cigarettes on her hair was nauseating (when had she started smoking?). I wanted to ask for her name, but I just continued to cry. That day I made a promise to that unfamiliar face in the mirror. It was a promise that I would never see her again, and that I didn’t need her anymore. In reality of course I wasn’t talking to another girl, or myself even, I was talking to him. This is the day I decided to stand up for myself. The day I decided to tell the police. The day I decided to tell my family. It was also the day I decided to tell Jackson I was leaving him for good. I changed my phone number, my social media accounts, my route to school, everything.
I won’t sit here and give you a happily ever after where I never heard from him again. Those next couple of months were the hardest times I’ve experienced thus far. There were unknown visitors at my job, phone calls, cars that rode by my house in the middle of the night-regardless of the no contact order mind you. Still, I was no longer bound by a fear that had been instilled upon me by someone else. I didn’t walk on eggshells anymore. I didn’t have to cry to go to sleep, or argue with someone just to get through my day. I felt, dare I say it, normal. I smiled for the first time in so long, and it was beautiful. I was beautiful. My family was on my side and I couldn’t be more thankful. Even though my experiences are not something I’d wish on anyone else, I’m grateful for them. I realize that all too often, many people have these same experiences, and most who do fail to recognize abuse other than that of the physical nature as I did. I long for those people to wake up as well. Regardless, I am appreciative for my experiences, and for Jackson. He taught me things that have made me who I am today. He made me realize that actions truly speak louder than words. Jackson helped me learn that I can make myself happy. I do not need him or anyone else to tell me I’m beautiful or worth loving, because in my heart I now know I am. Without the experience of pain we cannot know what true happiness is. If nothing else I’ve learned someone who truly loves you will not intentionally hurt you, in any way. We do not live in a fairy tale, nor are we characters of a story about a series of unfortunate events. You are not stuck, you are not unlovable, and you are the only person who can control your life.
*Name has been changed