Let me preface this by saying this is part of my life has never really been talked about. I put it on a shelf many years ago. I let it sit there, collecting dust over the last 18 years. But for some reason today, I feel the need to pull it down, dust it off, like an old photo album stuck in the attic over time. I will somehow, someway open up this old photo album and page by page I will do my best to recollect the painful memories that have been locked away. I will show you pages in my album that no one has ever seen or heard before. Here goes.
I was 18 years old and had just graduated high school. For the last year and a half I had been “dating” Cole. I lived in Wisconsin, he lived in California. I had met him in a chatroom on the internet via my best friend, Shelly. She had been talking to Cole’s best friend, Nick for a while and somehow both Shelly and Nick mutually decided to introduce Cole and me. From the first words we spoke to each other, I knew he was the one for me. I had never really had a boyfriend before or even had a boy that was interested in me. So going from that to having someone genuinely care about me, felt amazing. We began writing letters to each other. Every day after school I would rush home and check the mailbox to see if I got a letter from him. We spent countless hours on the phone talking about our day, life in general and plans for the future.
Our relationship grew overtime. Cole was in college and I was finishing up my senior year in high school. He treated me very well, always sending flowers or cards. I was in love. At least at that time I thought I was.
Over the span of a year and half, he flew to Wisconsin 3 times and I flew down to California 2 times. My family adored him. He was so charismatic and friendly.
My first time visiting him in California was amazing. We did all the sightseeing there was in southern California. I felt like a kid in a candy store seeing the walk of fame, Hollywood and Venice beach.
In early 1999, I boarded the plane in Green bay and headed to LAX with my 2 very full suitcases. After 2 hours, I had landed. The first thing I saw was his perfect, handsome, smiling face. Like a scene in a corny romantic movie, I ran into his arms.
The first few days were perfect. I unpacked my clothes, rearranged our room to accommodate my “stuff”. He was happy and so was I.
I was due to start my job, which I had transferred to from Wisconsin. I was excited and scared my first day. Would people know that I’m not from here? Do I look different? These insecurities were flooding my mind. I just wanted to fit in. My first day was a little… no, it was very scary. New people, new city, new state—it was just me by myself. But I made it through. I found out I was going to be working overnights. I didn’t mind, less customers to deal with. It was quiet and I needed that with all of the changes that were happening.
The first red flag.
I came home one morning from work about 8am. I was exhausted as working nights was beginning to take a toll on me. I was tired, I just wanted to crawl in bed and sleep. As I walked in the door and went to the bedroom, he was waking up.
“I’m going to bed—I’m so tired” I said while yawning. I was starting to see double—I was so tired.
“No you’re not—you sleep too much”
“You sleep all day” he said, scolding me like I was a child. This is the first time I ever heard anger in his voice.
By this time, my eyes just wanted to close. I laid down on the bed anyways, hoping he would just get over it and let me sleep.
That didn’t happen.
Cole then decided to put a pillow over my head. I thought he was just playing at first until it really scared me. I screamed, struggling to get the pillow off my head to breathe. I finally got it off my face and ran to the bathroom where I locked the door. He began banging on the door to let him in. I didn’t and he finally left to go to school. I cried myself to sleep in the bathtub that day.
We never brought up the incident again. I justified the incident to myself by thinking maybe he just had a bad day or maybe he was stressed out from school.
The second red flag.
Things went on as normal, until one night we were going out with his friends, I threw on some shorts and t-shirt with some sandals and was grabbing my purse when out of nowhere he grabbed my arm. He told me I needed to change. I asked him why while looking down at what I had on. He said I need to dress up, look nice and do something with myself. I didn’t want to fight, so I put something a little nicer, put my hair up and put some make-up on. Maybe he was right—maybe I did need to look better—he was good looking guy who wanted to his girlfriend to look nice too. Right? I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his friends. I wanted them to like me. The people pleaser in me was in full effect.
As the weeks went on the red-flags just kept coming. I felt trapped. There was no way I was going to move back home and admit defeat. I wanted to prove to everyone I could make it on my own. But I was all alone in the big city. I knew exactly 1 person. And that 1 person was abusing me. How much would I be able to take before I broke?
The answer was coming, but not soon enough.
Cole made sure I knew how he felt about my: weight, appearance, housekeeping inabilities, being too friendly with guys at work…pretty much everything I was and did wasn’t good enough for him. The sad part is, I began to believe him.
Maybe if I wasn’t so lazy…stupid…dumb…friendly…fat…ugly…
He would love me again. Like he used to.
I began trying to become the person he wanted me to be. I began jogging every day. I began eating less. I began to become the best housekeeper/girlfriend/person I could be.
I still wasn’t good enough.
After a few weeks of being there, I began to make new friends. Another thing Cole didn’t like, but at this point, I didn’t care.
One day while working, I was talking to a male co-worker/friend in my department. Just as we were finishing up the conversation, Cole walked around the corner. I saw the look on his face and I knew I was in trouble.
I clocked out for lunch and we walked to the car. As soon as I shut the door, he grabbed my arm and began yelling at me. “Who the fuck is that!?” “Did you see the way he was looking at you?!” “I told you not to talk to other guys—what the fuck is wrong with you?”
I didn’t say anything. The more I would talk, the angrier he would get. So I just sat there. Silent.
I justified everything by telling myself:
- At least he doesn’t hit me
- He stressed out from work/school
- Maybe he’s right
- He’s never left bruises on me
- He loves me
Until the night he did hit me and left a bruise.
His brother came over to visit. I really can’t remember how an argument ensued between Cole and I, but there was some yelling going on. His brother tried to intervene, however Cole was too strong. I ran to the bedroom and shut the door. Unfortunately there was no lock. I went to the bed and laid down, hoping he would just leave with his brother.
That didn’t happen.
The next thing I remember is the door opening and something hard hitting me in the head.
I blacked out for just a moment.
When I came to, I looked over. He had thrown a big black steel toed boot and it had hit me in my head. My head was bleeding and I had a nice little goose egg on my forehead.
I felt so beaten down. Defeated. I just laid there crying, never feeling so low, battered, and pained as I did right in this moment. I just wanted to die.
Things just got worse. The verbal abuse escalated. The physical abuse was beginning to be more frequent and harsh.
About 3 months in I decided I needed to get out.
Step 1: I went out a bought my own car. (We had been sharing a car up until then)
Step 2: I needed to get my own place, but rent was outrageous in southern California.
I had befriended one of Cole’s friend’s ex-girlfriend– Ally.
Ally was looking for a roommate and I needed to get the hell out of where I was.
I went to Ally’s job one afternoon and talked to her about becoming roommates. To my relief she was all for it. Now the hard part came—I had to tell Cole.
I prepared myself for the worst. Was he going to flip out and hit me? Would he make my life a living hell? Would he even let me leave?
The good thing was none of those things happened. He was in agreement in me moving out. I was so relieved.
Soon after, I moved out and Cole never hurt me again.
Cole and I have remained in contact over the last 18 years. He did apologize for what happened during the short time we were together. I accepted his apology and eventually I forgave him.
That was so many years ago, but somehow those things always stay with you. The hurt, the pain, the fear of that relationship never really left me. But for now I am going to put that old photo album back on the shelf and perhaps someday I will take it back down again to share with my own daughter so she will never have to find herself in the same type of relationship.
I kept my secret for 18 years. Letting go and moving on allows me to live my life without being ashamed. I couldn’t let what happened in my early adulthood define the rest of my life. Although I haven’t talked about it before, in my own mind, I have been able to forgive but I will never forget. Forgetting dilutes the lessons that were taught to me at such a young age. Those lessons, although painful and frightening have allowed me to remember that I am worth so much more than what that relationship made me feel like. It allowed me to put boundaries up early on, never allowing myself to be treated like that again.