Editor’s Note: This article deals explicitly with intimate partner violence and sexual assault, and may be stressful or triggering for some.
I’ve been sitting on this story for a long time, it’s been in the draft box on my blog for over two years. I have wanted to share, but just never felt quite ready to put it out there — not that it’s particularly unique, it’s actually so very common. So very unoriginal. And so very problematic.
But with the awful tragedy in California and the spread of the #YesAllWomen hashtag, it seemed appropriate to go ahead and hit “publish.”
This particular story, like most college stories, started because I got drunk. It was a few weeks after my, at the time, longest relationship had ended. I’d spent a week in bed with ice cream and the movie, “Must Love Dogs.” Eventually a friend of mine dragged me out of bed and demanded we go out — as girlfriends will do when they feel like you’ve sulked long enough after a break-up.
I went to “my bar” which coincidentally, like in some terrible rom-com scripted by the universe, was where my freshly single ex was hanging out. With another girl on his lap. So did I turn around and leave? Find some new place to hang out? No. I hit the tequila hard and flirted harder, the night ending with a tall ex-Marine taking me home. They hate that term, by the way. Ex-Marine. But I’m using it anyway, because #YesAllWomen.
I remember thinking, Suck it ex, then getting home only to find myself unable to walk up the two flights of stairs, so Tall Ex-Marine carried me. I woke up next to him, and I was fully dressed. I remember thinking he was such a gentleman. Amiright, ladies? It was easy after that to agree to breakfast, then later agreeing to go out on dates. I was rebounding. I was an easy target. I didn’t feel like a target though, because I thought I was dictating the pace. Good God, I was dumb.
Our whirlwind courtship lead to a lot of nice restaurants and long talks, and then learning he was a sharpshooter, owned several guns and kept them in his house. And that he was much much much stronger than me. If I’d had any good sense at all, I would have ended it then and there. But my ex was doing well and dating all sorts of women, and I felt like I needed to compensate.
It only lasted about six months or so, but within those short six months my friends noticed how I was changing. This new guy was possessive. I subconsciously started picking clothes that wouldn’t attract attention to myself. I was much more quiet and demure. Those who know me, those who knew me then… well, let’s just say quiet and demure are the last two words they would have used to describe me.
But I was changing. And eventually I didn’t recognize myself.
Around that six month mark my friends’ concerns came to a head. I suppose some would call it an “intervention.” My friends gathered and spoke to me in soft, smooth voices about how much I had changed. Later, I had my own “Come to Jesus” moment as I realized I couldn’t see myself when I looked in the mirror. I was done.
I knew what I would do — I would lie. I went out alone, but I lied and told him I was staying in. I lied so I could go out without him. I lied because I had every deliberate intention of cheating on him, I needed to give him a reason to break up with me. I lied and I cheated because I was too scared and too weak to break up with him myself.
Afterwards, I went to ex-Marine’s apartment and confessed. He cried, and begged to know, “Why?” My resolve to end the relationship disintegrated into nothing. And before I even realized it, I found myself begging to be forgiven.
Like I said, I was dumb.
After the cheating episode, of course, there was no trust. Things deteriorated further until I eventually just “cut him out of my life.” I had the building manager change the code to enter the building. I stopped answering his calls. I avoided him. I broke up with him via avoidance. Listing myself as “Single” on Facebook was basically how I broke up with him. I was scared, and that felt like the smartest way to handle it.
I slowly started getting back to myself. I got back to being happier and louder, I went back to wearing brighter colors and the v-necks ex-Marine had hated so much. I pawned every last piece of jewelry he gave me. I felt safe. I felt like he was done with me — I hadn’t received a call or email or text in over a month. I figured he had finally moved on.
He hadn’t. He waited until I’d finally felt safe and happy again before he swooped back into my life.
After class one day, I had dinner with a friend at my favorite bar (which happened to have the best burgers too) and she left early while I sat finishing my drink and chatting with the bartender. I paid my bill, went outside and started the walk home. I casually strolled down the busiest street on campus when out of nowhere a pair of incredibly strong hands grabbed me from behind and pushed me against the wall. It was him. Of course it was him. All that happiness I had found, the safety I had felt… they vanished. I was terrified. I couldn’t fight back. I couldn’t even move.
He demanded to know why I left him. Didn’t I know how brokenhearted he was? How could I not give him closure? Didn’t I know he was a Marine? Didn’t I know he could track me down? Didn’t I know that one day I would be alone and he would finally get the closure he deserved? Didn’t I know he had a gun? How dare I wear that v-neck?
I didnt cry. I didn’t fight. I blanked. I literally did nothing — like a coward. I was so scared. It was only after he slammed me into the wall a second time, then moved his hands from my chest to around my throat, that’s when I finally remembered to scream. But even then, on the busiest street on campus, no one helped. No one did anything. I remember thinking, This is it. No one cares. I am going to die right here.
I was never one to believe in miracles, but that day, when I saw a car pull over and my best friend jumped out, racing over to pull my ex off me… well, I started believing. After he dragged ex-Marine off of me, he demanded I get in the car and lock the doors, but I was frozen — I couldn’t move. He shoved me towards the car until I came to my senses and ran, jumping into the car and locking the doors. Then I watched as my best friend threw HIS weight around. He was as tall as ex-Marine, and almost as strong. He finally got him to back off, and as we began driving away, he asked if I wanted to go home.
But you’re supposed to go to the police when somebody assaults you, I thought. It was like a reflex, I hadn’t even thought twice — I wanted to go to the police.
We arrived at the local city police department where they immediately separated us. The city police called the campus police while they made me wait alone in an empty interrogation room. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t shaking. I didn’t move, I didnt show any emotions. I was just there. When a campus officer and a city police officer finally came in and sat down, they were both males.
“Tell me what happened,” one of them said.
“Were you drinking?”
“Were you drinking with him?”
“Why didn’t you shout ‘Fire?’”
“You said no one helped you, are you SURE you asked for help?”
“It seems like you are really angry with him. Are you sure this happened exactly as you say? The man is a veteran. If you’re mistaken or exaggerating you can ruin his life and his college career… You can also face charges.”
Once they called my account into question, I lost it. I started sobbing and told them to talk to my friend since he’d witnessed the assault and dragged ex-Marine off of me.
But they never did. They filed a report, but there was no investigation. No charges were pressed. The University didn’t do anything either. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
For years after the assault, I was scared. I was scared to go anywhere alone. And even now, almost six years later, I am scared to walk alone in the dark. Every now and then, ex-Marine will pop up, seemingly out of nowhere. He’ll show up on Facebook and send me a friend-request. Or he’ll send me a LinkedIn request. Just to serve as a reminder, so I know that he is still around.
I am not as scared of him today as I once was, but there will always be a small part of me that is terrified of walking somewhere and finding myself being grabbed from behind and slammed against a wall… a small part of me that is terrified of being violated again.
And I know I’m not alone, because #YesAllWomen.