It started with the little things. The criticism of what I wore because you said, if I wanted to change you would help me. Of course I wanted to change, to forget the torture of my past, to be the woman you talked about. The type of woman accepted by good society. The type of woman who was admired, who dazzled in social circles. So I bought into it.
But after the clothes, came the appearance. My weight, the amount of hair on my body, the way I smelled. How I used to scrub before you came round! But I couldn’t scrub enough to change your opinion of me because things like my past, you just can’t scrub off.
You would teach me what a healthy relationship looked like, you said, what a more acceptable woman does and how she acts. Until that time we couldn’t be seen together, because you would be a laughing stock you said. You had a reputation to uphold. So I learned to eat smaller portions and food I didn’t like. You showered me with gifts, Gucci watches and silk underwear. I threw out my out my old beloved wallet which used to be my Dad’s when you replaced it with a glitzy Versace one for my birthday. I didn’t like it, but hey what a lucky girl I was. It was a step up for someone like me.
But like attracts like, you said. My friends weren’t good enough. What was I doing with those losers? Many friends stopped hanging out with me and I knew they didn’t like you. They’re jealous, you said. Ten years later, I found out that my friends had been threatened to keep away because I was yours to protect and only you knew what was good for me. I was destined for great things you said, and I couldn’t be trusted to make a good job of my life, after all I hadn’t managed it very well in the past. If I met you now, I wonder whether you would still say those words you always used to ‘it’s because I love you baby’.
And then there were the good times. The times you approved of my ‘progress’ we went out, finally together in public, although you were careful to help me keep my natural gregariousness in check. A raise of the eyebrow and I’d know I’d made an inappropriate joke, or overstepped the mark in someway. My fear of rejection made me toe the line, because by then I had few friends and even fewer confidantes. I didn’t need anyone else you said, because we have each other. We only had each other. Above all, I didn’t want to spoil this night like I’d spoiled so many. But in any case, I’d always made sure to make it up to you in kind later on even if I didn’t want to. Just to get your sweet smile of approval and your orgasm, so I could go to sleep.
After about a year, you introduced drugs to the mix. Little pills which were a reward. I never said no, because by that time I knew I preferred the outcome of saying yes and dealing with the consequences later. Besides, the drugs gave me the sweet sense of release, they helped me fly way from the reality I was living in. I grew to love them. My mind grew weaker and I started believing you weren’t the man you said you were. Paranoia, you said. No one can ever know about this, you said. They wouldn’t understand. It’s our secret.
Somewhere, somehow I knew that something was not quite right with my picture and we started having arguments. Small, then bigger. I thought maybe I wanted to break up with you but I wasn’t allowed. Instead you broke the door to my apartment down and stayed, pleading with me until after 6 hours I agreed we could try again. After the third time, I didn’t bother to get my door fixed because what was the point, my apartment didn’t contain anything or anyone of value.
Finally on our two year anniversary you’d organised a surprise. A foursome with people you knew, because you said it was okay to push the sexual boundaries of a relationship when you loved each other like we did. But it was too much for me and I made a scene, made you look bad, rejected your offer and your love. So you hit me and bleeding, with the indisputable physical evidence of what our relationship had become, I managed to break up with you for the first time, before it happened again. Perhaps it was the excuse I’d been looking for, perhaps I goaded you into it because when you hit me, I could rightfully accuse you of being abusive. The smallness of each indicator made it impossible. But then you made a mistake, and you punched me in the face.
They saw the black eye, and they asked me. Abusive? Oh no, I said confidently, and still believed it even then. But I stayed in my apartment, fearing to go outside because I saw you waiting for me across the street. You popped up unexpectedly on the occasions I did go out. I was terrified to go out with anyone else, because I was scared what might happen to them. For three long years, I never passed by your work, preferring to take the long route round just in case you saw me. I was afraid of you.
When I read about abused women, I felt like a fraud, ashamed in my terror and belittled in my experience. I was not like them, and I had no right to my feelings. Then one day a friend showed me a picture, a wheel. Of course you don’t see the abuse, she said, of course it’s possible to be in an abusive relationship without knowing it. And then I realised why they didn’t leave. Why I had stayed with you for two years. It’s because it starts with the little things.