Our relationship started with drunken fucking, and a bottle of whiskey. Love tinted with shades of caramel. But it wasn't about love, it was about power. About how far I would be willing to go. About how much I might be prepared to accept. What kind of girlfriend I would turn out to be. Luckily I passed with flying colors because in an effort to get the love and worthiness that had thus far evaded me I was willing to do whatever it took, I thought, even as I gagged on a single malt. I didn't know then how far that mindset would take me. But the test wasn't over yet because whilst washing, you sneered at me and said,
'You're disgusting. You've put shit on my dick.'
I was ashamed, and humiliated. But also confused. Wasn't that part of the risk? Wasn't that part of the deep vulnerability I had just exposed to you? It had hurt. I didn't know how it worked. Did love mean that your dick should be pristine after anal sex? But maybe there was something I was doing wrong, just one more thing. And as you preferred anal sex to any other kind, I made sure that on our nights out - and even the day before - I did not eat and I cleaned my ass out with soap. Anything to make sure you did not get my shit on your dick because my humiliation and your disgust was unbearable.
But my hygiene was lacking in other areas too. My hair was obscene. The minutest stubble under my arms, on my legs, even the fine down on my thighs was foul. And pubic hair, god forbid. At twenty four, having grown up in a strictly protestant household, I had rarely seen any other grown women. Even my mother's nakedness had been off-limits post puberty, So you showed me magazines to prove your point and I couldn't argue with the irrefutable evidence. There they were, the desirable women my age and younger, clean shaven and bald. To further confirm your opinion we watched porn films with actresses who had beautifully white assholes, hairless and shit-free.
'Look no further than this for the ideal woman,' you said, 'Sexually adventurous, pliable but always clean.'
But that kind of corporal maintenance took money which I didn't have. As a recent penniless graduate I tried instead to shave in the shower of the tiny bedsit I lived in, often doing yoga like contortions to reach those places impossible to see just to be ready for your weekly inspection. Once you discovered me in the shower trying to reach those inaccessible parts and you made your revulsion clear. That I had to make an effort to reach your standards was clearly unacceptable. I was born revolting. When I came out I was half afraid you would don white gloves like those prefects who used to check for the presence of dust in their studies after a weekly clean by the juniors in my boarding school. Because it was never possible to clean away my filth. It became a constant preoccupation, mine and yours.
'After sex you should go and clean yourself - inside and out,' you said. 'No one likes to plunge their dick into old cum.'
'But it's yours,' I said bewildered. Grown up relationships were confusing, I thought. So many rules we hadn't been taught at school. The difference between flirting and being friendly which I often got wrong. The difference between being slutty enough to satisfy you and prim enough to pretend that you had been the first man I'd ever been with.
'Couples can communicate without words,' you said and you were right.
I knew for instance that a raise of your eyebrow meant I had overstepped the fine line of being generously open and embarrassing myself... and you. A curl of your lip set me on edge wondering what I had done and where I had gone wrong. Our non-verbal communication grew until that night I didn't understand that my refusal to participate in a foursome you'd organized without telling me would mean that you would punch me.
Even as I tried to walk around with sunglasses in November, there were some occasions I had to take them off. At work for example, where those I had thought were my friends, avoided me. It wasn't easy for them to talk to me normally when my face was mottled red and purple, one eye bright red with exploded blood vessels. I wasn't ashamed that I was in an abusive relationship, because even then I hadn't realized it was abusive. I was ashamed because my face showed to the world that I was the type of woman who deserved to be hit. I thought they avoided me because they didn't want to associate with me.
'Who would?' you said.
And still I was thankful that you wanted to be with me despite all I was.
My mind managed to convince me that had I done everything right, I would have avoided that beating. And after two years, you had convinced me that even the things I thought I had learned properly, only propelled me into making further mistakes. I could do nothing right and I walked on eggshells, tense and fearful. So when you organized an impromptu BDSM session for our anniversary as a surprise, I knew better than to argue.
She walked into our hotel room and started to unpack her gear. Leather straps, ball gags and riding crops. Each one designed to restrict my freedom and cause me exquisite pain. Then you got out the pills and offered me one.
'It's going to be a flight of fantasy,' you said. 'Ecstasy is just part and parcel of the fun,' you said, and she whipped red weals into my ass that you enjoyed fucking until I bled.
I didn't know much about drugs save the pot which had floated round university as a prerequisite for studenthood. But I knew one thing. Ecstasy was a pill designed for love. It was a pill that offered a sweet release of escaping my reality. Every weekend you fed me ecstasy and I took it gratefully. When I was high on drugs, we did the things you loved doing and I didn't care. I thought I was finally sexually liberated, but didn't realize I was caged. But then I came down and I was riddled with anxiety, terrified of the person I had become. A drug taker. Scum. After some months I took days off work and drank to ease the fear clenched like an iron fist around my stomach. But it only made things worse so I eventually started to fight back. My anxiety and desperation pushed me to exercise and it became an obsession. A control mechanism. You wondered who I was meeting at the swimming pool every morning and insisted that I stop. But I had spoken to no-one, and I went nowhere else. Exercise, work, exercise, sleep. But then I did meet someone, on a day you weren't there. A kind man.
What prompted me to cheat on you? At the time I couldn't see it and neither could you.
'After all I've done for you,' you said.
If you'd only let me apologize, I would have grovelled because I despised myself. I would have done anything to try and regain your respect. I didn't think you deserved such ill-treatment, such betrayal and I thought I was the one who was to blame. But then you knocked me to the ground and started to piss on me. I'm thankful you chose to do that. I'm thankful because until that moment I never saw it. You held my arm down with your foot to prevent me covering my face. But as your warm urine spattered down on my bloody face I realized right then and there that I was in an abusive relationship. And it was the moment I stopped despising myself and started despising you instead.
When we broke up, my fear of your vengeance and shame at what I thought was my immorality prevented me from speaking out. Afterwards people called me stupid and I agreed with them. They asked me why I hadn't left you and I couldn't tell them.
It took me almost twenty years and the birth of my own daughter to fully realize that it had nothing to do with stupidity and everything to do with self-worth. When your self-esteem has been slowly and systematically eroded for years, when you haven't been allowed ever to speak your mind because your parents, your boyfriend and your society know better than you what is good for you, you will never know that it's okay to be you. That you are worthy just as you are. Instead you will regard yourself as a second class citizen and be willing to accept any amount of abuse because it's what you have been taught is love.