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Relationships

Forfeiting the Win

All love stories start with a date. A date is a promise of excitement, a promise of potential. Of course, a date can have many different endings, but if you play your cards right then you just might get lucky. That’s how this love story starts.

I had never been so excited to go on a first date before. I had to impress this man. After all, he was kinda my boss. A complete catch, he was a year younger than me, tall, Irish, and had long dark hair that he kept tied up when he was hard at work during service. As a chef, he had good taste in restaurants, and I made my move on him when I overheard his colleague dropping out of a reservation for two at a new restaurant that took months on a waiting list to get into. 

Slyly siding up to him while we all ate family meal before shift, I offered to join him if he didn’t want to go alone. The chef next to him scoffed, “You know he won’t pay for you, right?” I smiled and batted my eyelashes,  responding with, “Don’t worry, it will be my treat.” My boldness must have impressed him, and he offered to pick me up and drive us down. 

The day of the date, I was so excited I began getting ready hours before he was scheduled to pick me up. One after another, my dresses got thrown in the reject pile, until finally I came across a beautiful burgundy jewel toned floor length dress with a slit down the side and just enough cleavage to make it not overly formal. It contoured me perfectly and was flattering from every angle, plus it had enough stretch in it for a full meal. If he didn’t think this was a date beforehand, one glance at me in this dress and he will wish he had asked me out months earlier. 

When he arrived I pranced out the door, heels clacking down the driveway. Away we drove, and when we got to the restaurant the host greeted us with the classic, “Well aren’t you a beautiful couple!” We laughed and looked at each other, blushing, not bothering to explain that this was maybe a first date. Treated to a four course meal with wine pairings, we left quite full and happy. Not wanting the night to end there, we continued to drink at a few more bars. At some point, we had to stop back at his car to drop something off. As we walked to the parking lot, snow began to fall from the sky, dusting our hair and shoulders. I felt the night could not be more perfect.

My reveries were interrupted by a shout of pain, and I whipped my head around to see my date sprawled on the pavement, holding his arm. I ran over, and helping him up I tried to assess the damage. Mutually deciding he was fine, we decided to go to one more bar. 

We drank until last call, annoying the bartender by being the only ones there. When time came to leave, we meandered back to the car, and what started as a great date ended with a terrible drunk backseat car hookup. Shrugging it off as just a first date, I called my Uber home and he went to crash at his uncle’s place downtown. 

The next morning, I awoke to a string of texts from the Chef. Smiling into my pillow, I opened them, and slowly my expression changed to one of shock. When he had fallen the night before in the parking lot, he had actually broken his elbow. With all that we drank, the pain wasn’t noticeable the night before, but in the sobering light of the next morning it certainly was. A broken elbow would usually be the sign of a really bad date, but despite that we ended up in a relationship. Still, the elbow should have been a sign of what was to come. 

Fast forward eight months, and we made the decision to move in together. I was going to school downtown, and he had just gotten a new job. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I remember the day we moved in, the excitement of moving in with my partner and leaving home for the first time. I was going to be safe in a home with the man I loved, and I felt like I was finally getting my life on track. 

This happiness was short-lived. I was going to classes and working at a coffee shop, privileged that my parents covered my half of the rent. He was working long days at his new job, and often came home in a bad mood. The dynamic in our home quickly began to change.

It started one day when I had a couple of my coworkers over while he was at work. He called me on his break, and I stepped off to the side to take the call, but it being a tiny basement apartment my coworkers could still hear me. Or rather, they could hear him yelling at me through the phone for disrespecting our home and bringing people over, despite the fact I had told him my plans the day before. Hanging up the phone, I went back out to my friends to break the news, only to see them all staring at me from the couch with sympathy in their eyes as one of them said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get going now.” I nodded solemnly and saw them off. From that day forward, it was like a switch had flipped, and the man I had fallen in love with suddenly became someone else. Someone I was afraid of.

On most of our days together, we fought. Over nothing. Work seemed to be what put him in a bad way all of the time, yet I was the only one reaping the repercussions of this stress. He would come home, yell at me, throw me against the wall and punch a hole in it next to my head. I started to live in fear, and being at home was not really being at home. I had gone into survival mode, forcing myself to get through the days. Despite these abuses, the worst was still on the way.

One night we were fighting in our kitchen, about what I can’t remember, but it felt more heated than our other arguments. I was not in the “winning” position, as he had backed me into the corner, yelling at me. His large frame blocked all possible exits that I had, and I knew he would use force if I ran. So I stood there, the fight escalating, already knowing this was a battle I could not win. 

He reached behind him, grabbing a butcher’s knife off of the counter. Slowly, he brought the blade to my throat, the cold metal lifting my chin up so my eyes met his. I remember pleading with him, begging between sobs as tears obscured my sight. Please, please don’t do this. Drop the knife. Please. We will figure this out, I promise. Please, please please I love you I swear we can fix this please.

I felt the tension of the sharp blade drop, and I breathed in a sigh of relief. My boyfriend will not kill me today. I looked up, only to see he now had the blade to his own throat. A drop of blood fell onto his shirt as he continued to yell at me. This is all your fault, he said. You made me this way. 

Time stretched out as I stood there in half shock and half hysterics, continuing to beg. Please drop the knife baby, I don’t want you to get hurt. Don’t leave me. Please, I love you. Please. 

Still cornered by his large frame, I knew I couldn’t grab the knife, and if I ran he would slash at me or himself. So I waited, and continued to beg, knowing all of my power was gone at this moment. Eventually, he dropped the knife and shoved me angrily against the counter, and I managed to duck under his arms and run to the bathroom. No phone on me, I locked the door and sat against it, slowly sinking down to the floor as it dawned on me in horror that I had cornered myself again. I should have ran for the front door, should have screamed for help. I assessed my options as he pounded on the door, starting to break it. Making a run for it wouldn’t work, and I could try waiting him out, but the chances of him not breaking into the bathroom were slim. Looking up from my crouched position, I laid my eyes on the medicine cabinet. 

The next few moments felt as though I was in a trance. I stood up and opened the cabinet, and sitting perfectly on the center shelf were the leftover percocets from his elbow surgery. Opening the bottle, I counted them out in my palm. There were eight. I looked at the door, then at the pills, and without hesitation I took them one by one, head hanging under the faucet. I sat back down, except this time I faced the door. When he finally broke in, I was looking up at him with the empty pill bottle in my lap. Realizing what I had done, his anger ebbed to reveal panic, and the last thing I remember is him yelling at me to throw up.

I awoke in our bed after some time, my brain foggy. Assuming it was the same day, I rolled over to grab my phone, only to realize two days had come and gone. I tried remembering what had happened. Why was I in bed in the middle of the day? How did so much time pass? Surely there was a mistake.

Then everything came flooding back. The fight, the knife, the pills. I ran out into the main area from the bedroom to find him sitting on the couch. I asked what happened after I had passed out. He looked at me with the same anger in his eyes, but in a softer tone explained to me that I had passed out for the last 48 hours. He claimed to have called the hospital, but deep down I knew he had probably only called his mother. Nobody had called my parents. The realization hit me that no one knew what had happened to me. Calling the police now would most likely create a scenario that I wouldn’t win. I nodded at him and returned to the bed to process things and try to come up with a plan.

I knew if I ended things that I would be putting my life in danger yet again. So I detached myself from him emotionally, pushing him further and further away. Knowing he wouldn’t put up with it for long, I wanted him to be the one to break up with me and think it was his idea. 

A month or two went by before it finally happened. I remember being at a coffee shop with a friend, and suddenly looking at her and saying, “I know it’s today. He’s going to be waiting when I get home.” Sure enough, he was.

Despite being the weaver of the plan, the breakup brought me a surprising amount of sadness. Perhaps more over the loss of what I wanted to create for my life than the loss of what I actually had. He moved out soon after, and I tried to carry on with life, never truly processing the evil we had fostered between us in our home. 

It has since been five years, and he still causes me pain every day. That relationship took everything from me, everything about the person who I knew myself to be was erased. Taken away and stripped to the bones. I still flinch when someone touches me. I get physically uncomfortable in crowded areas, or if my personal space is invaded. I have not wanted to be in a relationship because I can’t trust anyone. After all, I trusted him.

Perhaps the more painful part of all this is the healing. The trying. Again and again and again. Get up, get involved, get into life. Be happy. Then get knocked back down to the pathetic mess that you were, and start the whole cycle over again. You must repeatedly re-live your pain in order to heal it. A seemingly endless cycle. In my experience, the cycle doesn’t break. It doesn’t actually get better. You learn to find your moments of peace and gratitude when you can, but you can never truly be the same, never see the world with the same eyes as before. Then on top of this pain you must experience shame. Shame for not reporting the incident. For not standing up for yourself, for letting such a thing happen to you. The shame for talking about what happened to you, because don’t you know others have it worse? You are not allowed to win as a woman who has gone through domestic abuse. They won’t let you win.

So with this personal essay, I am forfeiting the win. I am giving up. I don’t want to win; I want to be free. I want to be freed from the man who took me from myself, and reclaim my life. I am hoping that writing this will help me to let go and move on. Thank you.

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