*TRIGGER WARNING: This blog includes graphic content that some readers may find distressing.
How We Met
It was sophomore year of high school when I first noticed him and I knew he was different. He was smart, athletic and earnest. He wasn’t traditionally handsome but he was taller and bigger than me and it felt like he would keep me safe. We met through friends and started hanging out a lot right away. He knew all my friends but didn’t seem to have many of his own. His parents were separated and going through a nasty divorce and his older brother seemed wild; smoking, skipping school and going to parties. He was quiet and respectful to my parents and liked to joke around with my little sister. This boy seemed like he needed me and my friends and “normal” family.
Something Isn’t RightA short time later I was seeing less and less of my friends and family and more and more of only him. Since he was my first serious boyfriend, I thought that this was normal. He always came up with a reason that he needed to see me if I tried to make plans or do something else that didn’t include him. I supported him at all his sporting events. And quickly, by playing the dutiful girlfriend role, I never had time to do anything of my own. Whenever other boys tried to talk to me, he would tap me on the shoulder to get my attention and say that he needed to talk to me. Once we were alone, he would get really jealous and tell me things like they only wanted one thing and I was his and shouldn’t be talking to anyone else.
He didn’t like the way I dressed. He told me all the time that my shirts were too low cut or too short. He told me to change my clothes or he wouldn’t go out with me in public. If I was wearing something he didn’t like when we were at school, he would ignore me.
At some point, his jealousy got to be too much and we had a fight. It was the first time it got physical. He pushed me onto his bed, pinned my hands down and sat on top of me. I was helpless and scared. He made me agree that I was wrong and he was right and that I would change. I thought that was a one-time thing. I was wrong. We dated and had explosive fights for about 18 months. Each time, it turned violent. I thought it was my fault because I was yelling and got in his face. I never told anyone. If anyone noticed bruises on my arms from where he grabbed me, or on my legs where I had fallen after he shoved me, I would just tell them I was clumsy and bruise easily.
So many people told us that we were such a cute couple. Girls were jealous that I had a boyfriend who wrote me notes, brought me flowers and gave me little gifts. They didn’t understand that these were grand gestures after our fights. I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I told them how bad it really was because on the outside it looked like a perfect relationship.
During one fight on my front porch, he grabbed the necklaces around my neck and twisted them around his hand, I felt the metal biting into my skin and thought surely they would break soon but they didn’t and very quickly, he was strangling me and I couldn’t breath. I felt my eyes water and bulge. I think he realized what he was doing in broad daylight on a residential street and let go but not before leaving a thick line of red, broken blood vessels and bruises along my neck. That July I wore mock turtlenecks and hoodies to cover it up. My mom asked me if I wasn’t hot in those bulky tops and I know I gave her an excuse about it being my favorite shirt and just walked away. I thought she would ban me from seeing him once she knew. It seemed easier to cover up what I didn’t understand.
I eventually realized that this wasn’t a traditional relationship but I didn’t know that there were any resources out there to help me with this sort of thing. I didn’t think anyone would believe me because no one had actually witnessed him hitting me – they just saw us as a cute couple. I was also intimidated because his mother worked for law enforcement. I didn’t want to get in trouble or get him in trouble. I thought what was happening was my fault because I couldn’t be the person he wanted me to be and if I just tried harder or loved him enough, then we wouldn’t fight and he wouldn’t get physical. I felt ashamed. I didn’t know that I could talk to my favorite aunt, my guidance counselor, my friends or even the police.
When I finally decided to break up with him for good, I was scared of what he would do. In the weeks, months and years following, he stalked me. I didn’t know that what he was doing was a crime. I certainly didn’t know of anyone else who had experienced what was happening to me. He would drive by my house and where I hung out with my friends and new boyfriend constantly. He would tell my new boyfriend terrible things about me to try to break us up. He would call my house and hang up. He would leave me love notes and presents on my car and in my locker. At night, he would throw pebbles at my bedroom window to try to get me to come out and talk to him. He would come to my work and watch me. My mom thought it was cute that he was trying to win me back. When I asked him to leave me alone, he ignored me. When I told him to leave me alone, he ignored me. When I begged him to leave me alone, he ignored me. When I had an attorney write him a strongly worded letter, he finally stopped.
My self-esteem suffered for years after and I didn’t respect myself or my body. I did things and allowed things to happen to me that I was not proud of. Since he was my first serious relationship I didn’t know how to be in a healthy boyfriend girlfriend relationship. I didn’t know that my spirit was broken.
Finding Myself and Healing
Somehow, over time and with patience and understanding from others, I was able to heal. I’ve healed from this experience through learning more about how dating violence works and realizing it wasn’t me at all, it was something inside him. Dating violence is about control. It is a pattern of abusive behaviors over a course of time used to exert power and control over a dating partner. Part of how I healed was by doing all the things I wasn’t able to do when I was dating him because of his control over me. I started hanging out with friends, getting involved in school activities, and playing sports.
Many years later, the Creator gave me the courage to tell my story to my mom. I told her about the fights, the jealousy, and the stalking. I told her how toxic and abusive he had been to me. I told her I was scared when I was younger that no one would believe me. She was shocked but silent. I don’t think she knew what to say or perhaps she was reflecting on how she should have had a conversation about dating violence with me. I think she was also probably very sad that this happened to me.
*Ericca Hovie (Ojibwe). She is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.