June 7th is my Liberation Day. One year ago I shed the burden of anxiety, depression, and PTSD – when I learned my abuser – my teenage boyfriend – was not only merely dead, he was really most sincerely dead.
Music abounded: Let It Go, Brave, Everything is Beautiful, I am Woman, I’m Free… The soundtrack in my head flipped to joyous.
It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all!
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me I’m free!
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
There is none so blind as he who will not see.
We must not close our minds; we must let our thoughts be free.
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
If I told you what it takes
to reach the highest high,
You’d laugh and say ‘nothing’s that simple’
Back then when the fear and the shame controlled me, I didn’t speak out. As the men around me found out about my broken rib – the last and worst incident – I listened but didn’t challenge them.
Dave B. had seen the abuser slap me across my face (the only person that has ever done so) and he said nothing. Kevin F. took me aside to tell me that the men had gathered and were appalled at what happened, and that I shouldn’t worry at his place (the party house where all gathered) because I was safe there. I will never know why he felt compelled to add – that protection would not apply outside the house, out in public.
Bruce M. eventually told me that other guys had wanted to ask me out, but the “bro code” was more important. My abuser had beaten my self esteem as well – telling me I was lucky that he loved me as I was somehow unloveable without him. Tony M. approached me to tell me he knew I was going on the birth control pill (at age 18, after breaking up with the abuser) and how should poor Asshole feel??
The attack in the hallway outside my office was broken up by the only woman, Sandy B., who ran out and physically stood between me and him. The four men – ranging from middle aged to early twenties – just tsked tsked all day.
I never told my father. He died not knowing. I only told my mother about five years before she died. The look of emotional pain on her face knowing she had not protected me was devastating. She told me they had always hated that boy, but were afraid if they voiced it too loudly I would have rebelled as so many teenage girls do and clung to him more.
My brothers were mad, but nothing was done that I am aware of. I feel they looked at me differently afterwards. Men wince if I bring it up, they don’t want to hear about it. There is a distance where the unspoken stays buried.
Honestly, I never loved him. He used to make me say it. I don’t even know why I was with him. Except I wanted a boyfriend. To be part of the social group you were supposed to pair up. Especially as a girl. The abuse began small, complete with many honeymoon periods of presents and apologies. He gaslighted me. He stalked me. He was obsessive. He was really scary, balling up his fists, stomping around, “Look what you made me do!” As if somehow he expected to live a life without negative emotions – and that if they surfaced – someone had to pay. Always someone else’s fault.
So, no more.
Overnight I was freed. I sang and danced while walking the dog. There is a lightness inside that was never there before. I was never this person before last year – I was never a full free adult until this year.
I never had another boyfriend. I “dated”. But I cannot imagine trusting a man in my life – that he wouldn’t attempt to control or manipulate me. I see almost all marriages as an economic tradeoff. The woman is trading autonomy for security.
A few examples of marriages I know suggest otherwise. But so few they can be named. I have observed a lot of ugly divorces.
Never marrying means economically I was disadvantaged. One woman’s income runs most of the households in poverty. But my mom taught me valuable lessons about money, so I manage on less than most. I never bought new furniture, and only replace clothing as necessary. I am not swayed by trends and long ago gave up on the cosmetics and fashion treadmill.
I am an angry feminist for a reason. I deserve to be. But now, the anger is no longer misdirected. I will speak up every time I hear “boys will be boys”. I will counter the argument that sexual aggression occurs frequently in nature with the fact that so does infanticide. The idea that the mere presence of a woman may drive some men beyond their own control and that this entirely understandable phenomenon should be solved by restricting women’s behaviour, apparel, freedom of movement and bodily autonomy is not acceptable.
I will expect respect from men, and speak up when I don’t receive it. I will push back at the manspreader on the bus. I will tell the old security guard I saw him ogle the barely legal teen that just walked by. I will speak louder when ignored. I will use this power for good, and not evil.