Just a few short years ago, the majority of my life was lived mostly within the confines of the same walls day after day. I went to work, and I came home. I worked for nothing, because my paychecks were forcibly confiscated every week by a loveless, lawless man who also lacked anything even close to a conscience. His idea of a good weekend was sleeping off the week he had spent blazing the copper at the end of his stem, playing obnoxious videos on YouTube, sleeping, talking incessantly on the phone, chatting on Facebook, and sleeping. Blasting music so loud, drumming so hard on the kitchen table or office desk that the neighbors would protest and he would just blame his “deaf” girlfriend and promised to have me turn it down. Unless he could find his next victim and talk them into using their check to fund his next binge. If he was awake, I was expected to be awake. If he spent 48 hours sleeping, I was expected to as well. When I could not tolerate it any more, I was expected to wake him up and ask permission to get out of bed, like a naughty child. If I did not, I was punished. Sometimes I took the risk. I made excuses for us to go to the store, even at all hours of the night, so I could just get out of the house. I had memorized every crack, every spot on the wall where they had an extra layer of paint, every crooked wall, cupboard, and shelf. When he refused to go out, I would sometimes empty out the cabinets in the kitchen, being as loud as I could until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Because I no longer cared what punishment followed. He was on borrowed time, and he had no way to pay it back.
I am not a selfish person. I don’t always expect to get my way. In fact, my time with him taught me that I wasn’t to expect anything, because doing so would only bring me disappointment every time. Unfailingly. By August 2012, I was so tired of being trapped inside like a caged animal that I twisted and nagged and argued and adamantly refused to give in when he said we weren’t going to the NY State Fair. He felt that the $20 I managed to stash away from him and spend on tickets, a parking pass, and a coupon book would have been better spent on augmenting his next fling with a pile of rock. I pushed and he fought back. I refused to relent, and I finally won. It was not without consequence. The ride up was a one-sided argument. But no matter how he fussed or yelled or insulted me, I sat in silence biding out my time until I could get out of that car and be around people. For once. I spent the day tethered to his side with those invisible chains I always searched desperately for a way to break away from my ankles and my neck. He spent all the money I had on stuffing his mouth, and I left with a migraine so horrible I got sick on the way home. As we took the exit off the highway, I promised myself that was the last time he was ruining anything for me again. And I always keep my promises.
“Free at last. Out here on my own!” But in case you misunderstand, Kevin, let Miss Jackson dance it out for you. My message to you is clear: “Now control this!”
So jump forward into my new life. He would grit his teeth and squirm if he only knew how faithful I have been to that promise. When I left in December 2012, I had no ability to even consider that I would have a life ever again, that I would be able to enjoy anything without worrying about seeing him over my shoulder. If this is something you are struggling with now, allow me to serve as some hope for you. It will get better. You will lose that desperate fear. You will re-stabilize, get re-acquainted with some parts of your old self you thought were lost and meet the new you along the way. You will have gratitude every day you get out of bed. The little things will be as valuable to you as the huge, colossal, and monumental, but you will relish in them. You will smile again, and laugh, and dare I say, you will be happy. When you once had trouble making decisions or participating in things or hesitating to do something others may criticize, eventually you won’t. Because you come to realize that some things in life aren’t about others. It’s about you and loving yourself, being at peace with yourself, and finally knowing and accepting who you are.
If I want to stop and take pictures of flowers in an odd, extremely random spot, I do it. Even if this means jumping ditches and climbing hills in heels. Even if it means the car has to pull over. Even if I have to work my way through a crowd or end up surrounded by random animals, I do it. I’m like the US Postal Service with my camera. I’m not scared of rain, sleet, snow, fog, storms, wind, or anything else for that matter. And I’m not afraid of checking anyone who wants to roll their eyes as I take the 100th picture of the day.
If I want to leave the house and do something with a friend, I don’t have to face an interrogation to rival the Spanish Inquisition. I don’t get pestered and screamed at or threatened and accused of cheating while I’m out of the house. I stay out as long as I want without worrying about the punishment waiting for me at home. A friend asks me to stay the weekend? I’m game. After all, this girl, even as she goes through ups and downs in life, made herself a promise two years ago. She’s determined to keep it and not let anyone get in the way. And she’s blessed enough that she has someone in her life who encourages her and appreciates her individuality, even if with some things, she’s still struggling to figure out exactly who that person is. She doesn’t worry about knowing herself. It will come in time. In the meantime, there’s always a camera to document it along the way. And you all know you can’t argue with a girl when she’s got a camera. Not this one. After all. I’m in control now, and I’m brilliantly alive.
And here is evidence of life. All of the images are mine.