Some things that I had to “choose” to do through forced compliance hurt more than others. I’m not referring to the physical pain I endured as punishment for non-compliance and willful disobedience…. or what my ex would refer to as “persuasion” to stop being “hard-headed,” “oblivious,” or “stupid.” After enough physical punishments, I somehow learned to live with and in general tolerate the pain from the impacts against my flesh without regard as to how they were delivered. Fists, metal bars, cans of food, and boards all became the same in my mind. It would sting, burn, swell, bruise, redden, and occasionally bleed, but it would subside. I would be able to sit again. I would be able to breathe again without crying out in agony. I would walk though the pain until it eased from blinding to partially numb to stiff and sore into a memory with the rest of them. Gouge marks from his nails, black eyes, and bruises would slowly fade. The clumps of hair ripped out and nails torn would re-grow, and no one would ever notice anything had been amiss. No one, except my ex and I.
Having experienced both verbal/emotional and physical abuse in equally brutal amounts, I can say that in some ways the physical punishments were more welcome than any of the cruelty he could unleash from his mouth or any of the ways he would emotionally torment me until he crushed my soul to the point where I emotionally died. I confess without hesitation that living each day in spaces of time spanning across several years in constant fear of losing your physical life is exhausting and even tormenting. However, far more treacherous than daily facing the risk of serious physical injury and death was being pitched into an abyss of despair and anguish so deep that I was rendered incapable of fighting back against the war that waged around and within me. The only image I could offer up as way for someone who hasn’t been abused to understand how it felt to endure the emotional abuse is of me being shackled to the middle of the floor in a dark, empty cement room with a single beam of light falling upon me as a starved lion paces and circles about relentlessly ambushing me then falling back to regroup. The iron fetters and futility were not physically tangible nor were they even visible to the eye, but they were stronger than any metal bindings and far more crushing than any weight could ever be. I guess the only difference is that instead of scarring my flesh and suffocating the air from my lungs until deleted from air, they emptied me out and left my heart barren of all want of life, will, or hope.
As such, the emotional pain attached to so many of my worst memories of physical attacks causes me far more distress to call up than the actual beating itself. It wasn’t the strangulation that occurred in the first event of physical abuse that was so distressing. The confusion and shock I plummeted into after it was over, the same shock and mental chaos that led into my first feelings of shame in the minutes that followed, unsettled me more than the pain and effects of fading in and out of consciousness, because I failed to see his brutality coming. In all my intelligence, in all my confidence, somehow I failed to see the monster that I thought at the time should have been obvious . But you cannot see what you are not shown, and abusers never let you see it until it’s too late.
And months later, it wasn’t being thrown into the road in the wooded countryside after hours of being attacked in the cold winter air. It wasn’t that the night ended with a tire iron descending down toward my head or the memory of my hands and arms held up above my face and head in an attempt to block the blow that pains me. Rather, it’s the memory of the moments in which I begged and pleaded for my life and the fact that he deemed the value of my life to be so worthless and detestable that he became almost joyful as he mocked me in my desperation. It’s calling up and being overwhelmed and enveloped by that familiar feeling of humiliation. It’s knowing that since I was young, I have had a long, coherent, perhaps nearly unbroken memory, only to survive that night with an enormous black hole lit up with intermittent flashes of him and screaming and cold pavement against my legs teasing me by bursting across the blackness and fading almost as quickly as they came. It’s the fact that I must have been under so much duress that I became disassociated from myself and my mind, unable to carry the weight of the fear and desperation, discarded the remnants into the darkness and disallowed me the ability to remember it all.
And then there is my memory and how my mind works. I have always been obsessed with learning new things. Well, maybe it wasn’t so much that I was “obsessed” per se. It’s far more accurate to say that music, art, literature, and language are to me what the average person would say blood, oxygen, water, food, and shelter are to them. The uncontrollable drive I have to learn isn’t a past-time. It’s an absolute necessity, just as much as it is to meet any physical need that is required to sustain life. Without music, literature, art, foreign language, and constantly working to build up my knowledge, I can physically survive, but I will struggle and suffer overwhelming distress when I am deprived of them. In the months leading up to October 17, 2008, he gradually but forcefully began denying each of these vital needs one by one. The first to be stolen away from me was the language, then writing and reading with art following close behind. By the time I was only left with music and working to complete my bachelor’s degree, I found the depression that I had been battling since childhood start to creep back in and wrap me in its dense fog. I struggled to hold on to the little bit of life I had left even after the music stopped, but it was like being in a glass box surrounded by people watching me inside shrinking and withering away until I had all but disappeared.
It wasn’t enough for him to strip me of all these things my soul required to thrive; he soon set his eyes on the last bit of sustenance I had left to maintain my existence: pursuit of my bachelor’s degree. Pursuit of knowledge. Pursuit of challenging myself to improve the world around me and to improve myself. I resisted and fought back against his last crusade for as long as I could possibly bear, but his campaign of total destruction won out once the physical pain and emotional distress became too much to withstand any longer. On October 17, 2008, he dashed the saber in with brute force until it pierced through and torn me open, and he watched me fall, now totally subject to his tyrannical rule over my life. Under fear of further (worsening) punishment, he forced me into the chair at the kitchen table to write my withdrawal message to the college:
|10/17/2008 11:27 AM
(Name Removed for Privacy) –
I regret to be sending this email, especially after all the extra effort and resources the College extended on my behalf. However, due to serious financial and other circumstances, I need to withdraw from classes effectively immediately. At this point, even if I were to find a temporary solution to come up with tuition this quarter, I still cannot afford books for my current classes, and the problem will only arise next quarter. Each quarter will be more difficult than the next. Rather than put myself and the College through this every three months, I need to take care of this situation now.
I appreciate all the help I was given, and I am sorry to be sending this same type of email again. I am currently in the process of looking for a second job and will work with the College as best as I can to make payment arrangements for what I end up owing the College.
Thank you for all your help in this matter. Every effort that everyone has extended on my behalf in the past has been greatly appreciated. Please either forward to all necessary parties or reply back and let me know whom else I need to notify.
As I clicked send, I felt my chest begin to pitch and heave in protest wildly as it tried to jump-start my failing heart back into rhythm. He had taken the last of my life support, and as I sat there deteriorating in front of him, he reveled in satisfaction. The last of the lifelines was swiftly and precisely lobbed off from my veins in one fell swoop, and it required no physical weapon to do so. My world was quickly being shrunk into the confines of the apartment I now found myself trapped in with him, and I had no way to stop it. There was no hope left. There was no point. This was the day that he succeeded in robbing me of everything that made me who I was, and all I could do was sit and stare and books I was forbidden to open and long for that familiar scent of well-read pages to mingle with the air I breathed in, to recall songs I used to listen to, to play my flute in my mind, sometimes feverishly drumming my fingertips in staccato precision across keys that only existed in my imagination. Very deliberately, he kept it all on the shelves where it was so I could see everything and he could find amusement in my suffering through being forced to see myself wasting away and collecting dust without being able to do anything about it.
As the days and months faded into years and my only goal in life was to live to see the next day, the memories still haunted me and would hunt me down and trap me within them in my sleep. Waking from them was painful. Even after I left, my life carried on for the longest time much the same, because I had forgotten that I was able to make a different choice now. I had forgotten the dreams that I had, the life I had wanted so badly for myself, so many of the things I once enjoyed, but I struggled under the weight of it all just the same, because I knew he was the one who had taken it from me. He was the one who emptied my life of meaning and value, and reversing this act of cruelty seemed impossible for the longest time. Even though I was no longer trapped in the literal prison he had raised around me, his phantom still hovered just over my shoulder and taunted me from the past. Control is a very precise and unforgiving method used to condition one into forced submission.
Then one day, I reluctantly agreed to sort through the few boxes of things they were able to retrieve from the apartment after he was finally evicted, and I came across things that I had thought had disappeared forever. It was only bits of pieces, but it was enough to jolt me back to life, just enough to want and need more. My flute was there, but the thousands of pages of music were missing. The music box a friend gave me on my first trip to Japan was there, with my honors pins, bracelets that were made for me, and my medals for instrumental solo competitions, but the pictures were gone. The memorabilia from Japan was gone. My huge collection of books and music was gone. I sat on the bed in the dark crying for hours. Learning that parts of the old me didn’t die and wither away into dried pieces was too much shock to bear. Slowly I overcame my trained need to hang back in the darkness, and I started to reclaim my life in minutes, hours, and days. However there were some things that still laid strewn about in the bottom of a few boxes that I could not face, because I did not know what lied in wait in the darkness.
Strange things happen when curiosity gets the better of me, when the urge to know what other parts of me still could exist after my ex’s exhaustive effort to erase me. I could no longer ignore the box sitting in want of attention on the basement floor, and I walked over to it, picked it up, and hesitantly brought it upstairs out of sight of prying eyes. In one of the small wallets, I found a stack of old cards – old employee IDs, credit cards, store customer loyalty cards, and business cards. And it was as if by some miracle, tucked in the middle of the stack and still in near pristine condition, my college ID sat as a reminder of something that was taken from me several years before.
My family would tell you I have a history of making bigger decisions without much consideration, and I’m sure they would also say they are often shocked that doing things this way has always worked out surprisingly well for me. Once I woke up in the morning and went to work, had enough of a manager’s abuse, and I decided I was leaving my job to go on vacation to Japan for several months. I bought the plane tickets, popped in at my parents and pretty much said, “Hey I’m leaving to Japan for three months so you won’t see me for a while.” They assumed I had known didn’t tell them, and when I said I just bought the plane tickets today, they stared at me in confused silence. Moving out of my mother’s house was done in the same manner. Applying to the college the first (the one my ex forced me to withdraw from) happened the same way. So here I seem to find myself again, making another rash decision without taking so much into consideration.
On March 21st, I will be officially going back to school (online) to resume and finally complete my International Business degree I started so long ago. I’ve only let those around me see the excitement I have (because let’s face it, I’m a geek and love a good homework assignment / research paper). I’m quite sure they wouldn’t understand the burgeoning of fear, anxiety, shock, sadness, and overwhelming happiness I feel all at the same time to take this on. Things are different for me now. I don’t sleep, my short term memory poses a challenge, and getting around is more difficult than it needs to be. Even in all that, though, I know I’ll handle whatever challenges come my way. If my history of making it through all kinds of horrific things doesn’t give me evidence of my ability to endure, overcome, and thrive the hell out of my life, I don’t know what else could. Fortunately for me, I always learn from any lesson that comes my way.
And that is all the proof I need.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my life, and it’s the only I have to live. I owe it to myself to take back everything that he tried to so hard to destroy. And I’m going to do it, come hell or high water.
Welcome to my story. Come walk with me. I’m back, and I’m not going anywhere.