** The author’s name has been changed for safety reaasons
Not long ago I found myself in love with man who was brilliant, interesting, accomplished and 10 years older than me. I was infatuated with him. He was an unbelievably talented singer, dancer, actor and instrumentalist and I fell for him quickly and without abandon. But the warning signs came soon.
There were several early fights in the first few weeks, times in which he yelled and spoke at me in a way that I was startled by. I was alarmed but I didn’t feel physically threatened. In our first fight I told him, “my Dad doesn’t talk to me that way.” He replied, “if you act like an asshole I’m going to speak to you like an asshole.” And I had indeed acted like an asshole. The fight we were having that day was entirely my fault and because I felt responsible, when he yelled at me in a way that was clearly a warning sign, I let it slide.
As time went on, there were more red flags. He was mourning the loss of a loved one. He was drinking too much. At times I thought he was suicidal. His brilliance was shrouded in depression so severe it was manifesting physically. His body was breaking down; unsourced blisters, back problems and overall pain was regular. But, I thought I was in love.
The night before he left to go on tour we took a road trip with two of his friends. A big wig producer friend of his had invited us out to his home in the Hamptons. The day had gone just fine: a swim on the beach, a catered dinner, singing and dancing amongst Broadway stars. But in the car on the way home, he was drunk. Very drunk. I asked him to sit back and hold my hand and suddenly without warning he started screaming at me. Loudly, scarily. He screamed so loudly I sat in the back seat of the car humiliated and crying. As his best friend eyed me from the rearview mirror, I felt ashamed. Suddenly I remembered what his friend had whispered in my ear the day before, “you seem like a nice girl, you should get out when you can.”
When I mentioned his warning to my lover, he explained it away as childhood jealousy and competitiveness between them. But as I sat there crying, staring out the window humiliated, I knew I was involved in something unhealthy and wrong. Still, that night when he didn’t get out the car with me to spend our last night together I was devastated. I still wanted him to want me. I still wanted him.
He left the next day to go on a year long tour. Sometime that week I wrote to him and we reconciled. For the next few weeks, we Skyped and talked daily. A month or so later, I flew out to visit him for the opening night of his tour. That visit went perfectly. A few weeks later I flew to Los Angeles to visit him again on my birthday weekend. More or less, it was pleasant, a few minor glitches, but I was happy and still, I thought I was in love. But as the weeks passed and the holidays were fast approaching, he became increasingly depressed. Christmas Day, which also happened to be the anniversary of his mother’s death was fast approaching and his grieving became more severe. At points, he stopped answering the phone completely, and when he did, he sounded terrible.
I had already purchased a ticket to visit him on the holidays. It was going to be the first time I spent Christmas without my parents, but I didn’t want him to be alone for the holidays and certainly didn’t want him to be alone of the anniversary of his mother’s death. I had to head west anyway because my best friend from college decided he wanted to get married three days before Christmas (Seriously?). So I decided to fly to San Francisco to visit my love, hop down to Los Angeles for the wedding and return to San Francisco to spend Christmas with my depressed lover. But before I left I agonized over it. I called my mom. I called my best friends. I prayed and asked God. Everything in me was telling me not to go… but I went.
I’d never been to San Francisco before–or since–but I met him in some super sketchy part of town called The Tenderloin (I mean…really?). The first day went relatively well. We went to a welcome dinner before he went off to his show. After the meal I stayed in his room watching TV and dozed off tired from the seven hour flight. But when I woke up well past the closing time of his show and he hadn’t come back I was alarmed. I texted him. He responded he had gone to the bar after the show to have a drink. When he came in he was drunk. He laid in bed and cried, and the we had that kind of sex where you feel like someone is using you to ease their pain. It was sad and heavy.
The next morning I had coffee with a former co-worker who lived in the area. She was heading to New York for the holidays. I confided in her that things weren’t going well and she offered me the keys to her place. I told her things would be fine, but I could see that she was alarmed. I was alarmed too. But I stayed.
He came to meet us at breakfast bearing a gift. He always bought a gift after we had argued. Bracelets. Earrings. He was a gifter. That too, alarmed me. It was like he was grooming me to be punished and rewarded. Later that evening before heading to dinner I expressed my desire to do something “Christmas-y.” “I don’t want to fucking talk about Christmas. There is no Christmas to me,” he snapped loudly. I explained that I understood but it was my Christmas as well. I was missing my family and 3000 miles away from home. I went silent. On the walk to dinner I cried. We didn’t speak. At dinner we were one of those couples who looks really unhappy to be out together. I hate couples who go out and look unhappy to be together. Like seriously hate. But at that moment I was that couple. In the bathroom I cried again. This was bad and I knew it.
Later that night he returned from his evening performance in surprisingly good spirits. He was also drunk. He informed me that the cast was having a holiday party and I should get dressed so we could go. Excited at his change of mood I hopped up to get ready. As he cracked open a bottle of wine, I said to him, “I’m sorry for what I said earlier, I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to upset you.” And then just like that, he started yelling. My apology set him in to a rage. I watched him escalate, cursing at me, calling me a jerk and an asshole, pacing back and forth about the room. For the first time I legitimately felt unsafe. I asked him to stop speaking to me in that tone. He recited his earlier overture. “If you act like a jerk, I’m going to speak to you like one.” And then just then I looked at him and realized, this was over. I explained that if he couldn’t refrain from speaking to me like that, our relationship was never going to work. He headed towards the door.
“If you walk out that door, do not expect me to be here when you get back,” I said. He walked out the door.
After he left I sat on the couch. I didn’t cry. I poured myself a glass of Jack Daniels neat and drank it. Then I got up, packed my belongings and walked down the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district until I found a hotel. Now, I was crying. Sobbing even. The clerk at the hotel felt sorry for me and gave me a lovely room for which he charged me $130. I went across the street to a dive bar and got wasted. Later that night he came in looking for me. I happened to have been upstairs in the bathroom, but my new drinking buddies had heard my story and when I came downstairs they told me a guy came in looking for his “girlfriend.” I turned around to find him standing there stumbling. He said with a slur, “let’s go.”
“I’m not staying there anymore.” That’s it. I had found my strength I was done… sort of.
For some reason I cannot explain, in the morning before I went to the airport I went to theater to see him. He was already on stage and unable to come out to speak to me (thank God). But even still, I had this thought that I wanted to talk to him again. I was second guessing myself and in my mind the thoughts began to creep in. I shouldn’t have left. I should have stayed with him last night. He was in mourning. He was depressed. He was damn near suicidal. He wasn’t really like this. He needed me. I could make him better. Things would change.
I arrived in Los Angeles to the comfort of loving friends. I cried all night, got up the next day, and attended a wedding as if nothing had happened to me whatsoever. I didn’t even call my mom. My aunt picked me up from the airport on 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve. When we pulled in to my parents driveway my mother came to the door. She and my father had been sitting in the living room drinking coffee. When I came in she immediately began to cry. Her maternal instincts had her consumed with worry and she had told me not to go to San Francisco in the first place.
I spent a lot of that Christmas on the couch, still wanting to hear from him, still wanting him to apologize so that we could make it right. I knew I needed to move on but I still thought I loved him. I understood his pain. We could work it out. The next week when I arrived back in New York, I started seeing a therapist.
I left because I have a loving father who has never raised his voice at me and taught me by example how a man should treat a women. I left because I believed that telling my father how this man was treating him would make him disappointed in me. I left because I went to therapy and healed my old wounds. I left because I knew I deserved more. But mostly I left because I grew up in a community of healthy marriages with loving men who treated the women around me like queens. I left because the model I grew up with looked different. I left because I was taught that men don’t yell. I left because I was taught that a man hitting a woman was unfathomable. I left because my mom even policed childhood fights between my brother and I making sure he understood there was a line he couldn’t cross. I left because I am privileged and lucky and I had a sense of self-worth that is constantly reinforced to me by loving friends and family. And I left because I had no interest in sticking around to see what came after the yelling.
Through therapy I learned that I stayed because I wasn’t proud of who I was at the time. I stayed because I felt guilty for past discretions. I stayed because I didn’t think I deserved to be treated well. I stayed because I really wanted to be in a relationship. I stayed because I wanted romantic love and I thought I had found it. I stayed because I was infatuated with his brilliance and saw myself as the future wife of a star.
I’ve never seen him again. A month ago he sent me a text saying that he loved me.
(Footnote: I thought about not publishing this story because I’m slightly mortified and do not want either of my parents to read it. But Janay Rice got knocked out on camera and the recording is playing on a 24-hour loop so I figured the least I could do was share my 2000 words of shame and embarrassment in an effort to help shed the stigma of domestic violence and help more women to stand up for themselves.)
Verbal abuse IS abuse. If you or someone you know is being abused in a relationship in any way, RAINN provides live help, free and confidential. Call 1.800.656.HOPE or visit RAINN.org.