Notes on “Fights:” This piece is about partner violence I experienced about six years ago (i.e. this is NOT a current commentary!). Also, this was a really hard piece to write. If you feel moved to comment, please be gentle!
It happened so quickly, even my flight or fight response lagged. I had tried to move past him to leave my bedroom, to leave him and the fight we were having behind me for a few moments. But he caught me and swung me around until my back was against the wall. He gripped my biceps, pressing me against it. Then, he leaned in until I could feel the heat of his breath on my face, and hissed, “Don’t tell me I’m crazy. It makes me want to hit you.”
That’s when my body tensed, my heart fluttered, my eyes blurred with tears. It wasn’t the first time Daniel had been rough with me. But this was the worst.
“Hit me, then, just do it.” My voice was small and shaky, even though I had tried to shout it, so that my roommate would hear and call the police for help, “It’ll make it so much easier for me to break up with you.”
He held me firmly in place, breathing heavily, a wild rage in his eyes. I was so scared that I thought my heart might stop. In the few moments it took for him to realize what he was doing and loosen his grip, a memory came to me: beautiful, lovely Henry, a man who “volunteered” to be my father the first time I told him I didn’t have one when I was fifteen years old. He put his arm around me as we sat side by side on a sweltering summer day years before. He was grinning and shaking his head at some story I had just told him about standing up to someone who’d made a sexist comment or maybe it was about he thrill of attending my first protest at college. His voice flecked with wonder, he said, “My little feminist girl…”
Just before my boyfriend stepped away from me, Henry’s sweet, wrinkled face faded from my thoughts. I sank to the floor as a flood of relief and tears broke me open. Looking up at Daniel, the man who I had loved with such a desperate hope, I ceded almost all of that hope to reality.
“So you’re not going to make it easy for me, then?” I said.
Addendum: This fight was the LAST fight I had with this man. I broke up with him that night, and though it took me a month to truly disengage with him, he never did hit me. His violence was in some ways more insidious — an angry squeeze that left black marks on my arm, an unexpected push in the middle of a tense discussion that caught me so off guard that I fell off the couch and bruised my hip on the wood floor. I look back now and think it was absurd of me to have thought that it was abuse only if he actually balled up a fist and hit me, or if I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been physically hurt by him. It was pure delusion for me to think that the unpredictability of his violent moods wasn’t abuse.
But that is the territory of partner violence — I made all kinds of deals in my head to avoid identifying myself as an abused woman. I was, after all, a feminist. Feminists can’t end up in abusive relationships. But I did. It can happen to anyone, and I learned that it didn’t mean I wasn’t who I thought I was. It meant that he wasn’t who I thought he was. I got out as quickly as I could, and wish all women in violent relationships godspeed in their departures from intimidation and abuse.