Through March 8 (International Women’s Day) True Stories Well Told is featuring special-focus posts on the problem of violence against women, including guest essays exploring how the abuse of one affects us all. The following essay was written by Raven Barrett.
THE CRACKED MIRROR: REFLECTIONS OF A BATTERED WOMAN
A jet black Harley Davidson bandana hangs on my bedroom wall to serve as a reminder of my triumph. Never again will I wait for the telephone to ring so that my ex-boyfriend can apologize for the previous night’s beating. Never again!
I wish that I had known that plunging into a relationship with him would eventually lead to punching out mirror images of myself. Instead, I ended up with blunt pieces of self-respect shattered at my feet. In retrospect, I would have given up the ‘true love’ fallacy before reaching the age of seventeen.
We often read statistics without relating to them, but I became one once. Writing my story almost feels as if it is about a complete stranger. There are times when I’m writing that the phone rings, and I still fear that the person on the other end of the line will be the ‘Old Man.’
I met the Old Man at a stage in my life when I longed for a boyfriend. My popularity was at a low and my somewhat absentee parents were fighting all the time about my sister and her cokehead boyfriend. I began to feel invisible and disliked what I saw in the mirror. There wasn’t enough black kohl eyeliner in the world that could hide what was behind my eyes.
One October evening, I was picking up my friend Nicole at her drug dealer’s house in response to her needy call. Nicole asked me to wait in the living room while she said good-bye to her friend privately in his bedroom.
“Can I have a seat?” I asked a man sitting on the living room sofa. He pointed to a chair that directly faced him, forcing eye contact between us. He had sharp piercing black eyes, long black hair, and fifty-two tattoos. (I found that out later one night when I was bored and he was passed out high.) His powerful stare melted me with a confidence I had never before encountered. Even Dad’s eyes couldn’t affect me the way this man’s stare did.
With his fierce angry eyes continuing to glare at me, it was obvious to me that this man got whatever he wanted. Part of me knew to be afraid, yet another side of me was intrigued and shocked–filled with adrenalin. I felt that I had to break the silence or crumble before his eyes.
“Is that your Harley out front?” I could feel my shaking voice. Without even answering my question, he had broken my strength. Nobody had ever done that before. He spoke. I felt the whole house shake with his power. “Wanna ride?” His wry grin was more than I could stand. That was all I had to hear. We went riding for a few hours, my thighs vibrating against his bike the entire time. Afterward, and for some time to come, the Old Man was my boyfriend.
I wore his Harley jacket everywhere I went, deriving a sense of confidence that had been missing in my life. I had become so tired of watching my peers in letterman jackets.
My loneliness began to disappear. However, I’d become a part of a new culture. In order to support the Old Man’s drug habit, I had begun pushing pills that he gave me at school. Lying to my parents came next. I had to see him and there seemed no other way but to lie.
Often, I hid his Outlaw leather jacket in the trunk of my car. It became a ploy to avoid my parents’ wrath at seeing me with a thirty-year-old man covered with tattoos. They would never understand my need for this relationship. (They wouldn’t even allow me to hang out with my older friends, so this was a pattern I’d become familiar with as long as I could remember.)
I knew that the situation was getting out of hand when I realized that I was addicted to a drug addict.. I don’t know which of us was in worse shape. He kept telling me that I could never live without him. The sad thing was, I believed him.
Methodically and slowly, the mirror began to crack. Soon I found him in bed with another woman. The two of them were high on the cocaine that I had given him the money to buy. His reaction was to invite me to join them.
After screaming “I hate you!” I ran to my car. I raced home that night in the pouring rain, still hearing their laughter in my head. My stomach started heaving and before long, the floor of my car was coated with my inner rage.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I lay in bed, clutching his jacket, listening to the clock tick away the hours of our first fight. ‘Was it my fault? Had I led him astray?’ At 3:36 in the morning the telephone rang. I raced to answer it before it would wake my parents.
“Hello,” I answered, wiping my tears.
“Look baby, I’m sorry. You know that you’re my girl and I love you,” the Old Man began his speil. That was all I needed to hear. Believe it or not, my stomach relaxed. His lie became my fix. All he had to do was say that he loved me, and I automatically forgave him. I didn’t quite understand it, but I was back in his arms the next day. Little did I know that these calls would become a recurring nightmare and part of the addictive process.
The Old Man soon became pathologically jealous. He always had to know where I was and what I was doing. At times he would do anything to keep me from leaving his side. If I threatened to leave him, he would threaten to burn down my parents’ house and kill my sister. The sad truth was, I believed him. And I had every right to do so.
One morning, after I discovered that he had deflated my tires, I begged him to give me a ride to school. Enraged, he dragged me by my hair, while I was kicking and screaming, into his house. The mirror cracked even deeper and grew larger. after our ‘discussion,’ I looked uglier and felt exhausted.
Of course he apologized. For a while, he even tried to treat me as if I was his version of a queen. The Old Man took me out and spent all his money on me whenever I could sneak out to see him.
There came a day that I no longer had to support his drug habit. Apparently he was selling even more dope than he was using, which was a relief to me. I was getting tired of everybody at school pretending to be my friends just to get their drugs.
However, the Old Man had placed new rules up for me to follow. I was no longer allowed to be involved in anything that didn’t include him. The tighter his hold, the more I felt as if I couldn’t function without him. When he wasn’t around, I felt like a fish out of water, craving that without which I actually suffered physically.
I began to wish I was at home crawled up in my pink childhood blanket, with no worries, but that was not soon to happen. My addiction to him was like a leash called me back.
I finally felt like my story was similar to those that you read about battered women one memorable Easter Sunday. Arriving at the Old Man’s house for a barbecue, he confronted me at the car, his breath stinking of whiskey. Before my car’s engine even had a chance to stop knocking, he dragged me out of it, pulling on my arm so hard that I thought it would break. He threw me against a tree. I cried out for help.
Wasn’t anyone going to rescue me? I had nobody to protect me from him. He was my only protector. I was so terrified that I could barely feel the backhanded blows that were scarring my face as with his other beatings. I felt his hands tighten around my throat as my head slammed backwards. When I regained consciousness, I found myself laying on the Old Man’s bed.
My mirror cracked even more.
My whole body ached from the beating, but I didn’t care. I blamed myself. There just had to be something that I had done to wrong him in some way. Nothing made sense. It was never explained to me. He began following me wherever I went and accusing me of being unfaithful. All I wanted was for it all to be over. But he kept threatening to hurt my family.
My reflection had become uglier and uglier. My heart of glass refused to let me lie to myself. My parents never noticed my bruises, because for the most part they were pretty well hidden and when they weren’t I didn’t go home until they were gone. Sometimes he wouldn’t let me go to school or home at all.
Between my relationship with the Old Man and my dysfunctional family, I now lived in a persistent state of fear and confusion. I became obsessed, which escalated to me having suicidal thoughts. In a short while I became apathetic about everything else in my life. If I looked in the mirror all I could see were blurry fragments that once reflected a person. I knew that to save myself, I would have to break away from the Old Man addiction.
When I was at home I always seemed to be waiting by the phone. If he didn’t call, I would drink myself into oblivion. If he did call, I would hate myself for giving him other chances.
When I finally told him that I was leaving him for good, he threatened to shoot me. The shotgun was cocked and pointed directly at the back of my head. The ugly mirror shattered as I walked away anyway, shots ringing out in the air from the gun pointing upward. I promising to myself to never return.
Sometimes The Old Man would still call in the middle of the night. He’d groan about his love for me. But this time, I had new resolve. I wouldn’t let his threats affect me anymore. Continuing to live in fear, I refused his calls anyway. I found out later that he had been calling me from phone booths. I wonder how many quarters he wasted.
The day I stopped waiting for the phone to ring, I knew that I had triumphed. After that victory, I bought myself a new mirror.
Today I can look at my Harley Davidson bandanna as a symbol of my triumph! Instead of being another statistic, I am a survivor.
Although the mirror of reality has been replaced, if I look close enough, I can see a tiny crack in the upper left corner. You might think that this crack should serve as a warning against future thrill seeking. It would do me good to always remember that excitement just might escalate into a nightmare. To this suggestion, I boldly reply that I still ride motorcycles. I’m just careful with whom I ride!
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Slave Free Madison and Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (D.A.I.S.) are great causes in the Madison/Dane County area that are helpful to those who have experienced human trafficking or other abuse. -Raven Barrett
If you’re elsewhere around the globe, consider giving to a cause like One Billion Rising. –Sarah White