“We slept together after that first dinner and instantly declared our love. He was passionate and possessive and proclaimed me as his in a way that made me dizzy and elated.”
The first time I saw David he was staring at me across our university’s crowded theater. I was a freshman, he was a senior. I already knew who he was: the lead actor in most of the theater productions and an outspoken activist on campus, leading political rallies and sit-ins. Intense and tall and gorgeous. And his eyes bore into me across the audience as we both pretended to watch the performance. I wondered if I was imagining it. But there he was, unabashedly eye-fucking me across the rows. I was hooked.
The second time I met him he was dressed in drag, a tight black velvet dress complimenting his long dark hair. He flirted and smirked, ever the performer. I was captivated and totally attracted to him in a confusing, heady way. Granted, the outfit was for a Halloween party, but his long, lean body and half-Asian beauty emphasized the androgyny, and he owned it like a rock star. He asked me if he could take me to dinner that week. I agreed.
We met for dinner at a cozy Thai restaurant in downtown Burlington. He told me stories of his travels in Thailand and confessed that he’d noticed that I wasn’t afraid to walk around by myself, whereas most freshman girls walked around in packs. He said he recognized himself in me. I felt like he got me, that I had found a kindred spirit. We slept together after that first dinner and instantly declared our love. He was passionate and possessive and proclaimed me as his in a way that made me dizzy and elated.
There were signs from the beginning, had I been wise enough to see them. The way he would flip in a phone conversation with his mother from doting son to cursing her name. And there was my instinct. One time I had a vision while walking home from class in the blustery streets: an image flashed through my mind of him with another woman, walking the way we walked together, intimately touching. It passed through and faded just as quickly as it had come. But it struck me. What was that? Why did I imagine it so clearly? It felt like a warning. But I shook it off and pushed it out of my mind.
And there was knowing better, as a woman who was working as a volunteer at a domestic abuse shelter’s hotline should have known. But I was already living what I was learning in my training to be a domestic abuse counselor. I already empathized with the mind of the emotionally battered. In our month-long intensive training, I learned how the batterer would manipulate, belittle, and humiliate the partner. And I learned about the cycle of violence, how the episodes of abuse would be followed by love-making, gifts, apologies. But by that point, I already knew.
Every Thursday night, I would counsel anonymous women who would call up in the dark Vermont nights for my help, and then when my shift was over, I would go home to be called a “fucking little bitch” by a man whose episodes of jealousy bordered on paranoia. He was a true example of a liar who would never believe anyone else. I cried and begged as he punched holes in the walls around my head. Police were called by neighbors as I stood shivering and crying in my underwear when they burst in. And I accepted marriage proposals, as he slid across a frozen lake on his knees after an ice storm that left the forest around us encased in a suspended world of glass.
I knew very few other people, having been at school for hardly a month before I moved out of the dorms and into his off-campus house. My world was him. I knew that it was wrong and that he was unstable, and yet I felt like he loved me, and I was addicted to the roller coaster we were on, never knowing if a casual glance from another student might set him off in an abusive rage.
But the screaming episodes were always followed by apologies, tears, and passionate lovemaking. He wrote me poetry that was painful and true and beautiful. When things were good, being with him made me feel powerful and important. Alive. In those blissful, high moments, something felt planted in my veins, like the itch of an addiction that kept me coming back for more.
When I walked around campus with him, I enjoyed the stares from our fellow students and the palpable envy from other women. I felt special, basking in our small-pond celebrity bubble. He broadened my mind. He studied philosophy and had traveled the world, and he taught me about politics and race relations. But the independence that he once claimed to admire in me became a cause for controlling and arguments anytime I sought my own friends.
Many afternoons, I would wait for him to finish rehearsal in the empty lobby of the huge brick theater building. He would often come out, still on a high from his Shakespearean stage fighting, flushed and sweating, and fall to his knees in front of me, burying his head in my lap and proclaiming his unending love. He said it overwhelmed him, he couldn’t help it. His love for me was so huge.
As I waited in that lobby one day in the spring, I was approached by a theater professor. She sat down with me and said, “I hope I’m not over-stepping but I am worried that you might be in an abusive relationship. I just want you to know there are places and people that can help.” I smiled at the irony that I actually was one of those people who worked in those places, and thanked her. I left the theater and walked home alone as the sun set over the lake, and felt a sense of shame and shock at the truth she had reflected back to me.
I would like to say that her words gave me the strength to leave the relationship. Unfortunately it took another year of turmoil, travelling through Asia together for a month in the summer, and an attempt at a long-distance relationship as David went on to graduate school in California. The nightly phone calls were a continual fix, as we fed off each others’ jealousies and insecurities. And the visits were a chaotic ride of wanting to devour each other. A strong defiance against the undeniable decay.
Ultimately it was during my spring break in Jamaica where the name-calling on one particular phone call marathon became too much. His desire to keep me, all the while continuously condemning me, smacked of someone wanting to kick a bad habit. As I stared out at the beautiful view from my window of sunny beach and palm trees listening to the ugliness of his words across the lines, a switch went off. Here I was in paradise, putting myself through hell. Enough was enough. No more. I ended it, telling him to never call me again. I know, deep down, that we were both relieved.
“Enough was enough. No more. I ended it, telling him to never call me again. I know, deep down, that we were both relieved.”