READER POST: I don’t really have any good memories of our relationship. I assume we had them, but I can’t remember any examples.
I was a high school freshman and wouldn’t turn 16 until after the end of the school year. He was a senior and just a few months shy of 18. We met in and LDS seminary class. I remember when “Have lunch with me?” turned into “Where were you?” and I abandoned my girlfriends to spend my lunch period watching him and his friends play basketball.
I remember the parking lot of the bowling alley and how I cried in the front passenger seat of his car, hurt and humiliated, while his friend sat in the back seat. When he ran into the bowling alley to see if there was a free lane, I remember the way his friend’s voice sounded when he asked me, “Are you okay?” But I lied and said yes. I remember the way something in my brain shifted when that friend said, “I think you could do better.”
I remember dancing with someone else when he took me to prom. He was so angry because, earlier in the day, my brother had drawn on his old beater car with sidewalk chalk. He spent most of the evening sitting and pouting.
I can remember the haunted house ride and the feel of him whispering “Up and down, as hard and fast as you can,” in my ear while trying to force my hand around his erection under his shorts. I remember the feel in my hand. He dove down my shirt as soon as we were in the dark. I balled up my fist, and my eyes began to water. We were there with my family, but I was old enough to wander the small park alone with my boyfriend. We must have had good moments that day, too, but I don’t remember any of them.
I remember I once laid my head in his lap on the way home from a Sunday visit to my great grandmother’s house, in the third-row seats of my parent’s SUV. My entire family was in the car. I remember his hands on my head, my face, trying to set my jaw around him in his jeans. But I don’t remember anything else about that drive. It’s like my memory blacks out after I clenched my jaw tightly closed against his intent, to the point that it started throbbing. I completely froze up.
I remember standing in his parents’ room, going through some pictures with a different friend of his standing there. I remember his hand flying back, like he was actually going to backhand me, and the look in his eye as he slowly dropped his arm, and I remember the clarity I felt in that moment, the feeling of “yeah, I’m done with this.” That was when I started to look for an out. I think I had always known that our relationship wasn’t healthy, but I think I held out hope that it would get better. And if we ended up together, even though I wanted something better, then everything that had happened between us would become okay.
And a few months later, my out finally came. Because he left to serve a mission. There was a part of me that was sad to see him go; he took my entire social network with him. I had abandoned all of my friends for him, and I was profoundly lonely after he was gone.
Before he left, I remember lying to his bishop. “No, nothing ever happened that you should know about. Everything is fine. I’m so excited for him.“ I knew that if I spoke up he wouldn’t go. He wouldn’t have been allowed to go. And I think I believed that if he didn’t go it would be my fault. And I knew that if he didn’t go that this wouldn’t end. And I needed him to be gone. I needed it to be over. That was my out, and I took it.
And I never told anyone. I remember crying at the airport. I remember that he could tell something was up, but I refused to “Dear John” him until he was out of the country. I remember telling him, “Everything is fine. I’ll write to you.”
I learned later that he and backseat friend had exchanged words after that night in the car. Among the promises my boyfriend extorted from me before heading to the Missionary Training Center were that I would wait for him, that I would never grow past a size 6, and he made me promise not to go out with backseat friend while he was gone. I lied then, too.
I quit writing back to him, his letters getting increasingly irritated in tone. I gave his mother back the family ring he’d given me. And after his sister wrote to him to tell him that I was, indeed, seeing backseat friend, I remember getting his last letter. The one calling me a whore and asking me how I could do that to him. I left a box of his crap on the porch at his house and burned all of his letters.
I wish I could say that it really did end there. But the fear he instilled in me followed me for more than a decade. He came home 4 or 5 months after I got married, and I remember how uncomfortable knowing he was around made me. I was so afraid to bump in to him that I avoided running errands alone in my hometown. I had nightmares that he murdered my baby as a new mother.
My inability to clearly talk about what happened led my husband to believe that I had been raped for many, many years. My former boyfriend stole my ability to enjoy touching, and being touched, and it has been a long and hard-fought battle to reclaim that part of myself back. Without the love and longsuffering of a genuinely good man, whose love language is touch (the poor thing), I don’t know if I could have even begun to loosen the hold that shame and fear had on me. If my husband hadn’t been willing to be both my partner and my therapist, as it all slowly came out over the years…
It wasn’t truly until I started reading some of the other stories of LDS girls who’d been victimized by their male counterparts as teens that I began to realize that what had happened to me, though not rape, qualified as sexual assault. I was a statistic. And I think that realization is what enabled me to finally start putting it behind me. But what would have been nice, is if the religious culture I grew up in had taught me what to do when I found myself in such a relationship. If I had been able to trust that disclosure wouldn’t result in punishment and blame being heaped on me. If I hadn’t been conditioned to believe that maintaining the boundaries in our relationship was solely my job, that I wasn’t allowed to make those kinds of mistakes, and I had failed. That I was chewed up gum.
I hope that he’s grown. That he’s a better person. A different man. I hope that his wife has never known the cruel side of him. I hope that he has regrets. I hope no one ever treats his daughter the way he treated me. And I hope I never see him again.
Bio: The writer prefers anonymity, but is comfortable sharing that she is married with several children and an active LDS member.
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