Living with Domestic Violence

Trigger Warning: mentions of physical abuse, extreme violations of personal space/invasions of privacy, threats of violence, gendered slurs. This is a pretty heavy post.

Being in an abusive relationship is exhausting. You find yourself walking on eggshells, constantly trying to gauge your abuser’s moods and act accordingly; anticipating a bad day so you can prepare yourself for the impending damage, both mental and physical.

Once, I  came home after dark and he, claiming he was worried, didn’t let me go out alone after that. I could go to the library but I needed to be back home at my curfew which was before it became dark. If I wasn’t I was subject to beatings and “panty checks”. He was convinced I was unfaithful and so would inspect me to find any evidence of “another man”.

I was only allowed to use the phone to call my mother but he dialed and held the phone to my ear.

The bathroom didn’t have a lock, so I didn’t have any privacy there either. If I took too long in the bathroom, he’d come in and check on me. He was worried I was “washing (myself) thoroughly to get rid of any signs of infidelity”

When we’d go to bed, he’d wrapped his arms and legs around me. If I needed to get up in the middle of the night, I would have to wake him. He wouldn’t go back to sleep until I came back to bed. Cuddling was a trigger for a long time after leaving him.

He said I couldn’t love my friends because I had him.

At first, I wasn’t allowed a cell phone. He eventually gave me a prepaid cellphone but I could only use it for him.

I thought that once I went to live with my mom, I’d have a bit more freedom. I was wrong. He’d call constantly, or show up unannounced. When he wasn’t at my mother’s house, I was able to use the phone and check my social media accounts. As soon as I heard him at the door, I logged off. I learned to do this after he became angry that I was messaging with friends. I stopped using my mother’s phone when he was around because he’d monitor the conversation.

I thought that once he started working I’d be free to come and go as I wanted. He’d be too busy to call my mother’s house to check if I was there. I was wrong. Although he lived in another borough, he managed to get a job 10 minutes away from where I lived. He worked full-time but still checked up on me every chance he could.

I wasn’t allowed to have a baby shower because it hurt his male pride. He said he would pay for everything the baby and I needed, and that I didn’t need anybody else buying me anything.

When we went out, I wasn’t allowed to make eye contact with people. I used to walk with my eyes downcast. I didn’t realize I did until after I left him and my brother and mom pointed it out. If I smiled at anyone, especially a man, I was accused of being unfaithful.

While I was pregnant, I slept a lot, of course. He’d come over and want me awake but I was so exhausted. He would  accuse me cheating. Why was I so tired? Never mind that he continually kept tabs on me so even if I wanted to cheat I couldn’t have.

He threatened to burn down a friend’s house so I couldn’t go visit anymore. He said he didn’t care who he hurt. No one was going to keep him away from me.

Since I was no longer living with him, and I now had a baby, I became bolder. He never hit me when I lived with my mom. I was too afraid to leave him, so I started doing things I thought would make him want to leave me. I would go to my best friend’s house with my daughter, TJ and not come back at the expected time. He hated this particular friend. He even thought I was cheating on him with her. I told my mom not to answer his phone calls. Eventually he did start threatening to leave me and I acted nonchalant about it. I didn’t care. I wanted him to leave.

My best friend was disappointed about not being able to throw me a baby shower, so she decided to have a welcome home party for TJ when we were discharged from the hospital. TJ got the presents and he had to deal with it. He hated that my friends would hold TJ.

Then he became jealous of TJ. He didn’t like that I breastfed her. He said TJ was just borrowing my breasts, that they were really his. He hated that my attention was hers and not his.

I slept when TJ slept. It was the only sleep I could get. He became angry that I didn’t stay awake to talk to him.

He was at my mother’s house all the time and as soon as he left, he would call me. He’d become angry that I didn’t want to talk. I told him that he had just left after spending the whole day with me. He said it didn’t matter.

He once made me call another best friend because he had became jealous of my relationship with him. I grew up with this guy. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years. Jekyll was convinced that this friend was in love with me. So I called my friend and apologized for bothering him but Jekyll “needed to talk” to him. Jekyll asked my friend what he felt for me. My friend said, “Well, I love her. We’ve been friends for a very long time. I’d do anything for her”. Jekyll’s whole face changed. I knew I was in trouble.

That night I got one of the worst beatings he ever gave me. I was a lying whore. I was cheating on him with my best friend who lives an ocean away who I barely even talked to, because of Jekyll.

Jekyll even scrutinized the music I listened to for hidden meaning. The Killers’ All the Pretty Faces was clearly a message for him. When Brandon Flowers sang “I don’t feel like loving you no more,” it meant that I wanted to leave Jekyll. The lyric “you’re not going anywhere without me” was used to threaten me. Jekyll told me not to forget that I was his, that I indeed could not go anywhere without him.

Even after I finally left him, Jekyll still felt entitled to me. Someone told him I had become friendly with the local shop keep. He threaten the shopkeeper for “touching (his) merchandise”. He said it didn’t matter that we were no longer together. I was his forever.

I ended up getting an order of protection.

I decided to write this because a lot of people believe domestic violence is just that, violence, plain and simple. They aren’t aware that although many times physical and sexual violence is part of domestic violence, it isn’t the only type of abuse to exist. Financial abuse, reproductive coercion and emotional/psychological abuse are ones that very rarely get talked about.

Even when speaking to other survivors, some are surprised at the severity of Jekyll’s abuse. 

This isn’t even a full account of what he did. There some things I feel are too gruesome to talk about. There are other things I don’t talk about for privacy issues.  

Music, social media, phones and even a goddamn bathroom break are simple things that most people take for granted. These things remind me that I’m lucky to be alive because Jekyll monitored them heavily when we were together.

Being with him was suffocating, in every sense of the word.

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Four Generations of Feminism

CN: mentions of child abuse, none graphic

Grandma was born in Puerto Rico. She moved to NYC in the early 50’s as a teen. She worked at a factory. Although she was a devoted housewife, she also smoked and worked the bar at the bar and grill she ran with my grandfather. My mother tells me Grandma wasn’t the most loving parent. She was strict. My grandparents had separate incomes, so my grandmother took care of the household and child care expenses. This was the setup until they retired and moved back to PR. Except Grandma never stopped working; she ran her house and kept it in tip top shape.

My mother grew up in sixties NYC. She was an average student, had boyfriends, worked every summer, went to clubs on school nights. She would tell me of the times that she’d return home at around 3AM, only to wash up, rest for a bit and then head to school. She calls herself a latch-key kid. My grandparents were never home. They were busy working. My mom wore the typical fashions of the era. She had children but never married. Like her mother, she also smoked. As she raised me she would tell me that I could do anything I set my mind to, that I wasn’t limited because I was a girl. I was just as important as my brothers.

As a child, I saw the strength in these two women. But I also noticed that Grandpa never did anything around the house. He would watch TV while Grandma went from one chore to the next with seldom a break in between, and my Grandpa had the audacity to ask her for a drink of water. I wondered why he couldn’t just get up and get it himself. I asked mami once. She told me she had wondered the same when she was a child. She even went as far as telling him to get it himself, but she was scolded and given a “tapa boca” (colloquial speak for a smack to the mouth) for being disrespectful.

My brothers could do what they wanted. They didn’t have to do chores. They would eat and leave their plates in the sink. I attempted that once. Grandma scolded me and told to not only wash my dish but my brothers’ as well. I protested, but again I was scolded and then spanked for disrespect.

I began being street harassed and catcalled at age 11. I complained to Mami and Grandma but all they said was that I should be flattered. I should only worry once men stopped looking.

Mami would tell me I didn’t need to impress anyone, but then say she needed makeup to make herself look good. I’d ask for who and she would say men. But she was single the entire time she raised us.

Although I didn’t know these words as a child, I now recognize the casual sexism and slut-shaming I was raised with. At the same time, there were constant affirmations that I could do anything I set my mind to, at least from mami. From my grandmother all I’d get was chastisement for dreaming of having a career. I don’t remember how old I was exactly when she told me that all my hopes for a career would go down the drain once “a man dominated me”.

My relationship with my grandmother was not a very healthy one when I was a kid. It has become better now that I’m an adult. I can talk to her about certain things, like birth control. She’s OK with that, but I would never talk to her about abortion. Now, Grandma tells me that I’m right not to want to marry, because “marriage is just a piece of paper”. My relationship with Mami is pretty close. I can talk to her about pretty much anything. Through my feminism I’ve been able to unpack a lot of the messages I received as a kid. I’ve been able to talk to my mom about the harm a lot of those ideas did and still do. I have a daughter, so I’m very careful about what I say. Mami and Grandma weren’t aware of the mixed messages they were sending me.

I’ve asked my mother about some of those messages and she told me she wasn’t very sure she believed them herself, but she had been conditioned to think that way and she had never stopped to think about those messages critically.

In a lot of ways Grandma and Mami were, for their times, modern women. But they were also conditioned to believe a lot of the sexist ideals of their time. We all are. I was.

I think that by listening to me, they feel comfortable being able to tell me what they really feel about sexism. They’re feminists in their own way. It may sound a little conceited but I do think I’ve been able to help them, at least in some small way to rethink some things.

I’m sure my daughter will do the same for me.

Father's Day

T/W C/N: links to post about reproductive coercion, brief mentions of r*pe, absent fathers

Note: Posts linked below will open in new tabs

Mother’s Day is always tough considering the circumstances of my pregnancy, but Father’s Day is just as bad. I can’t celebrate with my father. I don’t know where he is. I certainly do not want to celebrate my daughter’s father. Therein lies the problem. My daughter does want to celebrate him, and she has every right to. She’s already mentioned “papa’s day” to me a few times. She had a Father’s Day party at her school and the invitations asked if dad or a “special friend” is coming. I told TJ I would go. She said I couldn’t because I’m not a man. She had a another reminder invitation in her bag recently. This one was inviting “dads, uncles, grandpas or any special men in your life”. I find it curious that for the Mother’s Day party the invitations made no mention of aunts, grandmas or “special women”. The invitations simply said “mom and guests”. That’s another problem with these holidays. They tend to be heteronormative and cissexist.

She hasn’t seen her father in years. I don’t know where he is and I prefer it that way. TJ and I are much safer this way. She asks about him and I know she wants to see him. She’s too young to tell her what he did to me. I’ve simply told her that mami and daddy are no longer together and that we will not be getting back together.

Mother’s Day is hard on a lot of people because of the culturally pervasive idea that you must love your mom no matter how horrible she may have been. In my experience, there isn’t much of that when it comes to fathers . Fathers aren’t expected to do much anyway. There are countless memes and jokes about the incompetent dad. On the other hand, a father is often praised just for showing up; doing the bare minimum. How many times haven’t we seen articles or memes praising dads for “babysitting” their children?

Getting back to my daughter, as she gets older, she’ll have more questions about her father. My answers will become more detailed as time passes. As for the party, thanks to a friend’s advice I explained to TJ that mom and dad are just job titles and single parents do both jobs. I teach and protect her.

For her, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are fun because there’s always gifts and fun treats. To me, Mother’s Day reminds me of my rapes. Father’s day reminds me of the same but with the added pain of my own absent father. They’re not easy days.

Dear You

CN: suicide attempt, absent fathers

I never know what to call you. Father seems too formal. I usually just call you dad when I talk about you, I use your name when I talk about you to my mother and brother. I never became comfortable with calling you “sperm donor”. You were there at least for the first two years of my life. Papi and Daddy are too tied up to good feelings about fathers to call you those.
Usually though I just don’t talk about you at all. It’s too painful. I have at least gotten to the point where I don’t immediately burst into tears at the mention of fathers. This episode of the Fresh Prince still makes me cry though. There a lot of similarities between what Will says and I feel.

It’s been 11 years since I last saw you. Before that I hadn’t seen you in 13. I miss and love you so much. Which is sad considering you don’t feel the same about me. Last time I saw you, we shared our love of Elvis Presley. We found out we have the same favorite color; red. I look more like your side of the family than I do my mother’s. You told me you didn’t have any money, I told you that didn’t matter to me. I told you all I wanted was to have a relationship with you; to get to know you. You said you’d buy me a doll for Christmas. I told you I was much too old for dolls. What you didn’t know is that I would have loved and cherished that doll. You never bought it. You never came back.

I would call you and you would never answer. Your new family would, your stepdaughters would. Those girls got to have you in their lives and I didn’t. I hated them. I do think your wife felt sorry for me. I could hear it in her voice.

Last time we spoke I cursed you out.. You said mom had done a horrible job in raising me and my brother. My brother never bothered talking to you. I was the fool that held onto some hope that you cared.

I stopped crying over you after I attempted suicide. I was taken to the hospital and mom called you. You called the hospital to verify that I was indeed there. You said you’d go visit me at home. I was so excited when mom went to the hospital to pick me up. I actually thought you’d show up. You never did. I stopped crying over you because I realized that I could have died and you wouldn’t have cared.

You called one last time for my 16th birthday. I was still recovering from my suicide attempt and so you talked to my brother. You called to wish me a happy birthday.

I wish I could see you. I wish I could talk to you. You’re a grandpa and you have no idea.

All I have left is some pictures from when I was a toddler. You seemed like a proud and happy dad. Mom told me that you were very devoted and that I was a total daddy’s girl. I can see that from the pictures. I put those images up against the images I have of you in the flesh. The man, who told me about your favorite Elvis songs. The man who said I had attempted suicide just for attention. The man who called me “not very nice”. The man who promised to be there and then wasn’t. The man who then called me for my birthday, the man who said I had “a heart as big as Texas” for still wanting a relationship with you after 13 years of absence.

I hate that you’ve made me feel insecure and unloved. I hate not knowing if you’re alive and well. I hate that I still care about you. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving you. You’re right. I do have a very big heart. You don’t deserve the head space I give you. That space though has become smaller. I only notice it when Father’s Day comes around.

So Happy Father’s Day, I guess.