Get ready 'cause this is a long one.
When I was thirteen I had a bad boyfriend that changed everything. I spent years telling the story of K__ to any friend that would listen, I processed until I was blue in the face. As an adult I don’t talk about it. Like an old wound, it’s the scab that I don’t want to pick. I am scared that if I tell that story one more time it will open a crack and that crack will become a chasm. This is not okay. This is not healing. Out of fear of rumination I have locked that confused, hurt thirteen-year-old in a cage. Just thinking about writing this makes my heart clench and my tears flow. I don’t want this 21 year-old wound to have this kind of power over me anymore so for the first time, I am going to write it. I apologize in advance for some of the language but these are words I haven’t let myself say in twenty years, this time I won’t shy away from them.
K__ was my second ever boyfriend. I was in grade 9 and still not used to the idea that boys might actually find me attractive. Both he and his best friend E__ wanted to go out with me but I chose K__. From the beginning I was very clear about my boundaries, I told him that nothing was going to happen below the belt. I spent every lunch hour and every weekend with him, mostly at E__’s house. Because I didn’t live in town I would spend the whole weekend, sleeping at E__’s house because his mother was never around and we could do whatever we wanted. In two months we never went out anywhere, no movies, no hangin’ at Tim Horton’s (kind of like Dunkin’ Donuts for all the Americans out there), not even the pool hall. All we seemed to do was make out.
Before I started dating him I went to every dance. The one time I went to a dance while I was dating K__ he refused to go and threw an all-out passive aggressive temper tantrum. He even had E__ and his girlfriend ganging up on me about what a horrible bitch I was to go the dance. I though I was so empowered when I went to that dance. I had my small victories, like when he tried to tell me I couldn’t have male friends. I told him that he didn’t get to tell me who to be friends with. I fooled myself into believing that I was “not taking any shit.” I knew enough not to let him tell me what to do, but I wasn’t prepared for the more subtle and insidious kinds of control.
One incident that sticks out in my mind was one of the most baffling and surreal fights I ever had with a boyfriend. His best friend E__ had a crush on me, he had since before I started dating K__. This one day E__ was particularly mopy about not having “got” me and complaining to K__ about it. So K__ got mad at me. Seriously, I’m not shitting you. My boyfriend got mad at me because I didn’t “like” his friend. What the hell can you say to that? In everything K__ ever did that was manipulative, hurtful or controlling E__ was his sidekick.
Throughout all of this I was sinking into a depression. One day, when the four of us (me, K__, E__ and The Girlfriend) were walking to E__’s house I became so overwhelmed by it that I just stopped dead and sat down on the sidewalk. Nobody knew what to do, it took about ten minutes for them to get me up and walking.
K__ was always testing my boundaries, he’d try to get his hand in my pants, I would move it away. He’d put my hand on his crotch, I would pull it away. One time, when I didn’t want to touch his dick he badgered and whined, “just this one time, don’t you love me, come on are you going to be a virgin forever?!” then he moped and E__ and girlfriend hounded me for the next half hour. I don’t really know how to convey the atmosphere of relentless pressure, it was exhausting. My mother, my friends and even one of his friends kept telling me that he was treating me like shit, that I should leave him.
One day we were making out at E__’s house, as usual, and he tried to get his hands in my pants, as usual, but this time I just didn’t have any more resources to say no. I was worn out, worn down. It was not a “yes” it was defeat. When he finished I said, “you promised you’d never finger me” and he said, “I didn’t.” And I believed him. I fucking believed him because I didn’t know any better. Then he asked if just this once he could kiss me “down there” “I promise I won’t eat you out” he said. “Fine” I said as I turned my head to the side.
Later, I ran into a friend of his who told me that K__ said he’d eaten me out. I was angry that he’d talked about it but I was also confused. Who had he lied to? Me or his friend?
The next day I raided my mother’s closet for an outfit that would be too hard for K__ to get his hands into. When I think about that, it’s like there were alarm bells ringing in my head but I didn’t know what they meant. That day K__ and I got in a huge fight because I was upset that all we ever did was make out. It ended with a lot of yelling and swearing and me dumping him for the third and final time. I don't remember the details of the first two break-ups but I do know a few things.
I know that the first time I dumped him he wrote me a letter with veiled suicide threats, “if you don’t take me back I may as well kill myself.” I knew it was manipulation and yet I went back.
I know that the second time I dumped him I wrote a poem* about how badly he treated me, and yet I went back, hiding the poem from him to protect his feelings.
I know that he cheated on me more than once and I continued to trust him.
I know that he forced me to watch porn.
When I left the house that day I had nowhere to go. I walked straight to the house of a guy who had been nice to me at the dance. He seemed so nice and understanding, he listened to me and I told him what had happened. He promised never to pressure me. The next day when I wouldn’t let him in my pants he told me we were “moving too fast" and we shouldn't go out together. It was like a brick to the face. I couldn’t believe I’d fallen for his “understanding guy” routine. I walked out of the house and sat dead in the middle of the intersection. I sat there for twenty minutes while he yelled at me.
Sometimes my depression made me seem batshit crazy but I honestly didn’t know what else to do, I was literally stopped dead in my tracks.
After that last time I broke up with K__ I swore I wouldn’t go back, but then I started to weaken. The only thing holding me back was the thought of what my mother and my friends would say. Still, I was on the verge of taking him back when I found out in an unceremonious prank call that he had cheated on me. Not just with hickey’s this time, no, he had fucked R__. It saddens me that everything else he did wasn’t enough to keep me away. It saddens me to think that I was only thirteen.
Not long after, I had a major emotional break down. My parents were away on business for the night so I had the house to myself and I lost my shit. I mean breast beating, throwing myself at the walls, shrieking, wishing someone would strike me dead. So I called K__. He was so freaked out that he told his mother who told the cops who came to get me and take me to his house. And that is how I wound up crashing at my asshole ex-boyfriend’s house talking to his mother until 3AM.
I never told her about how her son had treated me, but I think she knew. She told me his story of abuse. It was horrifying the amount of abuse that boy had taken. It didn’t make it okay but over the years it helped to have some understanding of why he may have been the way he was.
Over the next couple of years I stopped talking to him and he and E__ spread all sorts of nasty rumours about me. I was labelled a slut just for having dated him.
Three years later, after suffering from the rumours he and E__ spread about me and his occasional attempts to become my friend, I saw him at the pool hall and decided that it was time to confront him. I told him that he had sexually coerced me and made it clear how much damage he’d done. I thought he was going be defensive, I thought he was going to tell me to “fuck off bitch!” I said to him, “I know you’re probably not even listening to me.” And he said, “I’m listening.”
I think that was as close to “I’m sorry” as he was able to get.
After that I was able to find forgiveness for K__. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forgive E__.
In reading about depression recently I came across a description of one’s first depressive episode as being triggered by a catastrophic event. When I look back at my first “major depressive episode” I can see that it started when I was with K__. So while I know that K__ is not to blame for every problem and every depression, it is clear that that catastrophic relationship pushed me to the brink. In two months he damn near broke me.
That experience cast a shadow over every relationship I had after that.
So let me be perfectly clear, in case you haven’t picked this up yet, just because no physical force or threats are used doesn’t mean there’s no assault. Nobody talks about coercion. Nobody takes it seriously. When I tried to get a youth support worker to help me work through this and I told her I’d been pressured into doing things I didn’t want to do she dismissed it saying, “Oh every girl goes through that.”
She’s probably right. And that scares the shit out me. So, to all the parents out there, what is the most valuable thing you can do to prevent your boys and girls from falling into this trap? Teach them to talk openly and honestly about their sexuality. Teach your boys that it’s okay to not want sex, teach them about respect for themselves and their partners, teach them that sex is something that is shared, not taken. Teach your girls that their sexuality is their own, teach them to talk about what they don’t want and what they do want, teach them to use their voice. And if nothing else, teach them all that if you can’t openly talk about it, you’re not ready to do it.
I don't know where my mind is
I think I've lost my heart
I think I've lost my everything
you've ripped me all apart.
I don't know if you love me
you always say you do
but often you just treat me like
I'm just another who.
I wish I knew my feelings
I lost them with my heart
it seems to me that I'm to you
another little tart.
You may have never noticed
but I have feelings too
I tried to understand,
I pretended I was you.
I know you were confused
and I know you lost your head
but don't say you lost compassion
I know that I've been led.
Around your little fairground
of mind destroying games.
I don't want to see you
I don't want to hear the names.
I know they call me slut and bitch
I know they call me wench.
I also know who started that,
I know who was their hench.
I appreciate your caring
I appreciate your love.
Those last two lines are bullshit,
you just aren't good enough.
And I still took him back.