I am grateful.
Particularly on Saturday mornings. My four year old sheltie bounds immediately to the back door and barks excitedly, running joyfully around the patio, stopping to eat patches of snow as he goes. I boil a pot of water and grind enough beans to brew a French press full of rich, fragrant coffee. The dog comes back inside and immediately sits (his way of asking politely for a cookie). I smear a carrot stick with a little bit of peanut butter, put it down between his front paws, and he gleefully wanders off to devour his prize.
I assemble the ingredients to bake muffins to go with the morning coffee. Soon, the tantalizing smells will convince Joe to get up. In no time at all, my best friend and partner of six years will be chatting with me about the news and enjoying a lazy, work-free day while the dog snoozes between us. Maybe we’ll watch a movie, or take Dioji for a walk. In any case, I will be completely, utterly content and at ease.
And so, so grateful.
Almost a decade ago (in high school), I left an abusive relationship. As crazy as it sounds, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. My partner at the time was manipulative and threatening to the point where I was afraid to go out with other friends. He told me that none of them could possibly love me as much as he did and that it was a waste of my time to maintain relationships with them. By the time I realized what was happening, what had begun as verbal put-downs spiraled into the ugly realm of physical and sexual abuse.
Following the break up, I tried for several months to endure his presence in the class and activities we shared at school. I thought that by doing this I was being strong and not causing trouble. But it couldn’t last. Every time I saw him, I relived the horrors over and over again. He wondered why I didn’t want to be friends. Finally, I filed for a protection from abuse order and won the motion. He was no longer allowed to be present at classes or events where I chose to be. What should have been liberating became a nightmare. My peers were afraid that I would do the same thing to other boys, and were aghast at the notion that my ex had done what I claimed. Most of those I considered friends turned away from me, insisting that it was just too hard to believe. Instead, degrading notes appeared in my locker, drinks were thrown on me at school sporting events, and classmates started petitions to have me removed from classes that my ex had been kicked out of, remarking that it was “only fair.” The school administration ignored those requests, but did nothing to correct the students’ misconceptions and assumptions.
To this day, I wish my acquaintances had believed me. Sometimes, albeit infrequently, there are days that feel compelled write to them and ask why they didn’t.
Why did you kick me while I was down? Why didn’t you love me?
My hope is that maturity has changed their attitudes toward victims of dating violence.
In my case, there is a positive epilogue. Over the last nine years, I’ve met people who’ve taught me what it really means to be a friend, and met a partner who has shown me that real love *is* respect. My friends, family, and partner gave me the strength and determination that has brought me to where I am now: I’ve graduated from university with honors, completed a master’s degree, lived in multiple cities both domestic and abroad, found a job that brings me happiness, and re-discovered that the world is full of wonderful people and experiences to soak in. I have a deep appreciation for the value of self-confidence and self-worth.
Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year, and many have not been as lucky as myself. If someone comes forward to you and tells you that he or she is afraid in their relationship and needs help, it has already taken more courage than I can possibly describe to even come that far. Don’t stand for those who would blame the victim.
Don’t wait to be a true friend. I know that am forever grateful for each and every one that has been in my life.
Especially on Saturdays.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Please take the time to talk to the teens in your life about cultivating healthy relationships, and how to recognize the signs of abuse. To learn more, visit http://www.teendvmonth.org. If you think someone you know may be in an abusive relationship, don’t wait to speak up. Visit http://www.loveisrespect.org to learn how you can support victims and be a voice for real love. Love *is* respect…