I think I've spent most of my life building and rebuilding courage. Although it might have flared up from time to time, my courage was usually squelched by circumstances, naivete and my need to please those around me. As I entered my high school/dating years, that began to work against me.
We had relocated to a new state in my sophomore year. The town we moved to was rather small and I do not joke in saying that many of the kids in school had known each other since their parents were in kindergarten together. Although there was little interest in the new kids each school year, I noticed in many cases that if a new girl got asked out by a total jerk, the overall consensus seemed to be that they would figure it out eventually.
Which brings us to the first guy I dated there. His main claim to fame (aside from being a horseshoe throwing legend [clears throat]) was that his brother was on the varsity football team. I quickly tired of his pushiness and found that he required repeated reminders of our separateness on the planet... almost to the point of rudeness before he moved on to his next victim. As it turns out in later life, he was arrested for the murder of his ex girlfriend's new guy she was dating. I didn't follow the trial, but it sounded like an amplification of his earlier behaviors.
I also spent some time with a wrestler I'd met when I first moved there. He was a great guy and although we didn't have spark, we remained friends all throughout high school.
The last guy I dated in high school was volatile with a capitol V. An incredible romantic, he was well known for being a really great guy. Although things started out well, he eventually displayed a rockin' temper. It took a while for me to display any courage, but eventually I stood up for myself and for my troubles got thrown into a door. This was the beginning of a spiral that I did not see coming. Of course, if I'd kept my mouth shut, it wouldn't have happened. He was really sorry. We could put it behind us. It wouldn't happen again.
Of course it did, but because it wasn't constant, I could look at each situation and see where he said I was to blame. I accepted a lot of blame. Periodically, I would find the courage to leave him. At first he would woo me back. The last couple times in high school (one in which I actually dated someone else briefly) I reunited with him because of threats to myself and others. It would have been uglier to continue on with the break up. How pathetic is that?
Fast forward following our graduation and not surprisingly things escalated. My parents had divorced and moved on with their lives. I'd had some final words with both of them and really believed they were done with me. Feeling as though I had no options, I made every effort to work things out. He and I had moved to another town which further isolated me and severed contact with my family.
The pattern of abuse and reconciliation continued for a few years. After each incident, I became further convinced that I wasn't smart, that I brought this on myself, that he was such a great guy to all his friends. The evidence was there... everyone adored him. Anything resembling courage, self worth or even self preservation went on hiatus within me. I began functioning day to day, hoping that the house was clean enough, dinner was good enough and that nothing I did would cause undue anger.
The final straw happened oddly enough in the middle of the night. I'd done something that irritated him and about three in the morning, he woke me up with a blow to the face. It was literally my wake up call. I realized that any personal safety I believed I had was an illusion. I pretended to go to work that day, but came back and packed up my belongings and left a note requesting a divorce.
It was further eye-opening to have several of his friends try to convince me to return to him... even as they stared at the bruise on my face. I won't delve into further details except to say that additional contact with him always involved the wooing/crying/threat scenario and somehow, even though I was numb, I finally found enough courage not to go back.
Why do I tell you this? Because last week, when Flea tagged me for a high school prom picture, I was trying to think of how I could do it without discussing this. You see, I've not been back to that high school town. I don't go to reunions, and I don't talk to anyone I went to high school with. I did hear later that other kids knew he was abusive and knew he was abusive with me. I didn't want to relive anything in that period of my life. When I read other folks prom posts, they were talking about the person they went to prom with, the good times, great oldies... yada, yada. I could have just thrown the picture up (after fuzzing his face) but it felt kind of abrupt to just post a pic and give no background or narrative.
While I was wrestling with this, I had a surprise visitor to my blog. The person that I dated oh so briefly during one of the breakups in high school. His comment (since deleted) made reference to the abuse. It felt like an invasion of my personal life.... disclosure of something I hadn't even decided to disclose. The only choice I had left was how to react.
While I initially told Flea I couldn't do the meme... I have decided to post the story. Because nothing disarms your fears more than facing them. Anyone happening upon my blog that has something to say about my high school years is now welcome to say it. Although I would prefer not to see my ex, I will not hide... because I did nothing wrong except to stay.
While I wish that I'd been able to reach out to help others that might have been in a similar situation.... unfortunately the immediate years following an escape are usually focused on self preservation and trying to make sense of things. (poor TOG had his hands full) Rediscovering personal courage and determining not to be a victim again does not happen overnight, at least it didn't for me.
I'm hopeful that in raising my daughters (I shared this with them years ago), I've given them the strength and courage to avoid what I lived through.