I remember the fear more than the pain of the punch landing on the right-side of my face. I thought to myself, “things will never be the same again.” Things weren’t the same. They were drastically different. Foggy and off-balance. I had buried my newborn daughter three weeks prior and one of my girlfriends begged to get me out of the house for a few. I did not want to go but I didn’t want to be in the house either so I reached a mental compromise and said that yes. A new club had just opened in Annapolis, Club Hollywood, so if nothing else I figured I’d enjoy watching the locals buzz around feeling themselves in something shiny and new.
We weren’t in the club a good twenty minutes before I noticed all of the sad looks I was receiving. It was too much. If I recall correctly, I think I even said to my friend as we were on our way there that I did not want a whole bunch of sadness and sympathy hurled towards me. I needed normal tonight. I was anything but normal.
Everywhere I looked, someone was looking at me with sad eyes and gentle smiles of sympathy. I didn’t need that. I needed people to be drunk and loud, and festive and jovial. I did not need sad in the club. A few people offered to buy drinks and I didn’t even have the taste for water at the moment. I wanted to go home.
The breaking point for me was when one of the sweetest guys ever, (good ole Jamie Cook) came over and said, “Janell I am so sorry for your loss. I swear I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t even muster a thank you. My girlfriend saw the tiredness in my eyes. She asked, “We need to leave, don’t we?” I shook my head yes.
She dropped me off and my son’s dad was on the front step with his cousin and his cousin’s best friend. It was a cool summer night. One of those nights when you could sit outside and watch the sun come up, in the just right breeze. He asked why I was back so soon. I said I was tired. He asked if I enjoyed myself. I said I had. His cousin and his friend were smoking a blunt and did the polite “you want to hit this?” gesture. I paused for a second because I realized that two or three hits of that blunt was probably exactly what I needed to calm my anxiety-ridden soul. My son’s dad noticed the non-verbal communication occurring and said, “Nelly not smoking no weed, man.” Before either of us could respond, Mekhi cried out from his bassinet and he got up to go in the house to tend to him.
I sat in his seat and talked to his cousin and his friend for a bit and when I looked, he had again gestured for me to hit the blunt. I did. Just as I was inhaling it good, I felt a burning smack that was so hard it knocked me out of the chair. He literally smacked the blunt out of my mouth. I was in shock and I was embarrassed. No man had ever put his hands on me. He hadn’t said a word and the look in his eyes told me that I had better not say one either. When I stood up and tried to grab the storm door to run into the house, he punched me in the face and I stumbled from the front step into a grassy area and ran towards me and punched me so hard that I fell to the ground. His cousin and his cousin’s friend sat there with blank expressions. They didn’t move. They didn’t say a word. I ran across the street to on of my girlfriend’s aunt’s house, where she was staying for the night and knocked on the door. I said, “________ hit me.” She said, “Aww.. Janell…” and let me in.
I was so afraid. It was as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to my fuzzy world to prove to me that it was all smoke and mirrors. First, I’m burying my baby and now I’m being beaten in the middle of the street. My life had whirled into a Category 5 hurricane. I felt dysfunctional and out of sync. Abstract and numb.
That was the beginning. Over the course of several years – didn’t matter if we were off or on, our relationship consisted of him brutalizing me both mentally and physically. It didn’t matter if my son’s were present. He punched me once outside of his mom’s house and instead of hitting the ground, I fell backwards on top of something soft – my son Tariq. That was probably one of my lowest moments. The lowest moment was having him beat me without warning when I was picking our son’s up after a weekend with him. I remember my son’s standing there, half-awake but watching their dad pummel my body like a ragdoll. I opened the door and dragged me out into the hallway and I screamed from help as I snatched my sons in both arms from the doorway and ran from his building and to a nearby girlfriend’s house with a bloody, swollen face to call the police. That was indeed the beginning of my experiences with violent, abusive men.
My ex-husband and I got into a heated argument once, and I was sitting at the edge of the bed and he was towering over me, screaming insults in my face and in one quick swipe, he had grab the ceramic lamp, I lifted my arm to block my face and felt the lamp crash into my elbow. He walked out of the room and I felt overwhelming warmth running down my arm and looked to blood pouring from a three-inch gash that ended up requiring over a dozen stitches.
I’m not sharing this to demonize my son’s dad or my ex-husband. It actually has nothing to do with them. This is all about me and my non-stop journey to figure who and why I am. What was missing in me then? How do those experiences affect me today? Why? I’m still figuring it out. They weren’t good men to me. They’ve grown and so have I so again, I don’t share this to pull back any of their scabs, just mine. And maybe yours too. This is to talk about the fear that still exists. I’d like to think of myself as this empowered woman, who survived some unspeakable things at the hands of people who used the word love so fluidly. I appear to now be the, “I wish you would” type. When in truth, I am not. For those reasons, I do not like to argue with men. In my experience, men run out of words quickly when they’re angry and when they can’t find the words, they hit. Or throw drinks in your face. Or wake you up out of your sleep with their hands around your neck choking you. Or slam your head into walls. Or car windows.
People knew what I was going through. I was ridiculed and alienated by friends for “being dumb”, invitations to dinners and events dwindled and phone calls were far and few. Everyone was tired of me allowing men to do so much damage in my life. But no one said, “I’ll help you.” I needed help.
I don’t quite know what I needed that help to look like at the time but what I did not need was the hurt disguised as help. How do you tell a friend that she needs to leave a situation or be strong or realize her worth/girl, you’re too good for that, but watch and see that the knowledge your spewing ain’t anything that she’s in the state of mind to receive.
Women, or anyone for that matter, in abusive relationships don’t hear that talk. Save the confidence boosting speeches and understand that if you love someone who is subjecting themselves to the arms of abuse, your actions have to scream. I don’t want to have to tell the stories but the mental state of women who are emotionally, physically and mentally abused is something that society is gentle with. No matter the trauma we survive, no one wants to acknowledge the damage. Not to deter from the topic but I see it everyday in the expectations that is placed on the men and women that I work with. After surviving decades in prison, people expect them to come home and jump right back into motion. It’s not about being in a cell for twenty years. It’s about the things they saw from that cell, the things they heard, the mental discipline they had to mock to keep from losing their minds. I’ve had grown men cry in my chair after getting traffic violations and thinking that their parole is going to be revoked, sending them back to prison. I can sit there all day long and tell them how irrational they’re being and how it’s all going to be ok but my feet don’t fit in their shoes. It’s the same thing that women experience after coming out of an abusive relationship. The abuser may be long gone but you can’t unsee or unfeel the fear. It is always lingering around the corner for me. Is this new person capable of getting angry enough to hurt me? Will I be caught up in yet another mental prison?
I’m #teamsingle because of those experiences. I cannot feel that kind of hurt again. I’ve seen other survivors turn into cold, callous people. I don’t want to be like that. I want to believe that the person I’m dating communicates in a way that does not involve a fist. If I’m distant and detached at times, you don’t have to say a word. Just give me a kiss on my forehead and toss a throw blanket over me. Hold me. Show me that you see me struggling, but that you’ll stay right there to ride it out with me. Don’t be afraid of my dark days. I just need someone to say, “aye girl, we walking into light over here. Always. In all ways.”
I’ll walk, right beside them. In fact, I just might run ahead. As long as I can look back and see them right there, keeping up the pace.