“When are you giving me a check?”
“What check?” I asked, annoyed. I broke up with my abusive boyfriend in the San Jose International airport on our way back home from one of the worst vacations of my life. The return flight forced me to sit next to him, which gave him ample opportunity to continue harassing me. “You knew I had no money for this trip and I told you that before you even started planning it and you said that you would pay for it since you wanted me to go. So no, I’m not writing you a check for one of the worst vacations of my life,” I seethed. This was his typical M.O. Whenever he paid for anything, he expected me on my best behavior, he expected me to take any abuse he threw at me. I knew that before agreeing to the vacation. I knew that he would make my time absolutely miserable because he felt entitled to torture me. His abuse was perfectly justified in his mind. But I thought I would give him one last chance.
All I remember from that trip was the constant fighting, constant arguing, and constant yelling. I broke up with him three or five times, but he kept asking for a second chance, kept promising to improve himself. He kept failing. I cried in an airport restroom stall and went through security alone as he passed through himself, not caring. I found him sitting, unconcerned, near our flight’s gate. I walked up to him and said as calmly as possible, “Since I’m such a useless and incompetent girlfriend, you can find your own f@#*ing ride home tonight.” He merely glared back at me. I sat down several rows behind him, my hands shaking from the adrenaline rush. My parents were picking us up from the airport upon our arrival. I texted my mom to inform her that they would only have me to pick up.
The entire flight back he constantly pestered me, insisting my shorts were too short and that the passenger next to me kept staring at my legs. I finally accepted his offer to cover my legs with his jacket just to shut him up. It was humiliating. I’m sure everyone around us could hear him. I kept telling him I was done and he needed counseling. Once we landed, he grabbed my carry-on bag despite my protests and charged on ahead, my bag in his hand. I had to run to catch up and force him to give my bag back, afraid he would hold it ransom.
For three years, my memory of California consisted of my abuser’s power over me. It consisted of him yelling at me for not having the proper hiking equipment. He yelled at me for gasping when a car nearly side-swiped us (he said I should warn him instead of gasp). He yelled at me for not packing the right snacks for our hikes. He yelled at me for not being able to give proper directions while he drove us around town. He yelled at me when I insisted on going to a beach but didn’t know how to get there. He yelled at me for not helping him prepare an itinerary for the vacation (even though I knew that any plans I made would have been turned down or given him a chance to blame me for any mistakes). I only remember his hate and his disgust. Never love. Never compassion.
The amount of abuse I endured on that vacation was a hundred times worse and more concentrated than any time back home because he knew I had no where to run and that I would feel indebted to him since he paid.
Whenever he paid for anything, he expected me on my best behavior, he expected me to take any abuse he threw at me.
He even whined and complained about the few hours I was able to meet up with my best friend and her husband for drinks at a wine bar (he was allergic to alcohol, so he was bitter that he was naturally the designated driver for us). He tried to sabotage it by returning the excess canned food he bought at Target for our hiking trip. We were stuck in the store for thirty minutes as they scanned every last can, since he “forgot” his receipt, making us late for our meeting with my friend. I still wonder why he even wanted me on that trip when all he did was gripe at me. I have to remind myself that he never related to me as a person. He merely thrived on controlling me, an object to shape and mold as he saw fit. I was done being molded. I was done being twisted and manipulated. I wanted my life back.
For the past nine days, my husband and I have successfully exorcised the demons of my past experience in California. We spent our time lovingly together, enjoying every moment. We made no specific plans, leisurely exploring nearby coastal towns, eating and drinking by the ocean. My best friend and her husband kindly hosted our stay, providing us with a free bed. There was no arguing, no fighting, no yelling, no crying. Every minute was spent in utter bliss. I was able to see my best friend without suffering the resentment of my partner. We basked in the enormity of the world when looking out over the Pacific Ocean. We happily gushed to waiters and waitresses that we were on our “Honeymoon/One-Year Anniversary.” Neither of us tried to control the other. Neither of us held silent expectations or resentment. Hours were spent just gazing nauseatingly into each other’s eyes, radiating so much ridiculous romantic energy we could power the electricity for an entire city block. My palette has been cleansed of the bitter aftertaste my abuser had left behind.
I can now look back on California with fondness and love. My wounds are healing, one by one. Sometimes I feel guilty for talking about my past so much, for dwelling on unpleasant memories. But I realize now that those memories help me exorcise the demons that have plagued my mind for so long. To all who may suffer from these demons, talk about it, write about it, cry about it, even laugh about it. We must purge ourselves of the toxins these memories leave behind. Surround yourself with your loved ones. Focus on your wants, your needs, and your desires. We must not let our abusers continue to torment us long after we have left them. Enjoy life. Enjoy love. Live freely.