Why I stayed and why I left: A not so sweet 16

3 years ago

I was 16 and he was the first boy to ever show any real interest in me. I was flattered and excited. Even though we were in the same high school and had a class or two together, we never really talked much until the night of a mutual friend’s sweet sixteen party.

The party was held at a local hall that hosted weddings and proms. My mom had taken me shopping for a dress and I found a wonderful red velour dress that made me feel special. We couldn’t believe our luck when we noticed the price tag, $9.99, which was a bargain even in the 70s.

It didn't take long for him to approach me. He complimented me and told me how pretty I looked. After that, nothing else really mattered because it was the first time a guy other than my dad had said that to me.

We starting dating the following Monday.

At first, it was fun. We met between classes and held hands in the hall.  He lived in the neighborhood behind the school so sometimes I’d go home with him to hang out. His family was nice; his dad was a cop and his mom was a homemaker. He had two younger brothers, the middle one was a bit of pain but the younger one was sweet.

He had recently turned 16 and had his own car. We went to the movies and to dinner, it was perfect.

And then things began to change.

He started saying and doing things that seemed out of character. He was a bit more emotional about school, friends and us. He was becoming more possessive of my time and more critical of my friends.

We were beginning to look into colleges and he was adamant that we go to the same school. The only problem was that I was looking at schools in upstate New York and he was planning on staying home - he wanted to be a cop just like his dad.

One afternoon, we were in his basement hanging out and I said something that upset him. I think it had something to do with going away to school but I can’t remember. What I do remember is what happened next.

He began to cry and hit himself with his fist. He then got up and banged his head on the pole in the basement. He walked over to a table across the room, picked up a baseball mitt and threw it in my direction.

I was stunned. I did everything I could to calm him down. The only thing that worked was promising him that I would consider staying home for college.

Over the next several months, he became more possessive and more adamant about me staying home for college.

When I got a job at the local mall he yelled that it would ruin everything because it would take time away from us. I told him that I wouldn’t let that happen and we continued to date.

I knew my parents weren't thrilled about us dating but, generally, they kept quiet about their opinion about him.

Finally, after about a year of dating, I had had enough. I had lost contact with my friends and I knew that I wanted to go away to college so I broke it off with him.

He was at my house and I told him that I didn’t think we should see each other anymore. He got angry, stood up and yelled at me and called me names. I left the room and told my mom that I needed her help.

Together, we tried to calm him down all the while moving him towards the door. After he left, we both knew that we had dodged a bullet because if  my dad had been home chances are someone would’ve ended up in jail and most likely it would’ve been my dad.

A few days later, we were taking the SAT exam. He approached me after the test and asked if we could talk. I’m not sure why I agreed to follow him but we went behind the gym for some privacy.

He asked me why I had broken up with him. When I told him that I thought we had different goals, he looked at me, smirked and spit in my face.

That was the last time I ever spoke to him.

My 16-year-old boyfriend never physically abused me - most of the time he physically abused himself. But there was abuse - emotional abuse. And who knows if that would've escalated.

Despite this experience, I've never considered myself a victim or survivor of domestic abuse. I usually don't think of it much at all. Until the Ray and Janay Rice story made the news and people started asking the question, why women stay.

So I've asked myself, why did I stay with him as long as I did and, at the age of 16, how did I have the fortitude to leave.

I stayed because I was 16. Because I wanted a boyfriend and because I thought I could help him.

I left because I could.

Because I had the support of my friends and family.

But most importantly because I had the confidence to believe in me.

Hopefully, the publicity that has come from the Ray Rice situation will help others believe in themselves too.

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