I want to tell you the story of my first love. As with most first loves, our relationship defined and helped to determine the course of every single relationship I was to have after it. I wish I could tell you this was a romantic and whimsical story with a “happily ever after” ending but it isn’t. It’s actually quite awful.
Like most love stories this one began when he spotted me from afar. My girlfriends and I used to walk a certain route to the corner store a few blocks from my house and we always walked past this one house that looked like it should have been demolished a hundred years ago. The surprising thing was that people actually lived there. What was more surprising was that there were teenage boys there. And what was NOT surprising was that my knack for sniffing out and targeting teenage boys led us to constantly walk by that house.
It just so happened that one gloomy cold day, as we were on our way probably to buy New York Seltzer and Wise Onion Rings, a group of said boys was standing outside of the house. We crossed the street to avoid them (playing hard to get) and they cat called and tried to get us to stop. But we wanted our Onion Rings and we were not going to be deterred. This was the first of many times we would be harassed by the boys at the house that shouldn’t still be standing.
One day, as we were rapidly walk-running on the other side of the street, one of the boys came running over to us, stood in front of us, and stopped us in our tracks. He was tall and thin and wore a knee-length Triple Fat Goose coat. He also was wearing colorful Skidz pants (which were basically ridiculously high-priced pajama pants that everyone wore as if they were outerwear) and just gave the impression that he was most definitely a juvenile delinquent (I.e. exactly my type). He wanted to know where we were going, why we walked by every single day but never stopped and if we could be friends. We hesitantly approved and he called the other 3 boys over and they introduced themselves, then walked with us to the store and back.
Tom took an instant liking to me, asking lots of questions and in the style of an overly-confident 16-year old boy, put his arm around me while we walked, as if we’d known each other for years. He had an aggressive yet easy way of making me feel like I was the only person there and he was intensely interested in everything I had to say. They asked us to hang out outside the wreck of a house with them, and we did. And that was it. That evening Tom walked me home and kissed me in the way every young girl dreams a boy will kiss her. We exchanged numbers but it was unnecessary. We were inseparable after that.
My little group of friends started hanging out with those boys and other girls and boys they knew at the park and at a rec center in the neighborhood. This was the very early 90s. Gangster rap was very popular and every group of white kids had a “posse” which was what we called our street gang. But honestly, we weren’t an overly assertive or violent group. There was an opposing gang that sometimes showed up at the park and there were a few instances of “gang fights” which ended rather anti-climactically, but we were just a bunch of regular kids with poor supervision and nothing to do who wanted to be tough.
Tom was one of the leaders of the gang and, what can I say, I like a man in a powerful position. A lot of the younger guys looked up to him and emulated his way of swaying as he walked, and his particular cadence when speaking. He wore the best, most expensive clothes, had gold jewelry, always had the newest sneakers and he wanted me to have all those things too. He was placed in a school for delinquents, along with most of the guys we hung out with, but rarely attended and I have no idea if his parents knew or cared. But I was smitten and I loved that he “claimed me” as his girl. Everyone knew he was mine and I was his and we were openly affectionate whenever we were near each other.
A few weeks after Tom and I got serious, my mother made her suicide attempt. I came home one night with Tom and my father told me he was on his way to the hospital, that my mother had already been taken by ambulance and he had been driving around the neighborhood trying to find me to tell me he’d be gone for much of the night. I was 13. I couldn’t stay the night alone yet. So naturally Tom stayed with me. He held me as I cried, reassured me everything was going to be okay, got me up and out the door to school the next morning and was there waiting for me after school. He was the perfect boyfriend and he took on this role of protector and caregiver when I needed him most.
We had sex after about a month of dating (which is an eternity in horny teenager years), and in my mind it cemented our relationship as special and unbreakable. We messed around constantly after that. Any time we got a moment alone he was in my pants and I was in his. We used condoms at first but soon abandoned that because we had so much sex that it wasn’t feasible to have that many condoms on hand at all times. With my mother and father absorbed in getting my mother on her feet, I was pretty much left to my own devices and in this case my own devices involved a shit load of intercourse.
The first time he hit me I literally didn’t know what had happened. Me and a bunch of the girls were at the rec center doing a project. We were sitting on the floor and using fabric paint to paint on jeans. I was facing away from the door and suddenly, out of nowhere I felt this blow to my head and I was on the floor. The lady supervising immediately got in front of him as he yelled something about me being a little whore and she physically pushed him out of the room telling him he needed to leave immediately. I had no idea what was happening and I got up and chased after him to see why he would have done that to me. Turns out that one of his friends had told him that we were on the phone late talking the night before. Nothing sinister or suspicious-we all talked to each other, boys and girls, on the phone all the time. I didn’t understand what I did wrong but as he belittled me and told me what a devious little bitch I was, I cried and promised I wouldn’t do it again.
Things were different after that. He didn’t want me at the park or rec center without him and he insisted on being with me almost at all times. The one time a few weeks later that he showed up at the park and I was already there he grabbed me by my hair and walked me part of the way home, then shoved me off and told me to stay in the house until he got there. Somehow this was all perfectly normal stuff. None of the other kids said anything. I never told. And he never really punched me or left any marks. It was always slaps and shoves and whacks on the side of the head. And since there were no marks, I didn’t think there was anything to tell.
One night he called me at home and told me to head to the rec center and he would meet me there. So, I did as I was told and met up with the group already hanging out there. About 20 minutes later he showed up with one of the girls from our group. She was on his arm and it was implied rather quickly that they had just had sex earlier that day. I was confused and somewhat in shock. I didn’t understand what I was seeing and hearing. He came over to me and kissed me as if nothing had happened and for the rest of the evening acted like his normal overly-affectionate self. We went back to my house and had sex, as usual, and I believed him when he said nothing had happened between him and her.
But he began to have sex with her regularly. And then it was someone else. And then someone else. Most of these girls were my friends. We all hung out together every day. Everyone knew Tom and I were together and yet they all thought so little of me that they had casual sex with my boyfriend. The guys used to brag about how they “dirty dicked” a girl they had no respect for, meaning they had sex with one girl then went and had sex with another without bothering to wash the first one off. I knew he was doing this to me but I was terrified of him at this point. I’d confront him with what I had heard, he’d deny it, and if I insisted I’d get a slap or a whack in the head or body, and get sent (or worse, dragged) home. This was just something I would have to live with. None of the other boys would talk to me or ever dare to date me so if I wanted to be with anyone, it was going to be him. Plus, I fucking loved him. Completely.
I had my first hospitalization for depression somewhere in this time frame. I had started to refuse to go to school and would spend the entire day holed up in my room listening to sappy love songs crying my eyes out, then get dressed when I should have been getting out of school and wait for him or someone else to come get me to go out to the park or wherever. My parents tried to ground me but I’d just leave out my bedroom window. They tried taking me to counselors and doctors and couldn’t understand why I had suddenly become so isolated and antsy. One night, after a fight with Tom where he told me flat out that he was fucking my friend and I insisted that I was his fucking girlfriend and we were supposed to be together forever, I carved his name into my arm with a broken piece of glass. In big letters down my forearm, I have T-O-M. The scars are still there. My parents saw this, freaked out thinking it was a suicide attempt (it wasn’t), called my doctor and they admitted me immediately. Looking back, it’s kind of humorous because everyone rallied around me like I was going to prison unjustly. The hospital monitored who I called and received mail from and he was forbidden from contacting me while I was there. But from what I heard from my girlfriends, he was trying to find out which room was mind so he could bust me out. I have no idea what he thought, like maybe we’d run off to Mexico or something, but this is the kind of stuff that made me believe he still loved me the way I loved him.
Of course, when I got out I went right back to seeing him, but now I couldn’t bring him to my house. So we had to get creative as to when and where we saw each other. Luckily, none of the kids in our gang had any kind of parental supervision so there was always someone whose house had no adults in it. For a little while after I was in the hospital, he seemed to understand how much he was hurting me. He was more attentive and I stopped hearing about his escapades for a few weeks. But it wasn’t long before I got a call from a random girl I didn’t know saying he was with her and I needed to back off. And every time I confronted him he did the bare minimum to convince me that they meant nothing to him. And that he only loved me. At this point, he didn’t care anymore if I was out and about without him. He also didn’t seem to care that the other boys flirted with me or called me. He knew he had mentally destroyed my confidence in my ability to make anyone else like me. He knew with 100 percent certainty that I wasn’t going anywhere.
That summer he got a car and this complicated things for me considerably. It was easier for him to find me. We found this playground at a school that we used to walk to and we’d spend the days vandalizing the picnic tables and playground equipment. By this point, the other guys would flirt with me and I’d flirt back but Tom had made it very clear to me that no one would ever want me. That I was garbage and not worth anything. The only thing I had that anyone would ever be interested in was my pussy and that wasn’t even the best he’d had. I accepted this as my truth. And I was totally faithful to him. He started seeing this girl I’ll call “Brandy” pretty regularly. In fact, he could often be seen (by me) driving by our hangout spots with her in his car. He didn’t even try to hide it from me. This pissed me off. I would tell him it was over on the phone, hang up. Not answer his calls. But then he’d show up somewhere and approach me with that swagger and I’d be an idiot and we’d be making out an hour later.
I knew Brandy had replaced me. I started to get the idea that maybe this wasn’t love and that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. And I would try to talk to him but he would just end up on top of me and I’d give in every time. I mean, this is what I was good for, right? Why else would he or anyone want me? He still told me he loved me every time we talked and I clung to this so desperately that hearing those words out of his mouth was the only thing I lived for. And I remained faithful. Since he didn’t want to listen to me cry about him being seen with Brandy he started limiting where I was allowed to be again. He didn’t want me at that playground. Or the public pool. Or anywhere else unless he brought me there.
At this point, I was growing a spine and plus I didn’t want to miss out on an entire summer for some guy who clearly had another girlfriend. I’d go to the playground and we’d see his car turn the corner and I’d hide so he didn’t see me when he drove by. One day when he spotted me, he got out of the car and chased me across the baseball field and slapped me so hard I felt my jaw crack. Then he grabbed me by my arm, forced me into his car and dumped me off up the street from my house. But I didn’t learn and this happened repeatedly.
One night there was a party at this girl’s house. I was told I better not be there. When he walked in, I was sitting on the floor drinking (I’m sure) some early 90s alcoholic beverage like Zima, and just talking to a couple friends. He had brought one of the girls he cheated on me with way back with him and started bragging openly about how good the sex with her was…with her right there. Then he spotted me and I saw the look of fury flash across his face. He walked over to me and SMACK hit me in the face. I had noticed that for some reason there was a large pair of scissors sitting on an end table next to me and I just smiled up at him. “Hit me again motherfucker.” “Oh, you want me to hit you? I’ll fucking show you bitch!” And as he smacked me again, I grabbed the scissors and plunged them into his upper thigh. I was aiming for his dick but I wasn’t really looking when I did it. He fell backwards. “THAT BITCH STABBED ME,” he was yelling and blood was going all over the place. Two friends grabbed my hands, pulled me up and pushed me out the door. “RUN” they said.
I hid behind a house a few blocks away. And I was sobbing hysterically. He was going to fucking kill me. Literally. I knew that if he found me he would fucking beat me to death with his bare fists. I cried and cried and the poor lady who lived in the house must have heard me through an open window and she was yelling “what’s the matter? Are you okay? Do you need help?” And I told her no, but this made me feel like I couldn’t stay there so I got up and made my way home dodging between houses and bushes every time I saw a car the color of Tom’s.
I didn’t hear from him for 3 days. It was a relief. I thought I had finally gotten rid of him. But one night rocks were thrown at my window and like an idiot I went out to his apologies and promises that he would never hit me again. He loved me. He was going to stop seeing Brandy and all the other girls and he was going to get back into my parents’ good graces. That lasted a couple weeks.
I went to New York City for my uncle’s wedding just before Labor Day. While I was there I got really sick and my bladder hurt like I had a bladder infection. I threw up a few times, but it wasn’t like a stomach bug because I’d just get sick, then be fine, but then feel like I was going to be sick again. When we got home my mother took me to a doctor and they tested my urine for a urinary tract infection. But they also did a pregnancy test. And it was positive. I was 13. There was no thought about what was going to happen. My mother and I literally never discussed it. We never said the words “pregnant” or “baby”. She just made an appointment for a doctor who performed abortions and we were going to take care of it.
One of my big mouthed friends went straight to Tom and told him. And he showed up outside my bedroom window that night and begged me not to kill our baby. He rubbed my stomach and talked about what a great father he’d be saying things about basketball games and buying expensive gifts for “him”. And I laughed and told him to fuck off. I didn’t need to chain myself to him for the rest of my life. He begged. I believe he may have cried. But I told him I had no choice. The appointment was made and I had to go. His friend had to drag him away because he didn’t want to leave before convincing me. Oddly, I felt nothing.
I don’t want to discuss the procedure in detail or anything. But it hurt. A lot. The nurse was very sensitive to me being so young and she asked me if I wanted a soft blanket rather than those awful stiff ones they typically give you to cover up with. And as it was happening, she held my hand while I cried. I fucking hated him for doing this to me. I found out that Brandy had an abortion during the same week as me. He paid for hers. He took her and took care of her after. After hearing this, something clicked and I understood that he didn’t love me. I was done. But for him, this was when the fun began.
A little over a week after the procedure, there was a dance at my high school. My first high school dance! I wasn’t going to miss it. My friends and I got slutted up in tight clothes that our parents didn’t approve of and went to the dance. There’s this big park behind the high school and there’s a huge hill and all the high school kids went to “the hill” after the dance to drink. I was there, this time probably drinking MD 20/20 (another juvenile delinquent 90s liquor), and Tom showed up with some girl I didn’t know. He was not amused that I was there and he was less amused that I looked like I was ready to pick up a new boyfriend. He picked me up, kicking and screaming and then dragged me part of the way to his car and put me inside. He told me that if I tried to get out he would fucking kill me and I believed him. I thought he was taking me home and I was yelling at him the whole way that he didn’t own me and I wasn’t his girlfriend anymore and he had Brandy now and I wanted to be left alone. I then realized that he wasn’t taking me home.
He pulled up to a dilapidated old house with loud rap music coming out of it. He said “come on. I just want to go in and talk.” And I came, not knowing what to expect, but not wanting him to hurt me. We went into a bedroom to talk and he was all over me. I told him I was still bleeding from the abortion and he didn’t stop. I told him the doctors told me no sex for 4 weeks and that doing so could really fuck up my insides. He totally ignored me. I begged him to stop. I cried and told him I thought I could die. It didn’t matter to him. He said nothing. And then he was inside me. And I just let him. I let him because it was all I was good for. I let him because it didn’t matter if I was ok or if I wanted it or if I hated him. It didn’t matter because he fucking owned me. And the thing is, as an adult looking back, I know he raped me. But at the time it didn’t even occur to me. I didn’t scream or yell or try to fight him off. I just begged and cried and then let him. When he was finished he literally threw my underwear at me and told me to get dressed and went out to join the party as if nothing had happened. My insides were burning and I had bled on the bed and I didn’t know if it was from the abortion I had had a few days ago or if this was some new way he had managed to damage me inside.
I wish I could say this was the only time that happened with him. It wasn’t. It became a game to him. He would find me walking home from school and pull up next to me with a friend in the car and the two of them would grab me and laugh about kidnapping me. Most of the time he would take me to some random place where I’d either need to take a bus or call a friend to come get me because it was too far to walk. Other times it was to somebody’s house so he could force himself on me once he lured me into the house with promises to “just talk.” And still, I never told my parents or any adults that this was happening.
One day he got me to this apartment that was above a store that a friend’s father owned. The store was closed and for some reason we went downstairs. He went out to his car and came in a few minutes later and I saw that familiar fury on his face. He had gone through my bag and found a note that my friend had passed me in class and the note made a mention of me talking to one of the guys in our little gang who had just gotten out of Juvie. This time the fury wasn’t just a slap. He fucking beat me. He punched me in the ribs. He kicked me. He threw me against a wall. He grabbed me by my hair and pulled me across the floor. His friend sat in a chair and watched the whole thing as I begged Tom to stop with an expression on his face that I knew meant he was disgusted with ME! When he was done, he pushed me out the front door and threw my books and coat at me. It was November and raining and I was about 2 miles from home. I walked, sore and bruised but knew that he at least hadn’t fucked up my face. He just pounded at my body.
When I got home I wanted to sleep for the rest of my life. And I did. I went to bed around 6pm and didn’t get up until 3pm the next day. I checked for damage and found my ribs and legs bruised I had rug burns on my back and my arms were scratched up pretty good. This wasn’t like all the other times. I didn’t care if no one would ever want me or if I ever loved anyone else again. I couldn’t keep letting him do this because what if it was worse next time? What if he broke a bone or hit me so hard in the head that I had brain damage. This wasn’t normal and it wasn’t ok. I didn’t want to get him in trouble or get the police involved. I just wanted him to stop tormenting and hurting me. And I meant this both physically and psychologically.
I refused to go to school for the next few days saying I was depressed again and I slept and slept. Then I told my mother. I begged her not to tell my father because he’d go ballistic and I was afraid Tom would end up hurting him. But apparently one day shortly after, my father saw Tom out and about and got in his face and told him to leave me the fuck alone and threatened his life. Tom laughed in his face and asked him what he, as an old man, was going to do to him and my father vowed that if he found out Tom was harassing me again that he wasn’t afraid to go to prison to protect me. It was a very long few months after that. I spent a lot of time in the house and dropped all those friends who were complicit in his savage behavior toward me. Of all those kids, dozens of them, that had witnessed him hitting me or dragging me or just saying awful things to me, not a single one of them ever stuck up for me. Not a single one of them ever said, “hey man, back off her. That’s not ok.” Not a single one of them saw enough value in me for them to step in and say anything.
Of course, I punished myself for YEARS. Why wouldn’t I? I was the one who allowed it to go on. I allowed him to say those things and I kept coming back. I allowed him to sleep with everyone and I kept coming back. I allowed him to put his hands on me and spit at me and take his rage out on me and I kept coming back. I allowed him to fuck me when I was in pain and when I hated him and when I needed nothing more than gentleness and care that he refused to give me and I kept coming back. I let him. And I kept coming back. How do you forgive yourself for allowing someone to break you like that? How do you look at yourself knowing that you willingly inflicted that much hurt and sorrow and misery on yourself?
I forgave Tom years ago. One day when I was in my 20s, I ran into him at the grocery store. I always thought I’d punch him in the dick when I saw him again but it was weird, I was happy to see him. And he was happy to see me. We were all grown up and we chatted about the major events of our lives. We exchanged phone numbers as if we were going to keep in touch. We didn’t. But that night he did call me. He told me he knows what a piece of shit he was to me. He told me it was teenage bravado and he was showing off to his friends and that he knows it’s no excuse for what he put me through but if it helps at all he’s sorry for doing all of it. He said he should have treated me better. And I thanked him and when I hung up I let it go. I was able to forgive Tom for his actions toward me. And yet, I still haven’t forgiven myself for what I put myself through with him.
I wish there was a happy ending to this story. Like I could say that after a few years I found the love of my life who was everything that was missing from Tom. I wish I could say that therapy took away that feeling of worthlessness and allowed me to find what really makes me happy. But the truth is that I have struggled with every relationship I’ve ever had either being too intense and desperate for love or being unable to feel anything at all. And when I did finally, after 20 something years of therapy and a few years alone, think I could love someone again, when I did finally take that chance and trust someone to hold my heart and be there for me, he destroyed me much in the same ways that Tom did, making me feel worthless and like I didn’t deserve love and care and compassion. And I am here typing this, 26 years later, and I feel much like that broken 14-year-old girl felt. This time I have no idea how to move forward from the pain. This time, on top of all those feelings of allowing it and not knowing why I kept going back, I also have to contend with a job and bills and raising a daughter and all the adult stuff that I didn’t have to worry about back then.
And once again I have assigned blame. Not to the one who committed the hurts and broke my trust and shattered my faith in love. I forgave him as soon as he told me he was sorry. I only blame myself. Because I wasn’t enough. Because I didn’t deserve kindness and to be taken care of when I hurt. Because I am not worthy of that kind of love. Because I don’t deserve intimacy and consideration and fidelity. Because I stayed in the situation begging for mercy and knowing that it wasn’t going to come. Because I let him do it. And I kept coming back.