I met him when I was 21, my heart had been broken for the first time. I was still in love with my ex, but we couldn’t be together. I say this to impart that I wasn’t looking to meet anyone. I was introduced to Jean via my hair stylist who was married to his brother. When we met, he had recently arrived in the country. Jean was a pretty boy, he had a model’s demeanor, and a few months back he won the Mr. Hot Body 2000 competition in Mexico, needless to say, many women insinuated themselves to him. However, it wasn’t his looks that attracted me, as a matter of fact, the first day I laid eyes on him he looked anything but like a model. In the beginning, we did laugh a lot, hung out…he had shown signs of a bad temper and melodrama, I told myself that the behavior was justifiable, he was in a new country, away from his mother, from everything he knew. Jean just needed love. This appealed to me, I’ve always been drawn to people who needed fixing, I saw myself in their reflection and thought that the least I could do was be there for them. And here I was Angela to the rescue!!! The hopeless romantic! Four -months after we met and totally against my mother’s wishes I married a stranger. There wasn’t any romantic engagement or any asking of the hand, no ring. I guess he was searching to belong and I was trying to forget my past relationship, thinking that a new one would be a distraction and it would be a matter of time until I got over my heartbreak. Truth is I didn’t really know Jean.
We bought the marriage license and made an appointment to get married in City Hall. The only person I can recall as a witness is my mother, as she tried to dissuade me from making this mistake; I still remember her look of disappointment. In spite of everything, my not knowing him very well, my mother’s disapproval, I went ahead and married him. Our reception was at his sister in laws house, just family nothing out of the ordinary. We rented a one bedroom in someone’s home, I worked at a real estate company while attending college full time, Jean worked in a restaurant as a busboy and enrolled in night classes to learn English. For the first six months of our relationship, we got along. Slowly he began to hang out more with his brothers, he started to drink a lot and this became a serious problem. Whenever we would go out he would try to seduce other women, it didn’t matter if their man was nearby, he persisted because he felt that he was better than everyone. We would get into arguments over the disrespect and often he would end up in a brawl with the men of the women he tried to pick up. I don’t know what was going on with him at the time, but things were slowly unraveling. Our dynamic got worse when I returned from the Dominican Republic after burying my grandmother, upon my return I noticed that Jean was wearing expensive name brand clothing. Prada, Louis Vuitton, etc. He was also going out more and spending large amounts of money. Without asking him I already knew that he had fallen into the trap of dealing drugs. This may have seemed normal for a girl who grew up in Washington Heights with drug dealers on every corner, however, it was unacceptable to me, I knew he had friends who were dealing as well and I had warned him that I wasn’t subscribing to that lifestyle. I wasn’t going to school and building a life for myself to be married to a drug dealer, fearing that the DEA would come knocking on my door one day. I am not ride or die. I would not be doing jail visits. My lack of support escalated our fights, I wanted to end our relationship, and he did not. We fought all the time and many, many, times the verbal fights became physical. I can’t recall the first time it happened, I have blacked it out. I do remember that during our physical fights I would call his brothers to get him out the house, I never wanted to press charges, I felt sorry for him, made excuses for him always. It infuriated him if I refused to be intimate with him, sometimes giving in to sex was a means for me to avoid the harsher repercussions. There was also the emotional abuse he would tell me that I couldn’t leave him, no man would want to be with me, I was used up and fat ( he would call me a fat cow though I weighed a mere 110 pounds and 22 years old at the time). When in our physical fights, I would throw anything and everything around me to fight back, he would do the same. He made it a point to never mark my face and would intentionally hit me elsewhere, for some reason he just didn’t want people to see me with a black eye. Being with Jean was unhealthy, filled with drama, manipulation, physical abuse, it was an emotional rollercoaster; my grades were severely affected as was my emotional health. During the times of physical abuse, I remember wanting to take my life, I was emotionally drained and felt trapped. I thought death would release me from the hell I was living. I never went through with it and it was mostly because of my mother, I didn’t want to cause her that pain. I needed to find another way out.
On one night, Jean arrived home drunk, as he usually did, he tried to wake me for sex and I refused. He grabbed a knife from somewhere and he put it to my throat, it scared the hell out of me, I was shocked. I cried and tried to wriggle myself from under him, to push him off me but he was stronger. He put all his weight on me and said “I want to hear you beg for your life,” I quickly did so because even though the relationship was hell, I wanted to live. He found this amusing, lets me go and laughs. This was the night that did it for me if I stayed, I had no doubt that one day I would rub him the wrong way and he would have no qualms about killing me.
I knew Jean was cheating on me, he didn’t try to hide it, he would tell me that he had all these women because his wife refused to have sex with him, that I couldn’t complain if he was getting it elsewhere. For anyone else this would be heartbreaking but for me? A blessing in disguise, finally he was distracted by someone else; this allowed me the time I needed to leave him. One afternoon, when Jean was out, I packed my clothes and school books and rented a room about a block from my mother’s house. I left him and it seemed easy until he began to stalk me. He was showing up everywhere I went, I couldn’t explain it, we didn’t have friends in common, my social settings were not hit. The last time I saw him I was out with a friend and he begged me to return to him. I recall cursing him out, I was so mad at his arrogance. I walked out the place, he followed me and cornered me. We argued and he grabbed me by the neck choking me, I yelled and cried and yelled until someone finally called the cops. He didn’t notice when the cops arrived, they pulled him off me and took us both to the nearest precinct. They took pictures of my bruises; I finally pressed charges and got an order of protection. This was one of my most embarrassing moments, a college-educated woman from a good home, I wasn’t out in these streets, how could this happen to me? I considered myself a smart person, why did I stay for so long?
Looking back, I can’t say if I was in love with Jean, I think back then, having come out of a 5-year relationship that left me so hurt, I was searching for someone who would be head over heels in love with me, and Jean initially showed me as much (or so I perceived). When I tell this story today, I tell it as if it happened to someone else, as if it were an out of body experience. Growing up I never witnessed any physical abuse, except for that one time my stepdad tried to hit my mother and she took a hand-held fan and threw it at him; he never tried it again. No one ever spoke to me about domestic violence and frankly, it never crossed my mind that I would ever experience, especially at such a young age. We normalized the abuse in our relationship, it was a routine, expected and tolerated until it became unbearable for me, I didn’t leave as fast as I wanted to because Jean threatened to hurt my family. I was embarrassed and to some extent ashamed of myself for even putting up with the situation. I’m not taking the blame but I am holding myself accountable for not taking the time to know him, four months isn’t enough to get to know anyone, had I taken more time, paid attention to his bursts of anger and melodrama I probably would not have taken it as far as marriage. But at 21 I had a very low self-esteem, I was yearning for love and would take it in any which way it would show up for me, it didn’t matter who it came from. This was a difficult lesson for me to learn, not everyone means well, some people have demons that take over their lives and try to take over yours as well.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that my life was peachy after Jean; on the contrary, the universe had more hard lessons for me to learn. There are levels to personal growth. Shortly the breakup I quickly got into a new relationship. We were friends and classmates, he inspired lots of trusts. He was the crutch I leaned on when things with Jean were out of control a few times he rescued me from situations I couldn’t get out of. Once again, starting a new relationship kept me distracted from the downward spiral my life had taken, it didn’t allow me to process and grieve the end of my relationship with Jean nor to take time to recoup and take care of myself like I needed. My relationship after Jean was devoid of any abuse; however, it lacked the foundation of mutual trust and communication skills we needed for our relationship to thrive. I felt I put in the work, I was loyal and flexible with my wants and needs, I further compromised myself and my passions, all for the sake of preventing another failed relationship. But you can’t force anything, you can try and try, but you can never make someone who doesn’t want to stay with you, stay, not even if you bear their child. Amidst all our problems, my son was born out of this relationship, an unplanned blessing that forced me to rethink the life I was living, the life I wanted to provide for him. I had to question whether I was willing to further compromise my peace and happiness to raise a child in a two parent home. I decided against it and it has been the best decision I made. When the relationship with my son’s father collapsed, I was crushed, I was in denial, I was angry, I even attempted to fix it. But during my silent moments of introspection, I owned up to the choices I made in choosing the men I involved myself with, in all my failed relationships I was the common denominator. I needed to address the whys and hows so that I identify the problem areas within myself so that I could move on. When my body began to physically manifest my dire need for an intervention with panic attacks, when I found myself in the Psych ER being diagnosed with depression and prescribed anti-depressants, I made the choice to finally do something for myself. That was the day I decided to stop shedding any more tears and I’d be damn if I allowed the agony to break me down to the point where I had to be on prescription pills. Therapy saved my life, to see myself, to begin the process of letting go of the anger. I learned to take the lessons away, to see the positive in them and move on to live a healthy and peaceful life. I won’t tell you that it was an immediate fix, it took me five years to get over the anger and bitterness, and everything I’ve endured, to learn to co-parent, and most importantly to put myself first and set unwavering boundaries. Today I try my best to surround myself with positive energy, to keep drama out of my life. Today my son and I live a life filled with peace and love.
My gift is my empathy, I am very giving, in the past I tended to over give myself to men, today I give myself to causes I find affect young women, women like 21-year-old me. I think it’s vital that young women are taught about self-love early in their lives, that we educate them about their bodies, about love, relationships, about boundaries and self-worth. I never had these conversations with anyone, my journey has been a long and arduous one, had I known the things I know today, I probably would have suffered less. I had to figure everything out myself, I didn’t have a male role model, I didn’t know what dating and a healthy relationship looked like. I have a 17-year-old sister, I see myself in her, and I make it a point to have the conversations about womanhood no one else would have with her. I want her to take on the world with as much information about herself so that she may conquer it with the least scars as possible. My experience has fueled my commitment to teaching young girls how to navigate this world, and I will continue to provide these necessary conversations for maintaining our emotional health.
Love should never be hard and hurtful, your life should never be compromised nor sacrificed for it.
Community Organizer, poet, Angy is the author of “I Have No Room for the Broken” a collection of poetry on Love, heartbreak and moving on and the one woman monologue by the same title. Angy is affiliated with various organizations that serve the youth and volunteers her time to her community by offering workshops on teen violence, street harassment, mentorship and self-love to teens girls all over NYC.