Don’t blame the victim who was manipulated

I’m finishing my makeup, staring in the mirror on the back of my dorm room door when I hear him on the other side – hear him growling my name, ordering me to let him in.

He’s angry – angry because I’m going out with my girlfriends after he ordered me not to.

And like a dummy, I crack the door. He’s yelling at me and cussing. And I just stand there, begging him to go away, to leave me alone.

He rams the door open, slings me across the room.

He’s twice my size, but I finally force him out.

That’s when I realize I’m in a toxic relationship. One I need to get out of. One I’d later learn the justice system would say there wasn’t enough proof to do anything about.

I stand there wondering what had just happened. It was the second time in two weeks he’d physically hurt me.

I stand there wondering why someone would hurt me who says he loves me.

I decide I can’t be silent about it anymore.

The week

All of my hall mates and my roommate are away for the weekend. I lock myself in my room. And I fear I’ll hear him knock at any point.

I have a meeting with my resident assistant soon in Starbucks. Where I’d tell her everything that happened. Where I’d start the process of getting him moved from being four floors above me. Where I’d take the next step to safety, to helping myself get away, to heal.

A week goes by – the week of hell.

A meeting with the dean.

I’m excused from several classes.

The police tell me there’s nothing they can do. My bruises had gone away, there was no proof, they said.

I was walking into spring break, thankfully. A much needed break.

But the break didn’t prepare me for what would come next.

Along with my emotional scars, I’d later be blamed for the toxic relationship I’d gotten away from.

I’d soon hear:

“She was the one who started it all.”

“She was the one who beat him up.”

“It’s her fault.”

I’m strong

I sit in a counselor’s office on campus.

I’d finally gotten away.

He couldn’t hurt me anymore.

I tell her how I fought back. How I tried to get away when he was sling me around, stepping on my feet, pushing me to the ground. How I kicked him with all I had between the legs when he blocked me from getting away.

I realize I’m strong. I realize it’s not my fault he hurt me. I realize he manipulated me into thinking he wouldn’t do it again- that’s why I went back.

I realize he blamed me. He said it was my fault.

I realize I’m the victim. He’s the perpetrator.

It’s a cycle

He or she hits you for the first time and you’re in shock.

Then it’s the I-won’t-do-it-agains. They’re so sorry, they were just angry. They manipulate you into thinking it won’t happen again.

Things are better – or so you think.

Then it happens, again. And you go though the I’m-so-sorry nonsense, again.

Some people get out of the cycle early. Others get wrapped into so many cycles they can’t just leave.

Just leave

The most dangerous time for a victim in this situation is when he or she leaves.

Why? Retaliation – the worst you can imagine. The angriest the perpetrator has been.

Why? Because their victims have left them – they aren’t in control anymore.

It doesn’t help to say, “Why don’t you just leave?”

It doesn’t help to say, “You should’ve left sooner. It wouldn’t have gotten this bad if you had just left.”

It doesn’t help to say, “It’s your fault. You let it continue to happen.”

It’s not that easy to leave. It’s always bad, no matter how many cycles. It’s not the victim’s fault for being wrapped into multiple manipulated cycles.

People who have close ones going through this – don’t abandon them or blame them; provide a safe place for them.

People who are going through this – you are strong; you can get out of it.

 

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong

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My little place downtown

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At first glance it looks seamless.

Shiny, original hardwood floors. New appliances. Neutral color décor. Clean beige walls.

Then you start looking.

The 1940s-built place has cracks. Layers of paint are pealing – some layers that are probably made of lead paint.

You watch your step on the front porch, since each step is a different height.

Doors and drawers don’t close completely, thanks to the layers of paint.

The walls are plaster, not sheetrock – they’d survive a punch, but a fist sure wouldn’t.

It’s a home with many flaws.

But it’s home, nonetheless.

A one bedroom, cozy, I-can’t-wait-to-relax there home.

A wine-sipping call to the back porch, looking out to nature.

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It’s a safe haven from the madness surrounding it. Like the ambulances that pass by daily. Or the crazy neighbor who chases and cusses at her dog when it gets away. And I can’t forget the old man from across the street who asked me on a date to the Shrine Club.

It was a fun time – just kidding.

It’s my first place, my first home.

Sometimes I like for it to look like nobody lives there, like a magazine.

Other times I’m fine with a mess.

It’s where I planted the roots to my career.

It’s where I cook my Grandma Reba’s pound cakes.

One of the best things about it – rent is cheaper than an Apple Watch Series 2.

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A stench, a scalpel & an eyeball

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Some sort of sea animal stench smacks me in the face when I walk through the door at Buford Elementary. I know what I’m getting into when I decide to film it.

The smell gets stronger the closer I get to the classroom – the classroom with dead, two-foot-long dogfish sharks on the table.

I don’t think I can make it through the lesson these fourth graders are about to have – dissecting sharks.

Some students stand there wide-eyed. Some look like they’re about to be sick to their stomachs. Some just hold their noses.

I want to hold my nose, too.

I stand there unsure how to feel about dead sharks lying on newspapers with my byline.

The teacher explains how to use the two tools – scissors and a scalpel – sitting in aluminum pie pans on the center of each table.

That’s when the kids are ready to dig in.

And boy, some of them start hacking away as they make the I-shaped cut on the stomachs of their sharks.

Some smells go away after a few minutes of getting used to. This smell isn’t one of them. A mix of formalin and dead fish to be exact.

The teacher finally opens one of the classroom doors that leads outside. So, obviously, that’s where I duck out to fill my lungs.

I learn the liver is the largest organ in the shark, which they pull out in one piece with the gallbladder attached. I also learn what it looks like when a kid dangles shark liver in front of my camera.

Then, it’s time for “free cuts.”

If they weren’t hacking the sharks up before, they definitely are now.

The eyeballs and brains come out during free cuts.

And when one student pops a shark’s eyeball out, sending it soaring through the air and rolling between my feet, I know it’s time to go.

Follow Hannah Louise Strong on Twitter @HannahLStrong