I was stunned the first time it happened. We were driving and arguing about something that obviously wasn’t that important because I can’t, for the life of me, remember what it was. Arguments were our norm. I was always trying to find a way to not make him mad. To not send him off on some rant or another. But I could never, ever master his triggers. But oh did I try.
Anyway, as he was driving along a major thoroughfare in our area, he screamed at me, “Get out!”
Umm, mind you, the car was still moving. So I mustered up every ounce of black-girl-from-the-south-who-just-knew-he-didn’t-just-say-what-she-thinks-he-said attitude and basically told him, “You have got to be crazy! I’m not going anywhere with this car moving.”
His response? “Fine.”
He pulled over and said, “Get out of the car, Tracey!”
I continued to refuse. “No! Just take me home!” In my mind, I was thinking, this is crazy! What kind of man kicks his girlfriend out of the car in the middle of West Bubble, NJ?
Apparently, this one.
Dude reached over and roughly unsnapped my seatbelt. He then pushed open my door and repeated his demand. “Get out of the car!” I couldn’t believe it. I loved him. He said that he loved me. Kinda. Sometimes. Well, when things were good, he did. And yet, there we were.
To emphasize his point, he took the shoes I’d kicked off during our drive and threw them out onto the curb. He was serious! To myself, I thought, Oh well, I guess I just lost a pair of shoes because I ain’t getting out of this car.
But then I saw his face. Rage played at the edges of his eyes. I reasoned that if I didn’t do what he told me to do, things could get worse. Much worse. So I grabbed my bag, stepped my bare feet onto the gravel curb, and got out of the car. And, yes, he pulled off.
I had no idea what to do. All I could do was cry. I cried and walked and cried some more. I cried and tried to think of people I could call. Sadly, because I’d just moved into the area, I didn’t have many friends yet and certainly no one I felt I could say, “Hey, my boyfriend just dumped me on the side of the road, can you come scoop me?” So tears turned into full out sobs. I must have looked a mess to those who were driving by.
My thoughts went something like this: What am I doing with this dude? Why did I keep going back to him? Things were getting increasingly worse in the relationship and yet, I hung onto it. I hung onto him.
I didn’t have to walk very long because guess who pulled up next to me fifteen minutes later?
“Get in the car.”
Now some may see this as his conscious kicking in. That he somehow felt bad about what he did so he came back to get me; to make sure I was okay.
This was not remorse. It was a power trip. It was a way for him to demarcate who was in control. I would get out of the car when he said to and I was going to get back in because he said to. And truthfully, that’s exactly what happened. I got back in the car and we headed back to his house.
And we didn’t break up for good until two years—and plenty other incidents—later.
No, he didn’t hit me. He didn’t smack me. He didn’t punch me or drag me a la Ray Rice. But let’s be absolutely clear: this was and is abuse. In that relationship, I endured a significant amount of emotional and psychological trauma. And I kept coming back for more.
That’s why the hashtag #whyIstayed that was trending on Twitter this week resonated with me. Not because I know what it feels like to fear for my physical wellbeing, but because I know what it means to not feel like you are good enough or worthy enough for real love. I know what it feels like to accept the counterfeit because that’s all you know. I know what it means to try to fix someone when you yourself are broken. When I finally did leave, I was in so much pain and lacked so much of the fearlessness that is a big part of who I inherently am that I had to revisit myself, in a way. I had to figure out what true love—a love that mimics the love of God for His children—looks like and give it to myself in droves. To this day, I’m still working on that.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. – Psalm 86:15
Aha! There it is. Today, having slowly unraveled from the mental residue of that relationship and married a man who is nothing like my ex, I desperately want to teach my baby girl that THIS is the measure by which she needs to evaluate her relationships. Is he merciful and gracious toward her? Is he slow to anger? Is his love steady? Is he faithful? Sure, no man is perfect. They aren’t God. But this kind of foundation, the understanding that she is worthy of a love that doesn’t make her feel less than the wonderful creation and daughter of God she is, is critical.
That’s why I’m not inclined to chuckle when a little boy runs up and hits my child. Or, given the fierceness of my K, her hitting someone else. It doesn’t matter if she likes them or if they like her. There are ways to show kindness and love that don’t require violence. Hugs are great. Words are wonderful. This is what needs to be taught and modeled super early to our little ones.
If we begin talking to our daughters about worth and self-value as toddlers, talking to our baby boys about how to treasure and cherish and protect the girls/women in their lives; if we establish a zero tolerance policy in our homes and schools when it comes to hitting and bullying, if—and this is the big one—we can actually model what we are teaching on a consistent basis, then maybe, just maybe, the Ray and Janay story or the Tracey and Dude story will not ever be repeated.
But it has to be a movement. And that movement has to start today.
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This piece is a part of the Faith & Motherhood series.
Photo credit: Amanda Sandlin for Crew
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.