I was excited. It was 1998 and I had just bought a brand new set of midgets to change into my Rollerblades. They’d make it easier for me to jump rails with. I was destined to become an infamous aggressive inline skating Queen. I crouched on the floor of my bedroom, Allen key in hand, busying myself with the great wheel swap.
Bill, my first boyfriend (the big first) who I had already been dating for some six or seven months lay on my bed staring at the ceiling. He changed his focus to me, which I didn’t particularly acknowledge, stood up, and slapped me clear across my face. I looked up at him confused, shocked, inquisitive. He shrugged and went back to the bed, watching the television as though nothing had happened. I was in a fog. Mindlessly, I continued exchanging the wheels of my skates focusing on the torque of the Allen key. My parents were in the next room. It was a typical Sunday.
The next four months with Bill were polarizing. He was timid and sweet around my family, but in public took to uncontrollable fits of jealousy and violent tantrums that embarrassed me and alienated me from my friends. He cried when I was unavailable (like when I started my first real job at “Delia’s”) and he’d absolutely lose his mind when I uttered another boy’s name (like my favorite aggressive inline skater of all time Randy “Roadhouse” Spizer). Despite being an Irish boy living in lower Manhattan, he’d bravely cross the racial boundary and venture daily to the projects of Castle Hill to spend time with me in the Bronx. His expressive bright blue eyes and inflated passion gripped me in a way that I felt, for the first time, was true love.
Bill’s family life was convoluted. His father was murdered and his mother had died of lung cancer. He lived with his grandfather, a racist, who I was never “allowed” to meet. I couldn’t discern whether he wanted to be away from home, or needed to be closer to me. I was suffocating.
The stage of the drama was set in my bedroom where posters of Marilyn Manson and Ken Griffey Jr. hung side-by-side. My mirror was covered with Wu-Tang Clan stickers, K2 Fatty Pro logos, Parental Advisory emblems and evil smiley faces. I always kept a pair of dirty Converse in the corner because they fit nicely in the back pocket of my JNCOs when I was skating.
I tried to break away, but he wouldn’t let go. During late night fights, he’d threaten to wake my parents. If I didn’t want to see him he’d threaten to tell my older brother about what we had done sexually, he’d threaten to hurt himself or he’d threaten to hurt me. We’d cry, we’d hug and we would make-up.
At the end of the summer I went away to college. Just after my 18th birthday I broke up with Bill over the phone. He screamed and howled like he was possessed by a demon. He told me he would kill me, he threatened to shoot my stepfather. But I stood firm. In Florida, with distance between us, I knew he couldn’t get to me. It took time to shake the general sense of fear and anxiety, but I eventually began to feel safe. My family remained unaware of my turmoil.
Abuse doesn’t always have a crisp starting line or a clear narrative. It can start at a very young age when police involvement can seem drastic and as humiliating or intimidating as the abuse itself. At its worst, abuse is insidious. Sex, love, intimacy and the awkwardness of revelation to family members creates personal boundaries for abuse to conceal itself. Abuse wears many masks; it can pretend to be love, it affixes to self-shame. It thrives off fear and control, and it happens every day.
Let’s raise Domestic Violence awareness by exposing its eternally deviating façade along with its casual place in society. Disrobe the shame. Start a conversation.
About the author: Sprouted in the “birthplace of Hip-Hop,” decently traveled and a well-read Bronx native, Damares Pleasants takes pride in her intuitive knack for survival and fluid adaptability. A former resident of Las Vegas and Miami, she’s found her way back to the Big Apple, firmly planting roots where she and her elderly Italian Greyhound proudly call home.