Annie’s story as told by Carli Scalf
I’m not an open book about my story. But, when the time’s appropriate, I’ll share. If I had known other people’s stories, it would have made me feel less alone during a time of extreme emotional turmoil. I want you to know: You’re not alone.
I was sixteen when I met him the summer before my sophomore year of high school at a music festival. We had mutual friends, and we hit it off immediately.
But there were red flags from the start. I was dancing with other guys at the festival, and the next morning I got a text from him: “You’re a slut, just wait until I get done telling everyone what you are.” You would think that would have made me stop talking to him, but I think I was just so enthralled by the fact that somebody wanted me. That was the first time somebody acted like they were madly in love with me, and I fell in love so quickly.
The relationship was always manipulative, but it progressed so fast it was hard for me to see it. One time he called me and tricked me into thinking I had given him an STD because I had cheated on him — I had never cheated on him, he was my first partner — but I didn’t know anything. I thought I had given him an STD, and I was heartbroken.
Then another text: “I don’t have one. I was just trying to see if you were cheating on me.”
Yeah. He would do stuff like that. But, in between, the love was hot and heavy. We’d talk about getting married, and I was blinded by that. We dated for only six months, but to me, it feels like a lifetime.
The physical violence didn’t start until Homecoming weekend. At my school, we had a Homecoming football game and dance. After the football game, we went to a park to hang out. I thought we were just going to talk, but he wanted to have sex in the park. I kept saying no; then, he shoved me into a wall and started strangling me.
He said, “If you don’t have sex with me, I’m going to kill you.”
He punched me in the face so hard I saw stars. I just remember screaming and crying for my mom. I kept saying, “I want my mom, I want my mom!” She kept calling me because it was past my curfew, but he wouldn’t let me answer my phone. He kept me there for three hours. I couldn’t get away. I survived by going along with it, saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m an awful person.” That’s why he eventually let me go.
When I got home, my mom was pissed I had missed my curfew. I was too embarrassed to tell her what had happened. She thought I was crying because I had missed my curfew — she had no idea I was crying because I was so happy to be alive. That night I turned on the shower and sat on the edge of the bathtub, bawling.
The next day I woke up and sent him a message: “Don’t you ever do that to another female again, that was the most repulsive, disgusting thing ever.”
His response: “What are you talking about? What do you mean?”
I told him what he did, and he said, “Annie, what are you talking about? That never happened, are you okay? We literally just hung out in the park and then went home.”
And he just kept pushing that and pushing that, until I was so confused and began to doubt myself. So I went ahead and went to Homecoming with him, thinking I’d just get through the dance and then figure it out. I was still in shock, unsure of how to process it.
My grandma asked me why I had a black eye while I was getting ready for the dance; I told her I had tripped and fallen.
Everyone was drinking at Homecoming, just because that’s what you do when you’re a city kid. That’s when the emotions started to hit me: Oh crap, what the hell am I doing?!? I started going up to people crying, asking for help, but he just called me a drunk, telling people I had taken a Xanax before I drank and that’s why I was acting weird. I hadn’t.
He got us a cab, and when we got home I tried to break up with him. We were so close to the house, practically at my front door.
But then he punched me in the face so hard I almost blacked out. He kicked me and then dragged me, in my homecoming dress and everything, into this alley by my house. What the hell do I do?
“Annie,” he said, “if I had a knife right now, I’d stab you and kill you.”
Fight or flight kicked in. I kicked off my heels and kept going along with what he was saying, apologizing a lot. I kept thinking, you have to survive this for your mom. A cab went by, and when it did I ran for my life to the front door of my house and rang the doorbell a thousand times. My mom let me in, and I told her to call the police.
We called, but they didn’t really help at all. I was only able to get an emergency order of protection because my uncle has connections in the FBI.
But then … I still went back to him. I used to blame myself for it, but a lot of girls in abusive relationships go through that. My mom and my family were begging me to stay away from him, but I saw him in secret. I still thought I was in love with him. Honestly, it was always going to take me and only me to end the relationship.
Eventually, my heart caught up with my brain and my disgust for him. I broke up with him in February for good.
But he wouldn’t go away. He started doing creepy stuff like friending all of my family members on Facebook and leaving flowers at my house. So, we took him to court. My mom and dad were both there with me. When the judge granted the restraining order, my sense of relief was enormous. I finally felt safe.
For a little while he would still try to show up around my school, and every time it upset me. Even when he stopped coming around, my recovery was by no means finished.
For several months after the abuse, I couldn’t swallow my food when I ate. I choked on almost everything and would often cough it back up. It wasn’t until I went to see a therapist that I realized the choking was a PTSD symptom from being strangled. My doctor started me on EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy. It changed everything. Through that technique, I was able to replace my bad memories, in a way, with strong, safe thoughts. I still suffer from PTSD; I’m sure I’ll always have remnants of it, but it’s gotten so much better.
The therapy influenced what I want to study too, as a psychology and women’s and gender studies major. I want to be trained in EMDR and help people like me. I want to help people get out of that twisted mindset I had, because it isn’t real.
Love shouldn’t hurt; love doesn’t hurt. Like I said before, I don’t share my story with everyone. But when you need help, when you go through a similar situation, I want you to know: You’re not alone.
This story originally appeared in Facing Teen Dating Violence, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by A Better Way in Muncie, Indiana.