Photo By Michael Karas

Photo By Michael Karas

I don’t recall the conversation, just the swift sock to my stomach. It didn’t really hurt, but a guttural gasp escaped my breath. I was startled, stunned, taken aback. It was the feeling you get when careening down a steep roller coaster ride. Your insides suspend in time and space, until they come crashing down with unexpected force. I got the wind knocked out of me. I stood on the unforgiving concrete streets of #NewYorkCity spitting out air. I also spit out any respect I had for that relationship. I just didn’t know it then.

I chalked it up to #drinking. She just had too much. I probably squeezed her wrist too tight during the argument and she let out a natural reaction. As we lay in bed that next morning, I asked if she remembered what happened. She didn’t. There were profuse apologies. It wouldn’t happen again.

So you think.

Arguments always started innocent enough. Then a voice would raise. Then there would be name calling and intense declarations of disgust.

“You loser.”

“You waste of human flesh.”

“I hope you kill yourself.”

“Please! That’s mean! Don’t say that!” I would weakly reply.

Drinking wasn’t always involved. There wasn’t always an excuse to blame.

Rationale and #respect don’t come into play in arguments, not in unhealthy and dysfunctional #relationships anyway. Pleas for mercy, to talk better to one another during difficult times, aren’t taken seriously.  It all seems fruitless. It falls on deaf ears. I questioned why I continued to stay. Was it habit? Was it some sadistic sense of comfort? Did I think we’d change back into the people we once were when we met? I’m not a weak person. I grew up in such a loving home. My parents have a beautiful #marriage. What’s wrong with me?

When people would ask how she was, or how we were doing, I’d get a tense tightening in my chest. An overwhelming feeling of #anxiety blanketed me as I contemplated what to say, or what information to leave out. I believe most of us want to take pride in our relationships. I wanted to boastfully and proudly proclaim with a glint and fire in my eyes, “This is my #girlfriend!” Not in a possessive way, mind you, but in a manner that exclaimed to the world that this relationship made me ridiculously #happy and a better person because she stood by me. Instead, I was just ashamed. I’d quickly change the subject. I wouldn’t tell people the whole story of my relationship. I didn’t want prying eyes, the looks of sheer #fear, the concerned interrogations, or the scolding tones of how I had to end the madness. I knew it would come from a place of #compassion and #love, but I didn’t want the #judgment. Hell, I was my own worst critic, anyway. Nothing anyone could say would surpass what I told myself on a regular basis. I knew I shouldn’t stay. Yet, I remained.

I used to just take the emotional #manipulations, and verbal and physical swipes, though those never amounted to more than a handful, like a #boxer in the ring. But rather than dropping to the floor from that right hook, I’d just curl up inside myself and shrink from sight. I’d make myself really small. I’d deflate out of #defeat. My tears would eventually drain the free-flowing, fun-loving reservoir of my body, my #soul. I was left dry. Numb.

So I thought.

There’s a place where apathy and repression meet. It’s like a spontaneous blind date, or a surprise visit. You think they exist on opposite sides of the world, but somehow they end up standing next to one another. Then coexist together. Their clandestine #affair leaves a rage behind. All that pent up energy needs expression, eventually. The bubbling up of repressed #emotions typically bursts forth in some messy explosion that’s nearly impossible to clean. There’s always some muck stuck to the surface somewhere, secretly hiding in some hard to reach crevice. I remember turning down #sex often, once my #rejection caused her to kick me so hard from bed that I struck the wall. My sex drive plummeted out of #stress from the relationship. I encouraged her to find that elsewhere. Who says that to their girlfriend? I should have left a thousand times. Instead of my usual passivity, I started to hit her three times to every blow she gave me. I knew I was stronger. I figured that would stop her. It never did.

On one occasion we were about to leave the apartment to attend a comedy club with my friends. We got into a fight some fifteen minutes beforehand. She didn’t want to go and didn’t want me to go, either. She hid my license, stashed my car keys some place and slowly and quietly began cleaning. She didn’t say a word. She remained eerily serene. I pleaded with her, suggested we talk later, asked to go even if she didn’t want to and encouraged her to come with me. She continued to calmly clean and remained tight-lipped. I snapped. I lunged at her throat and squeezed—tight. To my surprise she didn’t resist, or respond. She did nothing. I pulled myself off her, shaking uncontrollably and locked myself in the bathroom. I sobbed like a newborn right out of its mother’s womb. The line between victim and perpetrator instantaneously blurred. No one could claim innocence, now. I fed into the wrong behavior. While facing down at that bathroom floor, my back against the door, I sat cupping my tears. I eventually walked over to the sink to splash some water on my face and got a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I had never been more disgusted with myself.

What’s hidden behind closed doors inevitably seeps through the cracks. That vile odor of desperation and destruction wafts through the air and corrodes the foundation. The scent stings #family and #friends as your private life occasionally plays out in very embarrassing public displays, much to your upset. After one sloppy drunken night at a dance club, we had gotten into an altercation over a #miscommunication. She was drunk and getting a little in my face. Strangers tried to intervene sensing the trouble. The bouncer turned to me and told me she had to leave. At coat check, while passing over our ticket stubs, I felt a swipe at the side of my face. I turned to see the bouncer grab her and remove her from the premises. Friends, understandably freaked out, drove us home, and unfortunately witnessed the entire rage-fueled fight where we spewed vitriol at one another that would make any sane person blush. Only later that night did I notice the dried blood at random spots throughout my face. #Dysfunction can’t be deterred, no matter how hard you attempt to retain a semblance of privacy. Your once seemingly quaint and quiet life becomes inflated, mangled and a morbid caricature of itself. Those closest to you are either repulsed and turn their backs on you or passionately attempt to pry you from the abyss.

Attempts to mend the shards of our shattered relationship in couple’s #therapy were futile. She put all her energy into altering her behavior and practicing mindful speech, while I mentally checked out. I fixated on the various forms of abuse we engaged in and seethed inside. I had become the angry one, with one foot out the door. For me, the damage had been done.

I lost myself. My sanity turned #insane. This wasn’t me. Who was this person? The shame became overwhelming. The lengths one may take when found in a #toxic relationship is shocking. Instead of turning away from the darkness, I raced towards it full-throttle. I failed at stifling those insidious and primal tendencies that we all potentially possess. I opened Pandora’s box. And so, it became regularly hard to face myself in the mirror. I feared for my future. I feared who I was becoming.

Until, I finally got the courage to leave.

My bitterness, sadness and disappointment over that time has since passed. While I look back with regret that time changed me for the better. If I stood before you as an individual that continued to perpetuate those #abusive behaviors or picked partners that recycled and encouraged those inclinations then I may not be able to say that. But that time became a defining moment for me. From those incidents I was determined to forge the being I wished to become. While it left a dark blemish on my soul and psyche forever, that sullied stain serves as a reminder of a former shadow of myself. It led me to understand that while moments, actions and experiences may change us irrevocably that doesn’t mean they have to determine who we are as people. We have a conscious, we have a soul, we have a morality that can serve as our compass during the darkest of times. We just have to choose wisely.

I’ve come to nurture #respect like a baby bird, who has to be shielded from inclement weather, kept safe in its nest from predators and fed by mouth by its loving mom. Respect is dainty. It’s delicate. It has to be held with caring and compassionate arms. It can be bruised and battered so easily. It can be taken advantage of. It can be abused by a careless word spoken, a #selfish act, or an abrupt punch to the stomach. The loss of respect is the death toll of a relationship. It’s our job to never cross a certain line. Once you do it’s nearly impossible to return.

Photo by Michael Karas

Photo by Michael Karas