What Love Is
The first time he hit me, I thought it was by mistake. As if throwing a woman against a wall was the same as accidentally breaking a glass or scratching a bumper against a steep curb. Besides, I’d grown up seeing my mother beaten, so I thought maybe, just maybe, this was what love was.
The second time he hit me, something felt off. It helped that he did it in public. We were at a clothing store in the Village, and a throaty, tough woman, her Queens accent a bright mockingbird, told me I didn’t have to live that way, that I didn’t have to let him talk to me or touch me like that. I wanted to climb into the pockets of her thick coat.
I could have stayed in the store and refused to go home with him. I could have called someone and asked them to help me, but who? My mother didn’t know I was dating anyone — I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend, anyway, at 17 — and I knew everyone else would advise me to break up with him. But I wasn’t ready. Not yet. I hadn’t had enough.
If I didn’t call him every night to tell him where I was — I was usually just in my dorm room — he would show up without notice and rough me up. There were also things that confused me: bouquets of flowers and nice dinners and candles. Plus, the sex. The sex was good.
The third, fourth, fifth time he hit me, I understood. That he would always find something small I’d done or said and punish me for it. That days later, he would always do or say something big to apologize.
He was my 13th lover. Now, looking back, 13 lovers by the age of 17 seems like an exaggeration. But I was in a race against time, against my father. If I could have sex with as many people as possible, I could remove myself as far away as possible from his grip. Somehow, this delivered me right into someone else’s grip, and their grip was crueler than my father’s. It left bruises. At least my father loved me — or was supposed to.
You’re thinking I left this guy soon after. That it was a foolish, rookie, college girl mistake. But no. I stayed with him. I married him. I had his baby.
He wasn’t my first cruel lover. When I was 14, a boy in my high school sexually assaulted me at his house, and I didn’t know who to tell. A year later, when I decided to lose…