14

The Faces of Domestic Violence (Part I)

2005

I had no idea how seven policemen with their guns drawn ended up in the bedroom of my quaint 745 square foot apartment. But something tells me I should have been overjoyed since they potentially saved my life. When they entered my room they found my 5”10 180 lb boyfriend hovering over me as I laid there helpless. His strong grip had me pinned to the bed so that I couldn’t move. After what seemed like an eternity of him bashing my face in with his fist, slapping me, choking me and holding me hostage in my own apartment, it abruptly ended with the presence of the officers.

This would be the only time in my then 20 (now 26) years of living that I’d be happy to see the police.

I was 20 going into my senior year of college. I was younger than my peers because I graduated high school in three years.  Living on campus for 2 ½ years was some of the best times of my life. When I moved home for a semester I couldn’t escape the arguments between my mother and I. I knew it was time to leave her house by any means necessary. Living on campus again wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I hustled the entire summer of 2005. I was working as a waitress at a country club in west Nashville. Waiting on wealthy white families wasn’t an ideal job, but the money was good for a 20-year old college student. I worked, stacked my money and searched for apartments. I kept telling my mother I was leaving, but she didn’t believe I’d actually be able to do it on my own. But just like her, once I’m determined to do something, you can consider it done. I finally found an apartment literally down the street from my aunt, her husband, two kids and my grandmother. This was perfect because I knew if I ever needed a home cooked meal or if something went wrong with my car, family was only minutes away. In retrospect, being in such close proximity to them was a blessing in disguise. My spacious one-bedroom apartment was under $500 for rent with water included. It had large closets, a huge bedroom, living room, dining room, a cute bathroom, dishwasher and central air, which is a given in most apartments back home. Damn you, NYC. Besides rent I only had to pay electricity and cable. I was officially an adult. I had a job, a car, was pursuing my bachelor’s degree and now held the keys to my own place. Oh, and I was in love with someone who was once my best friend.

2002

I met Martel on the very first day of college. It was always smoldering hot down south in August. All of the incoming freshmen were sent to an auditorium in the Humanities building to complete their registration. Waiting in a long line for at least an hour on the first day of college you eventually end up sparking a conversation with the people around you. Martel was witty, sarcastic and somewhat arrogant. He was from Detroit, and such a typical Detroit dude. I’m generalizing, but with good reason. He had a certain swagger about him that was enticing. He was more confident than he should have been based on his looks. But later in life his personality allowed me to overlook some of his flawed physical features. After leaving the Humanities building we walked while chatting as I headed back to my dorm in Wilson Hall, aka “The Zoo.” (I never called it that. Always hated that nickname). It was obvious he was feeling the kid. I kind of dug him too. After hesitation he asked for my number. I gave him the room number instead of my cell and told him I had a boyfriend so we could only be friends. I knew from day one being friends wasn’t what he had in mind. But that was our only option at the time.

For months we were strictly platonic, but shared many late night phone calls and deep conversations outside of my dorm. Martel and I learned a great deal about one another during that time. Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” banger sounded like Kanye’s “Good Life” in comparison to Tel’s upbringing. He’d come from a single parent household where his mother was poor trying to raise five children on her own. She was a religious fanatic and severely strict. Martel eventually went to live with his father to escape the daily morning Bible readings and lack of freedom. He desperately longed for the day he could go outside to play with other kids instead of having to read Bible scriptures or clean the house from ceiling to floor. Living with his father wasn’t a vast improvement as far as living situations go. His father was a woman abuser, drug addict and also had very little money. I remember him vividly describing the days he would boil water to take a warm bath because there was no running hot water in the house. Saying he grew up rough is an understatement.  I was always attracted to those types. Even though his unresolved issues from his past should have been a red flag for future behaviors, I felt the rough around the edges guys would be the only ones who understood me. Although I had never lived in the hood a day in my life, had never wanted for anything, had traveled overseas a slew of times by the 8th grade, watched my mom attain her Master’s degree while I was a child, I had other worldly experiences that I felt connected me to ‘hood dudes.

But I still had a boyfriend. Martel remained a very close friend. One my boyfriend hated. Eventually my first love and I parted ways for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with Martel. And months later Martel and I were in couple’s bliss. Until we weren’t. After a few arguments we decided to remain friends. We were the friends who always still had a thing for one another, but no matter what we held on tight to our friendship. We’d lose touch, reconnect, lose touch and reconnect again in a matter of two and a half years.

2005

The summer before my senior year I was single as ever. Somehow Martel and I started hanging out again. He had recently moved into an apartment with his friend, and we were all living that HBCU college life. He didn’t go home to the D for the summer for obvious reasons. One night Martel expressed his feelings and said he didn’t want to just be my friend anymore. He straight up said being my man was the only option for him. I knew him better than he knew himself. He was very good to me at the time. He worshipped the ground I walked on. The one thing no one ever questioned was how much he loved me. We made it official, again, after two years of just friendship. But this time we weren’t 17 and 18 year old kids. We were 20 and 21 year old adults.

Our summer days were filled with work, chilling with friends, going out to eat, entertaining gusts at his house and whooping folks’ asses in Spades. Everything was very basic. We were young, struggling college students.  There were no mommy and daddy credit cards for us. His apartment was the chill spot where folks would gather to play cards, bump music, laugh and drink. Things were good between Martel and I because we loved one another. Hard. Perhaps too hard. Later on I’d realize it was that type of dysfunctional love where arguments would resort to a “bitch” or “ho” rolling off either one of our tongues. We’d breakup to make up. And do it all again.

As summer was coming to an end Martel got into a fight with his roommate. Since his name wasn’t on the lease and he beat the dude up, his roommate kicked him out. At the time I was in the process of signing my first lease and buying furniture. I was overjoyed about getting my first place all on my own. I felt obligated as his girlfriend to offer my place to stay until he could figure things out. He took me up on that offer.

Moving into my place changed him. And it changed the dynamics of our relationship. Fast. It is one of the reasons I said I’d never live with someone again unless he was my fiancée. I saw a different side of him. He had fallen on hard times and couldn’t seem to catch a break. Eventually he found a job at a Dell plant about 45 minutes from my apartment. The battery to his blue Ford Explorer died, which left only me to take and pick him up from work. Summer was over and I was back in school and working now at J. Alexander’s as a waitress. Every day I would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to take him to work, get back home around 6:15 a.m., sleep for a few hours, get ready for class, go to school and be at work by the 4:00 p.m. dinner shift. I usually didn’t get off until at least 10:00 p.m. depending on how slow the restaurant was. I’d wake up and do it all again the next day.

On top of growing tired of feeling unappreciated, he was contributing very little to the household. He would pay bills, but financially I took care of 95% of everything. This caused a majority of our arguments. I’d put him out, let him come back, he’d leave voluntarily and I’d let him come back. I was young and in love with a man.

The arguments started to escalate. There were several instances that screamed ‘caution, this dude could snap.’ But I never thought he’d actually hit me. It was painstakingly obvious we didn’t need to be together, only neither of us could let go. We were extremely similar to Ronnie and Sammie from “Jersey Shore.” But worse. I always rationalized his temper by taking part of the blame. I was not an easy person to deal with either. And there were many days that I provoked him. At least that’s what I told myself. Plus, I’d convinced myself this is what real love was. Willingly, I was ride or die.

One day I was straightening up the apartment before I left for work when I saw an empty cigarette box on the counter. I was annoyed. Like, just put the box in the trash. Not only was I in school full-time, working full-time, paying the bulk of the bills, I was semi-cooking and definitely cleaning with very little help. I started thinking to myself, ‘What the hell does this Negro do?’ I had switched from smoking Newports to Kools months before so I knew it wasn’t my empty cigarette box so I mentioned as much to him.

“Man, how hard is it to just throw away an empty cigarette box? Why would you leave it on the counter?” I asked.

“F*ck you. Shut the f*ck up. Always b*tching about something,” he yelled.

His screaming only got louder by the minute. I couldn’t possibly understand why he was so mad over a cigarette box. After going back and forth with him for two minutes I decided to get ready for work. I couldn’t get dressed fast enough to get away from him even if it was only for a few hours.

“You might as well call off today. You ain’t going to work,” he said. “Your ass is gon’ stay right here with me,” he demanded.

“You’re crazy as hell if you think I’m not about to go to work to make this money,” I replied.

Out of nowhere he grabbed and slammed me onto my bed. His eyes were unrecognizable. When he looked at me he no longer saw his girlfriend, the woman who kept him from being homeless on the streets, his best friend or his lover. I imagine he saw just a bitch he hated. The same bitch he blamed for all the pain in his life. And that day was going to be the day I paid for every wrong ever done to him.

When he slammed me on the bed my natural instinct was to raise myself up as quickly as possible. After hitting me in my face with his fist I went bananas- kicking and punching him all at the same time. That’s when he figured out he would have to restrain me because I wasn’t going to lie there and not fight back. He held me by my wrists leaving me helpless, unable to move. I felt paralyzed. To this day I will spazz out if my wrists are held in any way that could prevent me from moving or escaping.

Every time I’d retaliate he’d hit me with a harder blow. The blows were coming so fast there was nothing I could do but watch the man I had loved with every breath in my body wail on me as if I was his worst enemy. At one point I wondered, Is this how I’m going to die? When he took a break from hitting me he choked me out while spewing hateful words. How could this be Martel doing this to me? I wished I had been dreaming. I went into survival mode after realizing fighting back only led to more pounds. There was a point where he halted from beating me and would just stare at me telling me I made him do this, I brought this on myself. I guess his plan was to hold me hostage and torture me all day. Whatever his plan was I desperately needed to not be a part of it. I screamed. He’d shut me up. I screamed again. He’d shut me up.

Luckily my screams were not in vain. Out of nowhere police women and men galore were in my bedroom with guns drawn yelling for him to release me. The physical blows were finally over. But the mental scars would remain for many years to come.

It was two days before Christmas. Our artificial beautifully decorated tree had a ton of presents under it. What once seemed like a representation of our first Christmas together now looked like an oversized plant that had died from the lack of oxygen and water. In that moment the only thing that was apparent was what we now were: an abuser and a domestic violence victim. [1]

He was handcuffed and searched in the living room by the police officers. Without a doubt he was going to jail. Even after what he did to me, it was painful seeing a black man now becoming a part of the criminal justice system I despised. While searching him for weapons I presume, the cops found an ounce of weed on him that he’d purchased to try to bring in some extra money. In addition to the domestic violence charge the state slapped another charge on him for possession of marijuana. An EMT ambulance waited outside to take me to the hospital because the knot on the side of my head was as thick as a golf ball. The medics warned me the knot could be a concussion, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to go the hospital. It was embarrassing. I was humiliated. How could something like this happen to me? I wasn’t this girl.

After being coerced to ride to the hospital in an ambulance, alone, where I looked so broken down that once at the hospital complete strangers warned me, If you go back to him he will kill you my grandmother picked me up from the hospital. She didn’t understand how someone so put together could let a man hit me. As I slowly walked to my apartment door wanting only to die, or at the very least slip under the covers for eternity, I saw a white envelope taped to my door. I felt empty inside. A part of my soul was missing. I opened the envelope to find a letter from the apartment complex management. Basically because of his possession of marijuana and not being a tenant on the lease, I had 72 hours to vacate the apartment.  Merry Christmas.

I was so numb I couldn’t cry. I called my aunt and her husband to tell them the news. My aunt immediately offered her house as a temporary home for as long as I needed. My mother never offered. I’m still working on forgiving her for that. We made arrangements to start loading the truck the next day. The sooner I got out of there, the better. I finally crawled in my bed. Alone. I cried for hours. Hours turned into days. Because I had to move out of my apartment within three days, I didn’t have the time to stay in the bed sobbing. So I’d cry every chance I could while in solitude. My spirit was broken while his was incarcerated. I’ve never quite looked at men the same. And so it’s clear, just like most domestic violence victims, just like Rihanna, I went back.

* Part II will NOT recount this story any further. It will explore domestic violence in the black community, why we rally in support of protecting black men, victim blaming and why we should all care about the infamous beating of Rihanna by Chris Brown.


[1] I never referred to myself as a victim of domestic violence. It actually took me five years to even write about this incident because of how ashamed and stupid I felt. I also never wanted people to feel sorry for me. Or worse, say I deserved it.

  • arieswym

    Very powerful read. And the sentiment of not wanting to acknowledge an incident or call it what it is because of shame resonates profoundly with me.

  • Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I know that this will help someone in a similar situation or recognize the signs before they find themselves there. We have to address this issue in our communities and be real with each other. Once again thank you.

  • NaturalBlackOne

    Thank you so much for being brave enough to share your story. This could have happened to any woman in love. Lord knows it could have been me…

  • Jason Gardner

    Thank you soo much for writing this Bene. I know it wasn’t easy but I truly applaud you for doing so. I am looking forward to reading part 2.

  • You did a great job sharing your story with us. I feel people should be more open about pass situations, especially when they have a platform to discuss them. As I know writing can be therapeutic. I don’t think you’ll ever look at me the same, you know more. Nothing wrong with looking at situations a little closer than you did before. That is called growth.

    I can’t wait for part two. Domestic violence is another one of those topics we don’t discuss in our community. I’m not too involved with hearing the stories of my friends because frankly I have never heard of my friends being in this situation. It just makes me think maybe they have and just aren’t sharing.

  • dkypaco

    Although we "know" each other through the nebulous world of Facebook, friends of friends, and sisterhood :), you are unfortunately not the only black woman I know that has been through this situation. Domestic and sexual abuse in the black community is so overlooked, so under discussed, and so easily glossed over that it pains me. Although I have never experienced first hand, I have seen and experience the ramifications of it. It is heartbreaking, because it is soul killing. Thank you for telling your story. I won't give you my sympathy, because you don't need it, but I will give you my gratitude.

  • writtenbyBene

    I just want to thank all of you for your kind words. I hope in writing this women and young girls, even if only one, will realize this ISN'T love.

    @Drew: I understand where you're coming from about people sharing their personal stories more. The thing is I used to write about myself a lot. I'm an open book. But the anonymity of the Internet makes it very difficult. People are harsh and judgmental. The Internet allows cowards to suddenly develop some type of bravado. For example, I have a stalker who has followed me all across the Internet to use my name to gain hits to his blog. He has written at least seven blog posts or "retorts" using my original work to basically attack me. That has made me leery of writing my own personal stories because people can be so malicious. But I do think some stories have to be told through a personal lens.

    "It just makes me think maybe they have and just aren’t sharing." You would be surprised. Either people aren't sharing or they don't consider the violence situations they've been in as domestic violence. Thanks for commenting!

  • Piper Anderson

    Thank you for writing this, Bene. I know from my own experience with domestic violence how difficult it is to come forward and tell you story especially in a forum such as this but your words will help a young woman to see their own experience with more clarity. Can't wait to read part 2.

  • Sabrin

    Really touchy….I'm not really sure if this was an actual personal experience for you, but if it was, I'm glad you are out of it safely.

  • Damn I can I put this…..I am a long time friend of Benes'. I knew all of this, but never in depth as she put it on here. Me being miles away from one of my closest friends is hard. knowing this is what she was going through is very painful. I remember like it was yesterday. she called me like I'm in the hospital because of…..and the Bene I know; strong,intelligent, and beauitful let someone do this to her. I just could't believe what was coming out her mouth. Like she said its been 6 years since this happen and I believe thats the day we would never be the same. My advice was quick and simple..leave him alone and don't talk to him. I did not comfort my friend and I am TRULY sorry for that Bene. I was just as young and dumb as you were and I didn't know how to help you over the phone. I will always love you to pieces, my Fiveheartbeat buddy, fashion show with Barbies and riding all through Grand Rapids on bikes, Best Friend…Tish

  • ceeshan

    Thanks for sharing. There are far too many cases of domestic violence not being reported because of shame and a low self esteem. I'm glad you survived and had the courage to leave that volatile relationship. Although I know it's difficult and painful I hope you keep addressing this issue. I know it will touch someone and help that person leave their abusive relationship. Stay strong.

  • wow, thanks for sharing.
    many women go through situations like this and by you sharing your experience you let other women know that they're not alone. how brave of you to write this. I'm glad you made it out of that toxic relationship safely.

  • Fatsani

    Deep. I dont even want to psycho-analyse your story, or generalise it to what weknow as domestic violence… So personal an experience I can literally feel your spirit reverberate through your story…. I hope sharing your experience has helped in your healing. You must be a phenomenal woman, it can only explain the courage that comes out as you explain your experience. God bless you

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