A few years ago, I was madly in lust with my abuser. *Barry was 5’10” and towered over me like a sneering gargoyle. My ignorance nourished his caustic disrespect as our mutual antagonism evolved into palpable abuse. Our arguments excited me, and his slaps reinforced my suspicion that a non-jerk simply wouldn’t satisfy my “needs.”
One day, in his mother’s dingy apartment, one of our verbal quarrels erupted into our last physical struggle. I was sitting opposite him on a barf-green faux-velvet sofa chair. My thighs sunk into the cheap cushion. Barry was drumming the fingers of his left hand on the coffee table, hunched over the Marlboro Red he was twirling. The ashes fell haphazardly onto the table I could imagine his mother polishing hours earlier. Tomorrow, she would tut, clicking her tongue against her teeth and shaking her blonde curls, as she cleaned up after her freeloading son. I scowled.
“What?” he smiled contemptuously.
“You can’t use the ashtray?”
He puffed the cigarette, held in the smoke and exhaled through his yellow Chiclet-sized teeth before stubbing it out and rising to his feet, still smirking.
I rose to my feet so that my nose was level with his neck. I was not looking into his eyes. I usually didn’t. Barry brought his middle and pointer fingers to the soft spot right below my collarbone and pushed, testing my mood. My weight shifted to the heels of my feet, and I put my hand on his shoulder to steady myself. My mood was volatile. He mistook volatility for unsteadiness.
He clenched my wrist, removed it from his shoulder and pushed it behind my back, spinning me around so I was facing the terrible print to the right of his mother’s television of a woman sniffing flowers with her eyes closed. He had both my wrists in his glove-like grip, the fingers of his other hands jabbing into my sides. He was tickling me.
This was vaguely amusing to me, until his touch became vicious. I bent forward slightly, letting my elbow drop and then bringing it forcefully into his thin torso. Hot air exploded from his lungs and he dropped my wrists immediately, doubling over with his face hidden. I smiled. This was how we played. Hands on his knees, he lifted his head and met my smile with a malevolent glare. In a swift motion, Barry had picked me up, confining one arm to my side. His feet made circles on the shag camel rug beneath us, and my protests grew louder:
“Put me down, now,” I started.
He ignored me, giggling.
“I’m serious. I am going to hit you,” I threatened.
He stopped walking in circles and struggled in a curvy line toward the bathroom while my legs flailed in protest.
“Let go of me!” I continued.
He set me down on the bathroom counter, one hand holding down my left arm and the other tightly gripping my thigh. In blinding anger, I brought my right hand back to gain momentum and thrusted it forward to meet his cheek. The sound of my hand on his face surprised me. And then silence. He paused, bewildered. I had never hit him, though he told me his dad did. At once, recognition filled his eyes until his pupils seemed to be swimming in rage. He pulled me off the counter by my collar and then pushed me backward toward the bathtub, throwing his hands up with finality as he let go.
I was falling backward, so quickly and forcefully that I was likely to bruise. I reached for the shower curtain rod, but the stupid cheap aluminum buckled into a V shape, and I slammed into the bathtub, tailbone first. He yanked the rod out of my hand, baring his teeth as he strained to unbend the metal into a straight line. I didn’t move. I was absently staring up to the right at the moldy showerhead. Barry enveloped my limp hands in his aggressive ones, pulling me to my feet once more. I let him. Walking slowly to the living room, I scanned the stifling space for my coat that I found hanging on the plastic metal rack. My shoes were in a pile beneath it. I grabbed my things and padded down the stairs in stockings, surprised by my calmness as Barry trailed behind me cursing and afraid.
“You can’t leave, Allyson. You won’t make it down the block.”
I did leave, walking backward to my car with my shoes in hand in the middle of February, staring at him where he stood slouching in the doorway.
I am not thankful for Barry, nor did he teach me any “lessons,” except how to throw a cuff with one hand behind my back. Simply put, Barry was bringing nothing to the table except violence and suffering. I shouldn’t have needed a push to realize it. That night, I decided I was going to respect myself and to demand it from those around me. The alternative was — and is — compromise and self-loathing.
Here I am, very much in one piece, still drawing on the standards I extracted from that grim year-long maelstrom with Barry. The would-be chaotic dating scene at the University, brimming with an infinite number of potential companions, all with varying accents, worldviews and life goals, has been simplified by my self-centered approach to dating. Before I invest more than a second glance, I want to know: “What are you bringing to my party?”
This philosophy is self-centered, not selfish. It’s necessary: an honest and critical evaluation of someone’s additive potential. Barry was bringing guacamole made with rotten avocados to my party. I don’t blame him for his putrid fruits. My inexperience blinded me. I told him how to treat me. I didn’t know how important guacamole was to the party aesthetic, nor did I realize exactly how many people were waiting behind the velvet rope bearing five-foot speakers, intentionally ordered playlists, crystal punch bowls, red cups and ping-pong balls. Now I know. I’ve hired bouncers. Your clever advances might be tempting, beer-breath biochemistry major and your 4.0 GPA is vaguely impressive, but what am I to do with your stale chips?
*Names were changed