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I am because I chose to be. I am thankful I saved my life to be who I am now.
I fell in love at 19 with a 21-year-old guy from around the block. I saw him around the way and we finally met, we struck each other like magnets. He was tall and not handsome, but had swagger like a gentleman. Did I care he made his money selling drugs? No. I liked riding in that Cadillac.
It was heaven for me. We didn’t need jobs because of drug money. My job was to watch his back, keep track of who owed, watch for cops, be his eyes and ears, then bag and deliver marijuana and cocaine. We traveled, we ate, we drank, we smoked, and we loved. We learned, too. We learned life lessons that can’t be taught but through experience.
I really did love him. At some point I forgave him, but I still carry trauma from those years. It began on vacation in Florida. He brought his best friends and they were over 21. I wasn’t, so they left me. Instead, I took the rental car to get lost. I returned to the hotel later, expecting them to still be out, but I was wrong.
I was buzzed when I walked in. He caught me walking in from the car. He must’ve been waiting for me, looking out the window, anticipating my arrival, just as he had done a thousand times before for customers. I met him in the hall. His friend followed, anticipating trouble. He questioned me, and I told lies. The first crack came.
A swift hit to the left side of my face. I’d been hit before, but I was not about to take that shit again, so I hit him right back.
He looked at me with surprise and then anger.
My response was reciprocal.
Homeboy intervened. He saw an all-out brawl where I would be the loser. He stopped our fight that first time, but there was no one to stop every fight that would follow.
The last fight I ever had with him was the most important. Fast forward three years. We were together, and the abuse had only gotten worse. We would fight. Fist to fist. Man to woman. Sometimes, I would get the upper hand. He has scars too, but the last fight would scar him more, I think.
He was drinking again, night after night, beer after beer. I should be grateful he didn’t go to liquor. I might be dead if he had. I picked him up after a late class from UNM-Gallup. It got out at almost nine. I picked him up and he was smelling of booze and women. I hated that. I took him home, thinking if I could just get him into the house, he could pass out.
I got him to the room and prepared to sleep. I was sober as a bird, but I don’t know how sober birds are. We laid down to sleep. I had no idea what was about to transpire.
I drifted off into a deep and peaceful sleep. I was yanked from that sleep with violent choking and him straddling me—with his hands and weight heavy on my neck, squeezing the air out of me with every exhalation. I tried to fight and punch him. I tried to roll like I’d seen in self-defense classes. My exertions only pushed more air out of me as he bore down on me harder.
After minutes of struggling, trying to scream and gasping as best I could for air, my strength and energy was drained when a thought crossed my mind. Just die. Let go. Stop struggling. Let him kill you. He was always going to kill you. This is better than trying to survive each attack.
My body went limp. I stopped struggling. I whispered, “Just kill me.” I let go and I stopped trying to breathe. I stopped fighting. I was ready to let him kill me as he had promised.
In an instant, he jumped up off me and started crying. To my great surprise, air filled my lungs and I gasped for sweet air and life! I love life! I want to live! I didn’t cry, but he did.
“I’m sorry! I went too far! Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I went too far!” he repeated, rocking back and forth. I gasped for air. He wailed and cried, and then he cried and begged.
Those first gasps of air were the best medicine of my life. I WANT TO LIVE, AND I AM GOING TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE! Every gasp of air reinforced that thought in my mind and by the time I regained my breath, I knew that this was the very last time.
I escaped. I changed my number, zip code, major, and lifestyle. I began living! I met people who respected and loved me, and I was free to love them back! It took years to regain myself and my power. Thank god I had a best friend who helped me regain my confidence, courage, and love for life. She was amazing! She’s gone now, but I would not have made it without her.
I carry the effects of that trauma every day. I hear his voice telling me I’m a stupid bitch and a dumb whore. I remind myself that I’ve done hard work and deserve to be happy.
I recognize symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety and I work very hard to heal. As I age, I see the scars on my face more than ever, and it serves as a reminder.
I want to live. I do not stand for domestic violence. I stand by my conviction. I don’t like to fight, but every day is a fight.