My abuser was quiet, soft-spoken and charming. He was the kind of man who would knock you down a flight of stairs then run down to kiss every wound. Despite the signs, he didn't fit the description of a violent person in my mind. I ignored the storm that was brewing and convinced myself that since he hadn't hit me, I in fact was not in an abusive relationship.
Many years ago, my boyfriend at the time threw a cup of water in my face. My best friend warned, "If he threw that water in your face, he'll hit you."
I let it go.
He was INSANELY jealous and I ignored A LOT of red flags. One night after visiting a casino, I forgot to cash in his chips before we left which of course, infuriated him. He cussed me out in the parking lot in front of countless people.
I was angry and embarrassed and did the only thing I was brave enough to do, which was throw that cup of chips in the air and walk away. I didn't get too far before he approached me, in a very calm manner. That was his way: quiet and unassuming, yet more dangerous than I could have imagined. Moments later, he punched me in the side of the head so hard that I lost hearing in my left ear for two days.
To this day, I don't remember how I got home.
Days later, I went to his apartment to get my stuff. Not a good idea. He placed a gun on the counter and told me that if I hadn't gotten all of my shit out of his apartment by the time he got out of the shower, he would shoot me. AS SOON AS the bathroom door closed, I left. I remember running out of the apartment and seeing a group of men outside and feeling relieved, thinking they'd surely help me if he came after me.
Seconds later he was outside and on top of me, sitting on my stomach and punching me in the face. As I fought with him as best I could, I glanced over at the neighbors who watched and did nothing. I'm sure they would have watched him kill me if he'd decided to do so. When he was done, I lay on the ground watching him calmly and quietly walk away and slam the door. No remorse. No nothing.
Despite fearing he'd return with the gun he'd threatened to shoot me with, I stayed there, lying on that ground for I can't remember how long, sobbing uncontrollably. Getting up and walking away in front of a group of people who'd stood by and done nothing was just as painful as the attack itself.
I didn't witness domestic violence in my home as a child. In my mind, I didn't fit the description of a "victim". No man had ever hit me. My grandmother didn't allow my grandfather to discipline me. My uncle didn't abuse me. Despite having a child-molesting stepfather, I was never hit by any man in our home. I grew up listening to stories about "hot grits" and pots of boiling water being thrown on abusers in their sleep. In my mind, I must have done something to trigger this violence in my boyfriend. For years, I needed to make sense of it.
I called him one day, sometime after the attack and asked if he'd ever witnessed domestic violence in his home. He listened while I got all "Louise L. Hay" on him. When I was done he laughed and replied "Bitch, leave me alone." I remember sitting on the phone listening to the dial tone once he hung up, as if there was something of comfort there for me. It took too many years for me to learn that I don't owe anything to my abusers. I'm still figuring this shit out.
I don't think about this too much anymore, but watching the clip of former Ravens running back Ray Rice knock his then-fiance (now wife) Janay Rice unconscious brought it to mind. I have no doubts he's capable of killing her.
Stacey Muhammad is an award-winning filmmaker / writer and director of the critically acclaimed "For Colored Boys" series. She's also a mother, an activist, and a survivor of domestic violence.
[Illustration by Jim Cooke]