In the midst of an abusive relationship, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, or somewhere in between, it is so hard to identify the abuse as abuse. Abusive moments are often referred to as ‘a bad day,’ ‘that’s just who they are,’ ‘honestly, it was really my fault,’ or any number of excuses made to ease the pain of the reality: a beloved person is causing harm. Looking back with the clarity of time and healing, though painful, the line becomes evident. The line between fine and not fine; the line between healthy and unhealthy; the line between safe and abused. Sometimes it is a fine line and the crossing is just a shuffle. Other times it is a bold line and the crossing is a leap. Either way, the line is crossed, and everything shifts.
If I could go back in time, I know the exact moment I should have left. I know when the line was first crossed, but I did not leave then. I stayed through the worsening of my relationship. It took me time to gain enough strength, but I did leave.
I had just landed in LAX, and I was walking to my car in the parking lot. It was a warm summer day. The sun was beating down as I walked through the aisles of parked cars. I was looking forward to going home and seeing my fiancée.
When I got home, I unpacked my bag as she poured two glasses of iced tea. Sitting down to catch up with the woman I loved over a cool drink on a hot summer day is a great pleasure in life, and catching up in person is always different than the phone calls or facetimes when apart. Being able to touch the one you love is intimate and reassuring. I could reach out and rub her feet as she told me about the rude woman in line ahead of her at the grocery store, and she could see the tension in my face when I talked about the difficult project I was working on.
Once the daily ins and outs of a life lived together were discussed, I mentioned how excited I was to go on a camping trip with my best guy friends from law school later that summer. It had become an annual ritual for us. A way to catch up, escape, and relax away from the hustle and bustle of our busy and stressful lives. Plus, who doesn’t like communing with nature every once in a while? I had gone the year before. The upcoming trip had been planned for over a year. Camping in the Sequoia National Forest is not for last-minute planners; spots are often booked a year in advance. The trip was not a secret, and it had been planned pretty much since the last trip ended. We were all looking forward to it. I mentioned the trip and the timing to my fiancée and how excited I was to see my friends and camp in a few weeks.
Our loving and relaxing chat over iced tea devolved into an emotion-fueled argument over my plans to go camping with the guys. She started screaming at me, “What are you thinking?” “How could you go off camping in a secluded forest?” “You could have girls there, or there could be girls at the same campsite.” “It isn’t normal for a fiancé to go away on a guy’s weekend.” “It’s not fair.” I was shocked. I had not kept this trip a secret. I had mentioned it before. I had gone on the same trip with the same people the year before. I had not done anything to betray her trust or make her question my loyalty. I was just going away for a guy’s weekend in the woods. This trip, the planning, the paying, the dates, the everything about it had not been hidden from her. I could not understand her reaction.
I tried to talk to her. To reason with her. I wanted to make it work. I wanted her and the camping trip. I wanted her and my friends. I wanted a healthy, stable relationship and to communicate without being attacked. She wouldn’t let it go. She kept saying that she didn’t want this kind of boyfriend, fiancé, partner, or husband. The argument turned into a repetition of how it wasn’t fair that I was going gallivanting in the woods with my guy friends. I was being bombarded and assaulted with possibilities of things that had not nor would happen.
To this day, I don’t know what sparked the change in her. But in that moment, our relationship changed. It went down a dark path. I was so in love with her and afraid of losing her, that I never went on that camping trip. I began to push away my friends and family because that was what she wanted. Every time a plan came up, she would start an argument. Eventually, I was isolated from my friends and family. I didn’t have anyone but my fiancée.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have said, “Fuck you, I’m going camping.” I would have left her and started over. She crossed the line, and I let her. I stayed when I should have left. It took time, but I eventually left and picked up the pieces of my life.