Right now you’re huddled in a corner of your boyfriend’s unfinished basement, crouched on the cold cement floor, trying to make yourself as small as possible while keeping your breath silent. You’re doing this because he’s somewhere outside this room, stalking you, the hilt of a machete clutched between his two hands.
Of course, you’d known what a machete was but you’d never seen one before in person. Its blade is so long and wide, its uneven edge spotted with rust and corrosion. He was showing it to you—that was innocent enough wasn’t it?—but then a maniacal gleam danced in his eyes and his mouth twisted in a sinister grin and he swung it at you. And you ran.
Your heart is slamming in your chest as you listen to the creaks in the ceiling above you or the sound of nearby closet doors as he opens then shuts them, searching for you. All the while he’s laughing, calling your name in that sing-songy voice, instructing you to give up, give in, and reveal your hiding place.
You tell yourself this is a joke. He’s laughing so it must be, right? This is just one of his sick and twisted games, like so many before it, and he doesn’t actually mean to maim or kill you. You told yourself the same thing just the other day when he took you on a hike at a nearby park. The hiking trail was beautiful until you came to the end, a scenic overlook high above a ravine complete with a sheer one-hundred-foot drop. As you leaned forward, ever so slightly to peak over the cliff to the jagged, rock-littered ground below, he remarked that it would be easy to push someone to their death. Stepping back from the ledge you knew he was right. All it would take was a tiny jab of the elbow, a thrust of the wrist, and you’d be gone, the unfortunate victim of a “slip and fall.”
Now, pried up against this wall made of two-by-fours, you’re wondering how it is that you’ve found yourself in this position. Eighteen years old, on your first summer break from college, and stranded in a strange state five hundred miles from home and anyone who knows or loves you. How is it that someone who was once so strong, independent, and smart could be cowering in a corner while simultaneously rationalizing her boyfriend’s homicidal behavior and praying for her life?
The answer is horrifying simple. You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of an abusive relationship, where reality becomes twisted, everything is your fault, and mental pain and suffering is inflicted to control you or, just for fun.
Your slide into this particular position was both shockingly fast and slow. Fast, because you’ve only been with him for less than ten months, yet you can barely recognize your former self. But it was slow too because this craziness didn’t start on day one. Instead it was the slow, drip-drip effect of a thousand tiny transgressions that accumulated until you were over your head, gasping for air.
Early on you thought about getting out, but you’d already had premarital sex with this monster, an act your religion taught you was a mortal sin. And deep in your soul, you believed the only way to obtain forgiveness and secure your salvation was to stay with him, make it work, and eventually marry him. But you also know there is no good ending with this young man. He will eventually kill you. Or if by some miracle you survive, you’ll be so whittled, so empty, you will cease to exist.
Torn between these two bad outcomes, you sit, paralyzed with fear as you dread his discovery of you in this cramped corner.
Here’s what I wish you could do right now: Sneak out of the basement, find the nearest phone, and dial the police. They will watch over you and keep him at bay as you pack your suitcase, then they’ll escort you to the airport, help you exchange your ticket, and get you home safely.
But that is the desire of a forty-two year old woman who’s seasoned by life and experiences you can’t even begin to imagine. At eighteen, you’re afraid to dial that phone because there are so many uncertainties. Will he find you and lash out before you’ve even completed the call? If you do make it through, will he convince the responding officers that you’re just being dramatic, overreacting to a little harmless fun? If so, can you be strong enough to insist that you’re right and he’s most definitely wrong? And if he does manage to send them away without offering you help, what punishment will lie in store for your disloyalty and misbehavior?
So knowing you as I do, I understand that you’ll remain where you are, bidding your time on this vacation from hell until you finally get to go home.
But guess what? When you do return to your dysfunctional but not homicidal family, you’ll have a few precious weeks by yourself before school starts again. It won’t be long enough to heal, but it’ll give you some breathing room, a chance to get your head back on straight and begin to grapple with how broken you’ve become. And though you’ll still see him after you get back to college, you’ll have gained enough understanding to realize this can’t continue. And eventually, five months from now, you’ll have gained the strength you need to say the words that have been looping through your head for what seems like forever: “I’m not happy. I want out.”
The end won’t be easy of course. There will be stalking, harassment, threats of throwing you in front of a New York City subway train, or suggestions that you’ll lose an eye or an appendage for all the pain you’ve caused him. Unfortunately, you’ll struggle with the aftermath of his abuse and depravity for more than you care to admit. But I want you to know a few things: You are strong. You don’t deserve this. You will survive. And best of all, there is so much joy in store for you, so much love and contentment. Your life will be happy.
And some day, after you’ve gained forty-two years worth of wisdom, you might be in the position to help another teenager who’s cowering in a corner, afraid of her boyfriend’s wrath. When that day comes, tell her to believe in herself, ask for help, and most importantly, to get out. Because she doesn’t deserve the abuse either.
Lea Nolan writes the kinds of stories she sought as a teen—smart paranormals with bright heroines, crazy-hot heroes, diabolical plot twists, plus a dose of magic, a draft of romance, and a sprinkle of history. She holds degrees in history and women’s studies concentrating in public policy and spent fifteen years as a health policy analyst and researcher. She lives in Maryland with her heroically supportive husband and three clever children. She is the author of CONJURE, book one in The Hoodoo Apprentice Series. Find out more on Lea’s website, or visit her on Facebook, Twitter and on Goodreads.