I needed locks on the doors he couldn’t copy secretly, but sometimes that wasn’t enough, because once he came through my window.
I needed a job where I could get away from him and people could remind me of who I was again, classes where he wasn’t. But he made a way for himself in those places, too.
I needed the kind of strength that could move dressers in front of bedroom doors, the kind of locks that couldn’t be picked. I had one because I spent hours in the gym trying to build muscle and burn off pain. I lacked the other because I didn’t watch enough HGTV.
I needed someone to ask if I was OK. No one did, ever, not once in three years. I had friends who disappeared and friends who ignored what was right there. I didn’t have friends that asked if I was OK. I needed a church that didn’t silence me when I finally found the courage to say it without prompting. A church more committed to serving Christ than shaming women.
I needed a place to go that wasn’t the hospital, needed someone to tell me where that was.
I needed people to stop laughing when he called me dumb, to stop acting like it was a funny joke. I needed to stop feeling invisible.
I needed another woman’s story because I’d never heard one. All I knew was I was afraid and ashamed and I had tried so hard to leave and no one told me how they did it.
I needed a voice less soft, less vulnerable to interruption. A voice I could raise without weeping. A voice that demanded instead of asked. A voice that stopped saying please when I asked him to stop screaming. A voice that stopped forgiving him when he apologized.
I needed to be angry. So much angrier than I thought I had the capacity to be, so much angrier than women are told is socially acceptable. I needed the kind of anger that breaks things, leaves cracks in which to leave. The kind of angry that could replace shame and fear and his voice in my head. I needed someone to tell me it was vital to feel that type of rage.
I needed books I hadn’t read yet. The books I would read years later and wonder if they would have saved me. I needed social media support groups that didn’t exist yet, resource centers not yet on campus, instructors with enough mental space to look up from their work and really see me.
I needed myself, now. Not the self I was then. I needed to surround myself with the type of strong women who would protect me when men failed to. I needed the me who was unashamed of my story, who has a voice quiet enough to make you really listen. I needed the hundreds of books that taught me what abuse looks like and how to escape it. I needed the love of someone who would never purposely hurt me.
I survived it, barely. There were times I almost didn’t because there were times I didn’t want to. There were times I shoved all the furniture in front of my door and prayed for God to let me die because I was so, so tired of being so afraid all the time. Because I knew I didn’t have any of the things I needed and I knew it was going to kill me.
And maybe, eventually, it will. There is some research that shows that the autonomic nervous system disorder I have can develop from being in a sustained state of fight-or-flight for too long. There is a way in which I carry it with me even now, a way no one can share the burden.
But I can share the burden with you. I can’t go back and be what I needed, but I can be what other women need. I know how to lift it, how to leave. I know how to survive.