This essay originally appeared in Latina magazine's February 2015 issue.
Angel* and I were driving to a party one summer day when I made a harmless joke. I sat there giggling, and all of a sudden he slammed my head against the car window. Angel wasn’t pleased, and this was his way of letting me know who controlled the relationship. It wasn’t the first time he had shown his dark side.
I was just shy of 16 when I first met Angel near my high school. He was attractive, polite, and a few years older—so his interest flattered me. After all, he was a college man. I was a fairly confident teenager—I had a ton of friends and a loving family—and when I started dating Angel, I began to feel like he was the One. He became my best friend, a shoulder to cry on, and well . . . my everything. Looking back, I realize that the reason Angel became that for me was because he made sure of it. As time progressed, he found ways to push my friends away—either they took up too much of my time, he’d say, or they were “bad influences.” He always had some justification for why I needed to cut someone off.
I was young and inexperienced, and he took advantage of it. He was manipulative, filling my mind with lies, making me believe I would never amount to anything, that I wasn’t pretty enough, that no one else would want me, and that no matter what he did, I would never leave him. Which seemed true, because he was mentally and physically abusing me and I continued to take it. What many people don’t realize is how men like this truly tear you down mentally. Everything out of their mouth becomes a truth to you. I wish I had told my family everything I was going through as it was happening.
The first time Angel verbally attacked me was just before a trip to a water park. I’ve always been fairly thin, but I had gotten a little skinnier than usual. As I stood near him in a bathing suit and shorts, he regarded me with disgust. “You look like you have AIDS,” he said. Those words pierced my soul. To this day, I still hear his cruel words when I look in the mirror.
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