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Abuse is such a strong word.

When I hear stories of sexual assault I feel this topic is soooo far away from me. In addition to not relating at all with the victims, I feel sorry for them. Until I realized that abuse can come in many different shapes and forms.

I remember a situation I went through as a child with a cousin of mine.

My mom was the youngest of 7 brothers and sisters. She – and therefore we, her daughters – had little to no relationship with neither of them. Except for one of her sisters. Maybe what brought them closer was a small age gap between them because her sister, Elfie, had gone down a different path in life than my mother did. Elfie has 3 boys. 

She is a stay at home mom who met the love of her life at age 12. He was a few years her senior and they have been together ever since. She does not drive. Never had a job. Cooks wonderfully and plays cards like nobody’s business. As much as I love her I could tell from an early age that she was different from my mother.

Her husband is a successful but modest scientist. Her boys are the smartest people I have ever known who got into colleges that I would have never dreamed of getting into. 

The youngest one, who is around my age, is a sweetheart. He went through a handful of serious relationships before he found the one and they now have 2 kids. They are both – very hard – working parents and it is lovely to witness them build their life together. 

The oldest one is a genius. And he is also very funny. Back then being a nerd was not cool so it took him forever to find someone. And not just anyone, a woman who is as smart as he is and cooks as well as his mother does. They have a baby girl who learned how to play chess at 5 years of age. Enough said.

And then there is the middle one. Took him about 7-8 years to graduate from a 4-year college. He does have the brains. But it looks like that did not come with a side serving of effort, discipline or willpower. 

It must be that he is so smart the rest of the world looks boring to him. He has no big dreams. No career goals. It may be safe to assume that his ideal life would be to find an average pay, stress free job, a wife that would have no problem leading the way, and go through life as smoothly and as slowly as possible. 

I don’t remember how old I was or where we were. We travelled a lot together as kids, either to their ranch or to our apartment at the beach. The five of us would play cards, football, build atomic bombs with Coca-Cola, chase after the blind dog at the ranch, go pick blueberries from the tree and play the guitar and sing Raul Seixas songs.

One day, maybe after singing or playing football we ended up laying in a bed next to each other for whatever reason. We were kids. I honestly have no exact recollection of what happened or if it actually did happen or maybe I am just making it up. The moment is so clear in my mind to this day and yet I have not thought about it much growing up. Maybe I felt it was normal. Maybe I felt I’d better keep my mouth shut. What I do remember is that I was wearing a bikini top and shorts. And while we were doing whatever it was that we were doing he put his arms around me, gently reached my breasts with his hand and touched it. I was so embarrassed to say anything that I just pretended nothing was going on. Like when you fart near a group of people and you keep acting normal so no one can suspect you did it. I was petrified. What scared me the most was what he would say if I spoke up. If I said anything he would blame it on me. He would never talk to me again. He would tell his brothers. I had never heard of this happening to anyone else I knew and neither saw anything like that on TV or books. Looking back, the words I am writing on this page might as well have been exerts of any of the Cosby’s or Weistein’s victims.

I never told anyone. My mom died without ever knowing. Or maybe she did but was able to pull through without letting me see it through her. My dad would have either killed him or went even deeper into his depression. The only person I told it to is my therapist. It took me 30 something years to let it come out. Go figure.

Looking back at it now I realize that was not the only time I have been abused. Maybe it was the only time there was something sexual to it, but clearly it was not the only time I was abused.

After every single one of my many fights with my ex we would reconcile afterwards. Not with sex but with hours-long-deep conversations. B-O-R-I-N-G. He would point out my flaws as I would point out his and we would make promises we would never keep. After one of these fights we sat down at the couch ready to go into the reconcile stage. He held me and with his right arm in a very unwilling, casual way, touched my boob. I allowed him to do it afterall we were “married” and he had permission to touch me. But deep in my heart I knew it didn’t feel right. 

At this time I had convinced him to start therapy. I had already threatened to leave him about 10 times if he did accompany me to counselling and he finally came around. We were together 11 years and must have attended about 4 to 5 sessions altogether. That’s how committed he was. 

The next Monday we went to see our therapist. During our session we spoke about the fight we had and she asked me how I felt afterwards. After rambling for a couple of minutes I was able to get to point and blurt out that his way of reconciling with me was to touch my breast and I had not felt comfortable with that. She remained as cold as ice and asked me how I felt.

The first word that came out of my mouth was “abused”. Mauricio started laughing nervously because he could not understand how was it that I felt abused by him since he thought of himself as the perfect gentleman who treated his wife like a princess. Just like his dad treats his mom. How could I feel abused by him if we were a couple? How I could I feel abused by him if he never crossed the line? How could I feel abused by him if he had never imposed or pushed himself onto me?

Somehow I did.

I went on and said that I felt like limits were crossed when he touched me when we were still not over the fight. I said I felt like a puppet he could just play with whenever he felt like it. That only made him laugh even harder. 

After we left all I could think of was that if I ever wanted to have peace in my relationship  again I would have to take it back and apologize for several times in a row so he would eventually forgive me. Forgive ME. That’s right. That is what I thought: I was wrong to think that my partner would ever abuse me so I must have said it without thinking. I was wrong. I went too far and accused him of abusing me when all he was trying to do was makeup with me. It was wrong of me to speak from the heart without thinking it through beforehand. How could I have said that word out loud? How come I did not filter it?

For the next couple of days he did not speak to me. He was devastated. He felt like I had abused him by judging him like that. He could not understand how I could have felt that way. He was only trying to reconnect with me at that moment. How on earth could it have ever occured to me that he was abusing me?

I apologized as much as I could. I played myself down as low as possible so he could see how sorry I was. I explained how stupid I was and how many times I say things that I don’t mean and not consider how the other person might feel. I begged him to forgive me. I did the best I could to make it go away. 

The next time we had sex he asked me as a joke if him kissing me or taking my clothes off was abusive. It became a joke to him.

I never thought about it again.

We moved to Chile with my promise that I would take care of everything. I would provide for him, my son and myself without having him cut back on the restaurants, the wines, the parmigiano reggiano and all the things his dad could afford to provide for him back in Brazil. If I was taking him away from his family I might as well just pay for it, right? 

I paid the rent, the school, gas, food, bought a car, new furniture, new appliances and some dinners and/or lunches out. Nevermind that we would go out for breakfast every saturday and sunday because he liked it. He didn’t like staying home which meant eating out for most of the meals. Of course I would not dare drag him into a place that was below the level of where he ate at in Brazil.

On top of that I was faced with an enormous professional challenge. Every evening seconds before putting the key through our front door I would take a minute to breath and get ready for entering the home of an unhappy, bored, insecure man. Obviously the fact that he felt that way was 100% my fault. 

With time I realized that abuse has many synonyms:

  • not being heard,
  • not being considered,
  • focus on pleasing others,
  • paying the price without getting what you asked for in return,
  • being the only one who compromises,
  • feeling guilty,
  • feeling guilty and having you partner reassure that,
  • sticking with someone that makes you feel less than you actually are,
  • jealousy,
  • enduring even through pain and suffering,
  • being with someone that reinforces your low self esteem,
  • being with someone that makes you feel like they are doing you a favor,
  • facing self-esteem-destroying comments as constructive feedback,
  • accept being put down,
  • let self-loathing, low self esteem people in so you can help them,
  • assuming that those around you are your responsibility,
  • identifying hate as love,
  • trading a false idea of protection for love,
  • when the fear of being alone makes you buy into anything.

Am I stupid?

Am I wired the wrong way?

Why did I put up with this for such a long time?

Why didn’t I listen to my heart and intuition?

Why was I afraid to speak up and just be me?

Why did I think this was the best I could do?

Why are women more willing to eat s***? 

Was it my mother’s fault?

How come I believed that I should be so lucky if any man chose to be with me?

Is enduring suffering a skill or a sin?

How come I made suffering my ongoing status? 

Have no idea how to answer those questions.

The only question I do know the answer of is: “Will I ever allow myself to get sucked into that again?”. HELL NO.

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