The deceiving reality of an abusive relationship


Melissa Joseph

Drawing made by Melissa Joseph

He stood what seemed like millimeters from my face. 

I heard the excess spit in his cheeks, subtly slurring his speech. He smelled exactly as he did a year ago, besides a slight hint of whiskey that stung my nose as he leaned in closer. 

It was a Tuesday night with clear skies and a dropping temperature lingering around 40 degrees. We stood outside in the dark, as close to one another as possible without touching. 

His eyes were glazed over, pitch black and looking as unemotional as ever. 

I didn’t want to fight again. I knew he wouldn’t remember our exchanged words anyway. 

I stood in front of him, mute and still. 

A few weeks ago he called me for the first time in a year, from a blocked number, informing me he was moving back to town. I knew the sliver of self control and respect I built for myself within my year away from him, didn’t stand a chance between my subconscious pull to him and his belligerent calls. 

I knew my place in his life. I was the one person willing to stay long enough to help him, when he was at his lowest. He told me over and over that he had no one in his life, he needed a true friend like me. 

How could I betray his trust by abandoning him with no one? 

Somehow after a year of being away from him, I was right back where we left off. 

I didn’t know why I agreed to see him when I knew the romantic scenarios in my head were just fabrications of the relationship I wish we had. 

At his drunkest, he would drool on my lap and almost let out a tear, as I silently shushed him into an alcohol induced night of sleep. He would wake up, not knowing what happened the night before and I would pretend like nothing ever happened. 

On his less intoxicated days, he would tell me that I didn’t know him and that I was wrong to think that I did. I laughed it off with most of the things he said to me. 

It wasn’t until I was standing here as he breathed on my face, drunk again on a Tuesday night, that I realized what he was doing was abusive. 

As wrong as it was, I wished he would do something physical to me, so I had a blatant sign of the damage he was doing to me. So, it was harder for me to deny the paramount impact he had on my life. 

The hard truth is, I don’t know if I would’ve left, even if he did hit me. 

I didn’t know if it was watching my parents’ tumultuous relationship drag on for years, or my undying need to be needed, that tethered me to our relationship. Either way, it was slowly decaying the parts of myself that I enjoyed most. 

He was still centimeters from my face as all of these moments clamored together in my mind. 

My breathing tightened as his gaze tore me apart. He was speaking and all I could hear was the serrated intent of his words. 

I stepped back. I needed air that wasn’t saturated in cheap whiskey. 

Maintaining eye contact with exhausted obedience, I asked, “Why do you hate me so much?”

He stepped closer, suffocating me again. He grabbed my face with his right hand that was a pretty shade of maroon from punching walls. With deceivingly soft words, he promised he didn’t hate me. He grabbed my limp shoulders, shoving me into a hug that I didn’t have the mental strength to escape. 

I looked at the black sky and silently sobbed into his chest. How did we get here? 

I knew who he was before we got to this point, which made things so much harder. I knew he wasn’t a bad person. I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me. I knew that deep down somewhere he cared for me.  

When I was a young girl I swore to myself I would never let someone treat me the way my dad treated my mom, but it happened so slowly and unbeknownst to me, I didn’t realize that the relationship I was engaging in was just like theirs. 

In movies and the media, they make abusive relationships seem so obvious and simple. I thought I’d be able to tell if someone was treating me wrong, but I couldn’t. 

Even as I sobbed into his chest defeated, I only wanted him to comfort me. When something and someone becomes so familiar, healthy or not, it’s hard to realize that there’s a life that exists outside of the relationship that’s developed.

How do I know when to give up on someone I care about, for not only my own well being, but theirs too? 

Melissa Joseph can be reached at [email protected] or @melisstweetz on Twitter.