My friends were shocked — to say the least — when I finally told them about this story. They said things like “But you’re so powerful and independent” and “I see you as such a feminist though.” But how this story played out wasn’t because of my stand on specific issues; it was a deep void of self-worth that I didn’t know I lacked.
Back in 2016, I was freshly back in the United States, experiencing reverse culture shock and overwhelming stress to find my first career job. I spent the past two years living around the world. I was a free-spirited, ambitious college student and figured out ways to make money while I lived in four different countries.
Now that I was back in America, I began my job search. I landed a job doing marketing for a health food snack company in Santa Monica. The team was small, practically non-existent. I was the third hire. It was me, the CEO, and a sales guy we’ll call Smith.
Due to the small nature of our company, Smith and I quickly became close and eventually friends, even hanging out outside of work. Smith was 12 years my senior. He had a tall, semi-in-shape-dad bod physique with grey hairs speckled throughout his beard. Smith exuded confidence but almost in an egotistical way. That kind of demeanor bodes well for sales though.
I only lasted at this job for seven months before the position started to change to e-commerce and I quickly realized that the lack of management wasn’t well-suited for my entry-level experience. By the time I made this decision, Smith and I were basically best friends; we got along exceptionally.
Perhaps the sparks were already flying a little at this point. It’s all a bit jumbled in my head as to what point exactly we started to become more than friends. One thing is for sure though, it was after I left the company. This is not to save anyone’s asses — neither of us works there anymore anyways.
I do, however, remember the point at which I nervously told Smith I wanted him to be my boyfriend. He was surprised, replying in a coy manner with, “Me? Are you sure?” The rest was history.
Since we built our relationship off of a solid friendship, it was comfortable being around Smith. His mature manner and a sense of purpose was sexy to me, and something that the younger men I had always chose to date lacked. We ended up moving in together; it was quick but quick seems to be my choice of pace with relationships.
It’s pertinent that I note that our relationship was not rainbows and butterflies. Both of us had a dating history of people that were the complete opposite of each other. I’m very much care-free, low maintenance, and am open to talking about my feelings – the epitome of a girl that contrasted Smith’s past relationships. Aside from his age, Smith had a less-than-appealing life narrative of being divorced and making semi-racist/negative comments. Like any couple though, we tried to work through our issues.
We did have other things in common though, like our love for the outdoors. Weekend get-aways to secluded mountain cabins were more frequent in this relationship than in any other I’d been in. I cherished this time we had together.
We started to plan one of our biggest hiking trips yet; a weekend in Sequoia, backpacking to a breath-taking spot called Jenny Lake. After that trip, we would meet up with my friends at one of the camping sites.
Our Jenny Lake backpacking trip went well. We fought a bit but, for the most part, we bonded over pushing ourselves to such physical limits. I was a newbie to backpack camping after all, and Smith showing me the ropes was alluring, to say the least.
After we hiked back in, Smith and I met up with my friends at the campsite. The night started out great; we went to one of the few restaurants inside of Sequoia, ordered food and got to drinking a decent amount of wine. Maybe I was lost in the moment and didn’t realize that Smith was steadily keeping up with me. I’m not sure how his alcohol consumption went unnoticed by me when Smith was going to be the one driving me back to the campsite.
The path through Sequoia is a cliff-side winding road that’s pitch black at night. My Prius was being swerved around the turns like it was a Tonka Toy; steered by Smith. We had gotten into a small argument before dinner — specifically about his feelings for me. I was overthinking our relationship and the point at which we were emotionally at. Nonetheless, I wanted to know how Smith felt about me. So after dinner, as we winded around the mountain, I brought the subject up again. He told me to shut up, which I found disrespectful and because of that, continued saying what I wanted to.
Smith went from 0 to 100 real quick. To this day, I’m not sure what it was that I said that lit him up like this. He quickly swerved my Prius off the road, got out — at which time I did the same — and we began yelling at each other. From what I recall, I was upset with how he was talking to me. As for his reason, I had no idea.
Smith unleashed a side to him that I never saw up until this point, and he was not holding back. His voice became a terrifying, deep yell. He began talking to me like I was Satan’s spawn, throwing words like daggers straight at my heart.
I now realize that I have a deep-rooted fear of abandonment. As soon had started yelling at Smith, I did a 180 and began balling my eyes out. I begged for our fight to stop — I cared for him and didn’t want this to ruin us. He threatened to walk out of Sequoia and find his own way home. Panic-stricken, I went after him.
As I approached him with tears streaming down my face, he turned around, came at me, and I felt his hands take hold of my neck. Smith yelled into my ear that I didn’t matter to him, that he hated me and I would never see him again.
As what was happening processed in my brain, I was suddenly able to breathe again. A flood of awareness suddenly came down on me — what Smith just did was unforgivable. He hurt me. Tomorrow morning, he wouldn’t forgive himself. We weren’t going to stay together; this incident was going to break us.
At that point, I lost all sense of myself. I went back to Smith, gasping in between breaths that I loved him and I was sorry.
That’s when his hands met my throat again; only this time, I felt the ground beneath my feet disappear. I was dangling from the hands of my once best-friend, the person I lived with, the man that I thought I would marry. I have no idea what he said to me this time because I was in complete shock. For a moment, I thought I was going to die out there. My friends were maybe 1/4 of a mile away, and they had no idea what was happening.
When Smith finally let go, he channeled his anger into throwing my phone charger and other belongings in my car out into the woods. He hurried back into the campsite and went straight to sleep. I followed in my Prius, phone dead and unable to contact anyone. I was mortified and couldn’t fathom what had happened. I entered the tent with Smith, attempted to get him to talk, and received a threat to punch my teeth in if I didn’t leave him alone.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I waited for the sun to come up so I could at least distract myself by going to look for my charger. Once a bit of daylight hit, I wandered off into the woods.
Upon arrival, empty-handed, Smith was packing up the sight. Smith looked at me, said he couldn’t believe how he acted last night, and that he just wanted to leave. We packed up our things, said a quick good-bye to my friends, and started off on our five-hour car ride home.
I received a semi-apology on our drive home. Words of remorse that Smith laid hands on me were briefly muttered but were quickly followed by a statement that he didn’t want to talk. Dead phone in hand, we listened to an audible book the rest of the ride home.
The rest of the narrative will sound quite familiar: He apologized, told me it would never happen again, I chose to believe him, and we continued our relationship. I told one of my best friends at the time but was embarrassed to talk to anyone else about that night.
I avoided bringing it up with Smith in the off-chance he became enraged in the same way again. I also knew I would never receive the full-fledged apology I believed I deserved.
Smith and I broke up about three months after that night in Sequoia. But to keep in line with his cowardly behavior, the break-up was initiated via text message. After all that we’d been through, I figured he would at least have the respect for me to end things in-person. Alas, we don’t always know people as well as we think we do.
I always wondered how women could be abused and then choose to stay with that person. Now I get it. Luckily, Smith and I had no children or assets together. I could’ve left him without many ramifications; for others, there’s much more at stake.
We were also in a deeply committed relationship, and I wanted to believe him when he said it wouldn’t happen again. To be honest, thinking about it now, I don’t believe that for a second.
But what it comes down to is that I lacked the self-worth I needed to walk away. I lacked the confidence to know that I deserved better. I let embarrassment and self-doubt get the best of me. So much so that my best friend cried when I finally told her what happened after Smith and I broke up. I wish I had told her. She would’ve given me the perspective I needed to feel empowered enough to leave Smith.
Our safety is our top priority. I am lucky that Smith and I’s story was short. But for other’s, that’s not the case. If there’s one message I want to get across for this article, it’s this: Violence is not ok, and it’s scary to try to walk away, but the other side is well worth it.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from Domestic Violence, here is the hotline number you can call to talk to someone. These people are accessible to help you make an action plan if you feel unable to on your own: 1–800–799–7233.