Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she is currently employed as a pro-domme but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. She usually shares her stories each Monday in Harlotry–however, for the next five weeks, she’ll be writing specifically about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Extricating oneself from an abusive relationship is never easy.
They don’t show you that part in the movies. They only show our heroine, generally a perky, smiling blonde, with clean hair and a new lease on life. They don’t show you the loneliness, the confusion, the terrible sense of disgust with oneself. That doesn’t make the final cut.
It isn’t just different for me because I am a pensive brunette, rather than a perky blonde. My difficulties do not stem from the fact that I rarely have time or inclination to wash my hair more frequently than once a week. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely have a new lease on life, but setting up an apartment is never instantaneous and the apartment of my head and heart is a real fixer-upper at this point.
I’ve written about the relationship before, but I never covered the real, lurid details of my relationship with “Stanley”, the man I named after Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire and, were he an actor, I’d say it was a role he was born to play.
Unfortunately, though, Stanley wasn’t the only one who played a role: first I played Stella and then I was Blanche. This summer, when I wrote about the relationship for the first time, the wounds were still very, very fresh. I didn’t want to talk about them and so I varnished them over with remembrances of how I felt at the beginning.
The time has come, I think, to tell the unexpurgated version of the story. People have asked to hear it, and here it is in all its sordid ingloriousness.
Stanley and I were together for three years officially. In reality it was closer to three and a half. During the years we were together and the six months after we broke up, he twisted my head into unnatural shapes and broke my heart innumerable times. My life with him was one of fear and abjection. This is not to say there were no good times; there were plenty of good times because Stanley’s approach to relationships could have been based on a manual for inducing Stockholm Syndrome in your friends and loved ones.
As I mentioned before, our relationship began online, and entirely by accident, at least so far as I was concerned. We were never supposed to be more than Myspace pals. But we went from being Myspace pals to texting pals to flirtatious texting pals and then things were going very fast and we were talking all the time and before I knew it… I was in love with a man I had never even met in person?!
I do think the fast, sloppy beginning of our relationship, was a contributing factor to its toxicity, but this is not a cautionary tale about strange men on the internet or moving too fast in relationships. It isn’t even a cautionary tale about being eighteen and having never been in a really serious adult relationship. It’s a story about destruction, violation, and rebuilding.
Stanley and I had been together for two months before we finally met in person. I was lucky, or unlucky, in that we actually had chemistry. Oh yes, we had plenty of chemistry. During the two weeks he visited, he met my mother, my sister, my roommate, and my best friend, but beyond that, we hardly left my bedroom. Maybe I should have known something was wrong then. It wasn’t easy, persuading him to meet even those few people. But again I will say I was eighteen-years-old and susceptible to the mixture of kindness and orgasms that Stanley offered me.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, two days before he had to go back to Fort Stewart to finish up the last two months of his army service, I saw for the first time what happened when Stanley was anything but content.
I’ve spoken about Stanley’s jealousy before, but I’ve never quite gotten into the ways he used his horrific, towering anger as a weapon to destroy me. That first rage terrified me more than anything I’d ever experienced. This man I loved–this man I had been lying next to every night for the past week and a half–had turned into a monster before my eyes. It was a case of a small misspeech or misunderstanding, I still don’t know which, but Stanley was convinced that I had lied deliberately, specifically to keep him in the dark about an ex-boyfriend still being in Chicago and he refused to hear anything to the contrary.
His rage simmered throughout the day. He barely spoke to me as I hovered on the verge of tears. I was terrified of losing him.
That night he exploded. How could I lie to him like that? How could I be like all the other lying, cheating harpies he had dated in the past? I was a slut, a bitch, and (perhaps most revealing) a “lying-ass female”, just waiting to cheat on him and eat his heart.
I cried and cried. I told him he was wrong, he had no idea, and I cried some more, weeping until I vomited.
If I had been older, smarter, more experienced, something, I would have showed him the door then. I would have directed him to the nearest Blue Line station and suggested that he spend the rest of his leave in one of the comfortable hotels in the O’Hare area. I would have warned him against letting the door hit his ass on the way out of my domicile.
But I wasn’t older, I wasn’t smarter, I wasn’t very experienced, and I was more than prepared to stop being something if he didn’t want me to be. I was so hungry for real affection and I hadn’t yet figured out that real affection does not come from one person changing any aspect of his/her personality that the other doesn’t much like.
Stanley never apologized. Later that night, he got into bed with me and I was so grateful he wasn’t leaving that I forgot to insist he ask my forgiveness. Besides, I thought, none of his insults had anything to do with the fact that I was a whore, they were all aimed at me because I was a woman, and therefore a slut. I could change his mind, if not about all ladies, at least about me. It would be okay, I was sure. The next morning he acted as if nothing had happened and I was all too happy to pretend right along with him.
Things got worse once he went back to Fort Stewart. He accused me of sleeping with his brother, despite there being no evidence whatsoever to support his case. I cried and begged him not to believe such awful things; he turned off his phone. God forbid I ever do such a thing. When I told him about the lewd comments one of my roommate’s boyfriend’s friends was making in my direction, I got no sympathy. Instead, Stanley decided that I must have encouraged him in some way. As far as he knew, I was already cheating. I began to feel great kinship with Desdemona.
I lived in fear of being unreachable. If Stanley couldn’t get in touch with me for any more than fifteen minutes, there was no telling what he would think. I began to take circuitous routes to my various destinations, just so that I could avoid the dead zones in the train tunnels.
I stopped going out. For the most part, at least. It wasn’t fun any more. I had to be chained to my phone if I didn’t want a fight. God forbid I have any fun without Stanley; he would see to it that my fun was ruined. Every time I went to a friend’s house, he would monopolize my attention. When I went to a party, against his wishes, he made sure the entire night was hell for me. I shouldn’t have put up with it, but I did.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe he boosted my ego. Every horrible rage, every bout of insults, was alternated with messages about how much he loved me, how wonderful I was, how lucky he was to be with me, how he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. He never apologized, but when he wasn’t telling me I was a lying slut, he fluffed my ego to such a size that I felt apologies weren’t necessary. He showed how sorry he was in his own way, I thought. I rationalized all of his bad behavior away, “He’s jealous because he loves me.” “He’s paranoid because he’s been hurt in the past.” “It isn’t that he’s threatened by my intelligence, he just hasn’t ever dated a smart girl before, he doesn’t know what to do with me.”
The fact that Stanley never, ever used the fact that I was a sex worker as an excuse for an argument only helped me override my better judgment. If he really didn’t respect me, I repeated to myself, he would use anything and everything he could find to accuse me of infidelity and general sluttishness; since he didn’t use my work, I could still pretend he actually held me in some regard.
It was all bullshit, but I managed to convince myself that things would improve once he came to Chicago to live with me. I didn’t see how they couldn’t; after all, I would be in the same city as he and he would see how devoted I really was, how faithful. When he asked me if I wanted to find an apartment together I was elated: I would be under his watchful eyes all the time, meaning he wouldn’t be able to accuse me of any infidelity. He would see the light. We would be happy. We would forget the hell of the past two and a half months. I couldn’t have been more wrong, of course.
The first three weeks were indeed blissful. I had never been happier. We spent all our time having sex and setting up our apartment. We never fought about anything. It was enough to make me believe we would be okay. And then a little after my nineteenth birthday everything fell apart when Stanley asked to read my old journals and I refused. I had grown complacent and comfortable. I had forgotten how terrifying his wrath could be.
As he stormed out the door, I sat in the center of our kitchen floor clutching every journal I had ever owned and weeping inconsolably. I was sure he was going to break up with me, sure that I was going to lose him, and unable to see how this could be a good thing. I loved him, I loved him so much, but I knew he couldn’t read any of my journals. If he did, I’d never hear the end of it. Already he had shown a distinct inability to accept that people were able to change and I knew that if he read anything I’d written as a young, angry teenager, I would forever be the same little girl who wrote about how much she hated everything–not the young woman who only hated most things.
I also knew he wouldn’t be able to handle a mention of any of my ex-boyfriends, especially ones I still spoke to (however infrequently) and I wanted to avoid another fight about my fidelity and another bout of unsubstantiated accusations which he expected me to disprove. Besides all this, I have a very well-developed sense of privacy. Some things are not for others to read, not when they are first written, not years after they’ve been written, and possibly not even after I am dead. Journals are among those things.
When I’d collected myself a bit more, I walked down the block with my old journals and threw them in an anonymous dumpster. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hide them properly, and I’d be damned if I was going to have another fight over them. I wrote an account of the fight in the diary I was working on at the time, and hid it inside our mattress.
I hoped that would be the end of the fighting, at least the stupid, reasonless fighting, but in the months that followed it seemed as if we never did much of anything besides fight and have sex. I often thought my throat would crack open, unable to hold the screaming and the crying. We fought about everything. We fought when he didn’t want to visit my friends and accused me of pressuring him into coming along. We fought when I told him it wasn’t a big deal, I wanted one-on-one time with them anyway and he accused me of going to my friends’ houses to cheat on him with the stable of young men they undoubtedly provided for me to choose from. We fought when I decided not to got at all and just end the fight and he claimed that my insistence upon staying home was an admission of guilt. We fought when an ex’s name was brought up, favorably or unfavorably. We fought when I mentioned a male name he hadn’t heard before, or had forgotten he’d heard before. We fought when he discovered I had slept with some of the people I still associated with. I could fill volumes with the things we fought about, but mostly we fought because Stanley was jealous and crazy and I couldn’t bring myself to leave any more than I could bring myself to point out that the logic he employed was insane troll logic, rather than rational human logic… that he wanted to own me the way one owns a guinea pig or a housecat and not be with me the way human beings bond with each other.
I say we fought, but ‘fought’ is not the correct word. Stanley fought, Stanley raged and threw things and accused and insulted. I just cried and told him he was wrong, wrong, wrong.
And I stayed. Why? I don’t know. I was running out of excuses. I wasn’t eighteen anymore, and that was a flimsy defense to begin with. On some level I did love him, sure, I loved him literally to distraction, but there is a point when love is simply not enough. I think that point comes long before you become afraid to mention that you find a celebrity attractive or look in the general direction of a person who might be male, lest you enrage your partner.
I think that point comes long before you destroy all record of your misanthropic, stupid teenage years, just so your partner doesn’t hold your poor decisions and misdirected rage against you, and long before you get to the point where you can’t go to the grocery store without a ball of apprehension knotting your stomach, the question repeating itself in your mind, “If the line is long, and I am not back within forty-five minutes, will he think I’ve been cheating?”
I guess abusers have to start early if they want to properly get their claws into their victims, but we hadn’t even been together for a year before I was reduced to a quivering, cowering, spineless thing, a shadow of the girl I’d been, a girl learning to live on her own, stand on her own, and not take shit from anyone.