*This piece was originally featured on SisterWives.
At 34 years old, I still flinch when a man yanks his belt through the loops of his pants. The clattering sound a buckle makes causes every muscle to tense up. Each time, I feel the fear. I’ve reconciled this feeling will never go away. One feeling finally did stop after three decades. I stopped craving death. I no longer invite the black masked, soul stealer to take my life. He was an invited, welcomed guest since the age of 5. For almost 20 years, I would beg for his mercy.
They called it ‘spankings.’ I call it beatings. When a belt was hastily torn from my father’s pants and looped in the palm of his hand, I knew my fate. My hands went up as my only defense. These same hands type this story you’re reading.
The lashes received depended on the anger, on the rage, visible through his stone cold blue eyes. They never stopped at one. They went until he threw down the leather strap in satisfaction.
My earliest memory after being beat was hiding in the tiny bathroom floor between the shower/tub combo and a bare basin sink. I curled up as a child aching to return to the womb, and I prayed in between the sobbing breaths.
“God, it hurts. Make it stop. Please take me away. Please take me back. It hurts. I don’t want to be here anymore. Take me back home. Please, make it stop.”
It didn’t stop until I was 17. The last time my father cornered me, he smacked me across the face. I pulled a large butcher knife off a counter. Maybe it was God, maybe it was my own self awareness, but a voice spoke to me. It said, “You aren’t this kind of person. God wouldn’t like it.” I laid the knife down, and my hand went through the back door shattering the glass. I walked away on that night, free. But freedom is rarely free.
A few months after the kitchen incident, my father kept trying to find an argument with me. I wanted to go on a bike ride. He argued with me about the time as it was early afternoon. He ranted about which bike I should ride. On this day, he wanted something to control.
I didn’t have a lot fight left in me on this day. I screamed and yelled, and tried to fly from the moving vehicle. I wanted away from him. I wanted to avoid an argument. He called me ‘incorrigible,’ said I needed to be committed. I prayed my prayer again and this time I didn’t wait for God to answer.
I sought refuge in my bedroom and swallowed every prescription pill I could find. My mother busted through a locked door, and I was taken to our hospital’s Emergency Room. They shoved a tube down my nose and it scraped the back of my throat until it found the corridor into my stomach. I watched every pill I swallowed float back up through that tube along with the black charcoal.
Charcoal stains the stomach. It stains a soul leaving black memories. I sat on cardboard hospital linens giving death the middle finger. My father won this day. I was committed to a mental hospital for a week.
Abused women will often seek abusive men. I understand this now, but in my twenties I called it ‘love.’ At 21, I met a man. I loved him more than any other. He loved emailing other women online. All his emails had the same subject lines reading “Hey Stranger.” I became obsessed with constant hacking. I hacked his emails, MySpace, and other sites I knew he visited and used to talk to other women. I felt controlled. Desperate in my belief: He loved me. He loves me.
One night I found exactly what I went looking for: another sexually explicit email to a woman. I went looking for death again. My thought pattern centered on one statement, “no one will ever love me.” Dull knives only leave light scars. They don’t provide a proper death. I hid again in the bathroom as he raged out of our attic apartment. I wrapped my bloody wrists, and decided to call that hotline. I remember thinking this was the smart way. I should talk to someone. I shouldn’t be alone.
After speaking with the suicide hotline volunteer for half an hour, she asked me to hold on for a minute. The line went dead. My last attempt at help and the phone disconnected. Lost cell service. I couldn’t call back. I surrounded myself in desperation with more vodka. I took pills and the night ended. But death didn’t take me.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I stopped caring about hacking emails that I started rebuilding some shred of self worth. During this time, I stumbled across these words online. I can’t tell you where I found them as I don’t recall. Since the very moment that I read these words, I immediately stopped seeking death. The words were my salvation and they read:
YOU ARE YOUR OWN SOVERIEGN.
I am my own sovereign. No person rules me. Yes, people have hurt me. They have done their best to tear me apart. These people will not be my demise.
Sovereignty was granted to me in surviving, in breathing and in waking up to all my days.
With these words tucked in my heart, my prayers were answered. I didn’t need to go away to make my hurt and pain end.
I am strong enough to rule my kingdom.