After three years of being happily single and celibate, I was out guzzling dirty martinis and shots with my also-single friend Erika when I met Aleks*.
He was one of the DJs and way too young for me. He approached me during a smoke break and managed to intrigue my inner nerd with his vast knowledge of movies and video games that no one cared about but me. I took a chance and gave him my number.
We were wrapped up in a state of bliss for a few weeks after that. You know, that period of time that you ignore the technicalities of making a relationship work and you bask in the outset of budding love — and make-out sessions.
Eventually, I became concerned about Alek’s past and current living situation. His father had abused and terrorized him until he was able to go to college and use it as an excuse to leave his home. When he encountered a problem registering for school, he couldn't imagine returning back to that house, so he got a job and ended up bouncing from place to place. When we met, he had been moving around for four years and had settled with his childhood friend and his friend’s family.
I had to ask myself if I was willing to deal with the consequences of being with someone who had a traumatic past that could affect his present and who wasn't financially stable. Was he worth leaving the problem-free single life that I was happy with?
I knew the answer was yes because he was dedicated to me in a way that I had never experienced before. I saw it in his face whenever he picked me up from work or school, like a faithful puppy awaiting his master to come home.
Seeing how he poured himself into making our relationship work, I gave my all to making sure he was safe and happy. It was hard. The people he was staying with eventually felt that he had overstayed his welcome and then he was forced to start bouncing around again. I didn't pay the rent in my house, so I couldn't ask him to stay with me.
He ended up crashing in random places and I spent those nights worrying that he was being treated like unwanted property. After the childhood he had, I was concerned about his self-worth.
Everything changed when he moved in with his grandmother. He was finally in a home where someone cared about him, although he was cramping her senior citizen style. We celebrated the anniversary when we first met with drinks at the same local bar and we enjoyed the holidays with my family. I received an illustrious pat on the back from relatives for dating someone who seemed like Mr. Right.
Aleks had been talking about us moving in together for months, and the time finally seemed right to start preparing for it.
Around this time, pleased by how well we were doing, I booked a trip to Disney World six months in advance. As always, I was worried about Aleks’ outlook on life. I hoped that the trip would show him that things weren't always so dark. His life was one disappointment after another and I wanted him to have something to look forward to. I imagined that by the time we were back from the trip, we would be able to get rid of our biggest hurdle by moving in to our own place.
It would be another difficult journey. Aleks had been let go from his job at the art store, and I was going to school and working full-time. His bad luck extended to finding a new job. I had bought him dress shoes for interviewing, and my friend Erika had revamped his résumé, but many applications later, he was still jobless.
When a cousin of mine, who worked in pharmaceuticals, saw my frustration, she gave me the number to a security company. They were looking for security guards, and he wouldn't even really have to interview; she had a business relationship with the owner.
Finally, there was progress. But in the middle of the up and up, I was blindsided. On a Sunday night, while I watched TV at a friend’s house, I received a distressed phone call from Aleks.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said, sobbing uncontrollably.
He blamed the beatings. His worry that his dad would find out he was not in college. He blamed everything that had gone wrong in his life, and it didn't make sense to me. What did it have to do with our relationship?
We were just a week away from our trip and he didn't want to go anymore. The next day he met me at my job and I cried till my eyes were sore. He told me he needed time. That our separation was temporary. He was afraid that his dad would take out his angst on his family, so he needed to move back in. He had been worried sick about his mother. He also needed time to get psychological help, and I vowed to assist.
Perhaps it was my sopping wet face or the fact that I couldn't speak in-between sobs, but he agreed to go to Florida. All plans to get an apartment were at a standstill.
We spent eight days at Disney World. But for me, it wasn't the happiest place on earth. Even when we found that we were enjoying ourselves, he would retreat into this cold distance, and I resigned myself to crying in the shower of the hotel room every night.
I barely saw him in the months that followed. He was working nights as a security guard and he claimed his father had control of him again, but he had to wing it for the sake of his mother. He tried to sleep as much as possible while his father was in the house.
Aleks claimed that the psychological strain of the toxic environment was killing him inside and sometimes he didn't want to do anything but stay home and sulk. I was filled with this emptiness I thought I had to deal with for the sake of his mental health. But how could he get better if he was back in the house with the person who abused him?
I found psychologists and mental health facilities that I would push on him and he would pretend that he was looking into them, but he never did. One of the few times I saw Aleks during this time period, he walked me to the bus station, and I couldn't help wondering, as he walked away in his father’s brown bomber jacket, if he was ever going to get better.
I received the break-up text on the anniversary of the date we met. It didn't hit me the way it would have anyone else, because I had been marinating in my own pain for months. He said he had fallen out of love with me and preferred that we cut off all ties.
There was no closure for me. My logical thinking brain kept telling me that there was something missing.
On a sleepless night — that I was fighting the urge to take any more sleeping pills — I googled him, since I had no way of communicating. I needed to know what the hell was going on before I drove myself mad. What I found were posts on a game forum confirming that he was living with his girlfriend and that they were finally getting furniture.
The first thing I felt was anger. I called his best friend, who I knew he had stopped talking to, desperately needing to vent. He told me that Aleks had been seeing the girl for almost a year. He began cheating way before our trip, way before his break down, and all the while playing the part of this good man.
“He was so worried about his mom. I thought he moved back home and was dealing with his dad again.”
“He said that’s why everything was happening.”
“He would never go back to his house.”
“Erica — listen to me — he would never move back in with his father.”
It had been in front of my face the whole time, but it wasn't till I heard it out loud, that I realized it was true. He was abused for 18 years, even if it was for the sake of others, why would he purposely walk into the fire that he had fought so hard to get out of?
The job my family got him helped secure a cozy apartment with someone else, and he used his past to mask what was really going on. That’s why I didn't see him anymore. If I had been mad before, I was now furious.
I found his girlfriend on Tumblr. Her page was a collage of love quotes and pictures of the happy couple at all the same places I had visited with him. I sent her an anonymous message saying that she wasn't the only one that had visited the restaurant on Brighton Beach. I even told her what she had as an appetizer and what the main course consisted of. I told her that the week he had gone missing in the summer was spent with me at Disney World.
I did it out of pure anger. She found me on Facebook, since she couldn't reply back on Tumblr, and sent me a message that she had discovered me before, but he had told her I was an ex-girlfriend, and of course, somehow used his abusive childhood as a scapegoat, again. It was a cordial conversation; she was a very nice girl and apologized for my pain.
After it was all said and done, I felt relieved. I now knew what happened and it all made sense. It was exactly what I needed to finally start healing. I didn't care how his girlfriend used the information I provided her with. I knew that even if she stood with him for eternity, she had something that I never did: the knowledge of what he was capable of, regardless of the fact, that he was a victim in the past.
Shortly afterward, he began to text me messages filled with hate. He said I was ruining his life and he didn't deserve it. But the same way he didn't deserve the abuse he experienced as a child, I didn't deserve what he did to me.
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