"Call Dad!" I yelled at my younger brother who was sitting in the passenger seat next to me. What had me panicked was my ex-boyfriend Dylan (name has been changed for protection). He was trying to get me to pull over, but coming so close to our car that I thought we were going to crash.
February is teen dating violence awareness month, and it reminds me of what are still the most harrowing four years of my life.
I had not returned any of Dylan's calls or texts for about three months, and he was angry. The tailgating and honking lasted for about 45 minutes before my dad was able to catch up to us, but all my dad's presence did was give me a short break from Dylan. An hour later, he was calling me every 20 minutes trying to get me to speak to him.
The kind of abusive dating relationship I was trapped in is not unique. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four teens self-reports physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse every year.
My relationship with Dylan started out like any other high school romance. We met in 2007 in my freshman year biology class in the small Massachusetts town where I grew up. Everything was normal until about five months into our relationship. Then I started receiving over 100 texts from him within an hour. At first, I thought Dylan was thinking of me, but it turned out he was really quizzing me on my whereabouts.
If I did not respond to Dylan's texts right away, he would get angry with me and say that I didn't care about him the way he cared about me. If I had talked to a boy, Dylan would accuse me of cheating on him.
Dylan would yell at me, throw things and punch walls. Sometimes, he would grab my wrists tightly so I couldn't walk away. Once after much talk and arguing over possibly going to couples counseling, he kept me a prisoner at his house for 12 hours. He would not let me leave, and when I made it outside to my car, he stood in front of it. I begged and pleaded with Dylan to change and promised him that I would stay with him if he did. The bottom line was he saw no reason for change and did not want to. Finally, I realized that nothing was going to change Dylan. After keeping me prisoner for 12 hours, he only let me go home because my parents started calling me, asking where I was.
After this incident I took the biggest step of all. I left the town I had grown up in for Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. I did not see an alternative and neither did my parents. Once I was removed from Dylan, I was able to realize just how much he had made me doubt myself. In Michigan I was surround by supportive friends and faculty who helped me see that I deserved better. My teachers constantly reminded me of what a good person I was by complimenting me on my eagerness to help a fellow student with homework, or re-teach the steps of the dance variation we were learning. At least I was able to see my relationship with Dylan for the threat it was.
After seven months of being nurtured at Interlochen, I was back home in Dylan's reach for spring break. It was at this time he stalked me and tailgated me. I went to my local police station after calling and having my dad speak to a policeman who told him that Dylan was a teenager and he was just being a boy. It was at this police station where I met a policewoman whom I reported the incident of Dylan stalking and tailgating me. She instantly helped me fill out the necessary paperwork for a restraining order. She even called the local court to refer me to a woman judge with whom she was acquainted. Once we finished filling it out she had the papers regarding my restraining order delivered to Dylan. When he received the papers, he was informed that he was to appear in court the next day.
In the courthouse, I filled out more paperwork concerning the incident that caused me to feel as though I needed the restraining order. I then waited for my name to be called and appeared before the judge to explain my situation and the circumstances. Because Dylan did not show up, I automatically won my case and was granted a restraining order in March 2011.
What would have happened if I had not found a sympathetic judge and a sympathetic policewoman? I hate to think. Being a middle-class student in a good high school and having a supportive and involved father was not enough in my case. I needed the court and local law enforcement on my side as well. Although Massachusetts passed a bill requiring the education of what constitutes as a healthy relationship in 2010; it was too late for me. That is why I am an avid believer in the efforts being made in Oregon and Delaware. In 2012, these states passed a bill requiring the education of teen dating violence to be taught in all public schools. I know that if I had learned that I am not alone in this fight, I could have stood up to Dylan and ended the relationship. I don't want any teenager to go through what I did.
Haley Robinson is a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College hailing from Duxbury, MA, where this piece takes place.