I remember the moment he slapped me. If I listen hard enough, I can still hear the ringing in my ears. We both just stared at each other, shocked that he'd actually hit me.
I'd never been hit before. I was never in any teenage cat fights, nor school yard tussles at recess. Come to think of it, the last time I'd gotten hit was as a boundary-pushing kid and it came in the form of a spanking from my dad.
But here he was, my angry, big, glowering boyfriend. And my cheek was on fire. How the hell did I get here? My boyfriend just hit me. How did I become this girl?
* * * *
We started dating when I was a freshman in college. That first year was a whirlwind of college fun. We laughed, partied and did all the stupid things that college kids do. Then came year two. The year that I realized he was an alcoholic, the year that I also met some of his other demons.
He was on the wrestling team, and was an imposing guy. We'd fight and at first it was like any other couple. Then the fights, especially the ones after he'd been drinking he would "Hulk Up," so to speak. Anger would fill every inch of his 190-pound, muscular frame.
But I didn't fear him. I was a mouthy spitfire and I just knew he wouldn't dare hit me.
Until he did.
* * * *
It was late at night after we'd been out partying. We were fighting, over what, I don't remember, but I was annoyed, so decided to go home. I was in my car, the window was down, the words were flying and then THWACK!
I'd always figured if I got hit I'd really open up a can of whoop ass on that person. But the look in his dark eyes told me he was not in control of himself. Only a fool would take him on. I rolled up my window and drove home.
I wish that I could say that I left him in my rearview mirror forever, but I didn't. After much groveling, presents, and a vow never to let it happen again, I took him back.
In taking him back, I also took in some shame. I never talked to anyone about it because I was embarrassed that it happened and that I took him back. I considered myself a has-her-stuff-together girl. I had amazing friends, was in leadership roles on campus and got good grades.
But I fell in love with this man. And now he'd hit me.
I can honestly say he never hit me again. But it wasn't because he changed, or that the relationship got better. It was because after going down a rough and lonely road, months later I got the courage to leave.
And that's when I never looked back.
* * * *
I haven't told many people this story, but felt the need to post it because tomorrow isn't only Valentine's Day, it's V-Day a call-to-action day for One Billion Rising. The global group is calling for an end to violence against women and girls.
There's a statistic that says one in three women in the world will be beaten or raped at some point during her life. The planet's population is 7 billion, so that's about 1 billion women and girls raped or beaten.
This One Billion Rising group has a list of different things you can do to participate in the call-to-action and this is my participation. I'm not going to pretend that my story is something soul-shattering and worthy of a Lifetime movie, but I think it's reflective of what many women experience and don't talk about.
There's power in sharing our stories. I've shared mine, if you have one, consider doing the same.
*This was originally featured on She'sWrite.