Article 19: The Women Beside You

Jett Bignell

           This is the story of how I died. When I say this, I do mean literally. The girl with the bright future and all the promise in the world, gone. Was it worth it? Were the temporary moments of love and affection worth the abuse? Abuse, when people hear this, they never really ask how it started. Instead, they ask questions: “why didn’t you leave?” This is the story of how I fell into the cycle of abuse that so many women endure and how I died.

           My name is unimportant; just think of me as your mom, sister, aunt, niece, grandmother, and friend. I was president of my class; I worked two jobs: I was in my final year of high school; I was outgoing; I played every sport offered, and overall, I just wanted to be the best version of myself. Under all that though, I had a closet full of skeletons. It was an abusive household that almost made it fate to stumble into the same cycle, even unknowingly. I, however, strived because I wanted to be better than my mother. I watched her in abusive relationships, and all I could ever think was how she could let it happen. So, why did she just not leave? Unbeknownst to me, I would soon follow in her footsteps – indeed my mother’s daughter. I was 17 when I met him; I was vulnerable from everything I endured. Maybe he knew this, but this was the beginning of my downfall.

           I first met him at my graduation party and felt instant butterflies. But when I reflect, maybe it was my gut feeling to run. Either way, I fell instantly. My mom always said I trusted too quickly: “You can’t trust no one in this world, only yourself,” she would say. I wish I had listened.

Month 1

           After we met at the party, he pursued me instantly, and I was hooked. We would go on drives late at night and talk about everything. I started to tell him about my home life and everything I went through. He was there for me in the way no one had ever been before. I trusted him. Sure, I saw red flags, jealousy over my guy friends, those I have had my whole life. He constantly asked me where I was, getting upset if I didn’t answer. The way I felt, though, made all those things just minor inconveniences. He knew so much about me already and still accepted me. I only saw the good. He managed to play nice for the first month.

Month 2

           I moved in. Fast, I know, but I got kicked out, and he was quick to offer me shelter. He, for the most part, had been good to me. One of the most surprising things was when he told me he loved me. Honestly, I did not feel ready to say it, but I still said it back. Everything was moving so fast, but it was nice to feel this love. I had not seen much of my friends or family because we had been too busy getting to know each other for me to think of anyone else. Plus, the fighting is also kind of consuming. He has started to bring up my ex-boyfriends and even boys that I have not spoken to in years. He called me a slut, but he said sorry. I knew he did not mean it; he just loved me so much that he wanted me all to himself. Words like that have been lately slipping out, but each time he apologized. His temper, I noticed, is like an on and off switch. Quick to turn on and off. Unpredictable at most times, but I knew he loved me; he had to, right?

Month 3

           Lately, the fights have been nonstop. I did not understand why he was so jealous? What did I do? He said it was my fault, and I knew he must be right. I kept trying to be better. Maybe I was just not good enough; it was all my fault; it had to be. I stopped seeing friends except for the occasional visit, and I deleted all my male friends from my phone. He said it was the only way to prove myself to him. I did it because I really did love and care for him. I started to notice pieces of myself being lost in the chaos, but he convinced me that he was making me better. It’s all just a rough patch; it will get better soon.

Month 4

           He would then bring me flowers. He brushed my hair behind my ear and kissed my freshly bruised cheek. He calmly whispered in my ear “I love you, and I promise it will never happen again.” He thought I cheated on him the day before because I could not call as soon as I was done work. I accidentally ignored 13 of his calls and came home to his mind already being made up. The bruise was purple and yellow, the same colours as the mismatched socks I wore. Was it my fault? I could not answer, but there would never be a time when I would not answer the phone. So why not leave? He said that I would be selfish not to give him another chance, and maybe he was right. So, I stayed, but only this time. He is a good person; he had put up with lots of my baggage too, I owed him that.

Month 5

           I saw my brother, but I turned the other way. I pretended not to hear him call me, but he caught up to me. I was just supposed to grab stuff for supper and go back home. I already had texts blaring through my phone asking where I was. I told my brother I was in a hurry.

           “But I miss you, come visit. It’s been so long.”

           “I really should get going. I don’t want to make him worry.”

           He made a face, the kind of face your older sibling makes when they know, even if you tell them nothing. He knew, so I told my brother I had to run. I cried on the drive home. I missed everyone so much. I felt like I have no one.

Month 6

           It had been half a year, and it had gone by so fast. That day was the first time I ran. I ran hard from the house. His neighbour yelled out the door, asking if I was okay, and I ignored her. I ran until I felt like he could not find me. I called my brother, the same one I saw a month ago. I managed to whisper, “help me, please.”

           My brother found me in a back ally with sandals in the dead of winter. I jumped in, and we were quiet. I was waiting for him to ask me what was going on, and I would not even know how to answer it. My phone was still ringing, texts and calls nonstop telling me to get back to the house, asking where I could have gone. My brother ripped my phone out of my hands, and I cringed hard. This whole time I had kept my head down. But he grabbed me by my shoulders and asked me what was going on. But he knew, I knew he knew. So, I just told him. There was no hiding it. Everything flowed out, and with every word, I felt angrier, sadder, but most of all, lighter. How could I let this happen? How? I was mortified by the time I was done. My brother stared at me in disbelief, did he hate me? He looked at me with concern and spoke.

           “You can’t go back; girls die like this.”

           “He wouldn’t- “

           “Maybe he won’t, I think he is more than capable, but girls kill themselves over guys like this everyday man. Because they think everything is their fault. You got to leave, please, sis.”

One year

           I did not lie when I said I died. Every part of me was gone, almost disappeared by the time I left. I was no longer myself; I had never felt so lost. I stayed at my grandparents after I left. It took all the will in the world not to go back. I pressed charges; I did not want to at first, but he would not leave me alone, so I did what had to be done. I felt like I lost everything at first. I left with nothing, only the clothes on my back. My brother managed to get a suitcase of my clothes, and that’s it. So, I started off with just me and my suitcase. I moved away a couple of months later. I started college, got a part-time job, and my own place. All of it, I would not give it up for the world.

           I started therapy also; abusers thrive on damaged people. I never wanted to be in that cycle again. I did whatever was necessary to be stronger and find who I was after the abuse. The girl I once was would never come back, and for her I mourned. I cried many nights for her. But I embraced the woman I was becoming. I was scared for a long while. I truly believed it would never go away. But one day, before I went to bed, I realized that feeling was gone. In moments it comes, but I can handle those moments. They are not to be romanticized as beautiful pain because this healing process is awful and hard. One day, I hope I can look back and see this as just a part of my life journey, but for now, I take it day by day.

           My journey is not mine alone. I am your mother, sister, aunt, grandma, cousin, friend. I am the woman sitting beside you in class, the coworker that brings snacks on Fridays. I am your grandma who stayed with your papa far longer than she should have. We hide it well but carry it heavy. Do not be afraid to ask if we are okay; chances are we have been waiting for someone to see, maybe unknowingly. To these women, I see you, I believe you, and I am here for you.

Authors’ Bio: Jett Bignell was born and raised in Opaskwayak Cree Nation. She is in her first year of the Kenanow program in The Pas campus of the University College of the North. Joy has enjoyed writing since she was in elementary, and she has always found joy in writing. She considers herself as more of an expressivist writer. “The Woman Beside You” is written on domestic abuse and gives an insider’s perspective of what it is like to be in an abusive relationship. The author wrote this piece from personal experiences, as she herself is a survivor of domestic abuse. The story itself is meant to show how easy it is to fall into the cycle, and how the victim could be anybody, not just oneself. Jett’s future goals are to obtain her degree, to write her own book, and to raise her daughter in a loving and safe environment.

Instructor Remarks: Jett was my student in the Composition and Creativity course in the fall term of 2021. “The Woman Beside You” is a creative non-fiction which was submitted in fulfilment of the creative writing component of the course. The short story written in a chronological sequence takes the reader through a dark chapter in the protagonist’s experience. It is a story of love, abuse, betrayal, and salvation—Dr. Joseph Atoyebi.