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Free at Last
My abusive older boyfriend kept me down
Alesha Mohamed
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I was 14 and buying a loosie at the corner store. An older guy approached me and said, “You need to stop smoking cigarettes.” I’d heard that before, and I chuckled as I walked away.

“Hey, I’m Dante. You should come get a drink at the bar across the street. I work there,” he said before I got out the door. Clearly, he thought I was older than 14.

“I’m OK, maybe next time,” I said, laughing a little. He was heavy-set, tall, and dark-skinned. I wasn’t attracted to him, but the attention was nice. For a second I felt appreciated.

Growing up, my mother didn’t show me much love. When I got into foster care at 14, I pulled my own weight, still never receiving real love from anyone.

At 15, I already moved like an independent woman. About a year and a half after we’d met, I saw Dante again at a store near my mother’s house at 4 a.m.

“You don’t remember me,” he said.

“No,” I answered, with a slight attitude. In fact, I was feeling quite vulnerable. Life wasn’t going so smoothly for me. I was in a foster home where I had more freedom than structure. I worked an off-the-books job selling tickets for the Statue of Liberty for very little money. I didn’t have friends. I was lonely.

“You want a cigarette?” he asked. I said yes, and he bought me a couple more loose cigarettes.

“You’re still in school?” he asked, trying to start a conversation.

I explained why I was “still” in high school, letting him think I was older, and said I was going to get my GED. I thought I’d never see him again, so lying wouldn’t hurt.

“Why a GED?” he asked.

“Well, I’m low on credits because I transferred to many schools since I’ve been in foster care.”

He Seemed to Understand

He asked how I got into foster care and about the challenges I faced, so I explained how I didn’t have the best childhood, how foster care wasn’t easy, how I was forced to grow up fast.

“I ran away from home when I was younger because my family was so dysfunctional. And I was on the streets using nothing but survival skills.”

“So where did you go?” he asked.

“Far Rockaway.”

“Really? I used to live out there,” he said. It turned out he knew people I knew, and knew about the places I’d been. Although I felt no physical attraction, I hooked onto his vibe. He was understanding, and I opened up to him. That felt good; I usually bottled everything up.

It was so easy to talk to him, and we stayed in the store for four hours, through sunrise. Toward the end of the four hours, I told him, “I believe I have a purpose to do more with myself. I went through so much. Maybe my experiences can prevent others from going through the same. I want to be something like a teacher or a therapist.” He seemed to understand where I was coming from.

image by YC-Art Dept

The most appealing thing about this grown man was that he didn’t just pity me. He seemed to see more than a child with a hard life. He saw a strong woman with potential.

Falling

We didn’t talk for a while after that, but I’d walk past the bar where he worked just to see him. One summer night at 3 a.m., I walked past the bar and he called me over. So many joyful thoughts ran through my head. I had never had a bond with anyone like him before. I enjoyed explaining my struggles to him, and we could discuss anything.

That night he grabbed me and kissed me as we talked in front of his bar. The kiss made all my worries go away. I didn’t care about work in the morning, or stopping at my mother’s. I didn’t think about going back to my foster home.

After that, he bought me flowers, he flaunted me around as his girlfriend, and he bought me food. No one ever did anything like that for me before. I was 15 and falling for a man in his late 30s.

I spent nights with him in motels enjoying his affection and attention. About a month into our relationship, I found out that he was a drug dealer. I knew that was illegal, but I didn’t care much; it felt good to be with a man who brought home money. I didn’t tell anyone in my foster care agency; I didn’t tell anyone, really. I didn’t want to deal with the judgment or criticism. Instead, I ran away and stayed with him for nights on end.

After two months, he turned malicious. I went out with a friend for the night, so he came “home” to an empty room. I didn’t know I was supposed to stay in the room. He got so angry and threatened to walk out the door and leave me.

I cried and begged on my knees for him to stay. I threatened to harm myself, because he was all I had. “I’m leaving, Alesha. Do whatever you want to do, mess up on your own. You’re not my problem.”

I stood in front of him begging him not to leave, and after hours of my pleading, he stayed with me. I thought he was all I had; I was a runaway from my foster home and a disappointment to my social workers. I even felt like a failure to my broken biological family.

“I’m Sorry, Baby”

About a month later, he was sitting at the edge of the bed and I was standing in front of him when I playfully hit him. Anger shot from his eyes as I moved in to apologize. He hurled my body as if I weighed nothing, and then hit me over and over in the face.

I was more confused than hurt, begging him to stop, asking why. He wrapped his large hands around my neck until I couldn’t breathe, and the room fell silent.

Finally, he let go, and I cried. At first, he sat and watched, and then he got on his knees to apologize. “I’m sorry baby, I didn’t mean to,” he said, crying too. He swore he would never do it again. “I don’t want to be another dark chapter in your life,” he said.

I stayed silent, dazed in my own thoughts. I forgave him because I thought he was all I had and because I believed this was a one-time thing, an accident that wouldn’t happen again.

But it wasn’t. After that, he “disciplined” me like I was a child. He made it seem like I needed to be hit. He told me that he hit me out of love. He’d say things like, “I didn’t want to; I don’t know why I did it. I just care about you too much.”

I believed he was truly sorry until about the fourth time. Then I had to admit to myself that this wouldn’t stop. I had felt protected in his presence, but then I began to fear him.

I treated my inner pain with drugs. He sold cocaine, and every now and again I’d sneak coke from his stash, to feel some type of high.

I also did drugs with him. There were times when he would offer me coke to have sex with him, like some sort of trade. He even offered me drugs to sleep with his friends, and in return they would give him money. I told him no. No matter how addicted I was, I still had enough self-respect not to do that.

He hit me, and then apologized; he got me high, and then told me to get sober. “Alesha, these drugs aren’t making you any healthier, and the cigarettes are killing you,” he’d say. But every time he hit me, I wanted drugs even more, to escape the reality of the relationship I was in.

image by YC-Art Dept

Room 103

Around this time my agency told me they wanted to admit me into a hospital upstate to get drug treatment. I didn’t want to go, but Dante convinced me it was a good idea. “Maybe you should just go and get it over with, and find help along the way,” he said.

“But I don’t want to be all the way upstate for a month,” I complained. I knew I’d miss him as well as the freedom I had.

“But you need the time away, so you can figure out what you’re doing, get away from these drugs, maybe even come back a new person.” Whether or not he was sincere, he was right that I needed to get away.

So I spent a month in a treatment center cleaning myself up. I was living with a daily routine and working on myself, discovering who I was away from the drugs and the drama.

When I came out, Dante was the first person I wanted to see. I wanted to show him that I was a new, improved woman. I spent every night with him without doing drugs, even though I was still surrounded by the lifestyle. I didn’t want to take any steps back.

I ran away from my foster family and had no contact with them or with my biological family for about a month. Dante also separated himself from the little family he had at home—a baby mother and a five-year-old son—and we stayed in a hotel room.

But he began to abuse and isolate me again. One day, lying in bed together, he ran down every other relationship I had told him about. “None of your friends care about you. Honestly, I believe I’m the only person who cares about you.” His voice wasn’t vulgar or loud. He sounded sweet and caring. His words pierced my heart, reminding me I didn’t really have anyone.

“I know,” I answered.

He went on, “You don’t need to have friends. We both know all your male friends are trying to sleep with you and the girls keep you around as a lackey.” It made sense: I agreed that I only needed him.

Days with Dante began feeling darker, filled with distress. He made me stop going out and stop having friends. He wanted me to stay inside Room 103 at the Motor Inn as much as possible. I memorized the beige walls, the green dressers that didn’t even open, and the white bathroom in the corner. I spent days wasting my life in that room. Meanwhile, he went out and slept with other girls.

After six months together, in February, he left me for someone else. I was hurt that I stayed through all the abuse and then I was left with nothing. I thought I’d lost the only person who loved me.

I went back to my foster home. I began attending school more frequently and patched up my friendships.

It wasn’t easy to move on. I was broken-hearted for five months. Then I realized I had to stop forcing relationships and figure out my true worth. I didn’t need a grown man from the hood; I wanted someone my age.

Abuse as Punishment

Dante made me feel bad about myself and feel that I couldn’t accomplish my goals. He separated me from friends and took advantage of the fact that I was still learning who I was. It was more than physical abuse; it was mental and emotional abuse.

For a while after the break-up, I blamed myself for lying about my age, not realizing until later that no grown man should be with a girl who is still a minor. I went to a therapist and eventually figured out that I accepted the abuse because I thought I deserved it. I was always so hard on myself—I let a man put his hands on me because I believed it was my karma, fair punishment for my mistakes.

I’m not ashamed of the experience because I learned about the types of men there are in this world as well as the standards I should set for myself. I’ve gotten so much better in the nine months since then. I’ve learned to live independently, not depending on a man for comfort. I’ve built new friendships and patched up old ones. I’ve gotten off drugs and gone back to school. I’m not as hard on myself as I used to be.

I deserve someone who can offer as much as I can, someone who will build with me instead of holding me back. I’m only 17, and I’ve got so much time for relationships. First I need to treat myself well before I let any man get close to me.

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(FCYU-2017-07-13)

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