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It Can Happen to Anyone
Even my confident mom fell into an abusive relationship

Names have been changed.

Before my mother started seeing Manny, she was fun-loving and confident. She would blast Usher and Mariah Carey in the car when she drove us to school. Unless it was freezing, she would drive with the windows down, sunroof open, wind blowing in our hair, while we all sang at the top of our lungs.

She loved to be out and socializing, and on weekends we’d visit friends and aunts and uncles. We’d all shop and cook dinner together. I loved her obnoxiously loud, contagious laugh, her clumsiness, and her goofiness. She wore flashy, colorful shirts, tight jeans, and large-rimmed, gold Coach sunglasses.

She would often say to me, “Just remember, even though this is a man’s world, don’t depend on them. I want you to be capable of providing for yourself.” She was outspoken and confident.

My mom and I were close. Because I was an only child until the age of 7, I was used to having her to myself. She was my best friend, number one supporter, and confidante.

But when I was 14, my mom started seeing Manny, and she changed. Suddenly the advice she’d always given me, I wanted to give her. She became dependent on him in ways that felt unhealthy to me, and she no longer stuck up for herself.

My parents had split up when I was 2. Later, my mom remarried and had my younger brother. My stepfather was kind to me but cheated on my mother, so they divorced after about five years. After that, she dated, but I never met any of those men. She was protective of my brother and me.

In 9th grade, when my mom introduced me to Manny, I could tell she was serious about him. My first impression was that he was down-to-earth and friendly. His contagious laugh reminded me of hers, and his loud voice with his Puerto Rican accent was endearing. He had a way of making you feel like you’d known him forever.

False Impressions

But I soon found out that my first impressions were wrong. Manny was controlling. When he was around, we didn’t visit friends and family. He would tell my mom, “Your family doesn’t give a sh-t about you,” and, “I’m the only one who cares about you. I take care of you.”

Manny was a war veteran and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); it is common among those who serve in combat. At first, like my mother, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. However, I grew tired of his derogatory ways and felt no empathy for him.

Manny would yell at my mom for buying the wrong brand of milk. He smashed her expensive sunglasses during an argument. He accused her of being a slut when she texted other people. She had a few go-to excuses for him: He didn’t take his medication; he’s just stressed; it’s his illness talking.

The fighting became a part of our lives that we were expected to adjust to. But I couldn’t adjust to it, and my mom knew that. She’d try to convince me that he was a good guy. She thought she could help him, change him.

She became small; she spoke softly, her head bowed low when she walked. He accused her of dressing in a sexy way to attract other men so she switched to oversized shirts, sweats, and flip-flops. She hardly ever laughed and when she did it didn’t seem genuine.

As weeks went by, I began distancing myself from her, speaking to her only if I was hungry or needed money. She hardly paid attention to me anymore; I felt neglected and helpless.

Chills Down My Spine

About six months into their relationship, I woke to loud voices and heavy footsteps coming from outside of my room. I heard a voice yell out, “If you touch me, I’m calling the police!” It sounded like my uncle.

“I don’t care! Call the police! Call them! Ain’t nobody scared of them!” The voice sent chills down my spine; it was Manny.

Suddenly there was a loud pounding on the wall. I quickly ran to my door, opening it slightly, my eyes peeking out to watch the scene. Manny was punching the wall with all of his force, screaming, “Do it! Do it!” over and over again while all three of my uncles and my grandfather watched him. I saw my mom peeking out from behind my youngest uncle’s shoulder.

“Manny! Stop!” she yelled. She looked frazzled. My oldest uncle walked toward Manny and it looked like he was going to punch him.

“Alright, stop it now!” my grandpa yelled. He was often the peacemaker in family disputes, the levelheaded, calm one. I jumped at the sound of his voice. It was rare that he yelled.

As my other uncle started dialing 911, a loud laugh echoed from Manny’s mouth. “Good luck with that!” he said, but he walked out hurriedly.

image by YC-Art Dept

“What are you doing?” my grandfather yelled at my mom. “You are putting your life and your children’s lives in danger! Don’t let me catch that man back here!” My mom was silent, her arms wrapped around herself. Once they left, she returned to her room.

I still don’t know what caused the altercation or when or why my family had arrived, but I was glad they did. I was tired of being the only one who knew what a monster Manny was.

Admiration Disintegrated

After that, my uncles and my grandfather frequently tried to convince my mom that her relationship with Manny was unhealthy. My uncle said to me, “He’s going to be the death of your mother. She’s being real stupid right now.” But these talks didn’t help. My mom was still as invested as ever. They would fight and make up.

I didn’t understand how she could continuously forgive someone who treated her badly. After every dispute he would do something nice like take her to dinner. He would even buy us things, such as ice cream or electronics (a form of bribery in my opinion). Because of these gestures, she convinced herself that what she was doing was right and that he only had “slip-ups.”

Between what was happening at home and normal teen angst, my grades began to suffer. I felt isolated, like there wasn’t anyone who would understand what I was going through. I felt like I had lost my mom. The qualities I had once admired about her had disintegrated. I missed spending time with her. Now Manny consumed her time, and I resented them both for it.

I wanted to tell her how I felt, how she didn’t deserve to be treated the way she did. There were times I brought it up, but she would just nod her head knowingly.

Finally, when I was a sophomore and they had been dating for a year, my mom reached her breaking point. She and Manny got into a fight on the way to school, and he drove off in our car. My mom contacted the police and reported the incident. When we returned home, the car was in the driveway, but the engine wouldn’t start. We discovered that Manny had put sugar in the tank, destroying the engine. The repair cost $5,000.

My mom didn’t have that much money so we didn’t have a car for more than a year.

The relationship ended after that. They had a heated argument over the phone but that was it. He never returned to collect his things. We heard that he’d moved across town. We never saw him again.

Lingering Damage

At first I was happy and thought life would return to normal. But even though Manny was gone, the relationship between my mother and me was strained. I no longer trusted her to keep us safe. I no longer saw her as the strong, independent woman I’d known. I felt like I was living with a stranger.

She came home from work and slept. Although she tried to ask how I was doing in school and with friends, I shut her out because I resented her for allowing someone that violent into our lives. I wasn’t ready to forgive her.

In the middle of my junior year, about six months after their breakup, I felt like things with my mom were never going to get better and I needed a new start. So I told my dad I wanted to live with him.

Convincing my mom to let me leave was not easy. It took two months of pleading before she she gave in.

Taking Care of Myself

I only stayed with my dad for a few months. I missed my mom and brother, and I felt selfish for leaving my mom when she needed me. But I did what was best for me.

Being away for a while helped me. I was able to feel like a kid again. I could focus in school, and my average reached 90, the highest it had ever been.

It helped my mom, too. My brother had also moved in with his father, leaving my mom by herself. I think her time alone allowed her to realize her mistakes. When we talked on the phone, she seemed happier and didn’t mention Manny.

When I moved back home, my mom told me she regretted that she’d allowed the relationship to go on for so long and take control over her. She assured me that she was no longer in contact with Manny and wouldn’t allow us to be in such an uncomfortable situation again.

She was her proud, fearless, and outspoken self again. She wore her favorite clothes and designer sunglasses. She was back.

Now, the relationship between my mother and me has returned to the way it was before Manny. It took strength to forgive her, by being able to work through those tough times together made our relationship stronger. And for that, I am grateful.

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