My junior year in college was not good. I'd gone from being a promising freshman with straight A's and a heavier than average course load, to someone on probation who had more incompletes than I thought I could ever finish. I suppose the professors thought they were being merciful by giving me an incomplete rather than a D or an F, but those I's were a weight I lugged with me into the next semester.
Meanwhile, I began to put on weight and became generally slovenly. I had been rather popular with boys. As an attractive young woman who was also smart, boys were always telling me that they liked me "as a person", "not for your looks, but just for who you are." Well, fifteen pounds proved all of them wrong. Now that I think about it, it's laughable. I wasn't even fat, just not as cute.
There was one man who didn't change his opinion of me. He liked me when I was skinny. He liked me when I was chubby. Soon I would move in with him and get skinny again.
He graduated and I dropped out and we moved into a ground floor apartment in Brooklyn. This was long before Brooklyn was hip or cool. When I would tell people that I lived in Brooklyn they'd say, "Oh, I love Park Slope. Is that where you live?" No. It was Brownstone Brooklyn however and even if you've never been there, you've probably seen the pictures of the townhouses with the high stoops. We lived in the apartment below the stoop. It was poorly maintained. There was a slow leak in the ceiling that the landlord wouldn't fix and a growing dark spot of mold around it.
My job as a receptionist paid about twice minimum wage and by the time I was done paying my share of the rent, I had almost nothing left. My boyfriend's job paid a little bit better and he picked up more than his fair share of the other bills and would have a little spending money at the end. Meanwhile, I had none and was totally dependent on him for just about everything except the rent itself.
Even at his young age, he had a history of sexual dysfunction. Sex cause him a lot of anxiety and he had a great deal of difficulty maintaining an erection. This caused him to wonder about his sexual orientation and he had tried, prior to meeting me, to have sex with men with similarly disappointing results as his attempts to have sex with women. I spent a lot of time stroking him and speaking softly, trying very hard to be reassuring and non-intimidating, and eventually we succeeded. It was the first time he had successfully had sexual relations with another human being.
Although this was a breakthrough, it hardly meant the end of his dysfunction. I would still have to be, throughout our entire relationship, gentle, sweet and reassuring in bed. One harsh word, and he would be unable to get an erection for a week.
Early on in our relationship, I expressed to him some discomfort with the notion that a permanent monogamous relationship with a man might mean that I would never again sleep with a woman. It was part of our arrangement that I could have girlfriends, but not boyfriends. I soon acquired a girlfriend and, unhappily, my boyfriend hated her. He was terribly jealous and soon he started developing an irrational jealousy about my male platonic friends. Of course, I was thin and cute again by this point and that little cluster of males who orbit around you hoping for your relationship to end had come back. My boyfriend couldn't distinguish between those men and the ones I considered friends. To him, they were all potential rivals.
Ironically, one of the things I lost when that relationship ended was an intellectual fellowship. Outside of the very bad dynamics regarding sexuality, we had a good relationship. The friendship part of the relationship was very satisfying, perhaps the most satisfying I've ever had. However, the romantic and sexual dynamics were bad and getting worse.
One day, we were walking down Third Avenue, it was a beautiful day and he said to me, "How about we go get a marriage license." I laughed at the notion of marrying on an impulse. It turned out, that it was not an impulse. This was an insecure man's way of proposing. I laughed it off at that moment, but the subject came up again. My short answer was that we should go for counseling and see if we could get the relationship onto a healthier plane before taking the plunge. He refused counseling and I refused marriage. I loved my boyfriend, but I could see that the relationship was not healthy.
At this time, we were using as our main form of birth control the diaphragm and occasionally condoms because the pill hadn't agreed with me when I tried it a few years earlier.
One morning, I woke up with semen between my legs. At first he denied having done anything. Finally, after a little "talk" he promised to not do it again. It happened several more times. He insisted that I enjoyed it even though I was asleep. Although he promised after each incident to stop, he didn't seem to really understand why it wasn't okay. After all, I never said no to sex when I was awake. Normally, I wanted it more frequently than he did. He didn't seem to get that a woman's sexual availability is not something that is permanently "on" or permanently "off," but consent is something that you need to give each and every time and can be withdrawn.
Finally I became pregnant. He got it in his head that it was not his. That, since we had always used birth control, at least when I was awake, I must have cheated on him. That I might have gotten pregnant during one of the encounters that occurred when I was asleep and no birth control was used, didn't seem to occur to him.
When I told my girlfriend about being pregnant, she chewed me out about not being more careful about birth control. That was when I told her about the nighttime violations. She said, "You do realize you've been raped, don't you, because you sound like you're not aware of it."
She was right. I wasn't. I saw it as part of my boyfriend's rather complicated sexual dysfunction about which I had been, overall, very understanding for five years, being in the position of the nurturer and helper. I had even been afraid of speaking to him to harshly about his new tendency to penetrate me and ejaculate inside me while I was asleep because I didn't want to trigger one of his periods of impotency.
So, I received no help or comfort from my boyfriend regarding the pregnancy since he held to the notion that it was the result of an imaginary tryst with another man. He started pushing me around physically. If we'd get into an argument, he'd shove me against the wall and shout at the top of his lungs in my face. I could see that we had hit something of a death spiral in the relationship and I wanted out, but I was financially trapped.
I went alone to get an abortion. It was a small office and there were two other women who were also undergoing the procedure that day. One was a young woman, perhaps eighteen, who was there with her boyfriend who held her hand and looked as nervous as she did. The other was a woman who was going on forty. This was going to be her fourth abortion. He husband refused to use birth control but he also didn't want to have children. When she'd get pregnant, he'd blame her and she'd have to have an abortion. It was a stark illustration of one person in a healthy relationship and another person in a truly sick and self-destructive on. It drove home to me that I wanted to be in a healthy relationship, not a sick one. I didn't want to be that other woman, going on forty and desperately trying to make a relationship work that would never work.
Shorty after the abortion, I went out with some guys from work. They were platonic friends and we went to Barrymore's in the theater district for what turned out to be more than a few drinks. I came home the next morning. When I walked in my boyfriend was sitting at the kitchen table drumming impatiently with his finders. "Where were you last night?" "None of your business." At that point he got up and started hitting me and I fled.
Later that day, I called my parents and explained what happened and asked if I could borrow money pay for the security and first month's rent on my own place.