I Am Not The Sum of What Other People Call Me

In my line of work, we often have to ask parents and children, ‘what’s the worst argument you remember?’ But I’ve never allowed myself to fully dissect that memory on my own. Sometimes I still get flashbacks of the physical, like when I gasped after the light hit a kife I was using to chop vegetables a certain way and I saw my reflection in it, the same way I used to simultaneously taste and see the salty tears in the reflection of the blades he used against me. But the worst argument I remember was verbal.

My senior, his junior year of high school towards the end of March, I realized on a Sunday afternoon my period was a couple of days late. Since my first period, they were full of cramps, super heavy flow, and lasted for over a week. It was usually early, never late. I must be pregnant. The next day during our last class, we went to the nurse’s office together and he started with, “she’s pregnant.” As the nurse walked us back to when the time of conception would’ve been and when my last menstrual cycle was, she calmly said it was too soon to tell and to come back after spring break, which was in a couple of weeks. After spring break?! Another 3 weeks of uncertainty.

He didn’t sit well with unanswered questions and badgered me the whole time with,

Are you sure it’s mine? How do you not know if you’re pregnant? Aren’t females s’posed to know their bodies?

As I repeatedly cried I loved only him and didn’t know what to do since I had been accepted into college, as the days went on, I became more convinced I was pregnant. The red dots didn’t stain my panties until the last day of spring break, about 3 weeks after that first realization.

“You did something to get rid of the baby.”

“I just got my period today, I don’t know why it was so late.”

“Did you have an abortion. Tell me now.”

“Hell no.”

“Murderer.”

No. No. There was no baby, right, the nurse said it was too soon. My period was just wonky, that’s common. Ididnothingwrong.

As he continued to hurl that word at me, during arguments, at the movies, random moments when he would throw a fiery glare my way, my conviction in my innocence became less and less. I had never had a period that late before; I musta done something wrong and didn’t give our little one a fighting chance.

I had already turned into police, prosecutor, judge and jury, and branded myself guilty. He was still slinging “MURDERER” at me, with me changing my actions, my demeanor, my acts of service, to make it up to him. I didn’t quite know what it was, but had resolved in my guilt and thought this was an apt, deserved punishment.

That’s why, about a year later my freshman year of college when I still hadn’t mustered the courage to say no when he demanded raw, unprotected sex, I thought the same thing had happened. Here we go again, another late period. I had waited a couple of weeks before going to the school nurse for a pregnancy test and was baffled when I heard again it was too soon to tell. Isn’t that why I waited a couple of weeks? I want answers now!

In a dejavu-like trance, I told him when I got my period, approximately 3 weeks after I thought it should have came. Forget the preamble.

Murderer. Get away from me.

End of conversation. Continuation of self-doubt: was this my fault? The more he said it, the more I believed it. Is this what I do, do I suck the life out of folks?

2 years after that, I was still apologizing for my body, trying to justify how a natural cycle could cause an innocent man such grief. Still thinking in terms of guilt and innocence, victim and perpetrator. I’m guilty, my body did this. I don’t know how, but I made those babies go away.

Murderer.

For years, his voice echoed in my head, an omnipresent reminder. I boiled my existence and my self-worth down to whether or not I was a “life sucker,” if my existence caused pain, anger, grief, death.

It wasn’t until a 2017 therapy session that the metaphorical lightbulb went off. Oohhh that’s what he was doing, that’s a form of power and control. With a refilled Zoloft prescription, I gave myself the space to unpack what had happened. It was just a couple of irregular periods and teenage naivety, not a proclamation of my worth, not evidence of actions taken.

I wasn’t the sum of his words used to describe me, my totality wasn’t based off what he said.

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