Bad Dating: The Iron Fist

There’s a part of me that’s scared to write this story down, to put it out there for the world. I’m not afraid that someone will find me weak or broken; I’ve just never told the whole truth about it. After 15 years of running from it or merely alluding to it, I’m still afraid to admit that I allowed someone to hurt me- to make me feel like I don’t deserve to be loved. I’m afraid to admit that even after all this time, I might possibly still feel that way due to actions I took but I do not believe that I am a bad person, that I deserve any treatment I received or that anyone does. I won’t write this story for myself; I write it for those who feel or have felt the pain of an abusive relationship. I write it especially for those who will never be able to tell their story.

So here is my tale; I’m just sorry that it won’t be funny like the rest of my dating tales.

My junior year of high school, a senior baseball player approached me in the hallway and asked for my number. I hardly knew him; I thought it was a joke, but I gave him my number because it made me feel special. No popular kids ever paid attention to the pudgy, pimply faced teen I was transitioning into. I wasn’t cool; I wasn’t rich; I was a decent volleyball player but mostly I was nerdy and plain. When several people speculated that I’d be getting a call from a guy in my grade asking me to go out with him, I didn’t believe them. Who? What? A guy knew I existed? What guy would want to date me? I was asked by people that I hardly knew if this guy had called me, including teachers and coaches. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why all of these people were so interested in my recent call list. Since when was I hot gossip? Anyway, by the end of the week when my phone finally rang, I honestly didn’t believe it was happening. AND when the captain of the baseball team was on the other end of the line asking me out, I was 100% certain that this was some sort of real life Carrie story in the making.

As it turns out, it may not have been a sham; I will never know the truth. What I do know is this: this guy and I dated for a while and in that time, I really grew to like him and I believed that he felt the same. He spoiled me with attention and simple dates, little gifts and I went to his baseball games, spent time with his family, friends and teammates. People who knew us would say that they could see us together at our ten year high school reunion. Everything seemed… perfect. So when he came to me one day and said he didn’t deserve to be with me anymore and told me that I should break up with him because I was too good for him, I was completely caught off-guard. HE was Mr. Popular. I was average Jane; I wasn’t good enough for him as far as I could tell and that’s why he wanted it to end. It had to be and he just didn’t want to be the bad guy. I couldn’t honestly understand, but told him if that was what he wanted then I would respect his decision and we parted ways.

I cried. For days, I cried. I didn’t want to not be his girlfriend; everyone knew me as his girlfriend, and, to be honest, I didn’t really know who I was without him. I tried my hardest to just be a good friend to him, and eventually he decided he wanted to get back together. I was the happiest girl in the world. He wanted me back. He. Wanted. Me. Still. At least I thought he did. I just didn’t realize that it would be conditional. The manipulation started slowly, but escalated quickly. Some would say that I was to blame for making him feel insecure, maybe that’s true, but I don’t believe my actions, or anyone’s actions EVER warrant manipulation or verbal/physical abuse. I believe (now) that the issue was there long before this event transpired; it was just his leverage, his excuse.

We went on a field trip to Astroworld and while playing a game of volleyball, he decided to leave with two girls from our class to go play arcade games (and as he later claimed win me a prize) but encouraged me to stay because it seemed like I was having fun. When it was time to head back to the bus, my best friend and I started to leave and two guys from another school decided to walk with us complimenting us on our volleyball skills and making conversation. I didn’t care; I was nice to everyone, but I was with Iron Fist and made that fact very clear to them. When we got back to the gates where everyone was waiting, Iron Fist saw the guys with us and suddenly got upset, wouldn’t approach me or talk to me. He told me to go hang out with my new friends since it was clear I’d had a better time at the park with them than him; he didn’t want to look at me anymore. He said something about them making comments about me while we were playing ball and I should learn to be less oblivious when guys were hitting on me. I said it wasn’t fair to say something like that when he left me to browse the park with two girls, one of which who he knew liked him and if he had a real problem or concern he shouldn’t have left me alone. He called me ungrateful because he had to lug the giant Octopus he’d won for me all around the park while I was off flirting. I didn’t even know he’d won anything because he’d left… but anyway this argument is sounding as juvenile as it was.

I tried apologizing, pleading but to no avail and so I left for a volleyball tournament in Austin that weekend with him extremely upset with me. That weekend changed my life. It was when I should have walked away after I first heard the words that are forever embedded in my mind “you’re the worst girlfriend ever.” From that point forward, my every move was scrutinized and I was no longer able to socialize with the same crowd of bad influences I once called friends. I was a liar and a cheater if I so much as looked at the wrong person in the hallway. I was a horrible person, a slut, a bad girlfriend… simply because I existed. He also told me that I was never going to find anyone better than him, never going to be anyone or amount to anything without him. If I broke up with him, it was proof that everything he accused me of was true. So began the isolation, the manipulation… the verbal abuse.

I remember several instances between classes or before volleyball matches (before I wound up quitting the team) where he cornered me and asked me if I’d cheated on him with this guy or that guy. When I’d look him square in the eye and say no, nearly in tears, he would ball his fist and slam it into the locker or door… whatever was behind or nearest my head and call me a liar, slut, whore… whatever came to mind. Another time an unknown number called my cell while he was standing next to me. He grabbed my phone and smashed it to the ground causing it to shatter. He came to my parent’s house with a bag full of presents the next day, including a phone and several face plates as a way of apologizing for losing his temper. I told him thank you but said that I couldn’t accept the gifts because I was sure that he didn’t have the money to pay for it. He got pissed off and punched a dent in the door of his truck. I was an ungrateful slut for that one. When his parents got their credit card bill, he told them that I had asked him to buy me all of the stuff because I couldn’t afford to. They grew to resent me. I tried so hard to stay on their good graces by teaching their daughters to play volleyball, helping with homework and community service opportunities and otherwise doing whatever it would take. Nothing worked. When I wound up being inducted into an organization that they felt their son deserved to be in more than me (and very much let me, my family and the board of directors know how they felt about it), I’d obviously cheated my way in. I was constantly striving to prove myself worthy of their acceptance and worthy of his love. All the while, he and everyone else reminded me of what it meant to be his girlfriend. “Oh, you’re so lucky to be with him. He’s such a nice guy. He’s so smart and talented… you’d better keep him around” was all I ever heard from teachers, coaches, parents and friends. I just had to be better.

One day while eating lunch in the cafeteria, a classmate approached me to ask if he’d missed anything in class because he’d had a doctor’s appointment. I never looked up, but shook my head no; he hesitated for a moment and then casually walked away. Immediately, Iron Fist mumbled something about me cheating and, in the midst of the crowded cafeteria, he grabbed the circular seat he was sitting on and pulled so hard, while letting out some Tarzan-like yell, that he broke the plastic circle in two pieces. Everyone stared; I bit my lip and tried hard not to cry out of embarrassment. He grabbed me and said let’s go. We spoke no more of it. His GIRL friend that was sitting with us saw my mom at the gym later that evening and told her that I was always mean to him. Mom came home so frustrated with me, telling me that I needed to be nicer and not upset him; he was going to be someone some day and I would be a fool to mess up the best thing that was happening to me. Suddenly, it hit me. I was completely alone. I had no real friends that I could trust… and felt like I had just lost my own mom. I was completely confused… completely alone. He had EVERYONE snowed into thinking he was this great human being. I was smart enough to know that something wasn’t right and that I didn’t want to be scared, alone or his girlfriend anymore, but if I broke up with him everyone would call me stupid. Would he even let me break up with him? Could I get him to break up with me by doing something horrible to make what he said true? I couldn’t bring myself to be that person any more than I could control who walked up to me or who called me. I certainly couldn’t… control him. Would the next thing he threw be at me? Would the next swing he took be at me? Who could I tell? Who could I turn to? No one would believe me! If I told them he was hurting me, they’d say I deserved it… if they chose to believe me at all. I honestly didn’t know what to do or say. I just walked on, with my nose to the floor, in my books and took the verbal beating when it came… waiting… and for a while, it let up. When I quit volleyball, he had my back. He stood up for me against the team, the coach and even the principal. He was a completely different person. Turns out, it was just one less thing for him to compete against. One more advance in my isolation.

Over the holiday break, he went to visit family out of state. His half-brother joined his family on that trip and one night decided to tell him a story about how he saw me at a dance hall two stepping with guy. It was before I ever knew Iron Fist knew I existed, but that didn’t matter. He called me later that evening after that conversation, and was particularly nasty. He called me names, belittled me and as I sat there crying I felt a surge of strength ignite in my blood. I don’t know what came over me, but I felt bold. I told him that if I was such a horrible person and girlfriend then he should just spare himself the misery and break up with me already. I was obviously the worst thing that had ever happened to him and I said it with such conviction that I believed it to be true. Then, I hung up on him. He was enraged. He started calling my cell, so I put it on silent. Then my house; I answered and hung up on him again. He repeatedly tried to call both lines and when he couldn’t reach me, he began emailing. As the berating of calls and emails continued, my mom started to realize that it wasn’t all me and she held me tight while I cried. I cried through the hurt… until hurt turned to relief and until relief turned to laughter as she and I sat through the night with my cell, her cell and all of the house phones on silent. One by one they would light up as he tried to call, and we would giggle because we were done.

I knew I would have to face him once winter break was over, and I was terrified but I knew he couldn’t hurt me anymore. He still tried and had others try too. When collecting attendance in one of his coach’s class, the coach smarted off to me by saying “I was an idiot to break up with him; he was really going to be someone while I sat here in this town alone.” (Sometimes I wish I had reported him. I did end up in this town alone, for now, but I’m certainly no failure without that asshole, coach!!!) In the parking lot between classes one day, I was talking to my best friend when he came charging out of the building, baseball gear in tow. He immediately started calling me a slut and as he got closer he pulled out his catcher’s mitt. I turned to walk away and he chunked it at me. I was in heels, but I took off running towards the locker room entrance as fast as I could. Ran inside and straight to the attendance office for my next period, where, out of breath, I tried to explain to the attendance ladies what had happened. I saw one of the lady’s eyes grow wide, indicating that he was standing right behind me. When I turned he had an angry snarl on his face and he said “I guarantee you if I was aiming for you, I wouldn’t have missed” then smirked and walked away. My heart was racing, but at least someone knew. People saw. People heard… and they knew. I wasn’t alone and I made it through.

For a while, even after graduation, he tried to get to me… to get in my head via email, on social media. Every once in a while I found myself weak enough to read what he had to say- a part of me still believing I deserved to be punished for something. Every once in a while someone would say “hey weren’t you Iron Fist’s girlfriend?” and I had to consciously remind myself that I was NOT that girl. Not anymore. No. I was always Shellie and he was just my boyfriend for a little while.

Still, despite my best efforts, those words still get to me; his presence still scares the hell out of me. I was literally immobilized because I saw him outside of a grocery store once. When relationships fail or a date goes wrong, I have to remind myself that not everything is my fault even if I wasn’t perfect for the guy. No one is perfect, but there’s a perfect someone for everyone; I believe in that fact. I also believe that no one deserves to be abused. NO ONE; no matter what.


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