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By Xoaquima Díaz
I never thought I would end up in an abusive relationship. Not only because I had always considered myself smarter than that, above such blatant self-destruction at the hands of another, but also because I am a lesbian. I thought only hetero couples dealt with domestic violence – strong men beating on weak women. Ariana showed me how wrong I was.
Ariana and I met in college and were friends for a year before we started dating. Ariana, though cute, was affirmedly hetero. But we lived in the Bay Area and Ariana didn’t mind that I talked about the various fulanas I was dating the same way she talked about her boyfriend. When Ariana finally confessed she had a crush on me, I didn’t think twice about crossing the boundary of friendship that structured our relationship so well. She was pretty and I was lonely, so I let her laughter and kisses and attention fill the emptiness inside me.
I had fucked a lot of girls before Ariana, trying to find myself in the softness of their skin, pressing my flesh into theirs, hoping this breast would strike a chord of familiarity that none of the others had. I mistook lust for happiness, thinking that if I gave them my body, they would make me whole again, smooth out the cracks of my psyche with their soft caresses, cauterize my gaping wounds with tender kisses, show me glimpses of the woman who birthed the woman who birthed me, so that I might find myself in her soft flesh, in her gentle whispers and breathy moans, in her tangled curls and the tiny beads of sweat that glistened on the bridge of her nose, nostrils flaring as my fingers worked their magic, desperately trying to conjure up a clear image of myself in the notes of ecstasy I elicited from her beautiful body. Eventually I conceded that I may never find the lost child who stumbled in so many wrong directions before landing me here, and I gave in to merely seeking pleasure. But then Ariana and I got together and I thought I had finally found myself.
The first few months we dated were sweet and innocent, like a child’s first crush. It was all laughter, holding hands, kisses in the park, presents, and making love three and four times a day. We cooked for each other, took each other to our favorite Bay Area spots, and talked of growing old together – a family with kids and pets and careers made possible by the college degrees we would have in a year. Ariana convinced me that this rapture must be love, for what else could such immense pleasure after so much pain be?
Eventually, things began to deteriorate. It happened so smoothly, I couldn’t even say when or where the transition occurred. The first time Ariana screamed at me, I didn’t know how to react. I came from a family where no emotions were ever expressed, not even sadness. I pleaded with her, tried to placate her, apologized when I didn’t even know what it was I was supposed to have done, and finally, exhausted and frustrated, I screamed back. Soon, engaging in screaming matches became a routine part of our relationship and thus, the first time she hit me, I hit back.
Although her first attack ended in bruises for both of us, it was followed by a truce that lasted almost three weeks. But it was only a matter of time before she lost her temper again and started punching and kicking me and I punched and kicked right back, and eventually it became as much a part of our routine as eating, sleeping and screaming. Ariana carried me off down a road so heavy with darkness and shame that it obscured even the most obvious facts. She carried me away with kisses and promises of eternal union, sequestered me until I believed that even the pain of her punches was another, different form of love, our bruises bonding us together in a way not even simultaneous orgasms could.
Over time I learned to recognize the signs as the rage inside her rose: the quick pacing across the room, the tremor that began in her left hand and slowly spread up her arm, the agitated plucking of her eyebrow hairs. Once Ariana started plucking her eyebrows, I knew punching was the next step. But, as was my nature, rather than withdrawing from the argument and trying to diffuse Ariana’s growing rage, I raised my voice and made my words even harsher, unable to resist pushing her buttons. Ariana would finally lose control and in an instant those same hands that caressed my face con cariño when she told me how much she loved me had closed into fists hard like the truth and she was pounding them into my arms, stomach, thighs, back, face.
Ariana and I broke a lot of stuff too. Nothing remotely breakable if hurled across a room lasted long in our apartment. When she ran out of smashables, Ariana took to ripping and cutting my clothes. In return, I tore up her pictures and old letters from friends and family.
At first we had been able to keep the turmoil confined to the privacy of our apartment or car. But eventually our jealousy, anger, and violence had grown too large to be contained by walls and doors and began to spill out in front of the world around us. Ariana’s friends stopped coming over to visit. Invitations to parties and dinners and group outings were no longer extended to us.
I never kidded myself; I knew from the beginning I was in an abusive relationship and I was consumed by shame and embarrassment whenever I saw a neighbor after a particularly loud and explosive fight with Ariana. Suddenly, I was that woman people point at and whisper, “Why does she stay? Doesn’t she have any self-respect? Who would willingly let themselves be treated like that?” And I was angry. Angry at Ariana for putting me in this position and angry at myself for staying, for participating, for hitting back and participating in the violence. I had known since the first time she’d hit me that I should leave Ariana, but it wasn’t that easy to just walk away. And the longer we were together, the harder it was to leave. Ariana was all I had and I was scared to face the world alone.
Eventually, we wore each other out and parted ways. It would be six more years before I would dare to enter another relationship, and that one didn’t turn out much better. Although the abuse was emotional, not physical, I could see girlfriend number two was inching her way closer and closer to violence with each passing week and when my intuition told me she was almost there, I ended the relationship. As if to prove my point, she beat the shit out of me. This time I didn’t fight back, I just curled up in a ball, did my best to protect myself from her blows, and waited for her to tire herself out.
That was five years ago, and, no, I haven’t been in a relationship since. But I am finally starting to understand that even though my parents never hit me, our family had its own extreme form of dysfunction. Although our chaos was quiet, it was omnipresent, and thus my tendency to attract and be attracted to unhealthy women. The reality is, the roots of domestic violence extend much farther than the timeframe of the abusive relationship and both the abuser and the abused come from a history of pain and anguish which needs to be healed before either party will be able to participate in a healthy relationship, gay or straight. And yes, I’m working on it.
Xoaquima Díaz received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, has attended the VONA Writers’ Workshop and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and has been a writer in residence at Hedgebrook. She is currently an adjunct professor of English at Miami Dade College.