Trigger warning: This article contains accounts of domestic violence.

The timeline is blurred, but the results are the same.

In 2013, I took in a stray. This stray came in the form of a house-hopping, shaggy haired guitarist who I worked with serving tables. I was in nursing school and admired his “didn’t-give-a-damn” attitude and lack of obligations to anyone but himself. The fact that he came to work with a fractured arm after a fight with his own father failed to raise any red flags as we grew closer.

The slew of reasons I shouldn’t have dated him go far beyond the actual crux of our downfall, and hardly make a difference in my story. The bruises he left, however, are the reason I’m telling you now, because in a society of “me toos” and women suffering domestic abuse silently, sometimes even one small voice can matter.

The first time I felt uncomfortable was shortly after he moved in. We were both drinking, as we did (and he did OFTEN), and he saw a text I sent to good friend telling her I needed to figure out a way to ask him to pay part of our rent if he planned to stay. In a fit of rage, he slammed his beer bottle down onto the coffee table, shattered the drink coaster, screamed at me about talking behind his back, picked up his cigarettes and stormed out. This was only the beginning of the many times he would pack his bag in an angry rage and leave after destroying something of mine, and I’d always chase him.

I shouldn’t have chased him. But it was my fault – right? It was my fault for talking about him.

One cool fall morning as I got ready to head to class in a cute slouchy sweater, he stopped me in the hallway. “Why are you wearing that to school? Who are you trying to impress? You’re obviously trying to impress someone. Why would you wear that? What are you hiding?” My mind flashed to my nursing school class and the 60+ women I was surrounded by at any given time, and then I looked down at my sweater. I realized it slouched enough to show a shoulder. One innocent shoulder.

I nervously laughed him off and headed out the door. But the comment stuck. In class, I mentioned it to a friend, and she quickly ascertained that his level of jealousy was abnormal.

He’s just worried about me hurting him. He didn’t mean any harm.

The longer we stayed together, the more we argued. I’d always blame it on alcohol. I’d always blame it on stress. I’d always blame it on we are both just stubborn, this happens in relationships like ours. I first saw his rage after an argument about something I can only imagine at this point.  The hole he put in my wall was eventually patched, and not by him.

This isn’t normal, I thought. But at least it was just the wall. He didn’t hurt me.

When we took a trip to Georgia to visit a good friend, we decided to make a late night trip to a local bar. It’s only a mile up the road. It will be fine. As we had a few drinks and relaxed, he began having a few more. The drunker he got, the angrier he got, until all rationale was depleted. He stormed out of the bar and left me. In a different city. A different state. In a bar mere minutes from closing.

He took off down the road, and I got nervous. Two large men approached me, and I quickly realized they were genuinely concerned about the girl on the front step in tears, sitting all alone. “What the hell happened?” they asked me. As the story poured out of my mouth, we saw him coming back up the road a few minutes later. GET IN THE CAR, he yelled.

Not knowing what else to do, I got in the car (but not before he attempted to fight the two men standing beside me as I begged him to please just walk away). He immediately accused me of trying to cheat on him. Yelled at me for supposedly flirting with the two men out front trying to protect me, and for trying to do something behind his back. I cried the whole way back to my friend’s house, and refused to get out of the car when we got there. He yelled at me from outside of the car until I complied.

I just want to go home. This isn’t safe.

The first time he bruised me, we were watching a movie and having drinks. Our conversation escapes me, but his anger does not. As our voices escalated through our fight of the day and he got drunker and angrier, he grabbed my arms and squeezed. He shook me back and forth and I went still, panicked. I stopped arguing, stopped talking, and quickly escaped to the bedroom as soon as he let go. He didn’t follow.

This isn’t normal. I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning, I noticed the vivid outline of a man’s hand in the bruises on my arms. I can cover these, I thought. He apologized profusely and said he would NEVER do something like that again.

I shouldn’t have done that. Please forgive me, he begged.

I remember sitting on the floor of the apartment gym in front of the full length mirror. I pulled my sleeves up and examined the bruises. I cringed, and quickly pulled them down again.

It was just one time. He promised he wouldn’t do it again. I don’t have to break up with him because of one mistake…right? He apologized. This will just make us stronger. He will never hurt me again. And I love him. Love is what matters, right? I can’t leave him. How will I pay my rent? He will be devastated if I break up with him. We work together, I definitely can’t break up with him.

The second time it happened was worse. Mid-fight, he grabbed me. He shook me. He bruised me. I ran to the room. This time, I locked it. He didn’t care. The footsteps followed and the door opened as his body weight broke past the lock. The doorknob rammed another hole in the wall, and he ran to me as I sat on the bed.

GET UP, he shouted. The fight continued. He grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. He pulled me out to the living room and I eventually ended up with my knees in the carpet and his arm around my neck in a choke-hold. We were both crying.

You know this means we have to break up, right? I heard in my ear. I tried to nod.

I just want it to stop. Make it stop.

I wish this is where I could say that it ended.

He moved out, but I continued to see him. One afternoon he came over so we could talk. Talking lead to arguing, and the last memory I have with him is his phone buzzing past my head as it crashed into a wall. The glass shattered and the phone went black. He quickly left. I contacted him several times after that – I wish I could say why. But he never spoke to me again. I later saw his and his girlfriend’s mugshots grace the arrest records one morning after they had a drunken domestic dispute. I was a lucky one.

Many women are not so lucky. It’s not that bad, you may think. It’s just one hole in the wall. It’s just one bruise. It’s just one lie, one night out all night, one drunken fight. He’s just a little jealous, you might think. He doesn’t mean anything when he gets worried about me cheating. He just loves me. He just wants to know what I’m doing all the time, that’s fair. He just, just, just just…

Don’t make excuses for him. Notice the patterns. Pay attention to the signs. Listen to your gut. Many women are not so lucky. Many women struggle with leaving. You are not alone. There is help. You deserve help. And you are WORTHY of being saved.