Saturday marks a decade since one of dumbest decisions I have made in my adult life. The day I made the relationship with my high school boyfriend official. Legally. Yep, we got married, and no, I’m not talking Britney-style drunken Vegas adventures, I’m talking legit white dress, family, church – the whole 9 yards.
To be honest, I’m still baffled how my relationship with this particular person transpired in the first place, let alone how it went so far. When we met, I had a great high schooler’s life – I was at the top of my class academically, I had a wide social circle encompassing all different walks of life, I dated classmates who were considered popular and went on to achieve great things, I was an active volunteer in the community and had a good job (unlike most teens, I didn’t work in fast food. I started helping with some general office tasks at the title insurance company my sister worked, and was ultimately promoted to escrow assistant – ie the one who balances the closing figures and ensures all the payments are made for the correct amounts in the correct order when someone sells a house. I had real business cards and was such a non-typical teenager that when a mortgage documentation specialist form US Bank rang one morning, when I would have been in the middle of a calculus class, my boss had to say I was “in a meeting”, to which the US Bank rep asked if she was my assistant – it became the running office joke).
… and yet somehow I attached myself to someone 4 years older, who had no direction in life and whose monthly budget included a line item for paying his pot dealer. That last part was an especially odd moral compromise for me considering I didn’t even drink in high school, let alone dabbling in the other aspects of reckless teenagedom. I guess I was a victim of my own beyond-my-years success. My maturity and responsibility made my parents feel comfortable leaving me home alone for a couple weeks at a time as they started their retirement travel plans having raised 5 kids. While I was mature and independent on the outside, emotionally I still battled with normal teenage issues, and longed for the family connection I didn’t really have. So, I ended up in an incredibly toxic relationship with an emotionally needy person. He filled the void of constant attention, and in my vulnerable state I fell in head first. I even decided to move in with him my Junior year; I don’t think my parents were particularly happy about my decision to effectively emancipate myself, but I was still seemingly happy, healthy, holding down a job and getting perfect grades and I think they knew arguing with a teenager – especially when you’re out of town 2-3 weeks most months – is sort of a fruitless endeavor.
As graduation approached, I considered the ‘next phase of my life’, and having already lived with my boyfriend, in my infinite naivety (and – quite frankly stupidity) decided getting married was the appropriate next move. Again, my parents were skeptical, but remained trusting of my maturity and convincing explanations. Unfortunately the reality of the situation was that there were *countless* reasons I should not marry this person – reasons I totally hid and lied about as necessary to my family and rapidly dwindling social circle. For starters, the wake-and-bake pot habit was a huge issue for countless reasons. Finances were also a point of contention, as he had a paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting approach, but I was always planning for the future. Throughout our relationship, I paid off his car, paid off his drums (his incredible musical talents were and still are one of his redeeming factors), and even paid off an insurance claim dispute for his parents, because as a driver on one of their policies, his license was at risk of suspension. I was also subject to every imaginable combination of physical, verbal or emotional abuse for pretty much the entire duration of the relationship. Our relationship was incredibly volatile, and I thought nothing of taking a handful of my “take one as necessary” Xanax to pass out and sleep for almost an entire weekend at a time just to avoid the chaos. In retrospect, I can’t believe all the BS I subjected myself to and barely recognize who I was at that phase in my life.
Unsurprisingly the marriage didn’t last long. His punching and shattering my car windshield the day after our honeymoon really should have been the end of things, but we stuck it out for nearly 9 months as Mr and Mrs. I don’t know what changed, but I’d woken up and finally had enough. I’m not particularly proud of the way I ended things, as it involved jumping into a rebound relationship, but I needed to pave a path for myself that ensured we’d never get back together. I knew with his insane jealousy and insecurities, that was the way to finalize things.
Years of paying his debts and nursing his drug habit left my college savings account (which my parents had been contributing to for almost a decade) nearly empty. Not wanting to jeopardize my education, I told him I wanted to stay legally married so I would be considered legally emancipated and therefore able to qualify for financial aid on my own (without having to introduce my parents finances to complicate things). He begrudgingly agreed, but I guess it was his way of ‘ending things on a good note’. A year later, having had intermittent contact, I contacted him to sign the next school year’s financial aid forms and discovered he had racked up another $10k of credit card debt and was getting into trouble with his bank for writing too many checks with far too little money. Not wanting to get stuck in his mess again – financially or emotionally – I decided it was time to sever legal ties and figure out a new way to pay my tuition. For my 20th birthday I gave myself the gift of freedom and filed for divorce. Colorado requires a 90-day ‘cooling period’ between petition for divorce and finalization, so by mid-October I was free to move forward financially and emotionally.
Except… I wasn’t. The night before my divorce was to be finalized, I was putting the finishing touches on a presentation for my marketing class. A friend called to say they were downtown watching a band, and I should stop by. I did, the band was good, and excited to be done with my big project and nearly legally single, I joined a friend-of-a-friend and some other newly met acquaintances for a drink at a neighboring bar. I’d had a total of 2 mixers that evening, and as midnight neared, I ordered a third drink and a round of jager bombs to celebrate my independence. Feeling relieved, I smiled and asked one of my new acquaintances to ‘watch my drink’ as I went to the bathroom. I came back, finished nursing my Malibu & Diet, and then… nothing.
I woke up 11 hours later in my apartment confused, with my clothes randomly strewn about and covered in vomit. I was still dazed, but ultimately figured out I had been drugged and raped. Initially I questioned how I’d gotten home if I’d blacked out, which I always assumed to be the same as passed out, but one of the police officers I spoke to later confirmed that you are still semi-conscious in a blackout, and therefore I would have actually lead the rapist to my home in my drugged-up state. Thankfully, I’d built an incredible network of friends, including my boss, who was amazingly supportive and instructed me to go to the hospital immediately when I turned up late, still out of it and sobbing. I had also been on-again-off-again dating the District Attorney’s son, who instructed me the necessary course of action to get things handled legally. I was incredibly thankful for the friend whose house I stayed at for a couple nights while I waited for the police to come ‘gather evidence’ and the other who temporarily moved into my guest room so I wouldn’t have to be home alone (which the police suggested I avoid, given the circumstances of my rape).
The hospital staff were incredibly sympathetic and helpful. I took 2 rounds of the ‘morning after pill’ to ensure the ‘incident’ wouldn’t also lead to pregnancy. My biggest physical concern was actually the possibility of having contracted an STD; a fear I had to face quarterly for the next year and a half as I had repeated HIV tests done. Thankfully, they all (and still do) come up negative.
Emotionally, after the initial shock, I rebounded quickly. My emotional health was particularly boosted when my parents booked flights home and cut short their vacation literally minutes after finding out what happened to me. All the issues and loneliness I didn’t voice as a teenager were immediately quashed when I was reminded that Mum and Dad are always there when I need them.
Thanks to Colorado’s Victims Assistance, I was also able to spend several months meeting with a therapist. My weekly sessions with her did a world of good, not only dealing with the most recent ‘incident’, but also in confronting and moving past any other issues I had been avoiding. I eventually decided that to fully cleanse myself of the whole situation – the marriage and the rape – I would petition to have my marriage annulled in the Catholic church. While I wasn’t an active or consistent church-goer, I didn’t want o be tied to my ex in any way, and didn’t want it to jeopardize the way I could get married in the future.
The annulment was a long, emotional process, but also exactly what I needed. As part of the petition, I had to analyze and write about how the relationship started, prompting me to confront my parents about the unfulfilled needs I had as a teen. That step alone became one of the most important dialogs I have ever had in my life. My parents and I had some very deep, very honest conversations and reached an amazing level of understanding and mutual respect, which was a huge step. For whatever reason, I’d always been worried about being nuisance and never felt comfortable voicing my needs – even refraining from asking for lunch money as a kid. My honesty and openness allowed them to see me in a different light, enhanced our relationship, and most importantly forced me to be honest with myself – which was the ultimate step in letting go of everything and moving on.
People say things happen for a reason. My life is exactly where I want it to be right now. I’m happy with who I am; I’m in love with and married to a man I believe really is my soulmate; I have a strong, open relationships with my parents; and I have some incredible friends. I’d like to think I’d have gotten here without all the crap, but I’m not sure I would. I’ve always been one to push myself and strive for perfection, but without my first marriage, I don’t know that I’d have the perseverance I have now. Without the rape, I don’t think I would have fought my emotional demons so thoroughly and have developed such a strong understanding of self. Without both, I might not have grown as close to my parents. And without all of it having happened when it did, I might not have been in the right mental space to meet, fall in love with and marry Mark. Whether all those things would have happend or not, I don’t know. While my choices – to marry and to leave a drink with a stranger – weren’t my proudest moments (most people don’t even know they happened, and those who do are shocked at how ‘normal’ I am in spite of them), they certainly aren’t things I’m ashamed of either. I’m glad that I was strong enough to come out the other end, leading a healthy, successful life rather than being lonely or living in fear.