The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Putting Up With Her Hands
I’m not sure how to handle my girlfriend’s violence

I’m 18, weigh 178 lbs and stand 5’11”. I don’t like to show emotion but always try to keep a smile on my face. Looking at me, you’d never know that my girlfriend uses me as a punching bag.

I got used to getting hit by women when I was young. I felt that my grandmother hit me out of love and my mother hit me out of hate, but with my current girlfriend, Linda (not her real name), I don’t know what to think. Does she hit me because she loves me and is frustrated that I don’t understand her? Does she hit me because she has an anger problem? I’m not sure of the reason, but one thing I do know: I’m afraid of what might happen.

My grandmother raised me until I was 7. She was a Christian, took me to church on Sundays and tried to raise me as a gentleman. She did not believe in hitting or spanking me unless she felt I needed to learn an important lesson.

One time, when I was about to enter a store before her, she gave me a quick slap up side my head.

“Ouch!” I yelled, confused.

“Didn’t I teach you any manners? Ladies first,” said my grandmother. She smiled and rubbed the spot where she hit me. Her smiling and rubbing me made me think that she hit me out of love. This seemed okay to me because she was trying to make me a better person and raise me well.

When I met my mom a couple weeks after my 7th birthday, I fell in love at first sight.

After my mom was released from a center where she was treated for abusing drugs and drinking, I moved in with her. But by the time I turned 8, she had gone back to her old habits. My mom gave birth to my baby brother when I was 9, and I had to take care of him. When my mother left us alone to get drugs, I struggled to clean and cook, care for my newborn brother, and do homework without any help.

I wished my mother would love me the way I loved her, but no matter what I did she never showed me affection. Instead, she beat me for no reason with bats, brooms, and anything else she could grab. If I was late doing a chore, she’d scream, “When I tell you to do something, you do it!” She called me “stupid” and cursed me for being born. If she blamed me for something I didn’t deserve, she would swear she was right. Her beatings didn’t feel the same as my grandmother’s. Her beatings felt like they came from hate.

I started to feel like I had a split personality: One part of me wanted to yell and curse back at my mother. But the other half won. That was the half that chose to live with the abuse, stay quiet, and keep the love I had for her.

When I got older, I began to think my mom took advantage of me because I was born with a soft heart, so I decided to prove I was hard. By age 14, I was a troublemaker: stealing from stores, throwing things at girls to make them mad, and hanging with “bad” kids who gave me the attention that I never got from my mom.

One day, my mother took me to a big building in Manhattan and told me to have a seat. I heard her tell the lady at the front desk that she was through with me and wanted to put me in “placement.” The lady told her she would have to go to court before that could happen. My mom said she was going out to smoke a quick cigarette. She never came back.

I thought, “My mom must really hate me.”

I moved from group home to group home, causing trouble everywhere I went—robbing people, stealing from stores, and using girls for sex. I lost my feelings for the world and everybody in it.

I lied to lots of girls and broke their hearts. I was angry over the way my mother rejected me and wanted other females to feel the same way. At first I enjoyed seeing them cry over me. No matter how many times I lied to them or used them, they always came back. I understood why. If my moms asked me back, I would have gone.

One night, I got in trouble with a friend and had to spend the night and part of the next day in the “bounds” room of the group home, a locked isolation chamber where you’re supposed to think about what you did wrong.

image by Handel Morency

Alone with my thoughts, I started having flashbacks of my life. I thought about all the innocent people I robbed when I could have gotten a job. I thought about all the females I used to satisfy my sexual desires. Tears rolled down my face.

It seemed as if God was asking me, “Do you want to live alone forever, taking your anger out on people who love you? Why do you treat people wrong because you were treated wrong? Is that the kind of person you really are?” To this day, I’m not sure who was talking—whether the voice was God’s, or just something inside of me.

At that moment, my friend pointed out a female on the other side of the window. She was beautiful, with long black hair, brown eyes, a perfect smile, and a body like “Oh my god!” She looked like an angel.

After staff unlocked the door and told us we were free, I met this “angel.” Her name was Linda and she was the roommate of a friend of mine.

It became clear right away that we would be together. Because she was the first person I’d seen when I was thinking about making big changes in my life, I felt Linda was special and different from all other girls. She also wanted me to change to be better. I thought she was an angel sent by God to help me.

During our first day together, she asked me, “Why do you wear that do-rag?”

“I like the way it makes me look,” I answered.

“I don’t,” she said, and grabbed it off my head. She was smiling, and put it in her back pocket. I reached for it, but right at that moment she caught me off guard and kissed me. Instead of fighting back all my warm feelings for her, I accepted them. I didn’t want to hurt her, but to love her.

I stopped seeing all the girls I played and spent most of my time going to movies and shopping with Linda. I opened up to her and told her all my dreams and secrets that I never told anyone else.

I felt gentle and calm with her. Whenever I did something positive, Linda would tell me how good I was and my ego would fly. She made me feel so special I hardly even thought about negative things. I called her every night just to talk.

I decided that I should quit drinking and drugging so I could spend my life with such a caring and understanding person. I realized I really loved this girl and that the negative things I was doing made her upset. I took my lighter and cigarettes and threw them in the trash.

It took me a while to change, but I did. My grades went from a 65 average to a 98. I stopped drinking and smoking cigarettes. To keep my mind off weed, I started boxing at the YMCA. When my friends asked me to come chill with them and smoke, I’d think about what Linda had said: “You don’t need your friends to prove to you that you’re a king. I love you and I will always be around to support your dreams.” Remembering her words, I thought about how good it felt to be loved. That gave me the confidence to say no.

However, as time passed I encountered a new problem—Linda and her hands. Two months after we got together, I said something Linda didn’t like and she smacked me in the mouth.

My lip started bleeding.

“I’m sorry! That was an accident,” said Linda. I forgave her right away.

A couple of months after that, Linda and I were filling out job applications. I spotted a digital camera I liked in a Radio Shack and went to look at it.

image by Handel Morency

“Wow! Look at this camera!” I said. I was so excited I wanted to buy it right on the spot.

“Come on,” said Linda. I ignored her and kept looking at the other products.

“Come on so we can get on the bus!” yelled Linda.

“Wait! You act like we ain’t got all day!” I said. Then she punched me in the eye.

I blacked out for a second. Then I felt like tearing her neck off. I saw her as my mother and all the anger I had inside came rushing back. I marched out of the store.

Linda chased me out of the store, screaming that she was sorry. I turned around wanting to beat the hell out of her. Instead, I threw a bus pass at her and said, “Since you want to act stupid so bad, get on the bus without me.” Then I hopped in a cab, went back to the campus and smoked off all my stress with a friend.

Since then, Linda has hit me fairly regularly. There are several situations that can lead to it. If Linda is angry or thinks I’m ignoring her, I’m likely to get hit. Jealousy causes problems, too. She thinks I’m talking to other girls on the Internet. (I do, but I’m only getting advice from them to make my relationship with her better.)

She always makes me feel that the violence is all my fault. My mom did that, too. If I ask Linda about something wrong she did to me, she just says, “Why are you in placement?”

The situation is so confusing and stressful. I worry that one day when Linda hits me I’ll let out all my anger. I might lose control, hit her back and end up in jail. I never want that to happen.

Every day I feel like I should break up with her. I’m tired of looking stupid, feeling stupid, and being called stupid. I’m also tired of getting my feelings hurt. But Linda always says she’s sorry and I always forgive her. One nice “hi” and I forget her being mean. This makes me think: What if she could change?

To be honest, I think the violence is both our faults. Linda is in anger management classes, but she doesn’t go. She feels she can handle her own problems. I don’t think that’s true. She needs to learn how to control her hands.

But I put up with her hands. I give both my mom and Linda the power to behave badly towards me. I wonder if women feel free to talk and act any way they want with me because I’m so quiet and rarely express my thoughts and opinions. Maybe I don’t think I deserve to be in a non-hitting relationship because I’ve never had one. It would be weird to not feel something I’ve felt my whole life.

My grandmother taught me to walk away from trouble, but I can’t walk away from Linda. I got no attention and acknowledgment as a child and now that I have some, I don’t want to lose it.

I’m also afraid of what might happen if I do. I depend on her compliments. The kisses and smiles she gives me every time I do something good make me light on my feet. If I break up with her, I will feel I wasted all of my time changing for nothing. I’ll turn back to my old outlaw ways because staying on a positive path for myself, without love, seems so meaningless and boring.

Also, I feel compassion for Linda. How can I walk away from someone who has done me so much good? I really believe that one day she will change and stop hitting me and we can have a peaceful and healthy relationship.

I feel God must have brought us together for a reason. Still, I wonder, “Is this how love is supposed to feel?”

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