Escaping the monster


Mekayla Jenkins

When my boyfriend returns to the table with a loaded tray of the day’s special in hand, he sits down in the chair directly across from me and starts another fight.

He calls me a bitch, whore and liar that August day during lunchtime in the Iberville Dining Hall. Trying to put on a happy persona, I cry as dozens of fellow students stare in our direction. A few moments before, I sat in the far left corner of the dining hall with my head down anticipating his return. Waiting in apprehension, I see the smiling faces of students walk by in the window to my right.  

When my boyfriend returns to the table with a loaded tray of the day’s special in hand, he sits down in the chair directly across from me and starts another fight. I couldn’t count on both hands the number of times we fought that week before I returned to school. Even leading up to move-on day we had our fights. Public embarrassment in stores about clothing items or food. Dismissiveness whenever he didn’t want to hear what I had to say. Belittling my accomplishments. I grew tired of it all. However, I will never forget this day. 

 The crying wouldn’t stop and the yelling continued. As I grew more scared, my feet somehow carry me to the front entrance of the cafeteria. Feeling successful that I made it through the glass doors and onto the sidewalk, I look over my shoulder to see if he was following. He was. Panicking as my heart thumped rapidly, my thoughts hindered my ability to think at this very moment. Fast walking to my dorm room on the second floor while taking deep breaths as I step from stair to stair, fight or flight mode commences. After arriving at my dorm, I lock the door behind me and convince myself that I will not open it again. 

 At the time, letting him in seemed like the only option. I thought to myself, let him explain, he loves you. Ironically, there were no explanations or love involved in our last encounter. Hesitantly, I glided my right hand over the lock and twisted to the left, “allowing” him to walk inside. He stepped into my bedroom onto my multi-colored rug with broad shoulders and proceeded to yell until he could no longer yell. He shouted the exact words he called me in the cafeteria and even blamed me for starting the fight. As I stood in the middle of my room, I cried and yelled. I shouted for a different reason than him. Not to be mean or hurtful but I yelled because I was tired of defending myself against my own boyfriend. I was mentally and physically exhausted at that point. That would be the last time I unlocked the door for a monster. 

It became repetitive, our voices got louder and I noticed his patience wearing thin. My voice was scratched and dry, his only got louder by the minute. I finally had enough and saw the argument was leading nowhere. After he threatened to leave me, I told him that it would be best if that happened. Drained and weak, I watched him slam my bedroom door shut as all of the pictures hanging by a thumbtack on my wall fell hard onto the ground. The noises were so loud I’m sure other residents heard. One more door left until he was out of my life for good.  

 I struggled to let go and shut the door, he put on a show, as he always did, and tried making me feel guilty about the whole fight that took place thirty minutes prior. He cried and begged and pleaded. He said he wished to be better and promised to change but that meant nothing to me. I wanted my sanity more than an apology. I wanted my life back. I wanted to enjoy life and not walk over eggshells. Shutting the door once and for all, I remained scared for the rest of the evening with both my front door and bedroom door bolted and locked.  

 My ex-boyfriend was older than I was. We met in Lafayette in high school about one year before my departure from home. Somehow he got a job in Natchitoches the same day I got accepted into Northwestern State University. I was happy when I heard his news but it felt like I was going to be carrying baggage into my freshman year of college. 

“I won’t get to live the full college experience if he’s around all the time,” I said. Little did I know,  this new journey was going to be very strenuous. 

Growing up, I always saw a loving married couple. I never thought that I would be the victim of emotional abuse because I was surrounded by two parents who cared for each other. My family was tight-knit and I knew nothing more than a loving household. This is why my parents were both shocked when my mom received a phone call from me at the beginning of my sophomore year in college that I was being abused. I reassured my parents that I wasn’t in any kind of imminent danger but that I was scared. They first made sure I was okay and out of harm’s way. Calling me each night after the breakup and informing campus police of what happened were some of the precautions they took. 

“After the breakup, my biggest concern was your safety and mental health,” my mother, Kim Robichaux, said. “There were days when I got hour-long phone calls with you trying to hold back tears because you had to go to class.” 

My mom had suspicions about my ex-boyfriend long before we broke up. My mother witnessed how jealous and controlling he was during my senior trip in high school and even tried to warn me several times throughout the trip, but I didn’t listen. I thought I was in love. The experience I had on my senior trip was only a sneak peek of what was to come in the future.  

All throughout my freshman year of college, my mom feared for my safety once she received a phone call from me that day after the Iberville incident.  

“I never liked him and that started on your senior trip,” my mom said. “I have a good feel for people and he set off alarms immediately.” 

She goes on by talking about the senior trip. 

“I expressed my concerns and was met with eye-rolling by you… once the relationship got more serious and y’all moved to Natchitoches, I wasn’t around as much and wasn’t being told how he really was,” she said.  

My phone call reassured her even more that he was a complete asshole and abuser. On the day of the Iberville incident, my ex went as far as to text my mother to tell her how we had a fight in the cafeteria. This is when the truth really started to show. In the weeks following the breakup, my parents called me around the same time each night to make sure I was safe.  

“Once we found out what had really been going on, it was devastating to see you so shaken, scared, and you looked and sounded defeated,” my mother said. “We couldn’t believe the stories from the past you finally told us about him, even though we never really liked him, we weren’t expecting to hear that.” 

“I questioned if you were alright often, especially after a weekend,” Hannah Durgin, my ex-roommate said. “You would come back on Sunday excited to see him and it would end in fights often. I remember hearing you crying in the bathroom one time enduring everything he said and called you.” 

I wasn’t happy during my freshman year of college. I told myself he would change. This thought raced through my mind while sitting in the corner of four small white walls next to a toilet and a small black shelf in my dorm room. The dimly lit bathroom is where I often sought refuge. Tears fell down my face as my body went numb between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. “I hope nobody can hear me, I hope I’m not too loud.” 

Hannah slept on the other side of the bathroom door and thought I was sleeping too. I assumed that if I just kept quiet, nobody would ask if I’m okay. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I cried on the bathroom floor almost every night hoping that I could break the cycle of pain and exhaustion. I had nobody to turn to or understand what I was going through. I hid all of my emotions and kept the crying under wraps in hopes that someday the relationship would get better, but that didn’t happen.  

“I remember thinking you deserved better. He had come to the dorm and I just remember wanting to stick up for you and kick him out,” Hannah said. “It really hurt me to see you endure that.” 

I was moving in the right direction. I was about to take control of my own life. Now that I’m a senior in college I’ve come to realize that my past doesn’t define me. Going to counseling after my breakup took some courage. I craved being around my family during one of the most difficult times in my life but in Natchitoches, it felt like I had nobody. Of course, I spoke to my parents on the phone but that wasn’t enough. My roommates and I grew distant since my ex-boyfriend and I began dating, which made me feel alone. 

Everyone around me saw how much the relationship impacted my life negatively, but I was somehow oblivious to the abuse. Soon after coming to the realization that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, I accepted the fact that I was a victim and needed to get my life back. While I felt distant from the people I love most, life was beginning to look up after the breakup. The isolation from everyone I knew caused me to realize I needed help. Taking the first steps to receive help wasn’t the easiest, but I eventually got around to it. With a push from my family and after doing some thorough research on my own, I finally reached out to Counseling & Career Services on NSU’s campus.

Typing my first email to counseling services was hard because I anticipated being vulnerable with a complete stranger. A few hours passed after pressing the send button and my computer sounded off with a chime. Feeling relieved, I saw an email confirming a virtual appointment. It was the best feeling knowing that I was about to receive help from a professional. From that point on, I consistently met with my counselor in person every week on Tuesdays at 2 p.m.. I looked forward to our meetings each week in which we discussed coping mechanisms and my feelings. 

Although there was no closure for me, I hoped to one day rid the side effects of my terrible past relationship experience. Trust and vulnerability are things I often struggle with to this day. I find it difficult to stop apologizing for things that don’t need to be apologized for. I don’t have to watch what I say or worry about who I talk to anymore. It’s a relief to know that my next move isn’t being monitored. Before I had to put on a jovial persona but now, I can wholeheartedly be myself.  

Being in a healthy, secure relationship is vital for one’s mental and physical well-being. Counseling services helped me realize this. “In an abusive relationship you’re always wondering if I did this or if I say this, if I look in this direction you know what’s going to happen,” Rebecca Boone, The Director of Counseling and Career Services said. “People’s feeling and process of relationship comes before things and money, it encourages your personal growth and supports your individuality, that’s a healthy relationship.”  

I advise that if you see signs of abuse early on to detach yourself from the hate and reach out for help. 

“It takes a while before I think you really realize and if you’re in a relationship like that. What happens is you really start to second guess yourself,” Boone says. “You doubt your self worth, you think you’re doing something wrong, you’re affected somehow because that’s what they’re telling you and when you feel bad about yourself it’s hard to come in and get help because you feel like you’re the one that’s messed up.”   

The entire time I was in the abusive relationship I ignored the red flags and warning signs but my hope is to never relive that experience again. “A healthy relationship has a sense of directedness, with plan and order, you experience being free to be who you are rather who you think you need to be with the other person,” the director says. 

As for grieving, I was surprised to hear that it is more common than I thought. After the breakup, I went through stages of darkness with no light. I received no closure and wanted answers. I shut my dorm room door three years ago and I haven’t had any form of contact with my ex-boyfriend since. Our arguments and quarrels were never resolved. I let bygones be bygones and I wanted bad memories to stay tucked away in the past so that I could move on to a better way of life. At one point, I even contemplated texting him and picked up the phone a few times to type out messages but never sent them. He had such a stronghold over me even when I shut the door and left. “Any loss of relationship or loss of anything can lead to grieving. And part of that loss is the imagined relationship, what the person believes it could have become instead of what it was in reality,” Boone explains.  

“Before the breakup, it seemed as if you were always walking on thin ice. You never wanted to be confrontational,” Durgin, my ex-roommate mentions. “After the breakup, I feel as if you were kept to yourself more. However, not so much in a terrible way, but to find yourself.” My life was beginning to have a purpose after the split. I started to feel better after going to counseling and doing activities that made me happy and healthy again. I exercised and carved out more time for friends and family. Hannah says that after the breakup I seemed much happier, free and had no weight on my shoulders, which is true. 

Being in a mentally abusive relationship is an other-worldly experience that alters your thinking process and recovering from one is anything but a simple task. It takes time and a whole lot of healing to get your mental and physical health back in check. Three years after my horrible breakup, I never thought I would share my story and now that I have, I’m not scared anymore. I feel hopeful. Before I didn’t think I had a shot at a happy ending but now, I see a bright and promising future ahead of me.