Suffering in silence

Junior struggles with an abusive relationship

Anna* giggled as she and her boyfriend, Cole*, sat on a friend’s patio and playfully argued over whether or not Panic! At the Disco was worth listening to. Anna smiled while lightly punching his shoulder as she joked that he had bad music taste.

The previously cheerful atmosphere took a turn, and before she realized it, her cheek stung. Tears swelled in her eyes and she reached to feel her face. She looked at him stunned, trying to understand what just happened. Without meeting her eyes, Cole changed the topic. All she going through her mind was, “Did I do something wrong?”

This was the first time he had slapped her but it wouldn’t be the last.

“At first everything was fine,” Anna said. “Then he got really possessive. I was in a really bad place at the time. I was very insecure, and he took advantage of that.”

Despite his ongoing abuse, they continued dating. With consistent emotional manipulation, Anna blamed herself and kept his abuse a secret.

Anna’s mom, Mary*, was fond of Cole when they first met.

“I thought he was a nice kid and he seemed to like Anna,” Mary said. “I kind of suspected he was going to break her heart, but not in the way that happened.”

Anna said she ignored the warnings she noticed — being overly possessive, making vulgar comments and inappropriate PDA — because she anxious, depressed and struggling with her self-image. Mary said that her daughter felt she needed affirmation that she was beautiful. Anna’s dedication to her mental health was nonexistent.

“Whenever you’re in [an abusive relationship] you tend to blame yourself and think it’s your fault that it’s happening,” Anna said. “You keep to yourself because you think people are going to judge you.”

After six months of being together, Cole sat Anna down and said he needed to focus on school. The break up crushed Anna, but she was still desperate to be with him. Her mom knew how low Anna’s self esteem was, but had no idea that Cole was fueling it.

“Because of everything she went through with him, it took her to an even lower place.” Mary said. “I don’t think he was stupid, I think he picked her for a reason and I think he played onto that.”

Anna now knew that Cole was bad for her, but the fear of being alone clouded the truth, Soon Anna approached him about getting back together. Cole said he didn’t want to be exclusive. Because Anna felt he was the best she could get, she agreed to an open relationship.

• • •

Her knee bounced along to the music playing over the Barnes and Noble speakers. Anna’s heart raced as she waited for Cole. She was hoping for a chance to catch up, but with only a couple of words Cole drove towards a secluded parking lot. Her stomach dropped. She knew she’d rather be talking, but her insecurities overpowered her rational thinking.

Her eyes were shut when she suddenly felt his fist collide with her ear. Her eyes jolted open as she tried to jerk back, only to see Cole’s hand raise again. She froze and he struck her again, and again. The ringing in her ear snapped her out of the numb daze she was trapped in, and she yelled at him to stop.

The drive home was quiet, yet her thoughts were screaming. She rushed into her room and as she lay in her bed, tears started to fall from her eyes. The side of her head still ached.

“It makes me feel disappointed with myself,” Anna said. “That I didn’t stop it sooner, that I didn’t tell anyone, that I let it go on for so long… I should have stopped the relationship all together whenever he started being emotionally abusive but when it got physical I should have done something to stop it.”

They continued with their open dating life for around a month before Cole stopped putting any effort into the relationship. Anna felt like she was clinging onto whatever she could to keep his attention.

“I was scared of being alone and I became dependent on him,” Anna said. “But [being with him] only made me feel worse about myself.”

He broke up with her again, but this time her clinical depression consumed her. She attempted suicide.

“I just felt helpless and everything was messed up,” Anna said. “I tried to escape.”

Mary didn’t know the extent of his abuse until weeks after their relationship ended. She felt as a mom she needed to let her daughter come to conclusions herself, but when Anna tried to take her life, staying out of it was impossible. Mary had access to Anna’s phone and found that the relationship was more manipulative than Anna let on.

“As a parent when you realize you can’t protect your kids no matter how hard you try, and when you don’t know what they are going through, it takes you to your knees,” Mary said. “I realized no matter what I said, what I did, she was a person who had to go through her own stuff to become who she is going to be. I stopped lecturing and stopped trying to protect her from all of the things that are going to happen because they are going to make her who she is going to be. I was able to just listen and it’s amazing what your kid will tell you once you just stop talking.”

Anna’s was transferred to a mental hospital. Besides parental calls, she was isolated. Upon her release, She fell back into the need for Cole’s attention. Anna went directly to Snapchat and let Cole know she was back and doing okay. She got an immediate notification from him. She smiled at his name on her screen, but as she read his message she felt it disappear.

“When can we hook up again?” Cole asked.

Anna knew that Cole had no idea where she had been, so his lack of concern made her stomach twist. Her face felt hot reading the message, and despite how difficult it was to share the truth, she told a friend about his message. Mary believes this was a cry for help.

“The people like this are very manipulative and they manipulate you in a way that you think it’s your fault. It’s very hard to not let them take a little piece of you,” Mary said. “You have to be strong and confident and you have to be able to put them in their place.”

When the news did reach Mary and her husband, they took away Anna’s phone number, and blocked Cole’s number.

Even after being out of that relationship for almost a year, Cole’s actions still haunt Anna. After starting counseling, she was diagnosed with PTSD.

“She was afraid that he was going to come after her, that he was going to come to the house. She couldn’t sleep, she didn’t want to go anywhere,” Mary said. “Compared to now, where she is gaining her independence and she knows it wasn’t her fault.”

Anna said that taking a moment to think how she would’ve reacted if a friend came to her in the same relationship changed the way she thought about her situation.

Both Anna and Mary believe that knowing when to get an adult involved is crucial. Ignoring the fear of getting in trouble or getting over the anxiety of telling your parents is important in Mary’s eyes because escaping an abusive relationship is bigger than that fear.

“I know it’s hard, but have the courage to tell at least someone about it,” Anna said. “Just try your best to get the help you need.”


*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.