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Breaking the Cycle

One letter. One letter carried the weight to disrupt a generational cycle of neglect and abuse.

By Elizabeth Kaye DaughertyPublished about a year ago 5 min read
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At twenty-one years old, I was at my lowest. I spent my days working for minimum wage at the Crestview Cracker Barrel as a smiling hostess or a hands-on staff leader, but my nights were a different beast. When I wasn’t traveling to bars with various body parts in my mouth or behind a haze of pungent marijuana smoke, the light of Adult Swim on the television illuminated me wearing just my underwear and drinking cheap wine straight from the bottle. The only small comforts in those nights were when Shark would climb in my lap and purr.

Some people might think that twenty-one is too young to sink to the bottom. What could be so heavy to drag a girl down? How could one town crush a soul to rubble? What could possibly be trying to crawl out of someone’s skin, at youthful twenty-one, filling veins and wearing on each nerve? How many bottles of tart, tasteless wine would it take to drown a horde of demons? That, I was determined to find out.

Anything to make me feel numb, again. Anything to keep the memories at bay.

I’d polish off a bottle, empty some red blood on the sheets, then fall into a drunken sleep and secretly dream about the naked bodies of my favorite women.

Shark woke up before me almost everyday and tried to convince the family cat to play with her, but when I got up or got home from work, she looked at me and purred. She was all I took pictures of because I hated to see myself.

Women who experience sexual, violent, or relationship trauma in their formative years are at a greater risk of experiencing it again as they get older. These odds are between two and 13.7.

Children can not recognize emotional immaturity in their parents, they only know the loneliness they feel when a mother reminds them that they have a whole room to play in - away from her. When their father works so much to make ends meet that they think he doesn’t live at home. I couldn’t tell when basic respect was missing because I seldom got it to begin with. I learned my emotions were unimportant. My parents’ apathy primed me.

For “D,” when I was 15.

For “J,” when I was 18.

I wanted love so badly that I’d take it from anywhere. Even in the form of hate wearing the mask of love. Even after he stripped me, zip-tied me to a chair, hit me with his belt, then bent me over the couch. After three years of isolation from my friends and family while he flaunted me like a toy to his, being forced to back down from a sun-up to sun-down screaming match because of the humiliation of neighbors overhearing. Ignoring the hands on my throat and the strikes on my face. I paid for his drugs, and he left me alone. He let me go home and see Shark.

I never learned healthy sexual relations, or how to give consent to them. They were expected.

Then came “A,” when I was 20.

“A” showed me a new world with plane tickets all over the country with him. While we sunbathed in Phoenix, camped in Florida National Parks to capture the beauty of nature, while he showed me my first snow in Boston, my dark cloud home wasn’t even a whisper. We made tea together and played with Shark. My parents asked when he and I were getting married.

He gave me love, acceptance, everything I ever wanted.

Yet it never quelled the rage. It never kept my tears back. It never made me feel better. It wasn’t enough to save anyone from my wrath.

We began to fight, similar and not to the way “J” and I had. I was a short fuse with access to his cell phone number and a throat raw from screaming. He was too stoic, too far, gestured too much, too clingy. I was impossible to satisfy.

One clear, summer night lit by streetlights and stars, I checked the mail. At the bottom of our ridiculously steep driveway, a plastic mailbox of beige that attracted wasps to build nests inside. But that night, there was only a letter. It was addressed to me, from “A.” A list of my sins on stationery paper.

He described his fear of making me upset, the way he could never disagree with me, how I made his waking hours miserable, written in black ink with his slanted handwriting. He was Martin Luther and I was the church as he hammered in his 95 theses.

Abuse, violence, is a cycle. It is so commonly observed, that adults with a history of such afflictions in their childhood are four times as likely to perpetrate than counterparts with no history.

“A” was my victim. A victim of the abusive cycle I had been thrown into before I ever knew him.

My body went cold despite the muggy heat. Viscous tears filled my eyes. The more I read and re-read, I became too weak to hold myself up and my knees buckled into the dirt and grass. I curled into the ground, tiny bug legs crawling across my knuckles as I sobbed. My body wracked with each tearful burst which eventually ran dry, leaving me to wheeze, until something inside of my core broke.

The cycle, disrupted.

Once I composed myself enough, I crawled back up the hill and into the sleeping house to stumble back to my bedroom. This time, more sober than I had ever been. I dove into my closet to retrieve an empty shoebox, then scoured the rest of the space and turned it on its head until I found all of our memories: photo strips, dried flowers from surprise bouquets, trinkets and small love notes. I put them inside. Then I poured in my feelings, bent over the opening and bled emotion from my pores like sweat, to create my own Pandora’s Box.

The weight of my grief eventually closed the lid. I sealed it shut with a tape-on letter, with “Do Not Open Until You Are No Longer A MONSTER” written in orange highlighter.

Sensing my distress, Shark came to me that night.

“Meow,” she said, then rubbed her head on my arm and purred.

I had no words for her, only a weak hand to pet her and return the affection.

“A” changed everything. He changed me.

I took inspiration from Shark. She was the one thing in this world that I loved without restriction. I never hurt her, expected her to sacrifice for me, or treated her poorly on bad days. In return, she gave me the love that she knew how. She sat and slept by me, she waited outside my bedroom for me to come home, she chirped and mewled at me when she had things to say.

After that night, I worked until I was too tired to get drunk or high, saving every penny for a U-Haul. In a year I saved $3,000. I used that to take Shark and myself 1,500 miles away for a fresh start, including therapy and drinking less alcohol.

I had to figure out who I was going to be. I had to refuse to be the person I was before.

Abuse is a cycle. And it ends with me.

Teenage yearsTabooHumanityDatingChildhood
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About the Creator

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty

Elizabeth Kaye Daugherty, or EKD for short, enjoys a good story, cats, and dragons.

Though she has always written fiction, she found a love of creative nonfiction while studying at Full Sail University.

https://linktr.ee/Ekdwriter

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