I used to love a boy who called me Saggy Tits instead of Dani. I was a junior in high school at the height of our pseudo relationship, with a nice set of DD breasts. I didn't really think of them as saggy.
At the time I think I somehow convinced myself this was a compliment. He liked my boobs and was too immature to tell me in the right way, so he poked fun at me. Like the kindergarten crush that teases you because he likes you, duh.
Not that we should ever excuse a boy's poor behavior, the 11th grade women and gender studies student in me should have known better. More so, the awkward skinny kid with a crooked haircut, big nose, and his first erection should have treated me with decency.
This is the same boy who said we could only video chat if I would take my shirt off for him, the same guy who told me about middle school girls he thought were hot when we were seniors, and the same dumbass who passed out drunk after throwing his clothes at me and jumping into the pool naked on prom night.
I'm generally one for waxing. But I wasn't hairy enough to get a Brazilian before prom. For at least a week, I plucked hair by hair over the toilet seat with my eyebrow tweezers. If you've ever done this you know the feeling. But I didn't care. I wanted to be - I needed to be - perfect for him.
Suffice it to say there was no sex that night. We never had sex. Seventh grade through twelfth invested in the same guy and it never happened. And yet, he still takes up a lot more space in my diary than the good guy who eventually did take my virginity.
But that was not the worst of it. The cherry on top of the ice cream sundae already drenched in chocolate syrup, the crème de la crème, the decadent icing on the cake, was the Halloween party. I wore a T-shirt dress with superwoman's body, he was wearing a suit for some reason, and he told me he loved me. It was the best night followed by the worst morning. The one where he said it was all alcohol and Xanax talking, amongst other things, and that he didn't remember anything.
Somehow it's not the first thing that comes to mind when I look back on it all.
I think of being a new kid and meeting the first boy who thought I was pretty. Who liked me instead of my girlfriends. He listened to me and kept my secrets, and sometimes he made me laugh. I think of Paul van Dyk playing in the Sahara tent for our first kiss. That's right, it felt like he was there for our show. In my imagination, it was that good.
Not the guy who ignored me and laughed at my music taste and made fun of the musical productions I was in. Not the guy who made me feel worthless and stupid, and all at the same time led me to believe that if I tried hard enough we could be together.
I learned what this was years later. I took a class my junior year of college called Disney's Women and Girls, where we analyzed and corrupted Disney classics with a feminist eye. It was Beauty and The Beast that laid it all out. This "fix you" obsession and bizarre childhood lesson engrained in little girls that says: you can love Beauty into the Beast. Belle does it, and so can you.
He throws tantrums and yells at cups and candlesticks - but you can dismantle that anger, whatever inner demons prompted it, and miraculously transform him into the handsome prince.
It becomes all about him. What you can do for him, what you can excuse for him, to make everything better. You grin and bear it, you numb the words that used to hurt you. You convince yourself it's okay, you can take it.
You let yourself believe that eventually it will be your turn. He loves you, he just wasn't nurtured to show it. He will change and then he'll treat you better. He'll be nicer to you. And in the end, you'll be the one who stayed. The one that loved him anyway, despite everything else.
I tweezed my pubes for the little monster and he still treated me like crap. That, and I really really cared for him.
This kind of verbal abuse that manipulates and cracks at you comes out so slowly you forget to call it that. It's countered by backhanded compliments and the challenge and delight of the chase. It's tainted by "what ifs" and "hope sos" and leaves you feeling crazy, to blame, and culpable for only furthering the whole mess. Somehow it gets confused with love. But it's not love, and it's not okay.
Verbal abuse takes on many forms. It can be as subtle as rejecting a partner's interests, like the music I listened to and the plays I was in. It can be failure to share thoughts and feelings, from communicating simple, unimportant, or even obvious information, to forgoing confrontation of romantic feelings.
The abuser will often dilute the dialogue with phrases like, "it was a joke." It's as simple as name-calling, like "Saggy Tits." It's as complicated as threatening or consequential statements like, "only if you take your top off." Both perpetuate blame on the victim, leaving them to feel helpless and as though they have no choice at risk of losing their partner.
Like physical abuse, verbal abuse is a way to assert power. But verbal abuse doesn't leave the same kind of mark that physical abuse often can. It sinks beneath the skin and stains in a different way. It is hard to confront and easy to minimize, and it's why I have not written about it before.
But it is important - it is imperative - to call it what it is. I can't rewrite high school history, I can't say the things I imagined I would about the guy I first loved. It's still hard to come to terms with. The whole thing, and why it went on as long as it did.
Then again, it only really ended because we finally had space between us. Leaving for college in different states made being together impossible. My story doesn't have a lot of answers, but it has a past.
Verbal abuse is abuse. Abuse isn't cute or funny or flirty. Recognize it, talk about it. Abusers, in most cases, do not change. Confide in a confidant or be someone's. You are every bit deserving of a genuine, warm, loving relationship, from the first to the last.
x Dani Pinkus
The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.7233
Day One - Call To Safety: Crisis Hotline: 866.223.111 Support Line: 866.385.2699
RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.4673