When the Dream Becomes a Nightmare


by Rachel Renee Smith

I was 17 years old when I met him. I usually ate lunch by myself in the break room at my afterschool job, probably reading a book. He said something corny like, “I didn’t know you were allowed to take breaks.” I blushed internally as he flirted with me and eventually gave me his number. I was assistant manager at the Nathan’s lunch counter and Johnny worked on the sales floor in the local department store where we were employed. I found out we were both from Plainfield, which was a nice surprise.

A lot of the boys around my way acted or looked like wanna-be thugs, if they weren’t actually thugs. He didn’t have the sagging pants or bad-boy persona that so many of them had. He was clean-cut, well-spoken, and dressed nicely. In my mind, he looked like someone who belonged with me, but I wasn’t used to guys like him approaching me. There were some good boys in my neighborhood but my good church girl image always seemed to attract the grimier type for some reason.

When I started getting to know him it was like a dream, or better yet a music video – think Monica “Before You Walk out of My Life” (you can check it out on YouTube.) He was a brown-skinned pretty boy, had his own car and was in college. I was a senior in high school when we became a couple. He would leave sweet notes and gifts for me on my porch, called me cute names and made me feel special.

I was still a virgin when I met Johnny and I planned to be one until I got married. Then I “fell in love” and gave it up when I turned 18. I figured it would be okay – we used protection and plus we were going to get married one day. Everything was great until one of his friends told him they didn’t believe he was “my first” because I had dated their cousin before.

Johnny believed his friends. He said I lied to him and made him look like a fool in front of his boys. I couldn’t believe this was happening, it felt like my world was crashing down around me. I had to somehow make it right.

After that he was constantly interrogating me, questioning my every move, telling me I was staring at some dude at work. It got increasingly worse and worse. If he thought I was lying or flirting with someone he would wait until we were alone and grab me by my throat, curse at me, threaten me, and even punched me in the face and forced me to have sex with him.

Johnny lived with his grandparents and sometimes he would beat me up right in their living room. One night as he was doing this and I was crying hysterically and trying to stop him, his grandmother came into the room, told us to cut out all the noise and then she just went back to bed.

He questioned my behavior so much that I developed a guilty complex after a while. I believed that I really must have been doing something to make him so mad. I stayed with him because I believed that we were supposed to get married; we had to.

The time came for me to go to college and I stayed on campus at Seton Hall University. During my first year, Johnny would pop up at random times. We would break up for a few weeks, then get back together. Just when I started to feel free, he would be back and I couldn’t even explain to myself why I took him back. By my second year in college, Johnny would stay in my room for days on end, clocking me to make sure I came straight back after my classes. Sometimes he would show up at like 3am or 4am when all the gates on campus were locked and I would have to go outside at that time to let him in the gate.

Once we got back to my room, Johnny would interrogate me all night or all morning, getting angrier and angrier with every word I said. He was like a crazy person. One time he bit me and broke the skin over my eye – I still have the scar to this day.  He would basically terrorize me all night and I had to get up and go to class in the morning.

He called me all types of whores, b*&%#es and sluts. When we went out in public I walked with my face down to the ground because he always swore I was trying to look at some dude or get some guy’s attention. I endured so much for so long. I didn’t have a life because he really wouldn’t “let” me do anything. Even if I did hang out with my friends I would live to regret it later because he would accuse me of having wrong intentions and beat me up for it. He gave me a black eye and a swollen jaw on separate occasions. I had really long hair back then which was great for hiding stuff like that.

All of this started to wear on me so during my junior year of college I decided to move back home and commute to school. I figured at least this would limit his access to me, even though he only lived around the corner from my parents’ house. I still didn’t get up the motivation and courage to leave him until I found out he had been seeing someone else. THEN I got angry. I felt like – “I am going through all of this for him to be seeing some other chick? Oh heck no!”

But even though he had that other girl, he was still acting like he wasn’t going to “let me” leave him and kept coming to the house during the day when my parents were at work and he saw my car there. I didn’t know what to do so I called my mother and told her what had been going on. I knew that once I told my parents they would shut the whole thing down, and that is what I wanted. My mother had never liked Johnny, and I couldn’t understand it because I hid the things that he was doing to me, but a mother knows when something is wrong with her child.  She contacted my father who dealt with it accordingly and that was the last I heard out of Johnny. The next time I saw him was probably more than a year later, when I bumped into him at the neighborhood drug store.

The four year relationship I had with Johnny affected me in ways that were revealed for several years afterward. After some time, it seemed that I took on the behavior of all those names that he called me and even became the violent aggressor at times. For several years I made choices that left me depressed, full of anxiety, and at times wishing my life would end. It took several months of counseling and my choice to fully submit my life to God that brought the healing I needed to move past the hurt, anger, and self-destructive patterns that I was in. I am grateful that in spite of myself, God kept me and protected me. Many women do not even live to tell this story!

More than three women per day are murdered by their husbands/or boyfriends in the United States. Almost one in four women have experienced violence from a partner or spouse at some time in their lives. Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted in this country. This is not to say that men do not experience abuse as well. The CDC reported in 2010 that 40% of severe physical domestic assault was against men.

I want to personally plead with the parents, guardians, sons and daughters who are reading this story. My parents did their best to protect me but once I hit 18 years old, I had the resources and to an extent, the freedom to hide my lifestyle from them. Even though my mother constantly expressed her disapproval of my relationship with Johnny, it was like I was on a mission to prove her wrong. I was severely hurting myself in the process. As young people we are often on a mission to prove that we know what’s best for ourselves and we don’t need any adults telling us what to do. The truth is, if an adult in your life is trying to warn you about your behavior or your situation, it means they care enough to try to prevent you from harming yourself. It is worth it to heed what they are saying and keep your eyes open to the danger that could be lurking around the corner.

Whether you are male or female, if you are in an abusive relationship, or have been a victim and need help to overcome the effects of abuse in your life, seek help and get out of it today. Your life may be depending on the action or inaction that you take right now. I learned that secrecy is one of the biggest silent killers. When we keep things secret that should be brought to light, we keep ourselves in bondage and die a slow death, even when help is just within reach.

If you need help with a domestic abuse situation, call your local police or The National Domestic Violence hotline (800) 799-7233. For more information you can also visit: www.futureswithoutviolence.org and www.domesticviolencestatistics.org.

For prayer and spiritual support, please email: info@rachelreneesmith.com

This is the real account of what Rachel Renee Smith endured in an abusive relationship as a young adult and will be included in the forthcoming book, “Bag Ladies Unpacked” by Rachel Renee Smith and Kimberly A. Cullen. This book is the companion to Ms. Cullen’s stage play entitled “Bag Ladies,” which will tackle real issues that women face such as abuse, sexuality, abandonment, rape, addiction, and shame.

Rachel Renee Smith has published two devotionals, “The Rain Won’t Hide These Tears,” and “While the Sun Still Shines,” which is also the first title released from Rain Publishing, a self-publishing agency that Rachel launched in 2013. For more information about Rachel or Bag Ladies and to book her as a speaker, visit www.rachelreneesmith.com, email info@rachelreneesmith.com or call 800.937.8717.

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