When It’s All Said & Done

MY STORY ABOUT SURVIVORSHIP

Being a survivor isn’t a one-and-done thing. You don’t survive the experience and get to call it quits later. Unfortunately, it follows you everywhere. The experience is etched into your cells, your memories, your everyday actions. You may never be a victim again, but you will always remember why you’re a survivor in the first place.

I remember when I first started dating my abusive ex-boyfriend, he said he used to date a girl who used to “flinch every time [he] moved [his] hand too fast.” He laughed because he said her old dude “used to beat her”. I can’t remember how I responded then, but I will always think back to that first red flag. In that moment, he was letting me know that intimate partner violence was acceptable, perhaps even humorous.

But what did I know about red flags, then? When I was 16-years-old, I was blaming victims for not leaving their abusive partners. I didn’t know what to look out for when dating ruthless boys and rebellious girls. What I did know was that I was too smart to get caught up in some abusive relationship–Nope! It would never happen to me, because I would just leave, duh! Because it would be that easy…right?

The truth was a hard pill to swallow. I choked on it. I didn’t want to believe I was a victim, but I wasn’t in denial of what was happening to me. I just didn’t know how to make it stop. I still loved him with my entire being – I was convinced he would change. I believed he would changed even after he ghosted me for months, held a shotgun to my chest, physically dragged me by my hair multiple times in public, called me out of my name, left me with bruises, and forced sex with me.

I covered for him everytime, calling his fits “anger issues” because that’s what the courts and the hood called it. I knew it wasn’t my fault he was always in a rage. Truthfully, I love the banter. And I loved to play rough with my boyfriend. I could control my rage in a healthy way, why couldn’t he? Several tough years later, I’d learn it was never about anger, or rage, or being mad. It was always about having the power and control in the relationship (and over me). He didn’t have an anger issue, he had a supremacist issue.

Though he didn’t explicably say it, being white and being a man had its advantages. He was the center of every conversation. Guys like him are the center of what we learn in public school. It didn’t matter that he was a stoner, considered himself liberal – dare I say, a feminist. But what feminist believes women should be “put in their place?” (A very wrong one, for sure). He used his power in society to keep me scared, powerless, and under his control. Every time I tried to break up with him, he’d threaten my family. I believed him because he had a very powerful support system backing up his every move.

Our friends and family knew him as a “nice guy” with temper issues. But “abusive”? No. He would never. He would never raise a fist to me or an open hand. He never hit me. So, why would I say that about him? Obviously, it was me causing his outrage and provoking these fights about what I should be doing with my life. Because the fights were usually about me and what I was doing wrong. I could never point a finger at him because he was “one of the good ones.” He was gaslighting me and I was on fire from the inside out.

When the relationship was finally over, I started to take inventory of what was left. What did I have left to give? He had taken my power, my friends, my integrity, my hope, and my innocence. I’d never see the world with the same bright eyes as before.

IN THE BEGINNING

I met him when I was 16 years old and just out of a complicated, toxic relationship that ended with me having an abortion. He was supportive of my decision and helped me get my mind off of what happened. Full disclosure, he was a good friend before we started dating. He was a family friend, the nicest and funniest guy I had ever gotten close to –  a real gentleman, so I thought. I fell in love so fast, I completely forgot I was *this close* to becoming a mother months before. But I also knew something was off. After we had sex for the first time, I lied about how many people I had sex with. I told him it was just my ex-boyfriend because I didn’t want him to think I was a slut, or dirty. I wanted him to think I was pure and worth keeping around for a long time. Looking back, I always regret that moment.

This was another red flag I should have noticed. In all sincerity, I just wanted to be loved and love in return. I wanted stability, normalcy, and a romantic, healthy love. I thought I would get that with him. I was so blinded by my wants that I forgot about what I needed: safety. I grew up in an unstable, unsafe, unhealthy home and something about him felt familiar. He felt like my Mom and Dad all at once. I should have ran until my feet blistered, but instead I stayed until the very last ounce of dignity was squeezed from me.

But no one warned me about these red flags. And when things were bad, no one talked to my partner about stopping the abuse. They all turned to me and just expected me to leave. As if it was that easy. As if I hadn’t already tried before. As if I had any energy at all to entertain the thought of another fight. As if.

It’s been almost 10 years since the relationship ended, but I still wake up scared some days. There are only so many ways people can take power away from you, but there are so many other ways to gain that power back. On days I feel most helpless, I start to write another piece of this story. And on days I want to take my power back, I share resources to prevent this from happening to someone else. (I also go back to scenes where the abuse took place, but that’s another essay.)

CALL TO ACTION

I am a survivor of IPV and sexual assault. And I am not alone. There are hoards of us and even more young and innocent victims who don’t know how to read flags like 16-year-old me. As survivors, it is sacred our duty to protect them and help them get out of these abusive relationships. As survivors, it is imperative we teach others not to make the same mistakes.

In the same breath, the young man who abused me was also a victim of physical and emotional abuse. The world let him suffer in silence and allowed him to channel his trauma into violence against a romantic partner (me). The world sat back and watched as I was pushed, shoved, and pulled at hands of a troubled young man. His friends did and said nothing. His family did and said nothing. My family tried to help, but ended up blaming me (the victim). All of this happens all too often. We let abusers go unnoticed because they’re our friends, our family members, our loved ones. But that’s not okay. And we shouldn’t keep doing that.

There’s a call to end toxic masculinity as it’s been linked to all kinds of fucked up shit (if I may say): rape culture, intimate partner violence, dehumanization of women and girls, homophobia, transphobia, among other things. But it’s not enough to end these cycles of oppression within ourselves. We have to call people out when they are being less than neighborly to our loved ones. We can’t be scared of being disliked for calling out toxic behavior. Actually, people may even stop talking to us the more we speak up for victims’ rights and the end of toxic behavior.

Right now, we live in a world that allows men to use power + control + violence to make a point and unfortunately, most of the world is run by those people. Fortunately for us, we live amongst the people that that behavior directly affects, meaning we have direct influence to make changes within our homes and within our communities. We can’t let abuse happen period. When the abuser is committing these acts, call them in. When the victim is experiencing these acts, get them out. You can’t sit on the sidelines for this one (or at all), you have to choose a side. You either support abusive and toxic behavior, or you act to end it. Period. There is no inbetween.

While I would love to label all abusers monsters, I cannot. I am a humanitarian and to me that means showing compassion for all, even the worst of the worst. The actions that abusers commit should be punished to the fullest extent, but I stand by actions not defining us. I am not what happened to me and he is not what he did to me. In the end, we are all humans trying to make the world work for us. People like my ex-boyfriend need to realize that they can’t make the world change for them. They need to change for themselves and do better. They need to be better and we have to give them a chance to do so. (We don’t have to be around when it happens, tho.)

FINAL NOTES

So no, this isn’t a story about why I stayed or how bad things were. No. This is a story about survivorship and all the moments it took for me to get here. This is a story about how to get through and still have something left over when it’s all said and done.

Sixteen & Pregnant: The Untelevised Reality

I don’t remember the words I said before going under anesthesia, but I remember waking up in a dinky old surgery room with dim lighting and a woman in the bed closest to mine. She appeared a little confused but calm. She looked like she had done this before. If I could imagine what I looked like to her, I would have looked like a terrified teenage girl who had just had an abortion.


When I told my mother I was pregnant, I felt so much shame. I felt like I had failed her. I was supposed to be the “good” child, who made the family proud, who brought home good grades. I was supposed to be the child who went to college and brought my family out of poverty and into the American middle class. My Mom had little support from my Dad and worked two jobs for 60 hours a week. I couldn’t bring another child into her home and complicate her already stressful life.

My Mom is Chicana. Her soul is split between Southern California and Mexico. She grew up on both sides of the border, seen her parents sacrifice everything for her to grow up with food in her belly, clothes on her back, and a roof over her head. But at 16 years old, she was on her own. And by the time she was 18, she was pregnant with my older sister, and my parents were slanging dope to keep up with expenses. My Mom has been hustlin’ since she was 16 and has never had a break.

My Mom taught me how to use a knife to defend myself, to speak up when things weren’t right, and to rebel against what people imposed on me.  She taught me to be my authentic self and to succeed while others are plotting my downfall. She taught me to prevail in the face of evil, laugh in the face of imposters and to be brown in a room full of whiteness. She was raising a fierce feminist who, at 16 years old, was learning how to advocate for her current and future self.

When I told my Mom I was pregnant, she didn’t ask me if I wanted to keep it, and she didn’t ask me if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. She and I both knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t have this baby. Not only did I not want to be a Mom at the time, I was also using fen-phen for fun, smoking pot everyday and drinking on the weekends (Yes, at 16). For the first time in a long time, I cried in my Mom’s arms because I was scared. I fucked up. I could hear the llantos pouring out of me as she held me and told me everything was going to be okay. She helped me make an appointment to terminate the pregnancy at a Women’s Clinic, and she took me when it was time.


Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the youngest one in that clinic. I had just turned 16 years old two months before getting knocked up. I thought I was hot shit! But I didn’t really know shit. If I had any common sense at the time, I would not have cleaned my very fertile flower with the same towel my ex-boyfriend used to clean his pollinator. Did you know that semen can survive for up to seven days outside of a host? I sure didn’t. I also didn’t have great sex education. Most of what I learned about sex was through my friends at school, and most of them weren’t using condoms, either.

#ThatPullOutGameStrong

A nurse came over and handed me a giant maxi pad. She said it would help with the bleeding. My tears stopped immediately. There was no more time to feel sorry for me. I could not show an ounce of weakness to anyone anymore. I wasn’t just a 16-year-old girl anymore; I had something to prove. I had to pass my 11th grade AP classes and be the first in my family to apply to universities. But first, I had to get this giant maxi pad on.

The nurse took me into a changing room where there were other women, young and old, who had just had abortions, too. As we walked into the room, we were given crackers and juice. I felt like I was part of a cowherd being shepherd from one meadow to the next. It all looked the same to me. We went from hospital gowns to the clothes we came in within a matter of minutes. We went from being pregnant to not being pregnant in just a matter of minutes, too. Between the initial shock of an unexpected, unplanned, and unwanted pregnancy and the choice to remove that pregnancy from our bodies, we were all pretty reticent in that changing room.

As I was leaving that changing room – I noticed a familiar face. Ana, my friend Rosie’s older sister, was here, too. I felt comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t wait to connect with her on this shared experience. No one at school would understand what I was going through. Earlier that month, I told Rosie my period was late and that I felt something different with my body. She offered to push me down some stairs as a favor. I laughed. I almost took her up on that offer. I wonder if Rosie said the same thing to her sister when, or if she knew Ana was pregnant, too.

It turns out; I wasn’t the only 16-year-old who got knocked up during that Winter Break in 2007. My friend Janet was also pregnant. From the moment she found out she was pregnant, she was keeping that baby no matter what. It didn’t matter if her partner didn’t want to be a Dad, yet. It didn’t matter if it would set her behind in school. As a first-generation Christian Latina from the projects, this baby would be her salvation and her biggest blessing. My friend Brenda was also knocked-up. She and her partner were excited and wanted to keep the baby. Her Mom, however, was reluctant to accept the truth, but eventually, she supported Brenda and the pregnancy. Unfortunately, Brenda had a miscarriage. As a middle-class white girl from a broken home, she felt this baby could save her.

16 and Pregnant Volume 1

MTV produced a whole ass reality show around the pregnancies of my peers and called it “16 and Pregnant.” I was a sucker for reality shows, so of course, I tuned in. But little was relatable to me. The only thing I could relate to was the title…16 and Pregnant. There those girls were – white Americans whose parents had homes and whose communities were almost 100% White Americans, too. And there I was, just another 16-year-old Mexican girl from a ‘hood in Los Angeles who got knocked up by her cholo ex-boyfriend. As much as we wanted to be loved and whole, the Universe had different plans for the 3 of us.


It was a Tuesday morning. Mami told me to wear something comfortable, so I wore my baggiest sweats and a UCLA pullover hoodie. It was the middle of February, so this outfit was perfect for the weather. I read a book and snuggled my Mom while I waited for the nurse to call my name. “Ms. Hernandez? We’re ready for you now.”

I followed the nurse into another room, where they drew blood and prepped for me for a quick and painless procedure. When I woke up, I started weeping. My body curled naturally inward as the llantos poured out of me. I tried to unravel my feelings of happiness from my feelings of loss, but the two co-existed unapologetically. I felt the loss for the soul I have yet to meet and loss for my egocentricity, on the other hand, I was happy to be free to have the choice to not be a Mom at this time. Actively choosing to postpone or decline parenthood was my first step into adulthood, and I cried because I knew that after this day, things would never be the same for 16-year-old me. My Mom was right, however. Everything did turn out okay.

*This Story was originally published on: www.RaisingMothers.com