By Bayla Akulin
When I was a child, my favorite cartoon was Superwoman. She was beautiful, strong, could fly and – the best part – she would always be there to help protect innocent citizens from danger.
When I grew up I wanted to be just like Superwoman. I wanted to fly, definitely wanted to fly, but most of all I wanted to help people, to save them from harm. Little did I know that fulfilling my dream of being Superwoman would bring me more powers than I could imagine.
In the beginning life was good
My senior year of high school I met a guy who, in my eyes, was absolutely wonderful. We had a lot in common: We liked the same sports, the same movies and the same music. He was considerate and kind and would always listen when I wanted to vent about school. He always knew the right thing to say.
Slowly, though, I began to discover secrets about him. One day he called say he was on his way to detox and that he’d call me as soon as he could. At first I was worried for him but then I got angry. If he was headed to detox it meant he had lied about using drugs. Even so, I put my anger aside and became a support system for him.
When he got out of detox I spent as much time with him as I could to help him. When he would yell or get physical I would attribute it to his withdrawal symptoms. I told myself when it was over he would be the guy I met in the beginning. He would always apologize after an episode and tell me how much I meant to him. After each time I would try that much harder to be there for him.
Manipulation & control
As the relationship progressed he became clingy, controlling. He would get upset if I spent time with my friends. His reasoning was he missed me and wanted us to be closer. I believed him. There were times when I wanted to play sports or go to the mall with my friends but would instead spend time with him. Sometimes it was just so I didn’t have to hear him yell.
As the summer drew to a close, I was getting ready to go off to college. I didn’t think I would be able to maintain a long distance relationship while trying to fulfill my college requirements. So I told him we could still be friends, that I would only be a phone call away. Unfortunately, he used that to his advantage and called everyday. When I got annoyed with the calls I told him so, but that didn’t help. He would text me 20 times or more a day telling me how I was hurting him and how his relapse was my fault. I would feel bad and start to talk to him again. I wanted to help him, to be there for him.
In the middle of November he called to say he didn’t want to live anymore. I was very concerned, as I’d never heard him talk like that before. I drove home (from Herkimer to Oneonta) to be there for him. But what I thought would be a ton of tears turned into a ton of screams. I remember us fighting about me not wanting to be in a relationship and then him on top of me. I drove back to school that same night and told no one of what had happened. The next day I changed my cell phone number hoping to put everything behind me.
A few weeks passed with no phone calls and I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong. He contacted me through the computer and every other day sent apologetic e-mails. Eventually, I caved in and we exchanged messages. He told me how he and his parents were always fighting and that he had started taking drugs again. Feeling bad about his going downhill and wanting so bad to help him, I slowly began to talk to him on the phone again.
But when the calls became a pattern of him wanting attention and a relationship, I tried to get help. I had my roommates talk to him and explain that I didn’t want to be in a relationship with him. I thought if he heard it from someone else he would understand and believe it. But again I was wrong.
A frightening threat
One day in February, he texted and called me repeatedly. I let him know I couldn’t talk, but he continued. He said he had heard a rumor I was seeing another man and that if he couldn’t have me no one else could. He said his life wasn’t worth living if he didn’t have me. Then he told me he wanted to shoot himself and have his brains splatter on me. There was no way something so awful could come out of his mouth. What had happened to the wonderful guy I used to know?
I was scared but I was also confused.
He sent me another text telling me if I didn’t answer the phone when he called again he was coming to Herkimer and when I answered my door he was going to blow his brains out in front of me. I was hysterical. I calmed myself down the best I could and I called him. But there was no answer. I called again. No answer. I was in a complete panic attack.
I wrote down numbers to my hometown police and sheriff’s departments, Herkimer police, and campus safety. I had my roommate call them and explain the situation. At that point I wasn’t just thinking about me but about people on campus and the possibility of them getting hurt.
When law enforcement arrived, my roommate and I were taken to a safe house and the college was put on lockdown. Eventually he was taken into custody. I was left thinking how awful of a person I was for putting someone I cared about in jail and for giving the college a bad name because of the lockdown.
Realization & healing
Until the campus lockdown I hadn’t realized how unhealthy the relationship really was. Finding a support system and talking about the relationship made me realize that I had been in similar relationships prior to this one; I just hadn’t understood the severity. I had assumed the yelling and name calling was normal. Just as my abusers developed patterns, I had my own pattern of continuously being in unhealthy relationships.
Now, although I may not be able to fly like Superwoman, I can still fulfill my dream by using the powers I’ve gained through my experiences. I have found the power to set boundaries for myself. I have found the power to stand up for myself and believe in and trust myself. I have found the power to care for others again.
Becoming my own Superwoman has allowed me to discover my own personal strengths and now I only share those strengths with people who deserve them.
Bayla Akulin served as a panel member for the YWCA Mohawk Valley’s town hall meeting in October 2012. This piece appeared in the YWCA’s Winter 2012 newsletter.