The first time my friend mentioned the word, I shut off on her. Didn't hear it, didn't want to hear it. He loves me, I said. He wants the best for me, that's why he yells.
But I knew, deep inside me that the very word I was fighting defined everything my relationship had been.
Being in an unsafely driven car. Wanting to slam the breaks, clutching the seats with anxiety cause I felt like it might crash any minute. Not being given the 'permission' to leave the car when I wanted to or refuse because of unsafe feelings - doing all these because I might 'hurt his feelings'.
Knowing if I hurt his feelings, that would mean more threats to my physical safety.
He'd bang things, break things, seem to do things that made me feel like he might hurt me - even if he didn't. It was almost worst though that he did NOT always hurt me. This meant that I felt unsafe, I was unsafe but I couldn't explain why I 'felt' unsafe.
"Drive slowly, be careful", I would say. My hands would be clutching the seat and my feet would slam break pedals that didn’t exist. "It's all in your head," he would say.
I'd say "I don't like it when you scream." He'd respond, "You leave me with no choice. If you behave stupidly, what else can I do?"
I never knew when the screaming would turn to a physical outburst – I never knew when it would be me instead of the wall or the door or the phone or the car. It never was directly me, except once. And so, I had never thought abuse. I never would have, if my friend hadn't said the words.
But it still was. It still is, if you feel unsafe. If it makes you feel threatened, it's not in your head. Listen to the voice that says you feel unsafe. It's that voice that has the ability to keep you safe, if you let it. It helped me get away. When I listened.
Tesha is an Indian name meaning 'survivor', chosen by the author to repre