*From an assignment to write a story from someone else’s perspective*

I was asked to sign the bullet my ex-boyfriend planned to use to take his own life. There are only a few instances in my life in which I felt responsible for someone other than myself, but how could I not be responsible if I signed my name. It would be etched into that casing deeper than the rifling pattern.

I learned all too early, and yet circumstantially not early enough, that there is nothing respectable about allowing someone to control you. I learned the very real lesson that my mistakes don’t impact only me, that mother does usually know best, and that standing up for myself is never worth compromising.

***

A month or so ago my current boyfriend asked me if I was going to be able to come to his Military Ball. I told him I’m studying for my nursing boards right now, and the likelihood of me feeling secure enough to skip a whole weekend of studying- just days before the exam will take place to go to a party- is slim to none.

I have a job waiting for me on the other side of that test, and if I don’ pass, I lose it. I knew he wouldn’t be happy with that answer. I don’t expect him to be pleased when the answer is no. But my test, and my future, comes first. If I don’t go to the Military Ball, he still gets to graduate West Point and become an Officer. But if I don’t study and pass this test, I don’t get to be a nurse. And I will be a nurse.

One might be surprised, now, to hear that the biggest mistake I’ve ever made was changing myself for a guy. When I was younger, I thought I knew it all. For some scum-bag guy, I treated my mom poorly, I treated my friends poorly, and I treated myself poorly. I allowed myself to be controlled, and I became someone else, something that people who only know me from after that relationship would be surprised to know I did.

As a 15-year-old sophomore, being asked out by a guy a grade ahead of mine made me walk through school with a little more vitality. Although my hands were tied behind my back the whole time, I put that spring in my step and flipped my hair whenever disapprovers walked by.

When I went out with Mike, my mom would weirdly set curfews. Although she was never glad if my siblings and I stayed out until midnight, she wasn’t a terribly strict woman. She raised us to take care of ourselves. But with Mike, she would make it clear; “You’ll be home by 11.” Of course I thought, “F-you,” I’m going to stay out if I want to. And Mike and I take the back roads home, intentionally returning a half hour late.

At 15 I was always like, “oh it’s not a big deal,” about what I did or how Mike acted. When I wanted to get my ears pierced and my friend Amanda offered to do it, I couldn’t have sat down with a cube of ice and some rubbing alcohol faster. I looked in the mirror at my newly glimmering lobes for hours doing poses and making silly faces with Amanda. When I presented my gorgeous new earrings to Mike, he hadn’t taken so much as a glance and a breath before telling me they looked stupid. As the day progressed I began to feel the weight of those small gems as though there were dumbbells tethered to them.

I figured I would tell people that they just hurt my ears, or that I didn’t like the way it looked as much as I thought I would. I took the earrings out. And I told myself I wanted to.

“I knew when it all started,” my twin sister Laura said. “Before Mike, [you were] bubbly and outgoing.” She reminded me that during the time I was with him, I didn’t want to hang out with her and our girlfriends and I was much quieter than I used to be. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hang out with the girls, it was just that Mike and I were together so much of the time.

Laura specifically noticed a problem with his prom in spring of 2010. He told me I had to wear a blue or red dress. But I had this beautiful tan, and I picked out a coral dress that complimented me so well. Laura helped me get all ready, and we were so giddy and I felt stunning. When Mike saw me, all he told me was that the dress was ugly. I swallowed it, but Laura was right. It was moments like that that, in hindsight, exemplified the type of control he wanted over me.

I’m not even sure he thought the dress was ugly, but it wasn’t what he told me to wear so it wasn’t acceptable. “Who does this guy think he is,” Laura demanded. If he was willing to freak out over a prom dress, it should have been a red flag. Laura saw it, and that certainly wasn’t the only red flag she ever saw. He would message her on Facebook, telling her she was trash. “He tried bringing me down too,” she remembered.

And although I saw that his negativity was seeping into my family and friend’s lives, I still fought against their judgment. I regret that everyone was involved, that the situation didn’t just affect me, and that I ignored the signs.

I treated my mom the worst, and I said some really regrettable things to her. She was always limiting my relationship with Mike because she didn’t like him, and knew he was not a good person for me to be with. But all I saw was his mom allowing him to drive all over town without a care. His mom didn’t set a time he had to be home. But mine did. She would tell me how she felt about him and that if I insisted on being with him, she expected me to follow the rules. Of course I would be like, “what do you know, I’m going to do what I want.”

She never gave up, though. She’s that kind of mother and she would remind me what she thought of him and how I was with him all the time. When the “what do you know” excuse ran out, I finally said “well you and Dad aren’t happy so why should I listen to you?” That one still burns to think of, even though she forgave me.

I could tell I was becoming someone different. Although I have no problem asserting my independence, I wasn’t fighting my mom for my independence like I thought, I was fighting her for my dependence on Mike.

It didn’t happen all at once, but his little negative comments here and there began to build up. And one day I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

His car was rumbling the night we sat in my driveway talking. It was a little more than a year into the relationship, 13 months if I remember correctly.  And I told him, flat out, it was over. While I knew he wouldn’t be happy about my decision, I had no idea how badly he would take it.

The details get fuzzy as time goes on, but I distinctly remember in the dark, empty evening that had fallen around us, the faintly glowing green and yellow dashboard lights somehow glimmered against the shiny metal bullet he picked up out of the cup holder. All I remember is silence while he retrieved it, and I know confusion spread over my expressive face. I might have even smirked.

“You should probably sign this because you’re the one killing me right now,” he said. My heart thudded. Suddenly he got out of the car, walked back to the trunk, and returned with a gun and a hunting knife. I couldn’t fathom what was going on. This is the kind of stuff that only happens on General Hospital. Any trace of humor was bleached away.

I took back what I said when he handed me the knife, and I told him things would be okay and we could work it out. This was in July, 13 months after we started dating. A month later in August, things weren’t getting any better, and I was only getting wiser. The situation has escalated from controlling comments to full on threats. At first I was terrified that if he killed himself it would be my fault. But I was not the one pulling the trigger. It couldn’t go on, so this time I decided to call him.

The rhythmic buzzing matched my careful breathing as I waited for him to pick up. I needed to be strong, and stay strong. If the last try was any indication of what would happen now, I needed to stick to my choice. When he picked up, the conversation was short before I clearly stated I was done. He responded hysterically. Breathing wildly, he told me he would kill himself.

The contents of the conversation from there were irrelevant. All I could pay attention to was the garbled background voice, his mother, telling him to put the gum down.

The relationship had only lasted about a year, but it was a very long year for all involved. He didn’t shoot himself. Actually, he tried to come back after that phone call, and Laura answered the door. She said she literally laughed in his face. She told him to go, but to no-one’s surprise, he wouldn’t budge, begging to see me.

That’s when my mom confronted him. She closed the door behind her as she walked him off the stoop and down the driveway. I’m still not sure what exactly she said, but he never showed up again, so whatever it was, it was good.

He did Facebook message me for a while afterward, but I never answered. The day I called him and broke it off for good was the day I really became independent. In July when he said he would kill himself, I felt responsible for his life. But something changed in me when I gave him that last call, and I realized that the relationship was unhealthy and unfair. And anything he did to harm himself was blood on his own hands, not mine. And I can’t blame my actions on him either. I only wish I figured that out earlier.

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