Lying in a steaming bath-tub, water lapped against my naked body. The pressure of the clear liquid surrounding me made the bruises on my hips ache, the heat made my head foggier than a dock at sunrise. This was the twenty-seventh time, yet I was still with him. I sunk under the waves and wet my hair. “Why am I so afraid to leave?” I opened my eyes and looked through the muddled water. The light above the tub shone bright, rippling shards of light scattered out of reach. Through all the haze in my brain, the one lighthouse I saw was suicide. My hands moved from underneath the steaming blanket of liquid and grabbed a pair of scissors from the edge of the tub. After this last time, all I could think of was ending it all, and reflecting on how I got here.
Let’s start at the beginning. I was born right before the turn of the century, a healthy baby, nearly ten pounds. But as life went on, I was diagnosed with a chronic disorder that kept me home schooled and hospitalized off and on until I was eight. As I grew healthier, my family moved from the heart of North Carolina to a sleepy town in the middle of Utah. Here, I began attending a regular school.
The kids knew right away I was different. Not only was I new to the area, but I was sickly and on the Autism spectrum. Jordan, a girl in my class, was the first of many people to abuse me for my appearance and behavior, latching onto me like a shark on a seal. This bullying went on all the way into high school.
Having a boyfriend had not even crossed my mind until Jordan started throwing her gifts from her love in my lap and spitting cruel words like knives. I was content with my books, but her mocking changed me. She told me I’d never be loved. “Where’s Madi’s boyfriend?” She’d say. “Oh, that’s right! Poor little Madi doesn’t have one because she’s too ugly. Lanky Madi, built like a piece of wood. Men want curves dear, you don’t even have an A-cup.” Her comments always brought shrill giggles from my peers.
Maybe I was desperate for the kind of love Jordan bragged about, or maybe I wanted to prove her wrong. Either way, as a 14-year-old girl, I believed that the attention and affection of a boy was the holy grail to a new, beautiful life.
Turns out, the wrong boys just make life ugly.
First there was Chris. A charismatic, undeservingly kind, senior boy who…wanted me to sleep with him. When I wouldn’t, we broke up.
Next there was Tyson. Same thing. This time, however, I got the idea that instead of caving and having sex before I was ready, I’d just send him pictures of my body. Win-win, right? Oh no. When Tyson realized I wasn’t going to cave, those pictures (meant just for our own intimate conversations, mind you) were spread like wildfire around my entire school. I had never been so humiliated.
And then came Anthony who seemed like the whole package (in comparison to my two previous experiences), until he wasn’t. When his mother passed away, I did what I could to try to console him, but as a young teenager who knew nothing of loss, what was I to do? When I realized that I was never going to heal him, that he was never going to stop his cruel way of coping for me, I left.
Eventually, I started working at a grocery store to fill my time, which is where I met Jeremy. I can’t explain why, but the second I met him, I knew I wanted to be with him. Nothing about him seemed dangerous, but then again, none of the other guys seemed dangerous at first either. Still, he was kind and had his life together. When I was nearly eighteen, I gave him my number and a week before my birthday, he called and we planned our first date.
The first red flag was finding out his age. I thought he was, at most, three or four years older than me, but he wasn’t. He was ten years older. But, he was kind, so I told myself that age was just a number, and we kept dating. My parents didn’t approve from the start, but I insisted that Jeremy was different. He would never hurt me, I insisted. He was just so genuine and humble, fun loving and goofy. I had no reason not to trust him.
But after a couple months, he changed, like a switch had been flipped.
The first time he raped me, he finished by throwing a ring at my limp body, and said I was his now, that he had “claimed” me. The second time was worse, because he had proposed to me in public, then took me back to his place and insisted that I was his now and forever before he raped me. We never did get married after the strange proposal, but I didn’t leave — I couldn’t. I was too afraid of what he would do if I tried to break it off.
At the time, I stayed to protect myself, as naïve as that sounds. I stayed through learning he was still married to his second wife. I stayed despite his mother verbally abusing me. I stayed despite knowing he beat his dog to then come after me. I stayed when he forced me to quit my job because someone tried to warn me about him, despite him hiding my medication, which led me to spiral. I stayed even after he made me stop seeing my family, even when he bent me over a hot stove for dinner being “too salty.” That time with stove was the 27th time he raped me, and that was the time that broke me. The time that made me want to end my life.
I ran a bath, grabbed some scissors I had been hiding in the linen closet, and sunk into the steaming water. I pleaded with whatever was out there to help me. To give me a reason to live on. To guide me to the future. No answer came. I pressed the scissors against my wrist. Before it went deep, Jeremy walked in. I hid my wrist under the water. He didn’t notice, or probably just didn’t care that I was bleeding. He probably thought it was from the last rape, not my cutting. He insisted I cook dinner and then walked out. That brought me back to reality. So, I got dressed, deciding not to go through with it.
That night, Jeremy raped me one last time. When he was finished, he saw the cuts, then told me to get out. He said that he hated cutting and he wouldn’t stay with someone if they did. He was the only one who could inflict pain.
I called my dad and sobbed into the phone what was going on. He and my grandma came and rescued me from that hell. That was the first time I had seen or talked to my family in over a month. With their support, I went into a neuro-psychiatric institute to try and fix myself.
There was no trial for Jeremy, but there was a hearing in October of 2017. Because they thought he was too “likable” to be so cruel, I didn’t get justice. I didn’t even get a restraining order. I was left raw and unprotected.
Perhaps there is always a silver lining, even in the blackest cloud. I left that six-month relationship as a changed person. I left knowing that what I had experienced in the past did not get to dictate how others treated me. I left with confidence, and most importantly, I left alive.
I had a long road of recovery ahead of me, but I knew it was time to heal and take care of myself. I went to therapy, I got my high school diploma, started college, and I started to pursue my passion of helping those with disabilities. Doing something I loved became a huge coping mechanism for me. I learned ASL to better communicate with my students and I volunteered in elementary schools and the library, reading with kids. I became a child’s advocate to help avoid kids going through the same experiences as me.
One day, when I was volunteering at the library, I ran into the mother of my now husband Austin.
It was hard at first to date him. I got triggered all the time and we could barely be alone together without me having a panic attack, but as time went on, and I got more comfortable with having someone like him. Someone who opened doors for me, surprised me with random treats, and loved me truly without wanting something in return. Austin proposed on March 10th, 2018, and we got married June 22, 2018. For the first time in my life, I’m happy and feel safe with the person I’m with, and that’s an incredible feeling.
“True love cannot be found
where it does not exist,
nor can it be denied
where it does.”
This is the story of Madi Hayes
Madi lives contentedly in Utah with her husband. Growing up with a chronic condition that made her lanky and weaker than other kids led to her getting bullied, especially by one girl who told her no boy could ever want her. In an attempt to prove her wrong, Madi unintentionally fell into a vicious cycle of dating abusive people as she searched for love. She eventually started dating a man ten years older than her who wound up the most abusive of all and assaulted her 27 times before she finally left and got help. She now is working to get her life on track and is learning to love herself. In her free time, she likes to go bike riding and take walks with her husband. He is her rock as she still works to recover from the horrors she faced.
Life Log #252
This story first touched our hearts on January 18, 2019.
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