“Why are you doing this?” she asked, tears filling her eyes. “What did I do this time?”
“How dare you talk to him?” he shouted, slamming his hand on the wall, just next to her face. “I forbade you to talk to anyone. Anyone!”
“I’m sorry,” Alice sobbed, too scared to even breathe.
“You are not sorry!” Julian grabbed her by the arm and pushed her. She felt herself shatter into pieces as she fell on the floor. He stomped out of the house, leaving her there, amid the debris of the vase that had broken in her fall. The recent gash on her forearm was bleeding profusely.
They had been living together for two years, and to her, he had been the prince charming of the fairy tales from her childhood. It had been her dream-come-true. He had showered her with gifts and love, and had made her feel that her life was perfect.
Their first fight: She had been out with her friends, and had come home to him waiting in the living room.
“Hey,” she had come and bent down to kiss him, and he had turned his face away. Her smile had faded.
“What happened?” she had asked.
“The next time you have to go have fun with your friends, tell me to eat at work,” he had responded, throwing the remote control casually on the sofa and leaving for bed. She had stood there, feeling guilty and selfish. She put her bag on the sofa and went to the kitchen, taking food out the refrigerator, reheating it, and taking the tray to the bedroom. He was reading a book.“I ate. Thanks for the concern,” he said bitterly. “I—I’m sorry,” she was confused at his behaviour, but had apologized nevertheless.
“Go to sleep,” he put the book away and turned his back to her.
The next morning, he had brought her breakfast in bed before she had woken up, had apologized for being angry the previous night, telling her that he had had a long day at work, and had made her laugh till her stomach hurt…
He had often gone cold toward her, and then days later, made her feel like a queen. She was getting more and more confused at this continuous uncertainty. She tried to resolve it several times, but he always brushed it off. She had gone with it, thinking that ups and downs are part of any relationship. It was true—the ups and downs parts—but she had just seen it all go downhill.
“You’re dealing with a life here,” she had cried at him, frustrated. “I’m done.” She had gotten out of the car and had been unable to walk more than two feet, and had just stood there crying. He had come after some minutes and had tried to pull her into his arms, and she had just wanted to leave. Her heart was breaking. She was angry, hurt and confused.
The next day, he had proposed to her, begging her never to leave him. She had never felt happier.
A sharp pang brought her back to reality. Her arm hurt badly. She got up, looking for her phone. He had taken it with him. She screamed in agony. She grabbed a wad of toilet paper and put it on her arm. As she was about to leave the bathroom, her eyes fell on the mirror. Her bruised cheek from last week was healing. She took a long look at it, turned to her room, and ripped out a page from her notebook, and wrote something on it. She crossed through the kitchen, and opened the door to the terrace, which opened down to the street. She peered down from her second-floor apartment. There was nobody. She was about to turn back, hopeless, when she saw a woman coming down her street. It was now or never. She gulped, and with a trembling voice, said quietly, “Help.” No use. And then, she somehow gathered all her courage, and shouted, “Help! Help me!”
The aged woman looked up at her. She threw the paper that was in her hand on to the street. The woman bent down and picked it up. It said, “Call the police. My life is in danger.” She removed the tissue paper from her arm, revealing the wound and started sobbing uncontrollably.
The woman looked shocked. She nodded, took out her phone, and dialled the police’s phone number, and after sometime, gave her the thumbs up and went to sit on a bench nearby.
Alice hid the notebook and sat down next to the bed, crying. Her dream was over. She had never thought that the guy who loved her so much would hurt her. He had shouted at her and had hit her several times, but had always made up. She had always thought that maybe he had had a bad day… that may be it was her own fault… that he would change, but two years of this torture had left her battered. He had had her pinned down on the bed when she had not wanted. He had never let her control her own finances. He had insulted and downgraded her all the time, and she felt that she had lost herself to his narcissism, that her self esteem was on the floor now.
This was not the person she had fallen in love with. She remembered their first kiss: she had swooned at the spot, and he had grabbed her, and they had laughed. It had seemed like heaven back then.
Her bubbly, happy personality was gone, replaced by a woman with shadows under her eyes, and a broken heart. She used to think that his love made him overprotective of her, and that he got angry out of jealousy if she talked to any other guy. He had told her that her friends were bad for her, and she had left them. She was ashamed to tell anybody that this guy, about whom she had said so many exaggeratedly good things, was torturing her mentally, emotionally, and physically. She had been wrong. She had been wrong all along.
He could be here any minute again. She felt a rush of adrenaline as she got up and rushed to his cupboard. It was locked. She went through his laundry in a hurry. There it was: the key. She searched through the cupboard and finally found her passport and her ID.
She had just hidden these documents in her shirt when the main door unlocked. She went down and sat on her place, next to the bed.
“Alice!” he called her. “Alice!”
“You know that you deserved it, Alice. I don’t like Mike. And I ordered you not to talk to him,” he said, crouching next to her. “And I don’t like that woman, Dana, either.”
“Don’t touch me,” Alice tried to push him away, not looking at him. “Leave me. I have the freedom of deciding whom I want to talk to.”
He roared in her face, grabbed her by her hair, pulled her up and punched her in the face. She was screaming in pain. He pulled away his hand to hit her again, when suddenly, the front door crashed open and several policemen came in, with their guns pointing towards him.“Put your hands up!” They shouted. “Back off and leave her alone. Do it!”
Julian stared at her in shock. “You! I’ll kill you.”
Another policeman came forth and handcuffed him, while two of them came and escorted her out of the house, calling for back up. They wrapped a blanket around her, and took her to their car. Alice looked at the woman who was sitting on the bench and may be her eyes said a lot more than she herself could. They exchanged a momentary look, and then Alice got into the car, getting rescued from her aggressor.
*FIVE YEARS LATER*
She stood next to the window, staring out into the street.
“It’s time, Alice.”
She turned to look at her secretary, who was smiling at her. Alice nodded.
“And now,” she heard the voice of the host from the stage. “Our much respected motivational speaker and author of the bestselling book in the last five years…Alice Thompson.”
She felt something rise in her chest as the audience applauded as she came on to the stage. A lioness. The alpha she was, and that she had recovered from that darkness.
“So… Alice,” the host smiled. “The Cinderella Syndrome…this was the first book you ever wrote and published. You’ve had several interviews before this, and as we all know, this story inspired by a real life incident. Tell us more about it. Alice.”
“Well, yes. It’s true. It is my own story that inspired me to write this book. And I must say that I broke my heart and my dream to set myself free.“I was a 25 year old girl, with what I call the “Cinderella Syndrome”. You know, all the fantasy of a Prince Charming falling in love with me, for a happily ever after, for being his one true love…so on…But the main characteristic of this syndrome, is that we girls are somewhat taught since childhood, that unless a Prince Charming comes and saves us or “takes us away,” our existence is nothing. We are always shown the prettier side of it; in fairy tales, in movies, in cartoons…
“We, the women, are never told that we, ourselves, are worthy too. And we, at times, fall into the hands of the not so charming princes, from whom we start expecting what we have seen since childhood. Sometimes, our dreams become true, but sometimes, we get scars from what they do to us. We have not only physical, but also emotional and psychological scars. I could not trust any man after that. All of them seemed like abusers to me, no matter how kind and loving they could be. You see, not all men are like that, but the trauma stays for a long time, until you find therapy and the right support.”
The studio had gone dead quiet.
“I told my story to the women I had in my circle five years ago. And the only response I got was doubtful looks and the phrase “You should love yourself more.” That broke me so much more than that abuse. I heard “You should be more independent,” “You should have more self esteem,” while it didn’t make any sense. You see, they didn’t believe me really, implying that it is my fault. You see, when you say such sentences, you are actually putting all of the responsibility on the woman, taking it all from the aggressor. We need to think a lot about this aspect.
“We can keep repeating this stereotypical and useless phrases, not knowing that the victim may love herself a lot, but may love the man more.”
“So why do so many women stay despite getting abused?”
“There are many reasons. They may have children, they may not have support, or money, or they’re threatened, or like in my case, they may be so much in love that they don’t stop hoping that the abuser will change. The abusers, no matter how much they apologise, can never change.
“Then, there is the Stockholm Syndrome, which is a very normal thing in such situations.”
“And what is that?” the host asked.
“Basically, it is when a hostage sympathises with their kidnapper. In our context today, it is when you feel sympathy toward your abuser, and think that he is the victim. He could nearly kill you, and you would keep forgiving him just because he said he was sorry, for the tenth time, and that it was your fault, that you made him do it. You are in a vicious cycle, and feel like you’re in love with him, while it’s just the manipulation and the mental chains he has put around you. He has gaslighted you and has messed with your head. I was almost killed, yet I was in love.”
“Get help. If someone doesn’t believe you, go get professional help.
“There are many organisations, and mine, that will always receive you and believe you and give you all the help you need. I myself have had young girls come to me. I know how hard it is to open up, but you’re not alone. Your voice may make another woman also raise hers. Women are dying at the hands of their abusers.
If he degrades you, puts you down, doesn’t support you, he is not worth it. We are dealing with a psychopath here. He will not feel any remorse, even over your dead body. There are men and women—whichever your sexual preference is—who will make life heaven. Don’t go through hell just for a demon who is burning you slowly and painfully till you become nothing.
There was silence in the hall.
“Wh-what message do you have for the world?” the host asked, trying to break the silence.
“To the girls and women, I would say that you are priceless even on your own. Be strong. No matter whom you have in your life, the only one for you is you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re worthless. There will be people who hurt you. But there will always be people who will support you. My saviour was my boss, who was very patient and is a symbol of an incredibly strong woman who will take your hand, my friend, Harry, who made me realise it was okay to “be in love” with the aggressor afterwards, and guided me to help, instead of judging me. My friend was a man. A broken heart is better than a broken spirit, or worse, a broken neck. You’re worth so much more.
“Reach out. You will be thankful that the world is still beautiful no matter how dark yours was made to become, that there are people that will make you believe in humanity again. You’re not alone. And I thank them both to this day.
“There is nothing wrong with having somebody to be with you, to share your life with, on whom you can rely, but if they ever treat you bad for being a woman, no matter whether you are just a common girl or the First Lady—it can be anyone, stand up for yourself and feel no shame in asking for help.
“I have shared my story to the world so that other girls who are still quiet can speak up. The woman in the street that day helped me. There are people who will help you.
“And for the men who are struggling with childhood trauma or any religious pressure to treat their partner bad, get help. We’re here for you.
“And otherwise I have this message: If you love your woman, love her well. Don’t hurt her, don’t insult her, and don’t think of her as inferior to you just because she is a woman. She is equally human and equally worthy of respect and care. And remember, that you, yourself, came from a woman too.”
The crowd applauded as Alice smiled, raising her eyes from the scar on her forearm, smiling at the audience.
Marta González García