By then, he and I had graduated high school and we were both 18. We were in something of a long distance relationship because he and his family had moved an hour away so they could accept new jobs, and I spent many a weekend making the trip to their apartment, as I felt more comfortable there than I did having him at my house with my parents.
I remember we were there, at their apartment, in the room he shared with his brother. I don’t know where his brother was; he generally made himself scarce when the two of us were together.
The door was open, because not shutting doors in their house was a rule, he had told me. Still, that never stopped us from fooling around. Whether or not we did that day — probably, but I don’t remember.
I’m not sure how it happened, either, what prompted him or where the blade came from. It didn’t cut or hardly even press into my skin — he hadn’t threatened me, explicitly or even implicitly. I think he just wanted to see how I might react.
I didn’t know how to.
How could I not see it as the red flag it was?
I swallowed. Looked back and forth between the knife in his hand and the manic smile on his face. I didn’t know what to say or what to do, but I didn’t really believe he would hurt me, either.
When it was time for me to leave, I did. I don’t remember whether my parents were awake or had gone to bed already by the time I made it home — probably the latter. At their request I always woke Dad up so they knew I was safely home, and I always made sure to do it within a few minutes of whatever curfew I had that night, though I can’t say for certain whether he ever actually checked the clock.
If my parents were awake, though, I never said anything, never even let on.
It’s been nearly a decade now and they still don’t know.
When I broke up with him some weeks, likely months, later, I thought about that knife touching my skin, and I chose to keep what I viewed as a secret. I chose to protect him, because if my dad had known, there would’ve been hell to pay.
If I knew that, even at that time, how could I not see the incident as the red flag it was?
Why was my first instinct to protect him and not myself?
I knew when we broke up that he would move on to the friend he’d made at his local community college, the one who looked a little bit like me. (Spoiler alert: they’re married.)
“Don’t treat her like you treated me,” I told him, and I wasn’t referring to the knife but to everything else I felt he’d put me through.
Maybe I should’ve spoken to her instead. From a feminist perspective, I should’ve cared more about her at that time, because women should look out for one another. But I didn’t.
So I can only hope I got through to him then.