this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on July 2, 2002.

Many of the people in my circle cannot understand why I decided to end a five-year relationship with my boyfriend. I have not bothered to explain because everyone pities him and I have been called a heart-breaker and a two-timing bitch. It is as if I have suddenly turned into a source of entertainment, with everyone adding a little juicy gossip.

What makes things worse is that the guy with whom I broke up has made every effort to show how devastated he was by our break-up and there was no one else to blame but me and my cheating heart.

I do not blame other people for sympathizing with him. My girl friends find him charming. He possesses that one trait many girls find irresistible in a man: a nice sense of humor. My family thinks he is very thoughtful.

And he was all that-and more. There was a time in our relationship when I’d look at him and think I got much more than what I deserved. Later, I realized I was not mistaken. He gave me a whole lot more than I could possibly deserve.

People we both know think I broke up with him out of boredom. He was my high school classmate, my prom date, my debut escort, and my college dorm mate.

Boredom? Of course. I got bored with seeing his temper flare up whenever we argued about something. I got bored with wearing long-sleeved blouses under the heat of the sun to hide bruises on my arms. I got bored with lying to people when they asked where I got a cut or a bruise on my face. I got bored with talking to myself while crying. I got bored with hearing him say he was sorry over so many times.

He did not beat me up during the whole five years we were on. It took three years before the monster in him took over.

I cannot forget that fateful night which started everything. I had told him I met a nice guy during the summer vacation and that I needed some space to sort out my confused feelings. What came next was the sharp sensation of a fist slamming into my upper arm. Every trace of my tender feelings toward him vanished in an instant. My anger burst in a river of tears. I was confused no more.

I started to walk away but he threatened to kill himself. To show how serious he was, he banged his head against the concrete wall and punched it with his hands. He went down on his knees, with tears in his eyes and blood oozing from his head, and asked me to give him a second chance.

I was too weak to say no. I believed him when he promised never to hurt me again. I believed him when he said he would find his way back into my heart. I believed him when he said that his love would be enough for both of us. I believed in the impossible.

The two years that followed were a chart of broken promises. I received the worst birthday present in the form of a slap. I became familiar with the salty taste of blood in my mouth. I saw the world spin while my head hit the wall in a dull, rhythmic motion. I tasted shampoo in my mouth and frothed like a mad dog.

My body turned into a canvas for this rough art. I was in the merciless hands of a mad artist. Rugged mountains and angry waves were imprinted on my neck. A unicorn was the result of his ungentle touch on my arm.

I was amazed at the way my body reacted to his violence. It was forming images. The blood clots under my skin showed me an image of what I had become. What a shame that I had to hide such a magnificent piece of art from other people.

I did not hate him for hitting me. I hated him for being such a coward. He did not allow other people to appreciate his work of art. I wanted our friends to look at the images on my skin. I wanted his family to know what a fine, young artist he had become. I wanted my family to know how I had been reduced into a canvas by the young artist they so dearly admired.

The brush strokes did not stay for long. So there were times when my body was a clean, white canvas and other times when it was red, blue and black. The canvas stayed untainted until the artist was gripped with jealousy. And then when he was done with his work, he would be profuse in his apologies and plead for forgiveness, saying I was all he had.

Now I am ashamed to say this lasted for two years. How could I have allowed it to last for so long?

I have no answers. There were times when I thought I was to blame and I deserved the pain he inflicted on me. He kept reminding me that I almost cheated on him. He could not believe I wasn’t keeping in touch with the other guy. He checked my e-mail and demanded that I let him examine my cellphone whenever he pleased. And I made up excuses for his actions.

I believe in and advocate women’s liberation. Luckily, there were no mirrors inside the classroom or I could have pointed at a perfect example of a battered girlfriend, an unempowered woman. I could have stared at myself without knowing who it was.

My pride kept me from telling the truth to my close friends and family. I didn’t want to shatter the image of the strong-willed woman they all saw in me. I felt that knowing women’s rights could not save me from what I was going through. I became the insecure and weak-willed woman that I have met in literary pieces. I was the battered wife crying on television while being interviewed. I was the abused child being rushed to the emergency room of the hospital. I saw a piece of me in every person who knew violence. I became aware of the danger lying dormant in the hands of a man. I was a battered girlfriend.

Our friends speculate that there is a third party involved. There is: the same guy I fell in love with two summers ago and whose memory kept me alive during the worst two years of my life. Hatred could not take over my whole heart. The hope of new love has been slowly healing the wounds.

I can almost hear my feminist friends scream that redemption does not lie in another man’s arms but in myself. But they cannot understand that I am like a boat washed ashore, almost shattered by the storm. I have oars but I need somebody to put me back to the sea. I trust that his gentle hands will help me through the storm.

I know it is only I myself who can undo the damage done to me. I do not consider myself emotionally dependent on anyone. I believe that I cannot be blamed for what happened. Most of all, I believe that it is not a sign of weakness to need somebody’s help. I will not be afraid to love.

When my boyfriend first hit me, I saw the flame of our love extinguished. The blow has more than bruised me, it pushed me away from him to edge of indifference. He did not realize that pounding my head and leaving imprints on my body could not kill my spirit. The punishment only made me stronger in the end.

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