(Kristopher Sharp, age 27, stares out of a window in Tulum, Mexico on April 1, 2017.)
Guest post by Kristopher Sharp
I want to begin with a confession: I almost lost myself in the struggle.
It’s often said that time is the remedy to heal most wounds. Frequently – more than I care to admit – I have found myself wondering just how much time is needed to be whole again after surviving two tumultuous relationships hallmarked by physical violence, infidelity, and emotional sabotage?
There are days, sometimes weeks that have come and gone all the while my mind has been stuck in a seemingly never ending cycle of examining and then reexamining all of the red flags. Some I failed to see, some I willfully ignored – always asking myself the same fundamental question over and over again. Why did I stay?
Living on the streets of my hometown of Houston having just aged out of the Texas foster care system, I never really knew what love felt like; I fell in love for the first time. ‘My First’ was perhaps the very first person that I truly felt I loved. Having left an abusive home in his late teens for the streets, he was broken just like I was, and it was in that brokenness that we found each other. But, he was a drug dealer and yeah, pretty violent.
I’ll always remember the first time he hit me.
I had moved into my own apartment not long after enrolling in college, and ‘My First’ had just come home after spending several months in the county jail. Not long after some money went missing from my wallet. When I asked him directly about it and then after a brief exchange of words, he punched me in my face and I fell to the floor in our bathroom where I’d confronted him. Stunned, I struggled to get up and as I did he suddenly grabbed me by my hair and drug over towards the bathtub. I was screaming while he rammed my face into the edge of the cast iron tub, busting my lips open and giving me a black eye. When he finally let me go I curled up on the bathroom floor and cried as quietly as I could until he left.
We were never the same after that. It seemed that the only consistent thing about our relationship was a perpetual pattern of abuse. We’d have a disagreement about something small, words would then be exchanged culminating with his disappearance for several days but not before severely beating me. Time after time I’d promise myself that I wouldn’t let it happen again. But without fail, ‘My First’ would show up at my college, at my job, or some other place he knew I would be at. He would always promise me things would be different, tell me how much he loved me, and how much we needed each other. Unbelievably each time I bought it and each time I remained with him.
‘My Second’ happened much differently than ‘My First’.
Tall, handsome, smart, and ambitious – he was the type of man you fall in love with easily. We were introduced in the lobby of a hotel in California, and to me he seemed like magic and I fell hard for him.
During the first year of our relationship, he and I lived in separate states. As time progressed we’d take a break for several months, reach out and then with our relationship rekindled, we kept going and finally moved in together in the fall of 2015. To me it felt like a dream come true. We’d spend holidays together with his family, we got to know each other’s closest friends, we made our plans to get married, have children and open up a restaurant back in our mutual home state of Texas.
Our life was beautiful- suddenly it wasn’t.
I soon discovered ‘My Second’ had been glaringly unfaithful throughout most of our relationship and he was unwilling to change. One evening I remember him looking me in my eyes and telling me that if we were to be together, I would have settle with his infidelities. His contention was not being faithful to me as his partner was so deeply engrained in him that it couldn’t be changed.
Eventually ‘My Second’ decided that we should separate, and despite my objections, he insisted that we continue to live together. Things deteriorated rapidly over the next several months as I watched the man I fell in love with bring into what was once ‘our’ home, random guys he met on Jack’d. Then he’d pawn the Christmas gifts I had given him to go on dates, and finally openly and often boisterously flirt with other men on his phone in front of me.
I fell into a very dark place and began to isolate myself in my own home. Whenever ‘My Second’ and I did speak – it was always heated. He knew about ‘My First’, knew my history with domestic violence. Yet even so, he would routinely “run up” up on me with fists clinched and eyes wide with rage in the heat of an argument. He’d tell me afterwards how he never really intended to hit me, but the psychological damage and physical intimidation was equally, if not worse, than the would-be assault itself.
It was during this time that I began to fixate on comments ‘My Second’ would frequently remark about my appearance. Soon enough I was broken, alone, and depressed. My self esteem was shot, and in its place was a void filled with his criticisms that inevitably lead me to make dangerous decisions.
In the hopes of fixing an unknown brokenness, and perhaps rescuing myself from the darkness I was in I soon found myself on an operating table having spent almost all of my savings on a string of cosmetic surgeries — rhinoplasty, chin & cheek augmentation, a brow lift, and a number of facial fillers. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Today in nearly a year removed from these experiences, I am still searching for the answers to so many of the questions I keep asking myself. It became important for me write this after searching for stories of other queer folks who have experienced domestic violence, and discovering how little is out there.
This story — my story — is shared by someone who is looking for answers to questions as they journey through the process of reclaiming the pieces of their life just as I am. If you find this, I hope you leave comforted by the fact that you are not alone for I too have labored this burdensome journey. Remain strong, believe in yourself, and know that you are worth every ounce of struggle it takes to reclaim all of who you are.
Kristopher Sharp is a 27-year-old native Texan currently pursuing studies in medicine. He formally served as a legislative aide for Senator Patty Murray and was a congressional fellow for the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in the U.S House of Representatives.
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