Please welcome Jennifer Ortolano to #BeREALationships.
I have always had issues with feeling good enough, feeling worthy enough, and well, just feeling enough. It is important to note that none of my issues stems from my childhood. My childhood was as close to perfect as one could get. You see, I believe I was born with these issues. Sounds crazy, I know, but stick with me for a moment. I have felt, and if I were to be honest, on occasion still feel that my siblings are the better version of me. When I think in my mind about when I was “created” I see someone messing up, “Ooops, I accidentally gave this one an extra dose of “sensitivity” that’s okay, I’ll get it right the next go-around.”
So, when I was in my mid 20’s. Divorced, two children, and found myself in a toxic relationship, this sensitivity really came as no surprise to me. For some reason, a part of me felt I deserved it.
I met HIM at work. HE was the new guy. Tall, Islander, attractive, with a bad boy streak. All the girls wanted HIM, and all the guys wanted to be HIM (although none of those guys will admit that.) When HE started to take an interest in me, when HE started to ask my friends about me, I thought I was being “Punk’d” and expected Ashton Kutcher to make an appearance at any moment.
You see, I never was THAT girl. I never had any guy interested in me during my school years. The popular guys? Forget-about-it. They did not even know I existed. How would they? I ate my lunch in the restroom and never talked to anyone in class.
Then, through the encouragement of my well-meaning friends, I decided “why not?” I always wondered what it would be like to date a popular guy. Why not? I was single, I had my boys, but surely I would not be the only single mom who ventured out in the dating world.
Things were good for a while. HE and I had “clicked.” We each brought something to the table that neither one of us had experienced in the past. I was the “good girl” “sheltered” and “innocent.” HE was the bad boy, spontaneous, and brought a new-found excitement to me that I had never experienced before. It was working. Then slowly, the red flags started to make their appearance, yet- I was in denial about these red flags.
A customer at our store found a stray kitten in the parking lot. Me, being the animal lover that I am, decided to keep the kitten. I had that kitten safe and secure behind the customer service desk for the remainder of my 8 hour shift. When I clocked out, I excitedly bought everything a new kitten needs. Kitten food, a litter box, and a few cat toys. I could not wait to take him home to show my boys. Naturally, we all fell in love with Jake, the new kitten. About 8pm at night I got a call from my store manager telling me I needed to bring the kitten back to work. Apparently, he did belong to someone and the customer somehow “lost” him in the parking lot. I was devastated. I get attached to animals way too easily. They do not judge, and I appreciate that. All they want is to be loved. When HE came over that evening and saw my tear-stained face, I filled HIM in on everything that had transpired. HE was livid, and when I had to return the kitten to the store, because I was worried about losing my job, HE accompanied me there. As I handed Jake back to his “owner” and was crying so hard that I could not properly formulate my words – HE followed the owner out to the parking lot, and beat his ass.
Of course I was in love. I mean how romantic, right? HE beat up this guy, because this guy broke my heart by taking Jake away from me. I just knew HE was the one. I should’ve instead noticed his quick response to being upset and turning to violence.
Not too long after that incident, HE and I were driving. We were taking a side road that over-looked the beautiful blue waters of Puget Sound. I was sitting in the passenger seat while HE was driving, taking it all in. I loved where I lived. Before I knew it, my head slammed against the passenger side window. Were we in an accident? What happened? As I slowly gathered my senses and “came to” I was greeted with HIM saying “You were looking at him weren’t you? That pussy on the bike you were looking at him – do not ever disrespect me again!” Seriously, like what the hell? Did this really just happen to me. Did HE really hit me? The same guy that protected my heart from having to return Jake, HE just hit me?
After I promised HIM that I was not looking at anyone, I was looking at the blue still waters again, taking it all in. HE apologized to me. “I am sorry babe, just the thought of you checking out some dude, and well, that does something to me.”
I forgave HIM. I forgave HIM because that is what we do. Those of us who suffer from low self-esteem, those of us who believe that we are really not worth much – That is what we do – We forgive and look the other way. Pretending with all our might that the “incident” did not really happen.
About two weeks later, as HE and I were getting ready for work, I came out of the bathroom wearing jeans and a t-shirt. It was “jean day” at work, which was a nice change from our more professional attire. HE took one look at me and demanded that I go change. “What? What do you mean, what’s wrong?” I asked.
Boom! I did not see it coming, but HE picked up a book and through it at my head, which thankfully missed. “I can see your ass! The shirt you are wearing does not cover your ass! What is wrong with you? Do you want other dudes to fuck you?”
I went back to the bathroom and changed into a long frumpy sweater, which I made sure covered everything that HE wanted to be covered. This was a low point for me, and I knew, I knew it was only going to get worse – But maybe I could change HIM. Maybe I could love HIM enough to make a difference. Yet again, that is what we do. Those of us who never feel worthy enough, we always seek approval, some kind of validation. Even if in the process it is hurtful.
Incidents like above began happening more and more often like I expected but ignored. I would get hit for not calling him on time, I would get hit for not coming home on time, I would get hit for talking to a fellow male co-worker at work. What had I gotten myself into? Somehow, I still had hope. I always told myself “Okay, he is really sorry. I just need to be a bit more patient, I need to make sure I do not push his buttons.” Because, that is what we do, we make excuses and blame ourselves.
As time went on, the abuse was getting worse, not better. It was to the point where I was scared. “I will kill you before I let you go.” Those were words HE spat out to me in the heat of our arguments. And yet, I stayed.
One day in particular, I was talking to my very gay, very best friend on the phone. Alphonso. Alphonso was having a crisis of his own, and he needed me, Alphonso needed a friend, and I was determined to be a friend to him. HE came out of the bathroom and was quite annoyed that I was still on the phone. I knew what was coming, as HE and I exchanged a few fighting words, I knew I got to HIM, and I knew it was now or never. While HE is calling me a whore, and telling me I wanted to fuck a gay guy, I slowly, took off my long dangling earrings, because in about five minutes, HE will be going for those. As I am trying to defend myself and my friendship with Alphonso, I slowly take the ponytail holder that I have on my wrist, and pull my hair back, because – I knew HE would also go for the hair. And then, then I did it, knowing what would occur after the fact, I still did it. “You know what, FUCK YOU, this is my friend! I am allowed to talk to him on the…”
BOOM! It happened again. I got hit- Hard- This time in the eye. I blacked out. It was bad. I knew it was bad, yet it never pushed me far enough to make me leave. Because that is what we do, we always want to think we are helping. HE will get better, and we can be the one to fix them.
This is the part of my story where things get real, because that is the point of this #BeReal series, right? To this day, 14 years later after HIM, I am still ashamed, I am embarrassed, and feel like there will always be something wrong with me. I never left him. I need you to read that again, I never left him. I dealt with the abuse, thinking that “any day now” things will get better. It never did. The abuse continued. HE even did a stint in jail for domestic violence. I went to visit HIM. What the hell is wrong with me?
After getting out of jail ,one day he drove me to work. HE dropped me off, kissed me goodbye, and- well, HE never came back. HE left me. I went home to my apartment, and HE had trashed it all. HE took my belongings,HE took my money, and well, HE took what was left of my self-esteem. What kind of person gets left by the abuser? I do. I never had the strength to leave. HE left me- and- I was devastated. I failed. I could not fix HIM. I could not fix myself.
It took me a long time to get over HIM. The abuse left scars, both physically and emotionally. I was screwed up. When my now – husband and I moved in together, it was hard. I would come home from work first- no matter what was going on- I would go to our bedroom to see if his clothes and work boots were still hanging nicely in our closet. I just knew he would leave me- I expected that it could be any day. I would come home from work, and his belongings would be gone. That is what I believed I deserved. My now husband, God love him. He was and still is so patient with me. He was part of my healing process. He loved me, the good and the bad and everything in between. He taught me how to love properly, He taught me unconditional love- Something I never thought I would learn from anyone other than my family.
But I have to tell you, all this time later. Married for 9 years, and two beautiful daughters, I have not quite forgiven myself for never leaving my abuser. This will stay with me for, well, probably forever, that’s because no matter how you spin it, there is not justification for me staying, and because of that- I caused a lot of damage, a lot of hurt to myself.
It take time and hard work to get to a place of honesty like I have expressed here. Difficult situations like this take time to process and eventually heal. I experienced great hurt and am still working through that. I am proud of how far I have come and look forward to continuing this healing. #BeReal is being honest about the tough stuff. It’s not lying to yourself or others, and that can be really hard.
And that my friends is #BeReal.
Learn from me. Learn from my mistakes, and if you find yourself in an abusive domestic relationship, then please reach out, reach out to someone, reach out to me.
Jennifer Ortolano has spent the last 16 years living in a suburb of Seattle where she resides with her husband and her four children. Jennifer spends her days being active in her children’s school where has formed life long friendships with teachers, and made mortal enemies with over zealous PTA moms.
As a recovering bulimic, Jennifer has a need to bring awareness to eating disorders, while trying to build women of all ages up (unless you are one of those over zealous PTA moms) Her hobbies include writing, blogging, reading, and of course vodka, which she has decided to use as a verb, ie “It is a Vodka Calling type of day.”
Jennifer also has a need to help any and all animals, she will rescue any stray that crosses her path. Her eight cats can attest to this.
Recently, Jennifer along with her long time friend Christin, created the blog Vodka Calling, that takes you on a journey of ups and downs, and everything in between, you may need some vodka for this…..or prozac.