‘Where are you right now? If you’re still there, you need to get out! You need to tell your mom.’: Woman finds happiness after years of abuse, neglect

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Trigger warning: This story contains physical, mental, and sexual abuse 

“There’s a first for everything. I was sitting on a twin-sized bed, staring at a box TV as it was playing Smallville; a series I’d been addicted to for months. ‘Clark, we have to move before he comes back.’ I was so intrigued with the show, I didn’t notice the 42-year-old man who came walking into my room. I looked up once at Martin, a well built, five-foot man, when he walked up to me and punched me in my upper arm. Thump. Without a word, he punched again. Thump. I could feel my arm already becoming numb. I was exhausted and bruised from the last ‘wrestling’ session when he punched again. Thump. At that moment, I stood up, a moment I still regret to this day. Instantly after my feet hit the ground, Martin punched, harder this time. Thump. Lifting his fist up like a professional boxer.

‘Why are you hitting me?’ Without saying a word, he sent another blow. Thump. ‘WHY ARE YOU HITTING ME?’ Another blow. Thump. At that exact moment, I lifted my fist and thrust it into his upper arm. A movement that didn’t even bother Martin. That’s all he was waiting for. I gave him permission to act.

He pinned me down with little effort, holding my legs in his arms as he sat down. My back was completely flat on the bed; I was trapped. As I struggled to get my legs free, Martin punched into my meaty thigh, sending pain striking up my leg. Thump. Thump. A few more quick punches to my thighs before he started to grind his middle knuckle into them. At this exact moment, I screamed in pain and started yelling.

‘Get off me! You’re hurting me!’ As I was screaming, I slapped his bald head. Slap. Slap. Again, and again but, nothing changed. Martin continued to grind his knuckles into both my thighs, ignoring my extreme pain and discomfort.

Unfortunately, someone did hear my horrendous screams. My ten-year-old sister came running into the room. After observing a normal wrestling match, she jumped on top of Martin’s back and said, ‘Get her daddy, get her!’ Oblivious to the pain I was enduring, Destiny began laughing and pretending to hit me as well. Those few seconds of watching her enjoy this moment turned out to be the worst pain in those 10 minutes. I gave up. I just laid there and felt every single punch and grind, heard every single laugh and malicious snicker.

After Martin finally got up and left, I waited until the last tear rolled down my face before I decided to move. I couldn’t have possibly prepared myself for the misery I felt afterwards. But, a brilliant idea occurred to me. This was proof of the abuse I had witnessed for years now. I went to my window, located next to my bed, and threw open the curtains. I hesitated to look at them. I couldn’t feel them anymore, but I knew my thighs were there.

I looked. Both had a huge red spot about five inches in width. The purple bruise was already forming. I winced when I tried to examine it. Giving up, I grabbed my phone and took pictures. Having a StraightTalk mobile phone, the picture quality was hideous. However, you can tell what was there. There was my proof.

You see, I had been attending counseling at school every day for the last two years. Every day before lunch, I would stop in Mrs. Stafford’s office and discuss new situations at home. The next day however, I didn’t stop in to say hi. It was around sixth period, when my two best friends noticed I was limping. Curious, they asked what happened. I couldn’t tell the full story before the tears fell from my eyes once again, for the hundredth time that day. Telling my friends the story wasn’t the hardest part, it was walking. Every step was a battle between skipping class and going to the nurse for pain killers. Can you even imagine stairs?

After conversing about the night before, my best friend, Michelle, demanded I go to Mrs. Stafford and tell her. I objected. So, as a best friend would do, she dragged me down to the office herself. Mrs. Stafford was not surprised when she saw me; we had a routine now.

‘Well, hello Shay. How have you been!?’ There was no reason to lie to her. I’ve always been comfortable telling her my problems and receiving her advice. She easily became my idol. So, I told her the moment I lost hope for my relationship between my step-dad, and the concerns I had for my sister.

‘Shay, you know I have to report this. There is no reason at all for a grown man to hit you hard enough to leave bruises. No man hits that hard when they are playing around.’ I just sat there. What could I say? She was right. ‘I have to call this into Child Protection Services. And, I must call your mother. I’m sorry, but I have rules.’

‘Please don’t. She doesn’t know anything. I haven’t told her.’

‘I will call her and inform her an incident happened, and you would like to talk to her. Is she at work?’

‘Yes.’ It was going to get worse now. My mother always said, ‘Whatever happens in this house, stays in this house.’ Later, I realized that was just her way of covering up the abuse. The abuse that lasted a year longer.

I was content the rest of the day — an ironic experience considering the situation. I was riding on the bus when I caught view of the bus stop. There, my mother was parked in the white Toyota SUV, and at the very sight of it, I started bawling. My neighbor, who was a close friend of mine, immediately tried to comfort me and ask what was wrong. In between the tears and snot, I managed to tell him about the night before. Unfortunately, more people than him had heard the story, and it quickly spread around the neighborhood. I had a whopping three minutes to wipe my face, blow my nose, and look presentable before I came face to face with my mother. I got in the truck with my sister and kept silent on the ride home. I walked through the door of our trailer and went straight to my bedroom. I was waiting. I knew she would be right behind me and, as I expected, she was. Sandra walked in, crossed her arms, and with a stern look said, ‘What happened?’

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t answer. My throat wouldn’t open enough for me to breathe, let alone speak. My eyes began watering again, and as the tears fell down my face, I protested. ‘You never believe me! You always take his side!’ I was babbling. I was distraught. I was scared. I couldn’t see anymore. My throat was sore and on fire. I was about to collapse when my mother reached for me. ‘Shh, shh. I’ll find out what happened. I promise. I’ll get to the bottom of this.’ That was the first time I ever heard those words, and that was the last time I ever would.

I am not a rude person. It’s hard for some people to understand this, but sometimes, parents don’t do what’s right. Sometimes, they are in so much denial they ignore the facts — the feelings of themselves and others. Sometimes wives think, ‘I can’t survive without him’ or ‘I will lose my home without his income.’ And, that leads to what I had to survive with. The next morning, my counselor called me down to her office to discuss how my night went.

‘Well, after you left, I called CPS and told them about the situation. This really just made me upset. They said they wouldn’t consider your case because it wasn’t severe enough. I’m so sorry. I tried to reconcile with them, but they won’t do anything about it. This really, really makes me upset.’ I knew she was upset. Her face was red, and her hands were going everywhere. She felt like she had done me wrong, when really, she had been my guide for years. Still, to this day, I don’t think she understands what she’s done for me. Nevertheless, my case became worse.

‘I don’t like when you tell other people about our business, especially before you tell me.’ Sandra and Martin sat me down multiple times to discuss this. They never encouraged me to attend counseling. Never. Not once. They actually hated the idea.

‘If you have a problem, just come talk to me about it.’ Martin would always say this when they found out I talked to Mrs. Stafford. Martin loved this. My mother kept ignoring my pain, my counselor couldn’t reverse CPS’ mind, and he loved it. This was him laughing in my face because no one was stopping him.

After my parents knew CPS was informed of my situation, Martin miraculously stopped the wrestling sessions. That was good on my end, right? Wrong. I can’t say when the abuse transferred from physical to sexual. But, it did. When I was younger, I would massage Martin’s back for him. My mother has carpal-tunnel, so her hands wouldn’t be able to last long. It eventually fell to me doing it for her. Ten dollars for an hour. That’s what he started paying me when I realized I had carpal-tunnel too. As a broke high school student, I took the offer. But, one night in particular, I remember the back massage became unusual.

‘Massage right here. It hurts right here.’ Martin grabbed his hips and then his butt cheeks. ‘That’s your butt. I’m not massaging your butt.’

‘That’s not my butt. Those are my hips.’

‘That’s your butt. I’m not doing it.’

‘Okay, fine.’ He didn’t stop that night though. The next night, he tried the same thing. Always trying to convince me it was okay. He was relentless. A few times, I would roll my eyes and submit. He eventually became frustrated after I refused and stuck to my word. I did tell my mom how uncomfortable I was with it. She said, ‘You don’t have to do it if you’re uncomfortable.’ She was right. I didn’t have to did it at all, so I stopped. However, Martin was still relentless.

‘Please, my back hurts so bad. I can barely walk.’ That still didn’t convince me. So, Martin convinced me another way to stay around. ‘I’ll pay you twenty dollars to clean the house.’ Deal. Done deal. This was when my mother had finally, officially kicked Martin out of the house. I say officially because he had been kicked out three times before. He would move in with his family members, and they would kick him out as well. No one could live with him. So then, he moved into his own trailer just across the lake from us. I could walk to his house, so really, I never escaped him. And, they both made sure of that.

When Martin still lived with us, the transfer happened. One school day morning, as I was leaving, I had given my mother a hug goodbye. I walked away when Martin stopped me. ‘Aren’t you going to give me a hug?’ He always tried to make me feel bad if I didn’t show him love or compassion. Since I couldn’t turn him down, I hugged him. That’s when I felt his hands rest on my butt, gripping it ever so lightly. I backed away to leave, when he held my face with his hands and kissed me. I felt his lips part. I felt the saliva on mine. I felt him. I left the house that day feeling really confused and disgusted.

When I got to school, I went into a bathroom stall and cried. So many questions were thrashing through my mind. What was happening? What do I do? Do I tell mom? No, because she wouldn’t believe me, or she would ignore it. What were his intentions? Then, I did the only thing that would comfort me. I texted my godmother. Lauren was more of a mother to me than Sandra ever was. I loved Lauren more than anyone, other than my sister. I called her ‘Momma #2.’ I texted her and told her what had happened that morning, and she gave me advice. Advice I deeply hated.

‘You need to tell your mother.’ Of course, I did. Thanks Momma #2. So, I tell Sandra, and as I expected, I get, ‘I’ll talk to him. I’m sure those weren’t his intentions, but if you’re uncomfortable, then talk to him.’ I should have known better than to think my mother would actually be a mother for once. She ignored my feelings for far too long, and my case escalated just a little bit more.

Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles

During my junior and senior years, I collected a ton of hobbies and activities. I volunteered, tutored, got involved in sports, and had a job. I enjoyed staying busy. It was time away from home. After my school day, I would run to the library to tutor all ages of children on all subjects, then I would run back to the school gym for volleyball practice. After practice, I would drive to work. I was usually always happy because I stayed busy. Some days after work, Martin would text me, ‘I have extra dinner if you want to stop by.’ I’m not a rude person. So, I would stop by. I had done this maybe three times before this last event. I never had any problems. I would eat dinner, maybe clean his house, watch TV, and then leave. But, for some reason, this time was different.

We had just finished dinner and moved our way to the living room. He was sitting in his recliner, and I was sitting on the couch, when he started talking about his girls. It was a normal conversation these days. Whenever he brought girls to the house, I always noticed they were around my age. Just a few years older than me, these girls could practically be my sister. He knew it affected my sister and I when he brought them over. He would be all over them when they were around. He would even be brave enough to take them to his room — the room where he hung sex toys up on his walls for display. It never bothered him that we would see them. Fortunately, my mother cared about this part. She would argue with him about bringing girls around us and leaving his toys everywhere. That was the only thing she seemed to care about when it regarded Martin.

As we were sitting there talking about his girls, he pulled out his phone and started showing me pictures of them. First, they had clothes on — just pictures of their faces. Then, he started showing me their nudes. I explained I didn’t like looking at women; it was disgusting. He would laugh and continue. Finally, he stopped, and I continued to stare at the TV, not actually watching it. ‘Wanna see my other pictures?’

‘What do you mean? You just showed me your pictures.’ I was frustrated at this point. ‘No, I mean all my other pictures, like of Destiny and us fishing.’ I was already exhausted by this entire situation. I just wanted to go home. But, I’m not a rude person. ‘Ok.’ I was being stupid. So completely stupid.

‘Come sit with dad.’ He moved over slightly so I could squeeze into the spot next to him on the recliner. When I sat down, he wrapped his arm around me and started swiping left across his phone. The first few pictures were of fish he had caught, my sister, my mom, a practice deer with arrows in it, then a picture of his women again. He keeps swiping. Next, it’s a picture of his private.

‘Oops, sorry.’ I flinch my head away as he laughs and keeps swiping. A few more pictures of the women he has preciously shown me, a few more fish, and then, another picture of his genitals. ‘Oh.’ Martin keeps swiping. At this point, I already had the image imprinted in my head. I had seen it too many times, and ‘sorry’ was not making it go away. At this point, I was the one swiping the screen, and every single flick of my finger made my heart skip a beat. What was going to be next? Why am I still doing this? I knew what was next, however, I would have never been prepared for it.

I swiped unconsciously another time, and it’s a picture of him completely naked. Swipe. Then another picture. Swipe. This entire time, I made sure to keep my head angled away from the phone, cautious to what I was going to see next. Finally, a picture I could look at. ‘Wait, go back.’ Martin wanted me to swipe left, to the last picture. So, I did. But, I kept my head looking away from the screen. If he wanted to examine it, he could do it alone. However, Martin had a different idea.

‘It’s just a d*ck Shelainea.’ Because, a daughter should always admire her fathers’ genitals. Because Martin always tried to convince me to ‘admire’ him. ‘Nope. I’m good.’ Then, I kept swiping. I should have got up and left. I should have ended the entire conversation when it started. But, I’m not a rude person.

We had finally reached the end of the pictures, so I got up and moved back to the couch. Once again, I sat there blankly staring as the TV flickered. My head hurt, my palms were sweaty, and I was going to throw up. I could feel my stomach twisting inside out. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t gather my thoughts before Martin spoke again. ‘I’m going to show you this site I found, where I find my girls.’ He leaned closer and showed me the porn site he had signed up for. He flipped through a few women photos, talking to me about something (I can’t remember what because I still couldn’t focus). Right as I was gaining my conscious back, he showed me another picture.

‘This is my profile picture.’ There he was, completely naked and erect, standing in front of his bathroom mirror. A mirror I recognized. I remember blankly staring at this picture for a second. Even though I wasn’t paying attention, I remember every defined muscle he had. I had to leave.

‘Okay, well I’m tired, and I have school tomorrow.’ I got up to put my shoes on when I heard him say, ‘Man, I’m horny now.’ Martin stood up from the chair and walked toward me. I was leaned over tying my shoes when I saw him get up, and I still couldn’t focus on what he was doing. My nerves were getting the best of me, and I couldn’t control my thoughts. All I could think of was, ‘Get out Shelainea. Get out.’ I had no idea if he was going to hurt me, touch me, yell at me, or just try to convince me to do something else. But, I’d had enough. I had to leave before I threw up. I had to leave before I passed out.

‘Well, I didn’t mean to run you off.’ He stood over me, waiting. And, I knew what for. ‘I just have school tomorrow. I have homework to do, and I’m tired.’ I knew he came up to me to hug me before I left. So, I hugged him and walked out the door before anything else was said. I hopped into my car and drove across the lake to my trailer. I didn’t realize how I looked when I walked in the door, because my mother said, ‘What’s wrong? Are you okay?’

‘Yeah.’ I walked passed her and went to my bedroom. When I entered, I ran to my bed and sat there. What was I supposed to do? Well, I know what Momma #2 would say so, I asked the next person who comforted me. Tyler Schaffer.

Tyler Schaffer and I met in fifth grade middle school. My family was living in this little country town named Solsberry, about thirty minutes from Bloomington. There is one strip of run-down stores that make up Solsberry, and on the corner of it, there was the Yoho Store. Every event surrounded this store — Fourth of July, parades, job fairs, and any other redneck event. I attended Eastern Greene Middle School during my fourth-grade year. I remember having my first boyfriend, my first kiss on the cheek, my first time getting cheated on, my first break up, and my first best friend. All of this happened in fourth-grade middle school. It wasn’t until fifth grade when I met my first love, Tyler.

When I first met Tyler, it was in fifth grade English class. I remember getting my schedule before school started, and I was nervous. My main teacher had a scary name: Mrs. Stryker. I remember being upset because I had moved over an hour away from my friends. I wasn’t ready for fifth grade. I don’t particularly remember my first day, but I remember the first time I met Tyler. I remember the stories I heard about him. He was short and brave. He liked fighting guys for any reason. He was the bad boy of our school, and everyone either loved him or wanted to be him. Everyone envied him, and it’s been years later and everyone still does. You see, at Eastern Greene, the only way you were going to be popular, was if your family lived there for years and had a farm or any other business that contributed to the small town. Tylers’ family lived right down the road from the high school, and both his immediate family and his grandparents owned farms — bee farms, horse farms, ect. Everyone knew the Schaffers. Everyone knew them, except for me. I knew nothing of this boy or his family. I just simply knew he was cute. I don’t remember if Tyler and I ever talked before we started our relationship, but I remember how he became my boyfriend.

It was the end of the school day and, in middle school, if you got in trouble for anything, the teachers would take recess time away from you. Now, I don’t remember if I got in trouble or if I stayed inside for recess that day. Anyway, it was the end of the day, and I remember talking to my best friend, Wendy, earlier that day about asking Tyler out for me. She agreed to the plan. It was simple. I wasn’t going to go outside, so I had my best friend do it for me. ‘Just ask him out for me. Ask if he will be my boyfriend.’ That was simple, and so, I waited inside during recess. When the bell rang, I walked out to my bus. I saw Wendy running to catch up to me, and when she did, she said, ‘Guess who has a boyfriend?’

‘Oh my gosh. He said yes?!’

‘Yesssss!’ Imagine little girls screaming and jumping up and down like it was a Justin Bieber concert. That was us. That was me. I had a boyfriend. And, as I soon found out, I had the best boyfriend. Or, so I thought.

The next day, I realized I should probably talk to my boyfriend. I should probably talk to the most popular guy in school who was, might I add, my boyfriend. Can you tell I was ecstatic about that fact? Well, it wasn’t long before Tyler and I talked in class, wrote notes, and played tag at recess. That was a normal fifth grade relationship. Then, there was one morning I was waiting for Tyler to get to our morning class, and everyone was talking about him excitingly. I’m his girlfriend, so I would like to know what about. That’s when I hear the whisper that Tyler is rolling around in the dirt with some guy. This was the first time I ever was sincerely worried about someone. I remember my heart racing, my palms got sweaty, and my mind spinning. I knew he liked fighting, however, I was never his girlfriend when it happened. Was he going to be okay? Will he have bruises or be bleeding? Do I have to kiss him now to show I care? Ugh.

Tyler eventually returned to me, and when he did, he never mentioned the fight. In fact, he gave me something much more valuable. ‘Here you go. I bought it with all of my life worth of savings.’ He handed me this gold chain necklace with a ring hooked on it. I loved it. No one had given me jewelry before — not a boy, at least. He was a smooth talker; that’s why the girls loved him. I had kept the ring attached and put it safe in my jewelry box. Of course, I was going to tell my friends about it, but I never wanted to risk losing it, so I never wore it.

A few days later, Tyler and our friends joined together in a tag game. I remember how that playground was designed. I could probably draw a blue print for it. Tyler was so energetic he would climb the playground and jump off it with ease when someone tried to tag him. He was kind of like Tarzan, and everyone hated it or loved it, like usual. That’s just how it was with Tyler. You either hated him or loved him; there was no in between. Even for me. Eventually, recess had ended, and it was time to go home. Tyler, Wendy, and I walked together to our buses. Tyler’s bus had come first, ‘Bye!’

Tyler had walked up a few steps when I said, ‘Wait! Come back.’ He came back onto the side walk, and that’s when I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. He was shorter than I’d expected, so the kiss was a bit high. I had a short glance of his cheeks turning red before I ran away to catch up with Wendy. However, Wendy caught me. ‘Did you just..?’

‘It was just on the cheek!’ At that moment, I was the one blushing. The ride home was cheerful, and when I got home, I pulled my necklace and ring out of my jewelry box and tried it on. I loved it. I was pumped for the next day. Maybe, just maybe, I could get a kiss back. But, what waited for me was nowhere close to what I wanted.

There were whispers again. But this time, they were about me. About the kiss. After the girls had either congratulated me or scowled at me, the boys came next. Wendy and I were in class, sitting on the floor, when Tyler’s friend approached me. ‘I heard you kissed him on the ear!’

‘It wasn’t on the ear. It was the cheek.’ I said. ‘It was basically the ear. Besides, he’s my friend, and he can’t date a black girl.’ That was the very first time racism had ever been directed toward me, and I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t say anything back because I sat there staring at the floor. Wendy had a few choice words to say to him, and then she pulled my arm, and we stood up and left. I loathed him after that day. I remember addressing my concerns to Tyler, but that was his friend. And, that’s what mattered most… friends.

Not long after that, Tyler stopped talking to me. I remember one day in particular, our class was lining up to leave, and I saw Tyler run to the front of the line with my friends Ashley and Wendy. I was still standing when I noticed how happy he was talking to Ashley and the smile she had on her face. But, even then, I was unprepared. We had all made it outside for recess when I noticed, once again, Tyler preferred to chase Ashley around. Once again, I saw how happy they were doing it. But still, I was unprepared.

Soon after that day, I decided to confront Tyler about his behavior. He was MY boyfriend, after all. We were sitting on the floor during a class discussion when I decided to write him a note. ‘What’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking to me?’

‘Nothing’s wrong.’

‘Then, why aren’t you talking to me? What did I do?’ Tyler’s friend decided to tease me with the note before he handed it to me; he knew what it said. I should have known what it was going to say by his excitement. ‘Are you sure you want it?’

‘Yeah?’ I grabbed the note, and when I opened it, it said, ‘You want to talk, then fine. We are OVER.’ And, I was not prepared. I held onto the note, and finally, our teacher gave us permission to move to our seats. As I was walking to my seat, Tyler came up to me and stuck his hand out for the note. I gave it to him and he opened it. I saw the confusion on his face when he said, ‘You didn’t say anything.’

‘What is there to say?’ And, that was it. That was my first time getting dumped. It’s hard to say exactly how I felt about this, but I know any girl wouldn’t be happy. In fact, I don’t exactly remember being upset with him. I was content. Until the next day at least.

I returned to school and heard whispers once again. Why is there always drama around here? And, why was it always about Tyler? So, since I’m a curious person, I asked Wendy, Katherine, and Becca. They were my closest three friends; we had all been close since fourth grade. We had a sleepover almost every weekend, never missed a birthday, sat at lunch together, and loved singing together. We would stand in a circle at recess and sing all our favorite songs. We were the best of friends.

‘Ashley and Tyler are dating now!’ Unfortunately, what my best friends had forgot, was Ashley was part of our friend group too. In fact, she was the best singer out of us all. ‘What?’

‘Yeah! We helped them get together! They are so cute.’ And, that was my first time feeling betrayed. My best friends had helped my other best friend steal my boyfriend. Everyone thinks this starts in high school. I guess I got lucky… Fortunately for them, I was a sane person back then, and I let them ‘off the hook.’ I was still unsure about my feelings toward Ashley. The week had gone by and more whispers were sweeping the halls. Already annoyed, I wondered what was going on. I soon found out from my so called ‘best friends.’

‘He bought her a necklace, and he said it was from all his savings.’ At this point, I was livid. How the hell could he be buying all this jewelry from his ‘life savings?’ But, Tyler was a smooth talker, and that’s why I fell for it too. I couldn’t do anything about Tyler. I wouldn’t talk to him. I loathed him. Ashley had taken my spot next to him at lunch, stolen my jewelry, my tag game, and still, everyone loved her. Except for me.

That day at recess, I caught up with her, and I started screaming at her. Words were just flowing from my mouth about how she stole my boyfriend, and how she was an awful friend. Ashley and I had made our way to a bench where we could sit down and talk. Unfortunately, the tears had already started running down my face. I was bawling and screaming at her. And then, she started crying too. ‘I’m so sorry! Do you want me to break up with him? I will, because you’re my friend Shay!’

‘No! Don’t do that. You like him.’ Because, I’m not a mean person either. However, I was still unprepared for what was next. Apparently, Tyler had heard about our fight, and he stopped ignoring me after that.

Sixth grade had rolled around and Tyler and I managed to be in the same science class, sitting next to each other. I couldn’t help being excited. He was beautiful, fearless, popular, and he used to be mine. My hatred for him and Ashley faded the day I gave her permission to stay with him. I would get over it but, I never got over him. Never.

‘You’re my girlfriend’s friend, so I have to protect you too.’ Tyler had always said this to me. In fact, he reminded me every day when we talked. He would ask me if I had any boy problems. At first, I was annoyed and irritated. ‘Why do you care?’ And then, Tyler would remind me Ashley and I were friends, and that’s why he cared. Sometimes, I still wonder if that was a cover up. He was a smooth talker; don’t forget that.

Tyler had went through half the year ‘protecting’ me, and then the day came when I had to protect him… from expulsion. Tyler sat next to me in science class, and there was this nerdy kid who sat behind me. That day, the teacher stepped out of the room for a second, and that’s when Tyler and the nerdy kid started talking. I can’t remember what they were talking about, but I remember the last thing the kid said: ‘…your mom!’

It took Tyler 2.5 seconds to stand up, turn the corner, and charge him. Fortunately, the nerdy kid and I were just as fast. The kid had jumped out of his seat, ran to the back of the class, around the desks, back to the front of the class, and was standing in front of the teacher’s desk. Tyler was right on his heels, face red and fist ready. I had run to the kid and pushed Tyler away when he reached me. In the heated moment, Tyler was still struggling to get past me, but I kept my ground. That’s when Tyler tried to swing a fist past me to hit the kid. Thump. Unfortunately, his fist hit me. Right in my left arm. My adrenaline was up, so I couldn’t feel the pain yet.

The teacher walked into the room and saw us standing there. Tyler turned around and walked back to his seat, but I stood there. Possibly in shock or just afraid to move. My face must have given it away because the teacher said, ‘What happened? What’s wrong?’ I pointed at the boys and said, ‘You need to separate them.’ I saved Tyler from expulsion that day. The teacher simply told the boys to switch seats with other students, and even after that, I was wondering what would happen after class.

Like any other day, the story got around about another one of Tyler’s incredible fights. All the girls were talking about how brave he was, and the boys applauded him. However, no one thought my courage was worth talking about. ‘What was I supposed to do? Let him fight?’ I was confused as to why the girls kept asking me why I stopped Tyler from putting the guy into the hospital. ‘Yeah! You should have just let him beat him up.’ Clearly, I made a wrong move, and I wondered how Tyler felt about it. So, I asked him.

‘Everyone is saying I should have let you fight.’ My confusion and sadness were present, and Tyler noticed. I remember him giving me that charming smile and comforting me. That was not the last time Tyler and I were involved with drama. For some reason, it craved us. Tyler and I had clearly stopped dating but, for some odd reason, we were always together.

Science class had come around, and the teacher wanted to do another project. For this project, a group of three people would be separating owl pellets and discovering their last meal. I had always loved science, so I was extremely excited, but I was almost the only one. The teacher separated us into groups, and when she said my name, Tyler’s came after it. I can’t remember if I was excited or nervous to be working with Tyler once again. I still had feelings for him after all this time. I was always jealous when he found a new girlfriend, which he did quite often.

Tyler and I moved to our work station, and our other group member followed. As we were all working together sorting out the puke pellet, Tyler sent our group member away to go find other pieces from other groups. We had almost finished our skeleton when Tyler and I called the teacher over.

‘He keeps stealing pieces from other groups! Can we just work alone?’ Tyler and I were trouble makers. Of course, the teacher agreed, and our group member got a different pellet to work on by himself. I remember Tyler and I smiling and being happy we could work alone with each other. The class period was over, but we hadn’t finished, so we agreed to meet later after class. And, we did. Except that time, we were the only ones in the lab. That was the last time Tyler and I worked together. That summer I would be moving to Mooresville, Indiana to start my seventh-grade year. Fortunately for me, my closest friends kept in contact, including Tyler. My seventh-grade year started, and we seldom talked however. Eighth grade year came around and we talked almost every day. Every day was a new story to tell. My new life, friends, and boyfriends. His life, friends, and girlfriends. It was always an interesting story to tell my friends about him.

‘What does he look like? Are you guys dating now? Oh, he’s cute! Aww, he’s so sweet to you! Why are you guys just friends?’ It was a never-ending explanation.

More years passed, and we continued to be in each other’s lives. I never realized how much I cared about him until we were sixteen. It was around that time, we started making promises and creating dreams. ‘I want you to be my first.’

‘Really!? I want that too.’ That little butterfly feeling you get in your stomach… that was the first time I got those. We spent long nights talking on the phone. Some days, I would get four hours of sleep. We even Skyped a few times, and I always made sure he could see my cute panties. It was a complex romance for sure.

It was about nine at night, I was doing dishes, and I saw my phone ring. Tyler. Obviously, I answered, but the response I was looking for was non-existent. ‘Shelainea, you have to help me! I just broke up with this girl, and she said she was going to kill herself. Now she won’t answer my calls! Will you please call her for me!?’ I immediately felt my blood boil. Once again, Tyler had dumped a poor, lonely girl, just like me. Threw her away like she was trash.

‘Give me her number. I’ll call you back later.’ I hung up the phone and texted the number he had given me. It was along the lines of, ‘Hey, this is Tyler’s friend. Are you okay?’ After I received no reply, I decided to call the girl. Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring. I was sure she wouldn’t answer, but then she did.

‘Hello?’ I could tell she was crying, in fact, she was bawling. ‘Hi, my name is Shay. I’m Tyler’s friend. Are you okay?’

‘No! I can’t live without him, I’ll kill myself.’

‘No! Listen to me, he is not worth it, I promise. He is just a boy. I’m sure you are beautiful, and there are plenty of guys out there waiting for you.’ At this point, I was scared for her too. I had never seen a girl this upset over Tyler. I thought my tears were bad… It took a hard convincing but, eventually, I got her to calm down and stop crying. She started talking to me about Tyler and everything that happened, and I could relate to her. She never knew I was his ex-girlfriend too; I kept that hidden. Eventually, she said thank you, and we hung up.

I was still livid with Tyler because she seemed like a nice girl. They almost always were. So, I called him back. ‘Tyler, you hurt her! How could you do that?’ He, of course, thought it was no big deal. He brushed it off and continued his way. We got off the phone upset with each other that night. Surprisingly, that was the first and only time we fought about someone else.

More years went on, and we became closer and further apart. We found ourselves in new positions, with new adventures, and not enough time for each other. We went from talking almost every night to talking almost every month. We switched from Skyping occasionally to not at all. We transferred from learning about each other to knowing every little detail there was to know. Even through thick and thin, we were still close. He was still there for me. One year, we attempted to meet up and visit each other. But, plans changed that day and it never happened. Fate was just not in our corner.

After telling my mom there was nothing wrong, I headed to my room and contemplated what I should do next. After realizing texting Momma #2 was not an option, I texted Tyler. I told him everything that happened, and I laid down. The emotional night got the best of me, and I fell asleep. I didn’t eat dinner or even take a shower. I woke up from a heavy sleep to my phone buzzing in my ear. Dazedly, I answered. ‘Shelainea? Where are you right now? If you are still there, you need to get out right now!’

‘I’m home now.’ Tyler sucked in a breath of relief. ‘Shelainea, you need to tell your mom.’

‘Tyler, you don’t understand. She will not understand. She will take his side and not understand.’

‘Shelainea, you still need to tell her.’ I sucked in a breath, but it wasn’t relief. I went back to sleep without a shower and dinner. Once I woke up for school, the only thing on my mind was how I was going to tell my mother. I decided to tell her on a ‘road trip.’ I used my car to drive her around. I knew driving would help with my anxiety and keep me concentrated. I told her the story, and my conclusion was, ‘I need you to realize, Martin doesn’t see me as his kid anymore.’

‘I will talk to him and let him know he can’t have contact with you anymore. If we need to go to court, we will. I can’t believe this.’

I felt relieved to have it off my chest, but I was concerned about my mom’s word. When was it ever reliable? Later that day, when I got home, Sandra told me she had texted Martin. She showed me the texts. ‘Oh, it was just a few pictures. She never said she didn’t like it.’

‘If you see this in any other way then you’re wrong.’ I was proud of my mom in that moment. It was the first time I thought she was being honest. It was the first time, in a long time, I thought she was being a mother. The divorce took a toll on her. She changed for the worst. She was a new person, or at least, I thought she was.

When Sandra and Martin separated officially, my mom picked up some ‘old’ habits. My mom was an exotic dancer in her earlier years. After having me, she needed money to take care of me. She told me stories about her experience, her older clients. I realized she was stronger being free. This time though, she was not stronger. After the separation, she re-lived her teenage years. The family said she never got to live her teenage years because of her pregnancy with me. She had to become an adult very quickly. Mom told me the day we both came home from the hospital, she left and got a job the same day. That kind of determination was killed during their separation. Sandra would go to work in the mornings, like my sister and I would go to school. She would then come home, drink, and fall asleep. This became routine over the years.

During my senior year, I had picked up a part-time job. So, I would go to my early college, then High School, and next, my job. I would be home around 9 or 9:30 p.m. and find Sandra asleep in her bed. No dinner. Destiny’s homework was not checked. She would still need to eat and shower for school the next day. I had to do it all. This all became routine for me. I became the mother. Some nights, I would even wake Sandra up after cooking dinner, so she could eat something. Some nights, she would wake up, but not for long before she was back asleep. I knew this was depression. I had seen it before. I had been there before. I felt sad for her because there wasn’t much I could do. And, I felt angry because I had to do everything. My relationship started getting frisky with my mother when she would place blame on me for not doing chores. I had to wash the dishes every night, and I would speak my mind on the other responsibilities I had to do and that dishes were not that important. It was a never ending fight though. Imagine it: college, school, work, homework for two, cooking dinner, shower for two, and then chores… It was exhausting. I was exhausted. I kept everything in most days, until my mother came out of her slump and began her ‘teenage life.’

I can’t place a day on when it started, but I noticed when it did. She would tell me about the men she was meeting at work, the men she met who were truck drivers (sugar daddies), the men she met online, and more. Eventually, I lost count. I had to start counting again when she started bringing those men home. Men from the trailer park, men from her work, men from only God knows where. And, men from all over. Travelers, married men, single men, drug users, drug dealers — she wasn’t picky. Her expectations and standards were quite low. I can still name about fifteen men who came to the house. Those are the only ones I met. I know of others she met elsewhere. She wasn’t discreet about what she was doing, and I confronted her about it.

‘Destiny and I don’t like meeting all these new men all the time. And, we don’t like seeing you drunk every night either.’

‘I’m going to do what I want, and I don’t care what you have to say about it.’

She was the adult, and our opinions didn’t matter. They say it’s bad when other people start to notice, but I thought it was bad before then. People did start to notice. Family and friends. My godmother would always say, ‘I need to have a talk with her. She needs to get her head out of her butt and take care of you girls. I just know it will turn into a fight.’

‘Of course, it will. She is always the victim.’

I know what it’s like to be a victim. An actual victim of physical, mental, and sexual abuse. I know that better than she does. But, I also know what it’s like to be a victim to your own brain and body. That’s why I understand. Now, almost three years later, I understand why. But, at the time, I didn’t understand, and I didn’t care. I didn’t want her excuses for her lack of parenting.

There were only a few men who stuck around for longer than a week. I can name all of them, too. The first ‘man’ was named Tim. He was just a few years older than me. That was always awkward for me. They dated for quite some time, and he moved in very early in their relationship. Sandra never asked Destiny and I if we were okay with it; we just woke up multiple mornings and found him still there. Destiny and I watched more and more boxes of his things move in and became more and more irritated with the situation. Tim was a child. They smoked marijuana and drank together every day. They had sex almost every night and didn’t care if anyone heard. The most irritating part was that Sandra started playing her role again. She started talking to her children, cooking dinner, and trying to have ‘fun.’ She was coming back to reality, but it wasn’t one I liked.

Tim worked with mom, so co-workers were very aware of their relationship, including the drugs. Tim would announce, ‘I bought some weed, so Imma go to Sandra’s and smoke this!’ Again, he was a child. And his mannerisms caused some conflict between Sandra and Martin. Martin would text her a lot and say, ‘I don’t want my kid in a house with a drug dealer.’

‘He’s not a drug dealer Martin. You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Even for him, Sandra made excuses. Tim stuck around for a while, until mom met another man. Turns out, she was meeting quite a few other men while ‘dating’ Tim. Sandra still denies that her and Tim were dating. Tim was always suspicious about Sandra cheating and confronted her many times. ‘Who is this guy in your phone?’

‘You shouldn’t be going through my phone! And, I’m not cheating on you! I can’t help what men say to me.’ Sandra would play the part very well. She would cry and make a scene, but we all knew she was cheating. Tim didn’t leave until he caught another man in the house with her. One of Sandra’s play toys had come over in the middle of the night, and Tim showed up after him and caught them together. Needless to say, Tim packed up his things the next morning. We had talked about the situation as he was packing, ‘You know how Mom is. This is just what she does.’

‘I just can’t believe she was doing this to me.’ I’d never seen Tim like that before. Completely degraded and confused, but not angry. After she got caught cheating on Tim, my sister and I didn’t see a lot of different men anymore. We barely saw any. We had a slither of hope maybe our mother was coming back to us. But, of course, she proved us wrong again.

The next ‘man’ she invited to our house was named Jared. Jared was a married man with four daughters, a truck driver (like most of her conquests), and claimed to be a godly, Christian man. Well, let me just start by saying, there’s nothing Christian about this man. Once again, we didn’t get properly introduced. Our introduction was the sound of him having sex with our mother. Same as Tim, Jared moved in fairly quickly, despite the fact he was still married. Jared and Sandra spent all their time in the bedroom, so neither me nor Destiny had a chance to get to know him… not that we really wanted too. We assumed he would be gone just as quickly as the others.

Over all these years, I had started to lose my faith in Jesus Christ. When the abuse escalated, I prayed more than I ever had, and yet, I received no mercy and no solutions. During high school, I reached out to my English professor about finding my faith, and she gave me a text about an author who was atheist and turned to God. I remember reading the first chapter and giving up. I googled all kinds of texts and checked out journals from the library. Christianity might not be for me. I became intrigued in other religions. I can now proudly say, ‘I’m an Omnist.’ The best personal definition to explain it is, I can find truths in all religions. I accept all religions. Simply put, I’m not a jerk to people. Ironically enough, as soon as this way of life was discovered, my prayers started being answered. If I prayed for gas, mysterious money would be found. If I prayed for my relationship, my partner gave me a gift. The universe kept speaking to me, and I kept listening. I felt new and evolved being an Omnist.

Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles

This is as far as I got into my autobiography. It tells you nothing more than I have already. If anyone would like to hear the rest of it, reach out. Ask me questions, record my answers, write your own story or write mine. I even have a publisher willing to print, but I’m not healed yet. So, we wait. Now, let me introduce myself again… I am happy! Have some hope in your life.

I am a woman. I am bi-racial. I am a mother. I am a fiance. I am a dog owner. I am a cat owner. I am a Licensed Agent. I am a rape victim. I am a victim of racism. I am a sexual assault victim. I am a victim of physical abuse. I am a victim of mental abuse. I am a churchgoer. I am an Omnist. I am a person.”

Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles
Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles
Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles
Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles
Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles
Courtesy of Shelainea Gayles

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