real life

'My roommate refused to breakup with her abusive boyfriend. So I moved out.'

Content warning: This post contains mentions of abuse and domestic violence, and may be triggering for some readers.

After college, I lived with two girls I knew from middle school.

We hadn’t spoken in years, but when I moved back to my hometown, I needed a cheap place to stay and I stumbled upon their roommate post online.

It wasn’t until I showed up at the small blue house to meet my potential landlords that I realised I knew the girls from middle school. One of their parents owned the house and was looking for a new tenant. Knowing this, I felt more at ease. I wouldn’t be living with strangers; I assured my parents. I moved in later that week.

The signs of an abuser, told through his victim’s phone. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

Just a few days into my new living arrangement, I met my roommate’s boyfriend. And he spent so much time at our house, he was like the fourth roommate. I only had to spend a few hours with the couple to see they were in one of the most toxic relationships I had ever known.

They argued often, screaming at each other at the top of their lungs until the yells were replaced with the sounds of makeup sex, reverberating through our apartment and travelling through our thin walls.

During the breakup and makeup fights, I would leave the house and go to a coffee shop or meet up with friends.

It may seem inconvenient, but the fighting wasn’t that frequent because he wasn’t there every day. But if the fighting started and I couldn’t leave the house, I’d sleep through the yells with headphones in.

It was a cheap room to rent, and the house was close to my work, so I didn’t plan on leaving, even if the environment wasn’t ideal. But I didn’t know how bad it really was. Not yet.

As we got to know each other better, my roommate addressed the constant fighting.

She assured me that she and her boyfriend had been together for many years and this was just the way things were. She insisted they were madly in love, no matter what it may look like.

My heart broke for her every time she talked about her relationship because I knew she told me these things to convince herself their relationship was healthy.

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I worked at a family counselling centre then, and I was well versed in the way women in toxic relationships defended their abusive partners.

I took our private conversations as if they were a cry for help, so I mentioned my work had inexpensive counsellors available if she was ever interested.

She stormed off into her bedroom after I mentioned the counsellors, and I never brought it up again.

I didn’t want to attack her relationship, but I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get her help, so I left the cards of my therapist colleagues in the kitchen for her to find, just in case. She never acknowledged them and neither did I.

Unfortunately, one night, my worst fears came true.

My roommate and her boyfriend woke me up with loud shouts coming from her bedroom. They were fighting again.

As I stood up and fumbled through a drawer to find my headphones, it happened all at once.

There was yelling back and forth, and a loud crash that sounded like broken glass. I heard our rickety screen door swing open and slam against the side of the house. Then, I heard a car speed off.

Terrified, I jumped back into bed and hid under the covers. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if he was gone. I didn’t know how I would keep myself safe.

But then I heard my roommate crying. She called out my name. It’s still chilling to remember the way she called for me.

I jumped up and rushed to her room. I swung open her bedroom door to find her lying on the floor. Her window broken, her dresser turned over, and her bloody knee swelling with every second that passed.

But she wouldn’t let me call the cops.

emotional-abuse-signs
"I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if he was gone. I didn’t know how I would keep myself safe." Image: Getty.
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And no matter how much training I'd had at work surrounding battered women, and no matter how many times I’d read about domestic violence in my psychology textbooks, nothing could prepare me to hear someone say, 'I don’t want my abuser to get in trouble'.

I insisted several times that calling the cops was the right thing to do, but she threatened me when I tried to dial. I agreed to do it by her terms, but I asked her to let me drive her to the hospital nearby. She agreed.

I remember giving her an ice pack to place on her knee and helping all 41kgs of her tiny frame into my car. I remember looking at the house as we backed out of the driveway, wondering if he would come back and look for her.

I wondered if he would come after me too.

On the way to the emergency room, I asked her to be honest with the doctors about what happened. She nodded, through tears and mascara running down her cheeks.

When we arrived at the hospital, a nurse brought a wheelchair to the car and helped get her settled in. When she asked her what happened, my roommate said she fell down the stairs in our house.

We lived in a single-story home.

It was only then that I realised the gravity of the situation.

They weren’t just a bickering couple, and this most likely wasn’t the first time he had hit her. My heart broke for my roommate, but I had to think of my safety, imagining what he’d do if he ever found out that I tried to call the cops. I wasn’t safe living there.

My roommate’s sister arrived at the hospital, and when her sister agreed they shouldn’t tell the truth about what happened, I headed back to our house to grab my things. Of course, I circled around the block a few times, making sure her boyfriend was not there waiting for me. But the coast was clear.

I ran inside, grabbed all the important documents I had, my laptop and wallet, and the rent check I had in my desk that I was supposed to give my roommate the next day.

I knew I would never sleep in that house again. At 2am, I drove an hour to my boyfriend’s house, and when I arrived, I cried in his arms until the sun came up. I cried for the trauma I had just witnessed, for my fear of safety, for my roommate, and for any other woman who is (or has been) in her situation.

I know it’s not easy, and it may seem impossible to get out of, but there is always hope.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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