Midnight Mass

Brad (35)

I met Joshua through my best friend on Christmas Eve, 1984. He invited me on a date to Midnight Mass. I was 16 he was 32.

The first few months were great; he introduced me to the gay scene and to sex, bought me presents, took me to the theatre and generally made me feel special. It was my first real relationship and I finally felt like I was becoming an adult.

After a few months he began to change. He started getting jealous when I spent time with friends but as I still lived with my family it didn’t seem like a big deal. As my 18th birthday approached he put pressure on me to move in to his place. I was uneasy about it but wasn’t sure why so I went along with it.

Over the next couple of years I progressively lost my independence and my self-esteem, which wasn’t that strong to begin with, was totally undermined. Joshua wasn’t physically violent but he was manipulative and controlling and had a frightening temper. During one argument he smashed the iron through the ironing board, slammed the bedroom door so hard the frame broke and threw a shoe at me that smashed a group of photo frames. At other times his anger became such a white-hot rage that the veins on his forehead and neck would pulsate and he’d be unable to talk.

By the time the relationship ended he had managed to isolate me from almost everyone I had known. He pushed, demanded and guilted me into working with him at his small business. This combined with my usual part time job and going to university meant that I almost never had free time to see my friends or family or to do the things I wanted to. He generally didn’t pay me for the work either, he considered the hours I did as rent and board. So once I’d paid for my uni fees, books and travel expenses I never had any money for myself.

Joshua constantly made fun of my weight. At every opportunity he’d make jokes about me being fat. When I asked him not to he said I couldn’t take a joke and then went on any way. It got to the point where I hated my body so much that I wouldn’t even take my shirt off before getting into bed without turning off the light. I reckon I went for 5 years without ever taking my shirt off at the beach. I still hate the sight of my body even though I know, logically, I’m not fat.

“I only chose someone as young as you so I could make him the boyfriend I wanted. It’s too hard to do that again.”

He used to get angry all the time and over the smallest things: if I got home from uni or work late; if I got home before him and hadn’t started cleaning the house or wasn’t studying; if I spent too much money; talked on the phone for ‘too long’, or argued with his point of view. Almost everything I did made him angry and there was almost never a day when he didn’t yell at me. Even to this day I feel anxious if I hear my boyfriend get home and I haven’t tided up something.

Although I gave up so much during the relationship, like friends, hobbies, my time and my family I always tried to keep a little of myself from his control. If he expressed a point of view about something on the news or something he was reading I’d take up an opposite point of view – regardless of what I actually thought. These ‘discussions’ often turned into arguments and sometimes into fights but I always held onto the idea that no matter how much of my life he controlled he couldn’t control my opinion.

From about two years into the relationship I knew I wanted to get out but I just didn’t know how to end it. I was scared of what he’d do if I broke up with him. Also, my parents (who were always very supportive) had made it clear that they though he was too old for me but I told them I loved him so they accepted my decision. I didn’t want to admit to them that they were right. Joshua was also very charming and giving at times. When he wasn’t angry he could be quite affectionate and sweet. One year he gave me a surprise present for each of the twelve days of Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, exactly five years after our first date, he tried to trick me into going to mid-night Mass. I said no. Again he got angry but this time he punched me. That was the last straw. In my head I decided there and then that the relationships was over but it took me four months to get up the courage to leave.

I finally walked out one night after I’d been to a uni function. I got home at 11:30pm – about an hour late. As soon as got into bed he got up and turned on the light saying “You’ve kept me awake waiting for you, now you can lay awake.” I turned the light off. He turned it on again. So I got up, told him he was acting like a child, packed a few things and walked home to my mum’s place. It was April Fools Day and he even joked that I couldn’t survive without him and I’d be back.
For about 18-moths after I left him he’d call me and say things like he was drunk and had taken a packet of sleeping tablets or that he’d just been diagnosed with HIV and didn’t know who else to turn to. For a long time I believed him and tried to help until I finally realised that he wasn’t telling the truth and that he’d just keep on calling. Finally I said that he had to stop calling me; we weren’t going out any more and he needed to get used to that. “Move on and find someone else I said.” He replied “I can’t. I only chose someone as young as you so I could make him the boyfriend I wanted. It’s too hard to do that again.” I was horrified.

It was during the months after the relationship ended that I realised what I’d experienced with Joshua was domestic violence. I was reading Dolly or Cleo mag and saw a quiz. I read the questions, ‘Are you afraid to talk to your boyfriend about money?’ ‘Does your boyfriend humiliate you in public?’ ‘Does your boyfriend fight with your family?’ and ‘Does your boyfriend control your free time?’ followed by the statement ‘Then you are probably experiencing domestic violence.’ It was like a bolt out of the blue. It put everything into perspective.

I have now been in a new relationship with a fantastic, loving, caring, gentle and understanding guy for more than 9- years. However, the effects of my relationship with Joshua took a long time to get over. Some of them I still haven’t. In the early years of this new relationship I was adamant that I wasn’t giving up any of my independence. I insisted, often unreasonably, that he accept me doing my own thing and I kept our finances totally separate. I’ve since learned that he isn’t trying to control me and have let him into every part of my life.

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