Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unexpected Trip to Siena

I love unexpected occasions; when it’s a Saturday night, and you have nothing to do and then within two seconds your Saturday and Sunday are filled with dinners and engagements.

A last minute invite to a meal turned into drinks, and another dinner the next day, and a trip Siena.

This was my first trip to Siena. I don’t know why, but I have never made it a point to visit the city whose inhabitants are known for being more closed off to strangers than the Florentines.

My friend Nicola gave me a tour of the town and explained its history. He had lived there years ago as a student. The city was formerly a nation state and was, and still is divided into contrade (districts).

He told me that the shape of Piazzo del Campo, was constructed to capture water when it rained; all of Siena’s water comes from the sky. Beneath the city exists a network of systems to purify and cleanse the water.

We decided to brave it and climb up the tower that dominates the square and Siena. A small strict doorway, opened into a modern room. I didn’t know if the entrance or the room after it was indicative of the stairwell that laid ahead. Unfortunately, it was the former.

Parts of the stairwell were so tight, that my back barley slipped through. Plus the climb was a physical workout. At times we had to pause to catch our breaths. But the view from the top was worth the labor.

From there we noted that there were not that many cars within the city walls. Most of the ancient streets could not fit the modern vehicle. The absence of cars, coupled with the absence of graffiti, gives Siena a sense of tranquility that Florence does not posses.

Nicola explained that the Sienese would personally punish anyone who tried to deface their beloved city. Before we entered the city he told me that the only place I would see graffiti would be the building that housed the school of arts. And he was right.

One of the street art that made me stop and stare, was a still life of a bare breasted woman in a window. I was not sure if the woman was part of a symbol of one of the 17 districts. But she was not the only woman who decorated the streets. All throughout there were tabernacles of the Virgin Mary. The city was dedicated to the Virgin Mary prior to the Battle of Montaperti (1260), when Siena defeated its rival Florence (the city has been dedicated several times to the Virgin since that time).

My personal tour ended with a tall pint of frothy Guinness. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Confronting My Past

I am a victim of abuse. I have been hiding it for some time now. I am compelled to write about it today because of a march I attended on Saturday, organized by Libere Tutte. Participants protested violence against women in commemoration of La Festa delle Donne (Women’s Day).

I covered the march as a journalist, so I did not participate. As I walked alongside women, who to me a good group of them seemed like angry men haters, I questioned why I was not shouting and protesting alongside them.

Observing and not participating in the march made me feel like a fake, because I act like I have nothing in common with those women. I do not consider myself one of them. I do not hate the Catholic Church, I wear makeup and I hate the smell of patchouli. And I love men. I love them for everything women are not.

As I followed the marchers through the center of Florence, I thought about how many other women are like me. How many try to deny the reality of their past? How many are so ashamed that they let someone torment them mentally, physically and sexually, that they place those horrible events in a dark corner of their mind, hidden away, only to rear itself, in those silent lonely nights, as a slight prick in the chest?

So here it goes. My former ex, at first said all those things I wanted to hear, but soon those words that lifted me, slowly bruised and brought me down. Abuse is a slow process. That is why people get caught in abusive relationships. By time they realize — if they realize — they are being abused, it is too late.

The abuser entices you with the promise of love, trust and a happy future. But slowly everything that is pink and bright fades into black. Without notice, negativity trickles in and soon his actions do not mirror the promises he made. Eventually, when he knows you are attached to him, he slowly chips away at your confindence, lowering you to his level in order to keep you chained to him.

In my situation it began with verbal abuse. At first he made me believe we were made for each other. And as soon as I began to fall, those nice words slowly turned mean. I did not notice it because he would say negative things about me as a joke or teasing.

When I would call him out on the teasing, he would say he was just being funny and would get angry with me for being “jealous” or “critical.” Soon little put downs escalated into anger and physical violence. I tried to leave once, and he trapped me up against a wall. He screamed in my face and punched the wall close to my head, demanding me to stay. Punching the wall is a threat that translates to “you are next.”

When I caught him in an act of betrayal, he hit me. Now that I look back that was not the first time he smacked my face, but it was the first time that he did with great force. By that time, I was frozen and already tied to him. I could not move.

I always wonder if an abuser plans their manipulation. My ex is not smart, but the way he manipulated me was calculated. As the relationship moved forward, he was present, but distant at the same time. It’s comparable to a drug pusher, just giving you enough to keep you hooked and coming back for more.

In the beginning of the relationship he was always available physically. We were with each other every hour except when I had to work; however, eventually he would only sleep with me when it was convenient for him. He would ration sex and the time we spent alone (we always spent time going out with his friends), giving me just enough of him to keep me asking for more. Sometimes he would make me feel like a slut or a child if I did ask for more. A woman should never have to convince a man to have sex.

Moreover, he was never careful when we were physical. He was always trying to get me pregnant. Another way for him to keep by his side.

He would call me fat in front of his friends as a “joke.” At the same time, he would force me to eat large amounts of food. He was always trying to make me eat more than I wanted. It’s as if he wanted me to be fat so other men would find me unattractive; so I would always be with him.

Besides him constantly criticizing me, little by little he made me give up the things I enjoyed, to please him. He made rules. I was not allowed to: occasionally smoke a cigarette (I had to take care of my eggs for his children, he said), go topless at the beach, have male friends, go out with my girlfriends without him, speak to other men, including my coworkers etc.

I only experienced the tip of abuse. If I had stayed with him it would have worsened. The only thing that saved me was receiving an assistantship to study journalism. I chose to leave Florence, to study in the U.S. for one year. When I returned to the States, he still tried to manipulate me, but after a month he abruptly ended all communication with me.

I know that if I did not make that decision, I would be married to him (he was always pushing marriage even though we only knew each other for a short period of time), seldom leaving the house, raising his children with no help from him, and probably working some crappy job to support him and his immediate family.

What makes me angry is that I was devastated when he abruptly ended the relationship. It is difficult for me to explain why I was so upset. Only my friends who have been in an abusive relationship understand why I felt like my world ended.

I did see him recently. He walked through Sant’Ambrogio Square while my friends and I were drinking outside a bar. My thoughts were, “how could I have cried over such a piece of shit.” To see my abuser for what he is, is gold.

I am writing this for those who may be questioning their present relationship or who are angry about a past one. It happens to the best and strongest. It does not mean you are weak, although I admit I question my strength. Not all men are like that. I know many men that love and respect the women in their lives, whether it be their sister, lover, mother or friend.

Always listen to that tiny voice deep inside that says, “something is not right.” It was difficult for me to believe that someone could be so evil and manipulative, because I would never do that to someone; especially someone that I claimed to love. I could not understand how someone that I loved could not love me back. I ignored my voice and chose to listen to his instead. That was the biggest mistake.