by Lisa “Rubi G.” Ventura
Bad habits are difficult to break.
Like most teenagers, I rebelled against my mother’s advice and lost my way, allowing White Boy to wreak havoc the moment he stepped into my life. My mother tried to warn me but understood I’d have to learn from my mistakes.
I was too young and naïve to see it, though. We were on and off for six years—breaking up and making up too many times to count. Six and a half years, my power lay in the hands of a man who brainwashed me into forgetting who I was.
I knew it was time to officially let go of White Boy when he had the audacity to ask when I’d come back to visit after our final break-up. Reminded of the many times he lured me back in, I decided I had finally learned my lesson and would no longer be a victim of his manipulation.
White Boy, a green-eyed Dominican with skin as white as paper, was two years older and a high school dropout. We met at a house party in Washington Heights, NYC, and at that moment, I was elated to have been chosen. One song led to another, and we danced the night away while drinking Alizé, which he shared with me by taking sips straight from the frosted bottle and slowly slipping it from his mouth to mine. Having the time of my life, I swallowed the blue drink without hesitation. This may have been the moment he poisoned my spirit with venom, removing his lips from mine and extracting my soul in the process.
Not only was White Boy a drop-out, but he was also a teen dad. By the time we met, he had a one-year-old daughter with his high school sweetheart. He lied about his baby’s mother agreeing to take him off child support if she could be his date to prom. I should’ve ended it as soon as I learned this, but no, I swallowed that red flag as eagerly as I did the Alizé.
White Boy was accustomed to a life of dysfunction since birth; his mother was poorly equipped to raise him, and his father had been deported to the Dominican Republic. He was raised by his paternal great-aunt, a heavy-set lady in her seventies who worked as a home attendant. Because she had custody of him since he was an infant, she was the one he called mami. They lived in the Bronx, yet, he hung out with his boys in the Heights daily, coincidentally on the same block where his biological mother and her family lived.
When we were good, we lived in our own bubble, laughing, smoking, and watching movies. Then we would get into absurd fights over menial affairs and breakups for several days, even weeks. Followed by incessant calls, apologies, and promises of change. My friends judged me for taking him back. Ashamed, I would secretly start seeing him again and devising lies about where I was going and ending up at his house.
Ultimately I was isolated from my family and friends because he wanted me all to himself. He wouldn’t allow me to socialize and would usually say no if I invited him to a party. I tried to convince myself his behavior was harmless, that I wouldn’t miss out on the fun my friends would have in my absence.
This boy controlled my life with charm and intimidation for most of high school and college, whether in the same city or three hours apart.
In Florida —miserable and homesick for familiarity—I searched for a way out of this toxic fixation. A recent college graduate, in a new state, without a job or a means to get around, I was trapped. Not hostage per se, but it sure felt like it. I felt like a prisoner, except when his aunt would pick me up and include me in her family’s events and outings, welcoming me into their lives and bringing joy and normalcy to my life. I’m sure they all wondered the same thing—“What is an educated woman like her doing with him?” I often wondered the same thing.
We lived in a Pepto Bismol pink trailer-turned-studio apartment, which, ironically enough, made me want to vomit every time I remembered I was an active participant in this nightmare. After graduating from Binghamton University, I returned home a mere four days before moving to Florida. White Boy had moved there from the Bronx three months earlier.
There was excessive screaming, arguing, and fighting during that time frame. And even though there weren’t any physical altercations, the emotional abuse was apparent. We were the epitome of a toxic relationship—phones, windows, and doors, broken out of anger and hostility on both ends—crying, isolation, and profound sadness.
Tired of his controlling ways, I went to a party without first asking his permission. Sadly, the joy was short-lived. He called my phone numerous times within an hour to question what I was doing or if I was hanging out with any male friends, which he was opposed to me having. Initially ignoring the calls, I knew I would eventually have to answer. I entered a room with muffled music and immediately started off with a lie. He interrogated me until I confessed.
White boy asked to speak with my friends to acquire a detailed account of who was at the party. Mortified that this was my life, I didn’t know how to address the situation. Although he was three and a half hours away without a car or a driver’s license, I was fearful, clearly brainwashed, and unable to think logically. My friends pitied me, causing me to feel worse. I was ruining their enjoyment with my boyfriend’s jealousy and hostility. As college students, we had limitless freedom—living off-campus and away from our parents. Yet, here I was, held in captivity by what I thought was love. Unable to see a way out, I heeded his demands.
While wallowing in the grief of losing my sixteen-year-old brother, I was reminded of my true power when I attended a workshop by a female organization, Brujas of Brooklyn. The twins spoke of toxic relationships and ways to heal. A seed was planted that day. I felt empowered and hopeful, believing I would be courageous enough to end it with him. Unfortunately, it would take three more years before I could finally let go.
I took a leave of absence due to the devastating death in the family, but also with the ulterior motive of being closer to White Boy since I missed him while away. After being home for seven months, determined not to live under such a dictatorship, I returned to Binghamton the following semester. White Boy was not going to keep me from my education—from the one thing that could set me free one day. Although he still controlled me through the phone, going away to college allowed me to breathe.
I was living the epitome of a toxic relationship, even after pledging into a sorority that enabled me to access my strength, resilience, and tenacity. An organization whose philanthropic endeavors were to raise awareness of violence against women. And still, I turned a blind eye to the forms of abuse I was subjected to. For years, I had craved a boy’s attention, even if it came with some constricting strings attached.
Receiving the degree in the mail reminded me of my worth. When I held my diploma in my hand, I felt like I was holding a mirror reflecting the words, “Remember who and whose you are.” I had finally come to the realization that I was a professional, independent, and educated woman.
My Sociology degree taught me that relapses are part of the sobriety process. I had been addicted to the attention, to the concept of having a boyfriend, due to low self-esteem. I accepted love in whatever form and ignored every red flag along the way. I would not be held in psychological bondage any further. I didn’t need White Boy because I could finally offer myself the love I was searching for. No longer the same woman that was readily manipulated, I assured myself that the end was near.
During his family’s game night and after a few margaritas, I declined to leave when he arrived to pick me up. Standing my ground, I told him I was enjoying myself; therefore, I was not ready to leave. Angered, he departed and summoned me to recover my belongings that he spitefully packed. This was the moment I’d been waiting for, the perfect opportunity to flee. Two days later, I was on a plane back home. And at last, I tasted the sweet nectar of freedom.
I attempted to give him up completely and all at once but failed even after moving back to New York. We entertained small talk for some time until no words were left to say. When White Boy asked when I was coming back to visit, I realized he no longer had a grasp on me, and I was determined to move on. We never spoke again.
Lisa “Rubi G.” Ventura (she/her) is a Washington Heights-bred Black Dominican poet and creative nonfiction writer. She is a first-generation daughter of immigrants, wife, and mother to two-and-a-half enchanting boys. Her work has been published by Dominican Writers, Raising Mothers, La Libreta, and Inkwell Black Press. Lisa also served as an empowerment panelist for The New York City Council. She is a Voices of our Nations Arts Foundation/VONA 2022 alumnae. You can find her at www.lapoetarubi.com or @poeta_rubi_g.