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South Carolina Honors College

Tangled Love

by Catherine Milburn

My mother was a good woman. I never got to know her when she was a full person, before my father stripped bits away with every drop of blood he spilled. But even with pieces missing she was a good mom. She fed us well, she walked me to school, she taught me how to use makeup to cover the bruises, she taught me how to lie on the spot, she taught me how to hide in plain sight. My father didn’t bother teaching me much other than what a woman's place was and that she better stay there. He much preferred my brother. He told me he never wanted a daughter. He tried to smother me when I was born but my mother begged and pleaded until it annoyed him so he gave up and headed to the bar instead. From that day on it was as if he had succeeded. I was not worthy of being alive, and any reminder to him that I was deserved punishment. I went through a lot of makeup.

I watched him overdose when I was fifteen. He had an affinity for heroin; a lot of people in my family did. I watched his breathing lose strength. I didn’t move. I didn’t make a sound. I don’t know if I ever would have. My brother found us like that, locked in a staring contest with death. The paramedics said if we called even five minutes later it would’ve been too late. Five minutes from freedom. Two weeks later I was admitted to the same hospital for extensive trauma caused by a “fall down the stairs.”

Mom loved him. It was her fault, she said. She just needed to be better. My sister-in-law was the same. It didn’t matter how hard my brother hit her. It didn’t matter when he made her miscarry their child. She loved him.

I always held some judgment. I couldn’t understand why. I could never love a man like my father.

Then Matt came. He was perfect. He bought me flowers and held me gently. He took me out to dinner and let me wear his jacket. He kissed my hands and took me dancing. He hit me hard, but I deserved it. He took me in when my father kicked me out. He held me up after my father blew my mother’s brains out and left me to scrub the stained countertops. He hits me but he loves me. He isn’t like my father. He doesn't hate me. He doesn’t want to hurt me. But he had to. It was my fault. He loves me.

Love isn’t just the pretty parts. Love isn’t just the picture-perfect wedding or the beautiful nuclear family. Love is the bruises you earn when you burn his dinner. Love is the way you shrink into yourself when he looks at you out of the corner of his eye. Love is the way you pull your hair back to hide the missing chunks. Love is the way you lie silently, waiting for him to stop. Love is the lies you tell like second nature. Love is in the makeup that can’t fully cover up. Love is the way your blood mixes with his kiss.

Love is pain.

According to the SCCADVASA (South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault):

  • 42.3 percent of women & 29.2 percent of men in South Carolina experience intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence, and/or stalking.
  • The average age of a domestic violence homicide is forty.
  • In 79 percent of domestic violence homicides, the death is caused by gunshot.
  • 32,563 cases of intimate partner violence each year are reported each year; however only 20,993 people accessed shelter or supportive services. Of these 1,908 adults & 1,480 children received shelter and 13,586 people called the crisis line.
  • In 2023, 272 people were turned away from shelters due to lack of space.
  • South Carolina has the sixth-highest number of women murdered by men.
  • Children raised in a household with an abusive parent are more likely to follow the abuse cycle, either as a perpetrator or as a victim.

The only way to improve South Carolina is to make it safe for the people who live in it. Awareness must be raised. Money must be allotted. Shelters must be funded, and abusers must be held accountable for their actions. The victims are more than just a statistic.

Catherine Milburn

About Catherine Milburn

Catherine Milburn is a senior at Ridge View High School in Columbia, where Nicole Walker is her magnet and AP research teacher. The daughter of Cheryl Milburn-Jenkins, Catherine will be majoring in environmental/conservation biology at Clemson University. 

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