Trigger warning: The article contains graphic details of physical violence in domestic abuse encounters.
“Absolutely stunning, kind-faced, blue-eyed girl,” is how Glee’s ever-notorious-for-her-ingenious-insults Sue Sylvester once described Melissa Benoist’s character, Marley. Given this was my first introduction to Benoist’s work, in retrospect, I realize truer words could not have been spoken about the actress. This definition holds true even more so today.
While Melissa Benoist’s persona was mounting success as she performed her way to stardom playing Kara Danvers on The CW’s Supergirl, what remained unbeknownst to most, however, was that her ‘performance’ didn’t end just there. Gathering perhaps every ounce of resolution that Melissa Benoist might have had, she recently unraveled her harrowing account of domestic abuse in a 14-minute video posted on her Instagram.
Benoist begins by introducing her former abuser as, “charming, funny, manipulative, devious,” making it impossible not to fall prey to his magnetic lure. As their relationship progressed, so did the abuse which rapidly transposed into seedy physical oppression of Benoist’s being. “I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard I felt the wind go out of me, dragged by my hair across the pavement, head-butted, pinched until my skin broke, slammed against the wall so hard the drywall broke, choked,” she explained.
The propelling reason behind such altercations was attributed to Melissa Benoist’s unavoidable interactions with male colleagues on set; making her work a ‘touchy subject’: “He didn’t want me ever kissing or even having flirtatious scenes with men.” Given her affiliation with the entertainment industry where her work entails being in close quarters with on-screen romantic partners, one can very well imagine the frequency of their ‘squabbles’. Benoist described the heavy toll it took on her career in general as “I began turning down auditions, job offers, test deals, friendships because I didn’t want to hurt him.”
Thus, this self-deprecatory mistreatment had become her faltering reality. She’d find herself scooped up after “what had just happened” and dumped in an empty bathtub with the faucet turned on in her abuser’s hopes of washing her off of his despicable sins. “Down the pipes, the argument would go with its indecency, the humiliation, sorrow, rage and myself. I went down the drain every time he put me in the tub. My fortitude, my worth that he had begun to define, my blood, my multitude of tears,” described Benoist in a heart-wrenching depiction of her former life.
As it turns out, self-awareness didn’t do much to salvage Benoist from being mired in this endangering existence she had begrudgingly ‘chosen’ for herself. “I knew how he was treating me was wrong, but I thought the consequences he would suffer if I exposed his behavior outweighed suffering through it,” Benoist recalled thinking to herself, “Would it be safe for me to leave?”
Unable to confront the brunt of these questions, the ghost of Benoist continued walking down the path of her debilitating reality; to the point of utterly annihilating everyone, she held dear. It wasn’t until he finally violated her face by throwing an iPhone at it and almost rupturing her eye—her vision is forever impaired—that she found herself snapping back to some semblance of reality. From here on, her tale took a detour to “violence begets violence” where she ‘fought back’.
What’s most disturbing, and perhaps most heartbreaking as well, is the degree of callousness with which her abuser made her cover his tracks. Having unraveled this incident as serving as the ‘last straw’ in their never-ending abusive relationship, she then goes on to explain how despite ‘something inside her breaking’ she protected him from being rightfully thrashed.
“We made up a flimsy story together: I had tripped and fallen on the stairs of our deck and hit my face on a potted plant. When the ER Doctors made him leave the room and cops came to question me at my hospital bed I told them our transparent story that I am sure they had heard versions of before.” The gruesome details silently warded off as a laughable ‘anecdote’ at best for the world to see.
Fortunately for Benoist, she was ‘bolstered’ by friends and family alike in her eventual decision to leave her abuser. “Leaving was not a walk in the park. It is not an event, it is a process. I felt complicated feelings of guilt for leaving and hurting someone I had protected for so long. And yes, mournful feelings of leaving something that was so familiar.”
Being a child of a non-violent yet abusive household, it wasn’t too disconcerting for me to find me relating to this personal narrative of hers. Fear of failing at relationships is not only eminent but our pervasive reality. Very sneakily, it strips a person from their sense of self to the point that the emphasis shifts completely from their ‘emotional health’ and onto keeping said relationship ‘intact’.
Albeit not having experienced ‘intimate partner violence’ myself, my personal experiences came to a close second a few times. A ‘friend’ I deemed very special had through his vivacious ways falsified my beliefs into supposing the best of him. Much to my dismay, he began abusing shortly after our relationship turned turbulent. From shoving me into a wall to hurling abuses at me whenever we had the misfortune of encountering, he too attempted to ‘define’ my self-worth. Perplexed and ashamed at his ‘180 turn’, I initially responded by fighting back.
But most times, however, I found myself panicking at the sight of him; running off into some corner where he couldn’t physically or emotionally coerce me into blaming myself.
The friends who sporadically happened to witness his cruel streak couldn’t be bothered enough to defy him. Rather irked by my ‘complaining’, I’d be simply asked to report the fellow if I was so ‘hot and bothered’. Of course, I couldn’t, because the mere thought of him being reprimanded—that too because of me—was far too unacceptable a notion.
In a way, Melissa Benoist’s words rang too true for me, her courageous graphic account constrained me to remember my own failures. I remembered how I failed to protect myself, my self-worth and most of all, my unwavering love, which had made a thousand excuses to forgive the romanticized-bully in my life’s shortcomings. Melissa broke her vow of silence, her muteness, just so you wouldn’t.
Let this moral from a ‘real-life superhero’ not go to waste; as we lift ourselves, and those we around us, to stand against our own self-sabotaging epilogues.