I should have known better, but I continued to ignore the signs. My boyfriend’s uncle came by to talk to Leo about the investments they were planning. They sat around drinking tequila shots imagining how easy their lives would be with a lot of money.
Leo and Isabella were living in the Henry Horner projects with Casey, Leo’s friend. Isabella was Leo’s childhood friend from his hometown. She recently arrived. I was still staying with my mom. However, I spent most nights with Leo.
The complex was a hellhole with piss on the walls. The exterior hallways were accommodations for drug addicts who lingered everywhere. I carried a baseball bat when I came to visit. I had to use it a few times. Leo was fucking everybody, but I didn’t know that at this point.
I wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box at seventeen.
After drinking most of the day, Leo turned to his uncle and said, “Let me show you something. Let me show you how much control I have over Isabella.”
He told Isabella, “Do the Pledge.”
Isabella immediately stood up, put her hand over her heart, and spoke in a clear voice, “I Pledge allegiance to Leo. His welfare is ahead of mine. I will do whatever is needed to ensure that Leo’s life is wonderful.”
I was sitting on the couch; I turned my head in their direction thinking, “What the hell was that? Isabella don’t do that.”
His uncle, with a mischievous smile, said, “What about this one? Can you make this one say the Pledge?”
I stared at his uncle. I said nothing. Leo’s uncle poked him again. I stood up to leave.
Leo stood up and said, “Ava, say the Pledge.”
As I walked out the door, I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I raced down the street hoping beyond all hope that a bus was coming. No car was another symptom of poverty. If I’d had a car, I would have gotten in my car and driven away. But I didn’t have a car, so I had to take public transportation.
As I was making my way down the street, I looked back to find Isabella following me. I hesitated. She caught up and said, “Ava, you got to come back.”
I responded, confused, “Girl, I’m not going back. What are you talking about?”
“You got to come back now. You will be in a lot of trouble.” She sounded worried.
She grabbed my arm and pulled me. We were two grown women getting ready to get into a fight on the concrete sidewalk. I knew Bella was serious because she took off her heels and her jewelry. She was getting ready to beat me up to make me go back to say that stupid-ass Pledge.
To deescalate the situation I said, “I’ll go back with you, but I will not do it.”
When she let go of me, I took off down the street like a jackrabbit, running as fast as I could. She was faster than I was and caught me again
She continued to beg, “Please, come back with me.”
I relented and followed her back to the apartment. Leo looked at me and said, “Are you going to say the Pledge?”
I responded, “I will not do a Pledge to you, but I will promise to care for you and love you always.” His uncle was still drinking. He handed drinks to Leo and Isabella then tried to give me one but, I wouldn’t take it.
Leo said, “You don’t think there’s anything I can do that’d make you say the Pledge?”
“No,” I thought to myself, but I did not say a word. I looked at the floor.
I was wrong. Leo got a wire coat hanger. He straightened the coat hanger then he looked at me and said, “You will not say the Pledge?”
I said, “I will not say the Pledge,” and in response, he took the coat hanger and he whacked Isabella as hard as he could across the back. She gasped in pain but didn’t move.
He said again, “You’re not going to say the Pledge?”
I responded, “I’m not going to say the Pledge,” and he hit her again with the coat hanger.
Isabella and I were both crying while his uncle laughed. Leo just stood there, solemn. “Are you going to say the Pledge?”
I said again, “I’m not saying the Pledge.”
He went to the stove and heated the coat hanger. When it was hot, he hit Bella with the hanger again, and again, and again. Finally, I screamed, “I’ll say the damn Pledge. Stop it.”
As I stood there, he recited the words to the Pledge, and I said it. I said the Pledge filled with misery and self-loathing. His uncle was very pleased with himself.
What I thought was so crazy about this whole thing was Leo knew not to hit me. Leo knew that hitting an innocent because of me with the hanger would compel me to say the Pledge, and he was right.
What was I thinking to have stayed in a situation like that? I was in too deep to back out. No job, no friends — no nothing.
I had burned every bridge with my family, and my friends for this man. I ignored good advice.
I was standing in hell with Satan as my boyfriend with no way out.
I built a circle of fire around me and Leo to protect our relationship. Now, I was trapped in the circle feeling the heat.
Burn, baby, burn.
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