An Article on Domestic Abuse

Cece Phillips , Reporter

There are many things I love about Sophia Sophia, a 2013 graduate of Arrowhead High School. I love her perfect smile, her bubbling personality, her wildly curly hair that never stays the same color for long, and eyes that put even the sky to shame. I love how she doesn’t take crap from anyone, and how when we lock eyes we know exactly what the other is thinking, despite our six-year age difference. But the thing I love the most about Sophie is that I can call this beautiful, eccentric, and unapologetic girl my big sister.

As we chatted through the small hours of February 26,  I saw a side of her I’d never seen before. I watched as her voice wavered and struggled to find the right words to express her feelings and her story; I witnessed her blueberry-colored eyes recall a painful memory. But for the whole time I relived these memories beside her, my sister remained steady. She pushed through, and her story came alive with a silent strength—the kind you can feel within every inch of your body. I watched my fierce sister crack and crumble, and then shatter before my eyes, but I also saw her rebuild herself as she remembered this past year, and the four years before that.

Sophie first met Alex* while working as a server for a Mexican restaurant called Seester’s, where Alex also worked as a cook. She’d just turned 19, and he was 24. She was initially attracted to him because “He was hot. First of all, he was hot,” Sophia said.

He was the first boy that really showed her attention. According to her (although I wholeheartedly disagree), she had never been the girl that boys wanted, and it felt good to be liked.

“Alex showed an interest in me and that was really exciting because I was not used to being hot….I was used to guys not really looking at me, so when somebody looked at me I was like, ‘Oh. Sh*t,’” said Sophia.

Alex has Bipolar Disorder, which Sophie found out years later, and in hindsight he was probably in a manic stage at that time (high energy, excited and hyper), which drew her to him.

“You wanna be around people who have good energy, ya’ know what I mean?” said Sophia. “I feel like we did have a lot in common at first, it was like one of those free spirit things where neither of us really belonged where we were anymore…we found camaraderie in each other.”

Alex had just come back from Iowa City where he was struggling through culinary school, and Sophie had just come back from Eau Claire where she’d attended college for about a year. They were both living in very “Republican, conservative, white neighborhoods,” she said.

That was a big struggle for Sophia, who, after living in Eau Claire for a year, had trouble assimilating her new open-mindedness back to the rudimentary ways of the people in the area.

“[Before I went to Eau Claire] I was afraid of gay people, which is super embarrassing but also I feel like I need to talk about it because…that’s something that shouldn’t happen. These are the problems that we have…I was very much brainwashed to think, you know, ‘Oh, gays are bad’… ‘Gay is bad because it’s different, and different is bad.’…and we didn’t have anybody there to say ‘Actually, here’s some diversity for you,’” she said.

Sophie and Alex quickly gained feelings for each other, and within a few months, they were dating. Our parents didn’t approve from the get-go. The age difference was a big obstacle for our family. Plus, Sophie didn’t feel like they even gave Alex a chance. Alex wasn’t blameless though; Sophie felt as though he didn’t even try to get our family to like him.

“I feel like it wasn’t too bad, but by no means was it a good relationship. A lot of it was me shrinking into this person that I thought Alex wanted to be with, because I wanted to be wanted so badly,” she said.

Over the next few months, Sophie and Alex stayed strong in their relationship, despite the unanimous disapproval from our family. Sophie would sneak out at night to see Alex, and would stay out past her curfew frequently, which angered our parents—our mother especially. After about two years of dating, Alex and Sophia decided it was time they escaped the grasp of their overprotective  families, and moved to a dingy one-bedroom apartment in Madison two days before Sophie’s 21st birthday.

“Moving to Madison, I really kind of found my own,” she said.

Sophie started a job as a server and hostess at a restaurant called The Avenue Club and Bubble Up Bar, where Alex worked on the prep line.

After moving to Madison, however, things between Sophie and Alex quickly took a turn for the worse. Sophie turned 21 years old on August 17th, but instead of going out and celebrating this newfound freedom , Alex constantly told Sophie he didn’t want to go out.

“His excuse was always ‘well, I’m 26 years old, and you’re 21, and that is past me, I’m not in that stage of my life anymore where I wanna go out and party and drink and stuff.’ which wasn’t true at all,” she said.

This, in my opinion, was where the abuse began.

“Right when we moved here [to Madison], he kind of took a turn, we got into a HUGE fight, over nothing, two weeks after we moved to Madison together, to the point where he was screaming at me through the bathroom door, and I was sitting, crying in the tub. I had locked the bathroom, he broke the door,” she said.

I remember when my mother and I came to visit Sophia a few weeks after she moved in, and the bathroom door didn’t close all the way—like it was ripped off its hinges and didn’t fit in the frame correctly. Sophie told us it was always like that, and we believed her. I wish we didn’t.

I asked her why she didn’t say anything, why she didn’t tell anyone. We could’ve helped her, we could’ve done something—anything. But she remained silent.

“I didn’t wanna tell anyone about it mostly because I didn’t know anyone in Madison, and I felt like [Mom and Dad] were gonna come and get me, and I had worked so hard to—to finally save up to move out, and I also really wanted it to work with Alex,”she said.

Alex had gotten into Sophie’s head. She was blinded by what she thought was love. She had finally gotten free of our childhood home, she couldn’t just go back two weeks after. And so she stayed with Alex.

Throughout the interview, Sophie bounced back and forth between condemning Alex and defending him, trying to justify the abuse Alex inflicted on her.

“In his defense, he organized all of us moving here and everything and he helped me figure out how to finance stuff which was really nice, and that’s something that I didn’t find with Mom or Dad. So that was good, that was a good part,” she said.

But in a healthy, long-term relationship, there should be more good than bad. Alex’s constant manipulation kept Sophie from uncovering the reality of the situation.

“I thought it was just because we didn’t have a lot of friends that he was just hanging out by himself, and he was staying home and and not doing things with me…I should’ve seen the signs at that point where it was becoming kind of abusive,” she said.

It didn’t stop there. Over the next two years they lived together, Alex became more and more manipulative and abusive.

“He never hit me hit me, he—he never—smacked me or punched me…I did get hit [with] the bathroom door by him a couple of times, I think it was more in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t trying to hurt me necessarily, but it was just—[that’s] not an excuse to hit somebody with a door, it should never have even happened once, let alone like three times—but those were always when we were having like very violent fights, like emotionally violent fights. He pushed me on the bed once, but those are only like…to keep me from leaving the [apartment] and going away,” she said.

Alex isolated Sophie from our family. We didn’t hear from her for almost two years, and when we did it was mostly small talk. Any time Sophie came home to visit, she was always accompanied by Alex. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but in hindsight, he was probably there not because he wanted to connect with our family, but to make sure Sophie didn’t mention anything he didn’t want us to know.

Sophie recalls one night in November when she finally got Alex to come out with her. They were at a bar with work friends.

“[Alex] was grouchy, he was depressed, and I was just really pulling for him to try...and he was being really…annoying…none of my friends wanted to sit and talk to him…He was bumming smokes and saying these really really obnoxious things that I didn’t really agree with and didn’t make sense to me…and he had very very skewed points of view on stuff. And he came and like sulked next to me and he was like ‘nobody wants to hang out with me,’” she said.

Sophie started to lose hope. She became noticeably upset, and her friends Andy, Evan, and Anthony consoled her and asked her what was wrong. When she told them how Alex was feeling, they made an effort to talk to him which was, as she said, “so nice.”

It was at that point that Sophie realized something, saying, “People didn’t really, like Alex, and they liked me, and I was the only reason that they talked to Alex. And I was like this isn’t—I can’t live my life with people hating my boyfriend,” she said.

As Sophia and Alex got up to leave, another coworker “said one of the meanest things anyone has ever said to me. This guy is notorious for just saying the meanest [stuff] that comes out of his mouth. It’s hilarious, but it’s mean, and I was not stable enough for that…as we were leaving he goes, ‘How does it feel to be a queen screwing a trash can?’…That was the breaking point…That solidified the opinions of all my friends about my boyfriend…I got into the Uber and I was crying and Alex’s like ‘What’s wrong?’ and I was like ‘I can’t tell you, it’s so…mean. It would kill you,’” she said.

And so they drove home, Sophie upset, Alex depressed, and their relationship on its last leg. Over the next few weeks, Sophie slowly realized just how unhealthy her relationship with Alex was.

“He kind of gave up, about halfway through, and I was trying to make ends meet and kind of pull him out of this depression…it got to the point where I became his caretaker,” she said.
Sophia tried to break up with him a few times, but each time he threatened suicide, telling her if she left him he would end his own life. Finally, in January, the breakup stuck, but that was the least of Sophia’s problems. The lease on their apartment didn’t end until the next August, so she was stuck with Alex for another seven months.

He had agreed to staying in the apartment with her and paying rent until the lease was up, but after a few days, Sophie came home to an empty apartment, and not a single departing word from Alex. So she was stuck paying rent by herself on a waitress’s salary. She was so short of money, living off almonds and water, and couldn’t even return $40 that she’d borrowed from a friend earlier that year.

The months passed, her lease ended, and she moved in with her friend Katja. That’s when she formally met Connor, dubbed Hot Connor, and I’m assuming you can guess why. A few months later, they started dating, and immediately Sophie realized how much better her relationship with Connor was compared to her relationship with Alex.

“When I was with Alex I was so used to him constantly texting me and constantly giving me attention or whatever, and [Hot] Connor, has his own life, which is so awesome,” she said.

Connor also stays involved with our family, and he and Sophie visit every few weeks when they both have time off from work.

“I don’t wanna live a dual life, I wanna live an incorporated life…My family is really important to me, that’s something that I realized, being isolated away from them for two years,” she said.

Now, a little over a year later, Sophie is doing better, she makes more jokes, she speaks her mind and she doesn’t let anyone walk all over her. She understands her worth and knows how she should be treated.

When I asked her if she regrets dating Alex, she said she didn’t know for sure.

“We had both gotten what we needed out of the relationship, which was getting out of a small town and getting a foot in the door…There was definitely a point when I loved him [Alex],” she said.

We concluded the night just how we had started it, with laughter and unwavering grins, happy to simply be in each other’s company. I watched her break out her perfect smile and I witnessed the spark in her bright blue eyes, and I hoped that the life she leads keeps that spark in her eyes and the shimmer in her smile.

I hope whatever she chooses to do, it’s her choice. But most of all, I hope I never again lose the beautiful, eccentric, and unapologetic girl I call my big sister.


*names have been changed for anonymity