This story contains graphic details and photographs about a domestic violence incident that may be upsetting.
He was going in for a kiss, or so I thought. It was October 21, 2017, and my ex-boyfriend Seth was standing outside of my car, leaning his face toward me. I'd recently broken up with him, but he was begging me to take him back. When I told him "no," he started getting aggressive.
As he came closer, I backed up my head against the headrest. I had no idea what was happening, but he latched onto me, and then my mouth felt numb. I guess he spit my lip out, because when I looked down there it was, bloodied, on my leg. I started screaming at the top of my lungs.
Seth's lawyer would later say it was his way of leaving a mark on me for my next boyfriend.
I met Seth through a mutual friend during the summer of 2016. I was 17, a senior in high school, and he was 21, working as a hardwood floor installer. He lived a mile away from my house in Simpsonville, South Carolina.
Our relationship was toxic from the start, with lies and manipulation. My family and friends didn’t approve; they thought he was disrespectful and rude. But I was scared to get out of the relationship, because I thought he might harm me.
I also thought I shouldn’t give up on somebody, just because times were bad. I grew up in a single-mother home, so I didn’t exactly have an example of a good relationship to look up to.
I was trying to create my own fantasy of what love was. I thought I needed to stick with Seth through the good times and the bad.
After 11 months together and multiple attempts to end things, I finally broke up with him in September. I texted him to see if he wanted any of his stuff back, before I threw it away. He told me that he'd signed up to join the Navy and he wanted to see me.
I kept saying no, but I finally agreed to see him one last time on October 21, 2017.
At noon the next day, I drove my car to the parking lot of an apartment complex down the street from my house. I remember worrying that something bad was going to happen, so I parked my car a few rows away from Seth's car. He handed me flowers and a card that read, "I believe in kisses that last forever.”
He asked me if I had anything to say. When I told him I wasn't there to get back together with him, he started getting aggressive. I screamed at him, "This is it! You're getting aggressive and this is why we can't do this!" I ran to my car, but he followed me and got in.
That's when he attacked me. Seth bit me, then dragged me from the car. I started screaming. A man taking his trash out heard me and called 911 as Seth drove off.
Doctors told me that the piece of my lip was too badly damaged to re-attach to my face. Instead, surgeons performed a karapandzic flap surgery, cutting around my cheeks, to repair my mouth. When my mom got to the hospital, I was just getting out of surgery.
She was in tears, devastated, but I tried to make light of the situation, joking, "Well, at least I don't have to dress up for Halloween!" I knew if I let it get to me, then she'd fall, too. I couldn't bear to see that happen.
I got my stitches out a week later and underwent laser treatment to break up the scar tissue, which allowed for more movement. I've had broadband light treatment to take the redness out and therapy to massage it out. Last week, I met with a plastic surgeon for a Z-plasty consultation, which will allow the scar to stretch and become less noticeable.
It's been a year, and I definitely have my days of being angry and scared. After Seth was arrested, he wore an ankle monitor, but I still didn't like leaving the house. I was terrified he'd be waiting for me.
It's natural to look at something that’s not normal, to turn your head and wonder, "What happened?!" But people break their necks trying to look at my face—not to mention the stares. It made me feel like a monster, like I did something wrong. I still feel like that at times. As a young woman, I was already dealing with insecurities, and a big scar didn't exactly help.
On October 18 of this year, Seth pled guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. I feel like he should have gotten more. My biggest fear is what he'll do when he gets out.
(Editor's note: The state of South Carolina's press statement regarding Seth Fleury's sentencing can be found here.)
My new boyfriend Blake is a godsend. We'd been friends for a while and started hanging out right after I broke up with Seth. He's been there with me through surgeries and during Seth's trial. He's been such an angel and he's lifted me up on my worst days. He tells me I'm beautiful. He tells me that he loved my smile before, and he loves my smile now.
I started a Facebook group called Rise Above dedicated to helping people see the early signs of abuse, talking about how to get out of toxic relationships, and really just to show that there are better days ahead.
I came up with the name after seeing a quote on Pinterest that said, "She fought her battles the best she could, and she wore her scars as her wings.” So many people have scars from domestic violence, either physically or internally. I hope to show people that rising above is possible.
I've always said I'd rather this happen to me, than the next girl. But there shouldn't be a next girl, or a next anyone. I hope to hell what happened to me never happens to anyone else.