by: Heather Fawn
Attempting to defy a perilous reality by impetuously hanging onto the possibility of hope…..
I remember the day that you shot me. We were having one of those endless, soul-sucking fights that never come to resolution, and you rolled over in the dark and slipped the smaller of the two guns you kept by the bed through my tangle of curls, pressed it deeply into my jaw, and pulled the trigger.
I’m aware that that never happened. After all, I’m here, aren’t I? I remember the night that you hugged me too tightly when I told you I was leaving after you called me a bitch again, and I indignantly scrambled for my things. I remember you called me back to relieve me of your house keys and garage door opener. Then you went through the kitchen and into your bedroom, coming back with something cold, and dark, and shiny, and you shot me while I was walking towards the front door. Or so I imagined. Because whatever it was that you were walking slowly and deliberately into your room for, I left before I could identify it. Panicked and utterly afraid for my life, I was too scared to wait around and find out what you were doing. And I didn’t just see it happening. I felt it. I felt the absence of any hope or safety. So I left as fast as I could.
Though you never hurt me physically, the fear that you easily could have was so often present. In reality, I viewed your increasing supply of dangerous weapons as a vague intimidation. A subtle threat. Statistically, people end up using the weapons they own on the people they know – particularly during escalated domestic disputes. This statistic stayed with me all the time, visiting with me whenever you yelled, whenever you snapped your fingers and pointed in my face, and whenever you shoved a gun into your glove box or your back pocket, even though we were only going for a quick ride down the street.
I saw your face continue to get harder and less accommodating when you were angry with me. I saw the hope of forgiveness for the small transgressions that accompanied a stressful relationship give way to bitter intolerance and suspicion. This face becoming more and more visible as time went on until I couldn’t recognize you anymore. And while I read and posted countless articles on violence against women during the time we lived in your house together, I was constantly under the impression that it was only a matter of time before the verbal abrasion, the contrarian attitude toward my natural way of seeing the world, and the long list of negative and heavy adjectives you used to describe me, would finally amount to the kindling you needed to gather in order to burn me, wholly, down.
I once asked you about a picture of a gun you showed me. A gun that I said so clearly only existed to exterminate troublesome human beings. To which you sneered and in reply spat, “That’s some fucking liberal bullshit.” After twenty minutes of icy silence, I stood there transfixed, dazed in the flashing lights of the music festival, the one we had been looking forward to for six months, unable to recognize the person standing beside me. The other day I cried because I knew for sure that if I could dig down deep, and find a way to take ownership of my perceptions, without second-guessing myself, then I probably could have found right then and there the strength to leave you without so much as a moment of hesitation. To this day my parents’ failures continue to be my downfall, and their denial of my most basic of childhood necessities continue to be the things I must work on with an urgency that takes so much painful self-reflection and renovation.
We kissed on the first date, and I moved in with you by the third month. But it all fell apart for me the first night you disappeared, drunk, into the darkness with another girl, without even a care to tell me where you were going. You don’t know that I never regained my faith in you as a respectful, decent, kind, and generous human after that night. I knew from that moment on that you were the kind of person I would always have to fill in the blanks for. The kind that would make me wait for your sweet and boyish apology. And I also knew myself, and that I’d allow for a quick and unanalyzed forgiveness of any problems or issues that arose, in a desperate avoidance of feeling uneasy. I lived in fear because I never knew who you were. And I accepted your apology because I knew who I was. The scramble suit you wear is straight out of A Scanner Darkly, but it’s all chaotic and wrong. A nurturing teddy bear fading into a party guy, and a generous friend morphing into an angry verbal abuser.
The first time I told you I was afraid of you, you told me not to be as your face contorted with apathy and rage. The next time, you were ashamed. You said you had failed. Not me, though. Just in general. You never asked me how it felt. You never knew the way my entire being screamed at me from the pit of my stomach that something was beyond wrong, that something insidious was happening while I was with you. The third time I told you, exhausted by your incessant revisiting of the past, I was in the safety of an undisclosed address, and I told you the extent to which I was afraid of you. And you in turn called me an actress and a liar. You told me I had used you. You told me to leave you alone.
You’re right, you know. I got a lot of things wrong. And it mostly started with not trusting my instincts. Even now that we have been apart for awhile, I struggle with all of the ways I will need to watch my back, since clearly I am not so good at it. Sure, I am smart enough to know that I can trust people, but am I smart enough to know who it is that I can trust? You went from purring cat to ferocious monster at lightning speed, and the only warning signs I got were from my internal organs shouting things at me that made no sense. Their inability to spell out what the problem was made me feel crazy and judgmental and wrong. I will never ignore them again. Ignoring the tightness in my jaw, the sense of dread about coming home from work, my desire to shriek in unabashed horror the night I had to make sure your friend would make you sleep off your excessive indulgences and not get behind the wheel. And the amount of physical pain I felt the first night of a big fight when you wouldn’t allow me to stand my ground. You looked me in the eye with contempt, letting fat, poisonous words spill out of your mouth and infect me with their vitriol. Maybe that is when I knew you didn’t love me the way I loved you. But it was such a shock that I was temporarily paralyzed.
I forgive you, though. For all of it. I regret it and it changed me, but you don’t really know the extent to which you hurt people. I forgive you because I want to let it all go, and move forward as gracefully as I can possibly manage. I hope you can be happy someday. Authentically happy. I hope you can accept yourself, and be healthy. No one deserves to suffer the way you suffer. The cognitive dissonance of using and hurting people when you believe you are a kind person must be immensely painful. I hope you can find a way to stop it.
People don’t leave their abusers until they realize it’s a matter of life or death, because the process of becoming an abused person is gradual, and full of tactics to make the abuse seem innocuous or self-provoked. The reality of the ruination one faces is perhaps not even a physical death, but a death of the soul, a death of hope, and the death of the idea that love doesn’t feel like rusty nails driven deeply into your whole body just because you exist and you have proven with your presence that you can take it. Like me, sometimes people don’t leave because they are so adamant about denying their reality that they are willing to die just to be proven wrong. They want so desperately to be wrong about what it is that they are truly experiencing at the hands of someone who “loves” them. They want to validate the choices they’ve made, to feel like they didn’t so erroneously let a terrible person into their lives. “If he doesn’t kill me tonight, then maybe he won’t kill me after all. Maybe I am just crazy.” This is so common among even the strongest of people. This idea of trying to defy reality is not because we want to be hurt, but because we want only to see the possibility of hope. The idea that hope doesn’t exist is often far more painful to face than the countless ways we are torn to shreds by the primitive and aggressive behaviors of a narcissistic lover or family member or friend. My childhood taught me to stay and fight long after the entire empire has been destroyed. My childhood taught me that who I am is wrong. Recovering from my childhood taught me that you try to understand the entire story of your prison because it provides insight on ways to fix yourself. But the minute you decide to get away from the abuse, the longer you work to disentangle yourself from the twisted stories of who you are, told by people who only claim to know you, the more you realize that you are free. The stubborn idea that sticking around will bring lasting insight or closure is so dangerous. That is how people end up in the hospital, or the psych ward, or arrested. You will be provoked and prodded and poked until one of the two of you snaps. You will never be the hero to your abuser. You can only save yourself. You can only say you are a survivor if you actually survive. Maybe someday the abusive person will see the damage that they do, and change. But it’s not going to be you who changes them. If they didn’t want to hurt you, then they wouldn’t.
You go into the prison of abuse the way Hansel and Gretel went into the house made of candy. You are lured in by the promise of a redemption experience you have never known. The house is whatever you want it to be. It’s the best thing you’ve ever tasted, and the kindly, affectionate person inside knows exactly what you want and promises so sincerely to give it to you all the time, forever. By the time they tell you to get into the oven, you are still high on the sugar rush, and you do not want to disappoint. You don’t know how to say no anymore. You have become lost because the birds ate your breadcrumbs and you don’t remember how to get home (especially when you don’t know what or where home is). You cling to your last lollipop as you silently bake because you don’t remember that you used to feel healthy and capable, or you are forever in the wrong for choosing not to get into the oven because they did all of this for you and you need to comply with this one little thing. You came for a feast but you have become the feast, and this truth was in front of you the entire time. It is a terrible truth to face, that your closest confidante is actually your bitterest enemy. They may not even realize what they’ve done, or how far things have gone.
This leads me to question: Is the world really unsafe because it contains poisonous creatures? Would they still be poisonous if they were easily identified, and no one ever allowed themselves to be bitten? Perhaps what makes it just as unsafe to live here is the fact that there are people, like me, who will endure being bitten hundreds of times, trying to become immune to the poison, trying to understand why the poisonous creature chooses to be what it naturally is, trying to see the other body parts that make the creature something other than just poisonous, and then apologize to it when I keep reacting dramatically to being bitten. “I didn’t know you were a snake!” only makes sense the first time. People who choose to live amongst the venomous and naturally aggressive things in this world end up being maimed or killed, one way or the other. Maybe it’s a slow, agonizing death, until, even at the last breath, they finally implore, “Fine, you’re right, I give up, it’s my fault after all – I’m sorry for making you bite me!” We don’t need to live like this. We don’t need to understand, or adapt. I realized that I would lose much of who I was by acquiescing and conceding just to keep the peace. I didn’t want to become venomous in this process, so I cut all contact. The final death has taken place – the death of the person I thought he was. I bitterly mourn my inability to be more discerning, and that I was in love with an idea. Yes, I am stronger and wiser, but I also have scars that I am ashamed of.
Hey – who needs enemies? “Better the devil you know,” is a pretty terrible expression when you are living out that idea as an individual. People need to stop this however they can. They need to educate and listen to and truly respect their children. They need to remember to love themselves and never deny their own realities, no matter how isolated they become. They need to get out of situations long before they get out of hand, long before things are explicitly unsafe. My insightful gut instinct shouted at me day and night. We ignore such warnings at our peril. Society should teach people to respect their boundaries and insights without questioning them so much.
I, personally, will no longer subject myself to being a human research model. For the amount of times either my ex, his mother, or my family has said something hurtful, I am officially and without question a stubbornly and fiercely strong person, because it hasn’t crushed me completely. I don’t agree with or acquiesce to any of the passionate declarations he has about me as a partner, or a friend. I know who I am. It is a pity that he doesn’t, because I am really lovely, nearly all of the time. I am happy and relieved to have the courage to still be able to say so over the cacophony of his bellows and screams to the contrary.