While reeling from what I felt was a development in cruelty towards me, and selfishness on his part, I couldn’t really muster all that much shock. It wasn’t shocking and I couldn’t figure out why there was no urgency in my response. Why I felt so comfortable and calm about the abuse I was starting to realize I was living with. And the more I reached down into myself to see why it was that it felt so empty and flat, when it should have felt sharp and agonizing, was simple, once I saw it. He’d been doing it the whole time.
I came to understand that yes, it could be anyone who could hurt me. This man who said he loved me, could hurt me. This person I was friends with most of my life, could hurt me. This man who I had helped, sheltered, followed into the darkness, and walked through the other side, could hurt me. And so anyone could hurt me. And he was hurting me, and he had been for almost as long as I had known him.
When I had given up on getting it to not happen, I figured at least I could try and build some fences. He wasn’t to come past if he was drunk, he was too much to handle those nights. He immediately found and exploited loopholes. There would be a party, I would say “I’d rather not go…” he would say “I won’t drink, not a drop. Come with me, please. It will be good for us” so I would go. Within 10 minutes of arriving he would disappear, and 30 minutes later return to me, wasted. I would go cold as ice, angry, but only we knew our deal. One night I just refused to acknowledge him once he got drunk, and had avoided him for about 2 hours, when he found me speaking to a friend outside. He pushed in front of the friend, interrupting the conversation and jammed his tongue into my mouth. I shoved him off, revolted and betrayed. “So cold!” Another friend jeered. He throws up his hands “My girlfriend, the ice queen” (he called me this often, with great enjoyment) laughter. My friend said “aww, Jenny, he loves you.” And it hung in the air like she had burped in my face. Oh does he? DOES HE? I started to hate being told how loved I was. Feeling the crowd on his side he leans to kiss me again, I say “no!” And move evasively. He immediately deflates “I can’t even kiss my own girlfriend” and sulks away. Several people tell me to go after him, that he’s inside talking about how much it hurts that I don’t show him affection, I am told to be nicer to him. He of course left out the part where he agreed to not drink, isn’t supposed to be around me when he is drunk, and all of our painstaking conversations about my boundaries. He drinks more, gets too drunk to bike home and is loaded into my car. I’ll have to get him into bed on the second floor of his building or mine. God save the Ice Queen.
I remember when I first began to tell people I was unhappy with my would-be rapist. It was as though, other people were invested in my being happy *staying with him* even if I wasn’t actually happy *being with him.* Friends would remind me “but you had a crush on him for like, your whole life!” Maybe I had, but an important distinction between a crush on your friend and finally dating the guy is that one of them is almost entirely built on expectation, and lives solely in your mind, and the other is built on experiences, and lives mostly in your apartment.
Yes I did have a crush on him forever, and dating him for a fortnight cured me of it completely. This was very difficult for people to grasp. I suspect it is because they had a crush on my relationship, and their expectations and minds eye had constructed a cute fairytale romance where the two artsy weird kids that were attached to each other through their teens that everyone thought made an adorable pair had finally figured it out and were together. Which, in your mind seems sweet and worth saving, but in reality I was the girl doing all his homework while he listened to my records, and eventually I was the adult in grad school starting a business and he was the guy who tried to do a cartwheel in her living room and broke the fridge.
Understanding that the trauma wasn’t a continuum or a story with a beginning middle and end, was a healing moment—it was liberating. Suddenly I no longer felt like I wasn’t doing it right or “moving past it” as though such a place on the horizon existed and I hadn’t arrived at the point where it was officially “behind me.” Mythically “over it.” An impossible escape that I am sure now doesn’t and will never exist. When I realized the trauma was more like a tattoo, an ever fading, stretched out, “used to mean something different to me than it does now,” but always on me, piece of who I am, I felt better. I can’t outrun my arm. I can’t break out of my head. I can’t “get past” myself or my own life—which is why it hadn’t been working all the times I had tried to. Accepting that the trauma and the things that happened to me live exclusively inside of and on top of me was really important, because it helped with the other part that I had struggled to unpack, which is that the story and how I comb through it, changes—it changes a lot.
Already I can see the hair on some dudes neck stand up—”the story changes a lot?” Oh yes. Not the facts. Not what happened. Those things stay calcified in place, but I change, and the people around me tell me their stories, ones running parallel to mine and that changes things further. When I heard what he did it to other women, it changed the way I felt, like it wasn’t something that I had personally summoned. When I look back at being 14 and him hovering around my desk talking about the way I looked after I had lost my kid weight and my kid glasses, it’s different than it was when I was the insecure child at the desk becoming friends with her rapist. The story expands as my understanding of myself does. The story inhales the new information, and exhales a renaissance of context. The story shifts, pivots, tilts, weaves, bulges out thick and deep in some places and peaks narrow and sharp in others.
Ask a survivor of an abusive relationship if loving their abuser changed their situation.
Ask a survivor of an abusive situation if “leading with love” made all the difference when that man got angry or hurt or wounded or insecure.
Ask a survivor or an abusive partner, if loving him made it easier or harder to leave.
As a survivor, if you want to know about the power of love against hatreds that are rooted in power and entitlement and selfishness and desire.
I loved my rapist. He still fucking raped me. I loved him long before he raped me, and for too long afterwards. For a long time I thought of him as my one true love—and he was hurting me the entire time.
What it took me years to realize was that these people are our partners, our friends, our parents, our co workers, our bosses, our heroes, our acquaintances. They are all of those things, AND then on a dime, with one decision, they can simultaneously become our abusers. And they don’t cease to be all the other things they are and were just because now they are also rapists. And it is no small feat to suddenly have to unpack it. And a lot of survivors don’t unpack it. I didn’t. For a decade I just put that box in my basement and went “That’s a whole mess I can’t take on and survive.” And I swallowed hard and I decided I would be a “cool chick”, the option he gave me for how to forget the abuse, and move past it.
Understand that we get NO rewards for speaking out and EVERY reward for swallowing that razor blade and soldiering forward.
Trauma steals the story from us. But it does not steal us from the truth.
It’s hard to even put the story together at first—what they did, why, how it started, when it started. Who you were when it happened and how it came to be. What did you do or say? What did you think? What did you try? When did it get this bad, go this far, slip out of our control. Maybe it was never in our control. That’s a lesson that took me years to come to. Maybe for all my control, all my strength, all my feminism and all my bravado, the reason it happened was because I couldn’t control someone else, and they decided to do it. What kind of story is that? Not one I can tell the way I wanted to tell it.