I used to be fearless.
I think that there was something so blissful about my fearlessness that I never fully realized until it had left me. My fearlessness was not bravery, it was a symptom of my lack of imagination when it came to what someone may do to try and hurt me—more than that—it was a lack of imagination about who could do something to hurt me. And that’s where the suffering was born. The burden of knowing it could be anyone, truly anyone, and that its not easy to reconcile the feelings that come after with the ones you expected you would have.
Being hurt by someone who I had never hurt—who I had spent a long time and a lot of resources and energy and a decent portion of my life trying to protect, was a pivotal point for me in the adult I would come to be. What’s worse, was that once I recognized that he was hurting me then, in that present, it opened all the doors and windows on my past with him. 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. In his selfish and teenage popularity he had been using me, and what I thought was affection and love I had for him, that I now know was never either of those things. He was someone I wanted to be validated by, and loved by, not because I actually felt that he and I were in love, but because I knew he liked me—I knew he liked me a lot, and it bothered me at a core and primal teenage level that he wouldn’t say so, or be with me when he so clearly wanted me, and his weakness and refusal made me chase him and that affection, and the reality that “I knew it the whole time.” I wanted him so that I could let it drop, I needed him to own it so I could feel like it wasn’t imaginary. I wanted him to just admit he wanted me, sober, in the daylight, in front of others, because he’d been telling me for years that his wanting me was the reason for all his bad behaviour towards me. That his feelings were so strong he simply could not help himself. And I would turn my pain over so it faced the dirt and step over it each time because I thought “he likes me, and that’s why he does it” but with each grope, each “truth or dare” session, each drunken handful of the back of my head, or hand in my pants while I slept at a party; every time he just took me, and then claimed it was because he was overcome with the need, I got more and more impatient for the big reveal that it had been me all along, and my deep need to hear him say it, grew. In my 17 year old mind, I thought it was love that I wanted from him, but it was relief. It was understanding. It was a period at the end of a long excuse, and I wanted it so bad I chased him for years. I wanted him to admit it and put it to rest so badly I avoided other serious relationships, I put myself in situations where he was at his worst so I could show my value again, and I always came through, because I thought it would help him get there faster, if loving me was so obvious. The consuming idea that I wanted to hear him say it, and own it, and claim his feelings for me, was mistaken by my child brain that didn’t even know what love or mutual understanding felt like, thought the words would make it all mean something, and I thought that meaning was love. I thought that wanting that, and wanting him were one and the same. And I didn’t know they weren’t until I got it, until I finally at long last, got him.
When it first happened, I was elated. Even now, I think back to the first week, on vacation, and it happened all at once, and it was like a drug it felt so good to walk up the street holding his hand. He was sober, for the first time since we were in grade school. It was August in the Pacific Northwest and he would run up ahead of us on streets early in the morning and pick figs, and we would eat them and walk all day and go buy bread and coffee. I felt like, all the “I couldn’t help it” “you have this pull” “I lose control when I am drunk around you because—don’t make me say it” was true and that yeah, the way he expressed it, the tone of the affection, was off before but the content was pure and good, and I had been right, and it felt amazing. It wasn’t that he was hurting me it was the context—it was the conditions that were wrong, but the love made him do it, so it was all okay, the whole back catalogue redefined. The first few days together felt like a spell. I loved him for real during that time, so much that I swallowed all the poison that came after, and avoided looking the reality of my situation, my relationship, and it’s demise, for what felt like forever.
It’s hard for me even now to unfold it. Sitting here now, I hate him, thoroughly and completely, I hate him. I don’t hate that week though, or who he was and how it felt, I still feel my heart break thinking about it, like I lost something truly magical, something I wanted to be real so bad. In that little foyer of our relationship, it looked like I was walking into something beautiful. I thought, it’s all over, all that old circumstantial bullshit is so far back now because we’re grown and our group’s social dynamic won’t affect us anymore and even if they are involved, who can break it now, it’s in the open, there’s nothing anyone needs to steal or hide now.
All the shit before, I predicted and expected it. He had always done it. He had done it 3 months earlier when we just had reconnected (drunkenly tried to drag me into a trailer to fuck him after I said no 20 times and pushed him off me to pass out alone in a field) because I was in a serious relationship (that I didn’t realize was about to end.) He had done it also the last few times before that. And I expected it, always, if he was drinking, there’d be some apology to come the next day. And I brushed it off, because the circumstances were the same as always.
It was when he did it again. When he did it, after our perfect week together, in the new world, that everything came crashing down around me. The first of unshakable betrayals, and the first sign that the narrative, the excuse, wasn’t the truth.
I almost walked away, like 10 days in. Halfway through the vacation, he started drinking again. And our lovely walks turned into him going from bar to bar trying to get another off-sale bottle of wine, because I had told him we had some, but it was only half a bottle, and after persuading me to drink some, I was way way drunker than him. (I can’t drink, I can’t process alcohol so when I consume it, I get very drunk very fast and the longer I go without throwing up the more drunk I get) The familiar words were spoken “it’s not okay if I am this sober and you are that drunk” in high school they meant, “I want to take advantage of your current state but I cannot ethically enter the grey area that I need for cover unless I match or exceed your level of intoxication” but that was then and we were together, so why did he need to be drunk? I remember being really bummed that he was so consumed with getting more wine. He had been sober a couple years but recently broke it at his sisters wedding, and I thought he was past the need to get more and more fucked up as the night went on, but here we were out spending our night looking for more booze for him. I thought “I have been way less drunk than you, like 9/10 times we have hung out so why cant you just look after me and not be wasted?” But inside I knew the answer. Confirmed a few hours later, the same as before, he still wanted to push me against walls and pull my hand to his crotch. He wanted to push my boundaries and say things to me like “I think it’s high time someone had sex with you outside” and other things that made me uncomfortable but excited him. It would be a year before I realized that he seemed to be aroused specifically by my discomfort.
The night with the drinking was awkward. The energy between us was all off and I was feeling the gloss come off it all. The next day we road tripped to another city nearby to see friends and that was where the wheels came completely off. He raped me for the first time in the bathroom at our friends house. I didn’t call it that at the time, or even see it like that for months. I remember he followed me into the bathroom with all our friends in the other room, and I thought we were stealing away for a minute to make out but he escalated quickly. “I don’t think I want to” I said “it’s fun, relax” “no, our friends are out there I just don’t want to” “everyone does it they won’t even know” “they will know, and I’m not comfortable, this isn’t me” “you need to relax, have fun, it’s okay to have fun” all the while pushing me against the sink. “It’ll be quick, so quick.” And it was. The first time ever the defining “quick” instead of “no” compromise was made, one I would make dozens more times. He left me in there when he was done so I could collect myself. I felt, fucked up. I left the bathroom after him and my friend made a comment “wonder what you two were doing in there” and I said “he needed help—with something” and she said “yeah, I bet!” And I felt embarrassed and miserable. So I walked out to the balcony, and started drinking. I drank until I was staggering. Because I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to remember any of it.
As the evening progressed we went to the bar. We were out with him, and an ex boyfriend from when I was 16, and another friend. The 3rd guy, made a comment about being the only guy at the table who hadn’t seen my tits (classy) and so, my now requited love, pulled my shirt down to expose my tits to the table, in the middle of the bar. I lsughed it off, trying to seem like a cool girl, but inside I was mortified. I got up to go to the bathroom to collect my head again, the room spinning, and wishing I wasn’t so drunk, suddenly someone was holding me by the waist. I turned shocked and it was him, trying to fuck me in another bathroom. I threw him out, this time shouting. When I returned to the table he was flirting with some other girls nearby, and told me “you know I’ve always been flirty, it’s just fun” a pattern of “if you won’t some other woman will” that also dogged our whole relationship.
When we finally went to sleep that night, after I had a long talk with my friend about how it had been fun for a bit but I was going to end it the next day, he encouraged me to talk it through. Said all night all he had talked about was how much he loved me. This was also foreshadowing. He began telling friends he loved me, loudly and securely, whenever he thought he may be in trouble, knowing they’d advocate for him to me. Our friend said he probably just got freaked out and acted like his old self to cover some insecurity. That night I slept away from him, so ice cold that he woke up and immediately, feeling my energy, blurted out “what happened?!” So I told him. And he was so upset that he convinced me this was a freak accident. One that would never occur again.
I should have ended it that morning, like my gut told me to. That’s the second part of the lesson. Anyone can hurt you, but not everyone does. I think in his own weird and distorted way he had a tilted or misdirected love for me, as I did for him. I think I represented something for him, be it lust or stability or an idea about adulthood or escape. A means to an end or a mother figure. Maybe just closure. There was something that made him continue to try and repair things when his selfishness and his knowing he could use me got him in trouble. I don’t think he repaired me to use me again, I think he just used whatever and whoever was closest, and most likely to forgive him. He was an advantageous predator, not a planner, nor a hunter. He was selfish, and his wants overrode everything else when he wanted.
It’s been hard to move past what I know now about safety. It’s been hard not to blame myself or believe that it was my own wants and a desire to be accepted or loved that led me to my slaughter, again and again, when I knew the wolf was in the woods, and I had been bit so many times before. It makes me run from anyone I start to care for. I don’t trust myself when I want to be loved by someone–I don’t trust that they won’t take advantage of me dropping the blast shield. It’s hard to process the betrayal. And worse to look back and realize it was all a betrayal, one lie on the next on the next. That these weeks in my mind, walking the streets at dusk eating figs, sitting by the ocean with the dogs in the surf, climbing through windows and sitting in trees, that those were the moments that did the most harm, because without them, I would have thrown this person from my life and not looked back. That those moments filled with love and happiness, were what cuffed me to the problem, to the abuse. That the joy and the security and the kinship I felt then, for those few relieving moments, were the parts that were the exceptions, and that I used them to erase warning signs, and warning shots.
And all the same, everyone I meet now that I feel that pull towards, I second guess, and turn from. All my relationships I wonder when they’ll turn, what they’ll take from me, when they’ll hurt me. Because sometimes the person who hurts you the most, in the story of your whole life was the person you tried the hardest to be with. Sometimes the person who hurts you is the person you wanted to like you, who you knew liked you. Sometimes the person who hurts you the most is the one who didn’t even make excuses in the end. They just drank and acted up and you learned the drill. Sometimes the person who hurt you taught you that people can love you and still hurt you, and not think there’s anything hypocritical about it. Sometimes the person who hurt you, calls you toxic or manipulative, because you tried to think of 100 other reasons to break up without saying a harsh word, without having to admit to yourself or anyone else you were in a long-term abusive relationship, with a boy you had chased, and loved, and rejoiced to be with at long last.
Sometimes the person who hurt you, goes on with their life and they carry none of it, not one piece of guilt or shame or doubt. They go through life light as a feather afterwards and that’s how you know–in your bones you know, they never loved you. Not at all.
And that can be really hard.
The burden of knowing, after all these years and all these excuses, that they didn’t hurt you because they loved you and the timing was wrong. They just hurt you, and it doesn’t bother them one bit.