Tag Archives: really fucking personal

Shadows

[content note: assault]

I don’t want to write this. It’s an ugliness that needs to be acknowledged, but it’s damn uncomfortable.

I am used to seeing threats where there are none. Hypervigilance is constant. It keeps me awake nights, tells me everywhere a danger is, everywhere it might be. I see things in shadows when nothing is there.

One night last week I rolled over in bed and saw a shadow. Just a dark shape in a dark room at three thirty in the morning when there’s nothing else to see.

A shadow. At three thirty in the morning. The familiar split: rational brain saying “hush, it’s nothing.” Anxiety brain saying “That is a man. Hurt him. Hurt him and run.” I held them both, believed them both. A shadow is nothing. A shadow could be anything. I should reach for a weapon, or turn on a light. It’s probably nothing, but just in case.

A shadow covered my face with his hand. I shrieked and kicked. He ran. I kept screaming for my roommate. She let the dog out and came running. Turned on lights. Took a moment to dress, get through a rushed explanation, arm ourselves, and search the house. A door was unlocked (no, there is no possibility that either of us failed to lock it, or failed to check the locks. Hypervigilance means checking, over and over, no matter how sure).

We called the police. Waited. Waited. Waited. Talked to a detective (who took us seriously, thank God), and our landlord (who did not). I didn’t want to wait for an undetermined “later” for an unknown handyman to change our locks. We did it ourselves and added more security.

We’re fine. No one hurt, nothing taken. In daytime, I’m alright. Just tired. At night, there are shapes in shadows and I can’t keep my eyes closed. And I’m angry. Because I know I’m not any less safe now than a week ago, but I feel it. Because how dare anyone or anything make me feel afraid in my own home.

Oblivious male responses have been hurtful, some even panic-inducing. Predictably, they don’t take it well when called out. To them, this incident was anomalous, shocking, damn near unbelievable. I’ve gotten “you don’t know there was any kind of malicious intent.” (Uh. A man invaded a home and put his hands on a naked woman in her sleep. There is no possible intent that isn’t malicious. He’s literally already committed a burglary and assault by getting to that point.) One worst-possible-attempt-at-reassurance “If he’d really wanted to rape you, you wouldn’t have been able to stop him.” (What. The. Fuck. Dear men: stop thinking about how easy or difficult it would be to overpower women. What is wrong with you.)

Everyone else knows it’s not anomalous, not even uncommon. Women aren’t safe, because men do this. We sit in a circle around a collection of weapons, install alarms, set up safe calls for each other, discuss taking martial arts classes or getting a bigger dog. It’s not okay. We shouldn’t have to. And it won’t make us safe, but what else can we do?

So I’m getting back to normal. We all are. But normal is seeing shapes in the shadows. Normal is being told it’s probably nothing (you know, statistically) by people who have not lived in fear. (By men.) Normal is fear, and the worst part is that it’s rational. I’m tired. I haven’t slept substantially for days, but that’s not it. I’m tired of being afraid all the time.

[I’m disabling comments. I realize folks feel the need to provide their insight and commentary, or ask incredibly invasive questions. It’s not wanted, thanks.]

In Memoriam

This would be a prayer, if I prayed.

Let me be not alone. Let the broken parts be whole.

Let me be rocks and water.

Let me be not alone. As if Job was not still alone in the end. As if grief were a pit you could climb out of. As if learning what you can survive didn’t come with a terrible price, as if it did not wake a terrible pride that will forever stir the dust of old memories with its pacing.

Let the broken parts be whole. As if healing did not leave scars. As if mended parts could ever forget how easily they were broken. As if a day could pass without running fingertips along the fault lines. As if nerves grew back.

As if faith did not sometimes say dear God take my faith away. It is making me go on. I can’t go on.

I could say, “He would have been thirty.” I know better. If it hadn’t been that day it would have been another. The next year, or the year after that. Mental illness can be terminal. We don’t like to say it but it’s true.

I don’t mean to think of him. It takes so little. A shock of red hair, a crooked smile behind a beard, a voice made clear from years of speaking on stage. Sometimes it’s nothing to do with him at all–I read an essay about adding to the boundaries of human knowledge, wonder what he would say about the boundaries of the arts. There’s still the hike of anticipation for conversations that are never going to happen. Thinking “he would love this,” or “he would be so disappointed.” Would, not would have. After long enough you’d think that impulse would stop. I wish it would. I’m terrified it will.

I’m so afraid of losing what little I have left of him. The exact hazel of his eyes, the cadence of his voice. What if I forget the names he chose for daughters he never had? If I lose the slow, serious talks about his church, his faith, his god? The mistakes we didn’t make (I wish we had). The two a.m. shouting matches, the hurt, how easy it was for both of us to forgive.

The one letter I keep coming back to. “You’ve forgiven me more times than God.” Not an apology, not thanks, just that. “You’ve forgiven me more times than God.”

For him, I believed in always. Because of him, I don’t.

But none of it matters and it was so, so long ago. And I haven’t let it go.

Let me be rocks. Let me be water.

Unconditional

“I made up my mind I was going to find someone who would love me unconditionally three hundred and sixty five days a year, I was still in elementary school at the time – fifth or sixth grade – but I made up my mind once and for all.”

“Wow,” I said. “Did the search pay off?”

“That’s the hard part,” said Midori. She watched the rising smoke for a while, thinking. “I guess I’ve been waiting so long I’m looking for perfection. That makes it tough.”

“Waiting for the perfect love?”

“No, even I know better than that. I’m looking for selfishness. Perfect selfishness. Like, say I tell you I want to eat strawberry shortcake. And you stop everything you’re doing and run out and buy it for me. And you come back out of breath and get down on your knees and hold this strawberry shortcake out to me. And I say I don’t want it anymore and throw it out the window. That’s what I’m looking for.”

― Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

There’s a certain kind of love, when the impossible happens and agape settles over eros, storge, and philos. It is unconditional.

Unconditional love is a horrible thing. I suspect those who want it are lucky and unimaginative both: it doesn’t occur to them just how bad conditions can be. Even as a kid I sneered at it: the Giving Tree was a cautionary tale, surely, about giving up oneself for someone who may not care at all.

When it happens, it’s not by choice. I don’t want it. It’s more than vulnerability. It’s illogical. It pushes aside “why do I even care?” no matter how valid the question. Why doesn’t matter. Supporting this person will be a priority. I’ll sort myself out later.

It’s automatic. Unexpected, the first time. I’d always been so good at walking away from anyone who hurt me. From anyone, really; cut-and-run was an easy solution to any argument. But there I was, wedged in the back of a closet in the middle of the night with an overheating cell phone pressed against my face. Listening to a voice I’d heard grow and change all the way from childhood say “You’re so much smarter than I am, and I can make you an idiot. That’s all you had going for you–being smart. If you’re not bringing that to the table anymore, what good are you to me? I never cared. I just wanted to see if I could make you care. If I could break you. It was easy.” There was more. I don’t remember–I spent the better part of that night in fugue–but he said there was worse, later. That he was too ashamed to repeat it, that it was inexcusable, unforgivable, and please-believe-me none of it was true.

Inexcusable. Unforgivable. He was probably right.

I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t tell him to stop, ask why, apologize, beg, anything. The closet was a safe space: small, cramped, easy to control. I could lock out the whole world, every threat and person and object except my own clothes and shoes. I brought the phone with me. He was causing the panic, too-calm words spinning me into nothing like a spell, but I brought him with me. I was so afraid that whatever had caused this was hurting him. I couldn’t go unless he told me to, couldn’t hang up in case he needed help.

Inexcusable, but I spent weeks talking him through it. Excusing it. He was mentally ill. We talked for hours, found the process that had brought him there. I understood. We were badly cracked but not broken, both willing to patch each other with pieces of ourselves. Unforgivable, but I forgave him long before I understood.

I was in love with him. Horribly, impossibly, unconditionally. I never said it. Not even after I admitted it to myself, nor after he said the words to me. There was no point. We were dangerously incompatible. His mental illness, and mine. His religious devotion, my near-atheism. His monogamy, my unwillingness to consider it. He wanted children so badly. I never have. Impossible.

I thought it would eventually fade. I’ve been passionate, fond, and philosophically and intellectually engaged before. It’s not the same. Those relationships form connections–strong ones–but cruelty, incompatibility, boredom, even distance wears them down. They need maintenance, building up. To be clear, that’s one of the best things about them. Affirming the worth of a relationship is part of keeping it intact. When that other valve opens, it turns sand to concrete with me sunk in its center. Once it sets, all I can do is learn to walk with the weight of it.

I had hoped to be done with the unconditional. It isn’t better. It’s not just illogical but harmful. The first one broke me. Survivable, but life with a missing limb. The place he used to be still hurts. I wanted never to do that again. I went through stages of grief falling for the Techie: No, this isn’t real, just a biochemical surge fueled by intense play and incredible sex; it will pass. No, I refuse, how dare I even think of falling for him? Okay, yes, I was playing too close to the edge but if I back off maybe we can go back to just fun. Fuck, I hate myself, why can’t I be smart enough not to do this again?

I haven’t seen him. Not because I’m hurt–sure, it was a measurable quake, but I’ve been through worse with people and come through still friends. There’s just no point. He’s showed no interest in maintaining anything. Best leave it alone.

I have been spending time with his girlfriend. She’s unhappy. Doesn’t trust him (who could blame her?). I don’t mind talking her through some of it, though I tread carefully around offering advice. He’s my ex; there are so many reasons not to go there.

She said something. “He’s mopey because he thinks he doesn’t have any friends anymore. And all I can think is ‘whose fault is that?’ you know? The way he treats people doesn’t exactly earn friendship.”

She’s right, of course. But that’s not the way I think. It’s automatic: he’s unhappy, I wish I could help. If he did want friendship, I’d still be there.

Unconditional. It’s pretty well fucked up.

Unbelievable

I have trust issues.

These are serious and they are long-term. There are never more than half a dozen people in my life whom I feel I can trust. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The Techie somehow, terrifyingly, became one of those half dozen within a few months. Everyone else on the list I have known ten years or more.

There’s a piece of advice that’s all too common in terms of relationships: listen to your gut. If you’re constantly paranoid, second guessing, suspicious, there’s a reason. Get out. This advice is useless to me. It describes every interaction, every day. Knowing that my emotional response often has no relation to reality is a necessary part of survival. I can’t let anxiety make decisions without evidence, unless I want to completely dissociate from humanity. I have done this. It is paranoid. It is isolating. It is unhealthy.

The last few months, I have essentially not seen the Techie. This was expected. He works nights and often weekends. I get up early, go to bed late. Grad school comes first. Classes, research, writing. I have a job, teach a class, organize board gaming events, cook, clean, occasionally exercise. Relationships have to occur around the fringes. I see Spouse less than I should; the Techie’s physical absence did not suggest a problem except that I missed him.

We texted, most days. About nothing much. His work, his health, my studies, recipes. He stopped responding to flirtation in kind at some point. Acknowledged, apologized: work was eating all of his time and energy, causing pain. I stopped flirting.

There was a phone call in September. He said he’d had a positive serotest for HSV-1 (itself a non-issue). Mentioned he had other calls to make, plural. I was aware of only one other partner. He and I had engaged in unprotected sex. I debriefed my doctor: my boyfriend has likely had partners I do not know about. I do not know his risk behavior with them. We moved up my routine test. Talked about the staggering inaccuracy of HSV serotesting. Most doctors will not perform it in the absence of clinical symptoms, of which I had been assured there were none. Interesting. Suggestive. Insufficient data to justify listening to anxiety.

I asked him for data. Said we needed a conversation about risk behavior and risk communication. That while we were at it could we please put a term to this relationship because I’m tired of not knowing what it is. He said yes and of course, it’s important, we’ll make it happen soon. “Soon” kept falling through, always for reasons that seemed to make perfect sense. I knew his job took priority. After a month I saw him. It wasn’t planned. I was hanging out with his girlfriend at his house, he came home early. I have too much pride. Didn’t want her to know I was upset. Asked him to let me know, when he had time to talk. I offered to discuss it by text message: written communication is far more comfortable for me than verbal. He said that wouldn’t be fair. Anxiety said: be done. I ignored it. Insufficient data.

By Halloween I’d decided he was simply too cowardly to end things. (Behavior: said “we’ll talk soon” for seven weeks. Did not talk.) We were at the same party. I told Spouse and the Fireman and his wife that I was going to go tell him I was no longer waiting; whatever it had been, it clearly was no longer. I’m fond of closure. All three of them objected. He’s busy. Exhausted. You owe him a chance to explain. I did not say I’d offered half a dozen chances. I did not say intent and explanation were not relevant: the behavior is not one I accept. I cornered him outside. Said I didn’t know how to talk to him, or whether it was worth trying. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Work. Always work. He wasn’t willing to steal my attention from the Fireman, he said. They visit rarely enough, he knows I miss them. We’ll talk soon. I said I no longer trusted soon. He amended: I will look at schedules tomorrow. You will have a list of my expected free time for the next week by midafternoon, but expect it to be limited. It was limited to times I had work or class.

He tried to contact me a few times in November. I had extra complications with classwork: an unexpected paper was assigned, I spent two hours with a biostatistician going over some numbers I’d analyzed for a project but seemed too high (the math was correct). I was organizing a group project, finishing a grant proposal. This is real life, not a Nicholas Sparks novel. Romance does not trump all. I told him to expect a call when term ended.

Things started to come out. Spouse started seeing a girl who used to date the Techie. Exclusive relationship, she thought, but then he just stopped returning calls. Our timelines overlapped by several months. He’d never mentioned her name, had explicitly said he had had no other partners since his last STI tests when we started fucking. Laughed when I asked, in fact.

I’d been spending time with his girlfriend–the one I knew about, who lived with him. She got awkward and silent if I mentioned him. He said this was anxiety, she felt I was only spending time with her to get closer to him (not the case. She is bright, studies my field, and as damaged as I am. We get along well). I asked if this was the case, she said she had wondered. That she knew he needed other partners to be sexually satisfied. She gave names, approximate dates. Three or four women either never mentioned or whom I had been explicitly told he had not and would not touch. She hesitated, asked when my physical relationship with him had ended. I told her: we had not fucked since early September. We had a couple of brief, intense makeout sessions, he found excuses to finger fuck me in semi-public a few times, as recently as a week ago.

“Did he tell you we were having unprotected sex?”

“No. Did he tell you we did?”

This led to all three of us and poor Spouse sitting around my dining room table for a few hours comparing notes. He said he was going to a funeral? No. He and I went on vacation. He said he was emotionally involved? That this was unusual, frightening, moving fast? Lovely, we all got the same line. He told none of us about having had unprotected sex with the others, explicitly denied the existence of a sexual relationship with the others (he had not hidden me from girlfriend, likely only because I predated their relationship so she’d heard both scenes and sex from his bedroom when they were just roommates. Bit hard to deny). The girlfriend kept shaking her head. “This is emotional abuse. This is inexplicable, compulsive lying and emotional abuse.” The girl Spouse is now seeing kept crying. The girlfriend was angry enough to be shaking. I wanted to be. Angry, upset, something. I couldn’t manage more than confused. Two of us at least were openly nonmonogamous. What possible motivation to lie? What possible chance we wouldn’t eventually talk?

It didn’t matter. Overwhelming consilience of information. Lies. To everyone, about everything. Behavior is what matters, not motive, not intent. We texted him, got a passive-aggressive and rather martyred email in reply. Not good enough. Confrontation in a diner at 0200, all of us wanting to hear the truth. They may have even hoped for it. I was holding pieces of broken trust and trying to remember how it could possibly have ever fit together. Truth or not, I don’t think I could believe him. He was calm, compassionate, apologetic, sincere. Yes, he had lied. No, he couldn’t say why. Of course we should be angry, he never claimed not to be a terrible person. I reminded him that I had explicitly offered to step back into the role of platonic friend or to just go away if that was what he wanted. That just 24 hours before, he had asked me to be patient, insisted he cared. I did not ask whether that was true; his behavior was not caring, so the sentiment became irrelevant. I just asked why. A few times. He didn’t answer. I suppose that doesn’t matter, either.

I’m not calm. Trust issues. Anxiety is telling me to question everything, everyone. I am confused, frightened, appalled at myself (supposedly an intelligent woman), filled with self-loathing that I could trust someone so easily, that I would choose a mythomaniac to have faith in. The flight reflexes I held down for him–because he asked me to–are wound up as bulls in a bucking chute. But oddly, I’m okay. Not crying. Not angry. Not grieving.

The others, I don’t know. Spouse is taking care of one (Spouse is not the Techie’s biggest fan right now. Can’t be fun to find out one’s wife and new partner were systematically lied to with no explanation by the same man). She’s young and rather fragile. The girlfriend went back home with the Techie. She has a higher stake in this. I am not sure whether she is attempting reconciliation, whether she would welcome support, or if I should expect to be villainized. I suppose I’ll find out eventually.

In any case, that’s done with.