Monday, October 03, 2011

Rearview Mirror

Written Dec. 2004 for publishing on a lesbian community writing site.

No one likes to speak about the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that occurs within relationships in the gay community. For some reason, we’re afraid to acknowledge it, even though what few studies have been done show it’s just as prevalent in homosexual relationships as in heterosexual ones.

I’ve always been intelligent and rather cognizant of the world around me. Even as a teenager, I knew I was lucky to have mostly escaped physical and sexual abuse. My upbringing was not status quo, nor can I say I feel I have escaped emotional abuse by my family. The difference is that I don’t feel that said abuse was maliciously or even intentionally intended, and overall, I think I turned out all right. However, I should have been paying more attention, because I never expected to find myself in an almost fatally abusive romantic relationship.

I took a drive today
Time to emancipate
I guess it was the beatings made me wise
But I’m not about to give thanks or apologize
I couldn’t breathe, holdin’ me down
Hand on my face, kissin’ the ground
Enmity gauged, united by fear
Supposed to endure what I could not forgive… 

My relationship with TheGirl and everything that occurred therein would take me days to tell. It truly was that bad, and I nearly didn’t make it out alive. Fortunately, the abuse she inflicted upon me remained purely emotional, only coming close to blows once or twice, but emotional scars tend to be deeper and more difficult to recover from than physical ones. When I say our relationship had more drama and conflict than five soap operas put together, I’m not exaggerating. Because our story is so long and sordid that it’s impossible to relate in one sitting, I’m always forced to truncate the things that happened, to summarize them in many fewer words, and yet the response to my tale, each time, is shock. Shock that I stayed for so long, shock that I put up with these things in the first place.

She was 25, I was 23. I didn’t know any better. During this period of my life, I had only been in one brief, intense, and ultimately heart-shattering relationship. I had never had anyone try to harm me within a romantic relationship, and even today I still have problems recognizing it so that I usually let it go on longer than it should. I was inexperienced, lonely, and because of my weight at the time, my self-esteem was non-existent. I wasn’t ugly… but always found myself a little astonished if anyone was interested in me in a non-platonic way, and this time was no different. I lived in San Francisco, she lived in North Carolina. The things she shared with me even as friends should have raised red flags, but I was too ignorant of these things, too lonely and desperate to care. I may have purposefully ignored some of the signs and red flags in my rush to be loved and in love again.

After a whirlwind cross-country courtship, she made it clear she would never move away from her family and that the only option was for me to give up the only life I’d known in California. Stupid, this I know now. I wish I could go back and tell myself then to not do it, but I’ve always been a stubborn person hell-bent on doing things wrong the first time, so I doubt I would have listened. So I sold my car to rent a moving truck, packed it up, and drove four days straight across the country by myself.

Of course, she’d gotten fired from her job days before I was to leave. She made this out to be at least partly, if not entirely, my fault. I should have paid attention to how everything became my fault; she rarely, if ever, admitted she was wrong. We would stay up very late each night on the phone with each other (made 3 hours worse by her living on the East Coast), as she was living with her parents and younger sisters and the only privacy she got was after they all went to bed. I was unable, unwilling, to give up my nightly phone talks with her, so I guiltily accepted the responsibility for keeping her up until the wee hours of the morning.

I had sold my car for money to move there. Instead of buying a car with my left-over money, it was immediately needed to cover living expenses in the small house we began renting together. Soon, my cushion money, the car money, was completely gone. She refused to look for a job and would verbally attack me if I came close to suggesting it. Instead, she would spent around sixteen hours a day online, talking with friends, playing games, and doing God knows what else. As time went by, she spent a disproportionately high amount of time on the computer and almost none with me. If I wanted to talk to her, to share her company, I had to be on the computer too. We had two computers set up next to each other in the spare bedroom for this purpose – yes, we were both geeks – and soon the only ‘quality time’ I had with her was having about a quarter of her attention while she played on the computer.

She would stay up until dawn online, and requesting she come to bed only caused serious problems such as arguments. It was determined early on by her that she would be the sole winner of all fights and that, no matter the subject or cause, it was my fault. Even if it was something she’d done, she would find some way to twist it around and make it all about me. I soon learned to avoid all confrontation with her, because not only was it pointless, it made me feel like shit and totally did not solve whatever the issue was. Actually, trying to resolve issues the healthy way made things worse, as she made me out to be some monster trying to blame her for things when it truly was my fault.

I got a crappy job that I held only because it paid more than $8 an hour. She continued to refuse to look for a job, blaming depression and then launching into a rage if I pressed on to express my concern for our financial situation. We struggled for months to cover all the basics on my salary alone, an impossibility, and eventually an eviction became imminent.

Our arguments got uglier and uglier. We stopped being able to discuss important things normal cohabitating couples should, because any attempt on my part to bring up something she didn’t want to hear would be met with voracious screaming and name-calling. She was very smart and perceptive and thus easily ferreted out my weaknesses, my buttons, my insecurities. She knew how to shut me up, the right things to say to completely devastate me and put me back in my place.

She had this ‘woe is me’ attitude that made her the supreme victim in a universe that conspired to give her the shittiest end of the stick at every turn. If you believed what she said, she was truly the unluckiest person ever born, the way bad occurrences prevailed all throughout her life. From tales of anal rape by a cousin, suicide attempts, illnesses, to being struck by lightning, just about every bad thing that could possibly happen to a person had happened to her. Of course, I look back now and am aware of all her bullshit, but then, I hate to admit I believed her. In my defense, as she disclosed each new bad thing that she had experienced, my disbelief grew. I once told her she should never go swimming in the ocean because, with her luck, she’d be attacked by a shark. She didn’t find it amusing.

Kissing has become a tremendous deal to me, since leaving TheGirl. I already found it integral to a happy relationship, but now it is a deal-breaker. This is because, right after I moved to North Carolina, she bluntly told me not to kiss her anymore. She said she didn’t like it, and that was that; it didn’t matter that it left a huge gaping hole for me in the relationship. She would occasionally permit a peck, but any lingering kisses would be abruptly ended by her as she would pull back, glare at me, and retort, “Stop pressuring me!” I still can’t hear that phrase without getting pissed off, she used it so often. After that point, the only other time we passionately kissed was one night when she was drunk at a bar. I felt like shit that the only time she would kiss me was when she was drunk, and that part of me didn’t care, I was just so happy to get a real kiss. There was a period within the first six months that she stopped having sex with me and kept saying she didn’t feel sexual, that she was depressed. She offered me a relationship in which we were together as a couple but we would never have sex. I scoffed at her and told her that that was not a romantic relationship in my eyes, that that was my definition of a friendship.

She was obviously having problems but resisted seeking help or medication. Eventually we broke up, but occasionally slept together, which only confused things more. I think she did get medication for her depression, and things started to improve at home. We shared the same bed for the remainder of our stay at the house, mainly because that was the only room with air conditioning and the heat and humidity were unbearable. I was getting tired of the bullshit and wanted to leave, and my mom offered me a convenient means. I’m too conscientious for my own good and I didn’t feel right leaving TheGirl saddled with mounting bills and looming eviction. I decided to stay to help until the end, and then would go stay with my mom for a month to get away.

I started getting unshakably depressed. I’d lost weight before moving to North Carolina, but started eating again to cope with my home life. I put on the weight, plus some, very quickly, and soon even my ‘fat pants’ didn’t fit. TheGirl didn’t say much about my packing it on, thankfully, because I don’t think I could have borne her judgement on the subject. Because of my weight and that things with her were stressful and constantly rocky, my depression and self-loathing increased. I think I started believing the bad things she said to me about myself. I believed no one would ever want me after her, and even though I had her – sort of – at the moment, I became petrified of what I would do if we really broke up. I was alone with no family or friends, across the entire country from my life.

She lied to me constantly. Looking back, I don’t know how much of anything she said was actually the truth. She began flirting with a male friend of hers, and because I happen to be smart and perceptive as well, I could tell immediately that this ‘friendship’ was something more to the both of them. In addition, she’d finally gotten a job, but it required a good deal of traveling to various sites. She sometimes had to stay a night or two in a hotel, if the job was far away or longer than a single day. She had me come and stay with her a couple of times, but after that, she actually had this guy come stay with her at the hotel. At this point, you’re probably thinking I was very naïve and stupid, but I was aware that something fishy was going on.. after all, male and female friends generally don’t spend the night in the same bed in a hotel without something happening. However, she continued to look me in the eyes and assure me they were just friends and nothing more.

To make it worse, this guy was presented to me as a friend and potential roommate. We were getting evicted and needed somewhere to move. The two of them had arranged to get a three bedroom house in Richmond, and we would all split the expenses. I was flying to stay with my mom and would return to Richmond, they would move everything on their own. TheGirl had no qualms about reading other people’s email, IMs, journals, or personal effects. I am ashamed to admit that picked up the habit with her as sort of a defense mechanism; I knew she wasn’t telling me anything and I desperately needed to know what was going on. On our last night in the house, I discovered, by reading through an IM conversation of hers that she’d left open, that she had slept with TheRoommate. I had pretty much known all along, but because she voraciously defended her innocence, part of me had clung to the hope that it was true. I was devastated but quickly printed out the IM conversation so that I could pore over it on the plane. I held my knowledge until I arrived, when I point-blank stated that I knew she’d had sex with him. Her response was “Oh, please, A. You knew it all along.” Did I mention she never apologized, no matter how wrong she was?

We were still ‘broken up’ while I was at my mom’s and she ended up getting pregnant with him. At the time she claimed it was due to a drunken sexual encounter in which she hadn’t insisted on a condom. She didn’t break this news to me until after all our sweet-talking and making up. Yes, I got back together with her while at my mom’s. I shake my head now at the stupidity of it, and even more so as I pretended to be supportive of her decision to keep the baby. I knew then that, given her unstable and psychotic tendencies, she would be a horrendous mother, but I was trying to win brownie points and so I kept my mouth shut. Soon the crazy, hormonal pregnant lady emerged. She would snap and go off on me or TheRoommate for the slightest thing, her rages sometimes lasting days. I noticed a pattern in her behavior; she would be nice to one of us and hate the other, and in this way she always had an ally and someone to confide in about the other. We maintained separate bedrooms but usually slept together in her room. She began having pregnancy complications and eventually partially miscarried. She had to get an injection of a chemotherapy drug to finish it off, and this launched her into a depression that had her bed ridden for over a week. She wouldn’t come out of her room. I feel somewhat guilty for it, but I have to admit my relief at the outcome of the situation – this is not a woman who should be a parent.

The insanity just escalated from there, if you can even imagine that, but it all sort of blurs together. I remember being miserable and depressed; my life was a living hell. I cut myself for the first and only time, attempted suicide twice, and had three hospital stays (one involuntary). I hated myself, my life, TheGirl, TheRoommate – I seethed with particular anger for him – and I truly wanted to die. I was bitterly disappointed each time I failed; I couldn’t even kill myself to escape this misery. During this end period, a lot of things happened. There was an incident where if I hadn’t leapt to lock my door, she would have physically attacked me. Another time she called the police on me to get me evicted, as my name wasn’t on the lease. I’d been living there for almost two years, and showed the officer some bills to prove it. He was kind to me and said that he had seen my proof of residence, but that he thought it would be better if I went somewhere else for the night. I called some friends to pick me up, as I still didn’t have a car, and had to sit with another officer in the back of his cruiser while I waited. TheGirl and I had gotten into it before I left that night; the policeman remarked to me that she seemed crazy. I think I told him she was.

TheGirl and I broke up two more times after that, the final one was truly that; final. She started an affair with a married woman in another state, whose husband traveled and was apparently not disturbed by such an arrangement. Soon TheGirl began taking trips up there and eventually all but moved there, leaving me and TheRoommate together. Talk about uncomfortable. On top of this, she was alternately sleeping with me and TheRoommate, using our feelings to play us off each other. He had saved wisely and had parents with money, so she gave him sex and the illusion of a relationship in exchange for things she wanted. I believe she continued to sleep with me just to keep me on a string. She eventually cut me off after going through my journal and reading a particularly hate-filled entry aimed at her and her married girlfriend. She let me know she read it by taking a pen and writing a comment at the end of the entry. Somehow, she felt she had the right to lecture me on having too much anger.

I seem to look away
Wounds in the mirror waved
It wasn’t my surface most defiled
Head at your feet, fool to your crown
Fist on my plate, swallowed it down
Enmity gauged, united by fear
Tried to endure what I could not forgive

I know it took me far, far too long to get out for good, about two and a half years total. It took me several years to heal completely from this relationship, and I still have some emotional scarring I deal with. The weird thing is that it seems like lifetimes ago, if it even happened to me. How could I have allowed all of that, how could I have lived that for two and a half years and thought it perfectly acceptable? It feels like it happened to someone else.

Saw things
Once you, were in my…
Rearview mirror…

I can’t help but feel anger toward her. I think through everything that happened and I detest her for each way she controlled me, how she used my natural desires and emotions against me to make me feel guilty and unworthy. When I finally left, I went and stayed with my mom, step-father, and sister for six months. I was so broken and fucked up, even thousands of miles away, that I tried overdosing on Lithium, my final attempt at suicide. I couldn’t break out of the mental cage into which TheGirl had thrust me, but I knew that I would never let anyone treat me like that again. It saddens me that my self-esteem was so poor that I believed I deserved that sort of abuse.

I gather speed from you fucking with me
Once and for all I’m far away
I hardly believe, finally the shades…are raised…hey…

I am a very private person when it comes to my emotions, and I use music as therapy to work out my feelings. After leaving TheGirl, I had somewhat unconsciously been on the search for ‘The Song’ that would exactly convey how I felt. I went on a mini-vacation while at my mom’s, and one sunny afternoon in a café, I heard it on the radio: Rearview Mirror by Pearl Jam. It wasn’t new to me, but I sat in almost shock as the music and lyrics poured over me, my skin raised in goosebumps. I didn’t realize until that moment that I had even been searching for it, but until that point, I was unable to feel any sort of closure. I heard the song today, and again I remarked how it exactly captures what I felt that afternoon; my rage and the sense of freedom, of being able to see her fade behind me in my rearview mirror.

Saw things so much clearer
Once you, once you…
Rearview mirror 

It’s true what they say… hindsight is 20/20. I won’t let it happen again.

Saw things so much clearer
Once you…oh yeah…