What Happens in the Heart Stays There

What Happens in the Heart Stays There

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my abuser. She was the first person I ever dated, but more and more I’m reluctant to call what we had a romantic relationship. I used to think I was in love with her. But I’m starting to think it was more of an infatuation. I was obsessed with her. With getting to know her. With being in her life.

And she took advantage of that. She used that to her advantage. She held it over my head. Even if she didn’t know what she was doing. She abused me. She refused to commit knowing I would stick around anyway. She sucked up all my emotional energy to fuel her ego. She flushed herself up on my concern and my care. And she gave me the bare minimum in return–checked in just enough to keep my energy up, touched me just enough to make me tingle. But she withheld real intimacy. She tallied up my weaknesses and methodically touched each trigger when she needed to set me off, needed to steer me a certain way. She held labels hostage. She set all the expectations knowing I had never done this before. She ridiculed my concerns, making it clear that my requests for clearer boundaries, better times, a stronger connection were unfair and selfish. She told stories of healthy relationships with the side note that those relationships were unrealistic, clingy, and gross. I kept most of my ideas for myself. I trusted her too much. I trusted that she knew where to take us. I trusted that what she said was true, that it was normal for couples to refuse to acknowledge they were together, to refrain from making long-term plans, that it was okay and healthy for her to refuse to invite me to her gatherings with her “other friends.” It was fine that we never held hands, even when we were alone.

I was not allowed to ask for more. I was not allowed to expect more. I was not allowed to feel resentment towards her restrictions. If I complained, she gaslighted me or guilted me into taking it back. I had to follow her rules. I had to stay on her track.

She could talk about the man she was in love with even while she claimed she wasn’t attracted to men. She could spend all her time with me talking about him, how perfect he was, and how much she missed him and couldn’t stop thinking about him.

If I mentioned my self harm, it was treated as trivial and unimportant. Not worth her time to discuss or try to help me. Apparently I just did it too often for her to care anymore.

I could not be weak; I had to monitor my emotions by myself and take her for her word without breaking down. I was not allowed to self-deprecate, because comforting me was just too inconvenient.

And yet I could not be strong: I couldn’t stand up for myself, I couldn’t question her, I couldn’t begin to stray away or do anything that indicated I knew I deserved better.

I had to stay exactly where she wanted me, while at the same time she berated me for not growing up, not taking care of myself, not being the person she wanted me to be.

She never said “I love you” until she was blackout drunk.

She never thanked me for staying with her the night she lost her grandmother and drank herself into a stupor.

She never apologized for making me miss the obligations I too readily gave up for her sake.

She never asked me about the scars or the lowering grades, the skipped classes, the guilt spirals, the emotional distress, the self-abuse (mental, verbal and physical).

Everything was fixed with a tight hug, a mumbled excuse, a reminder of how shitty her life was.

I clung so desperately to what little she gave me because I didn’t know anything else. I was used to being taken advantage of, abused, neglected. I was used to being consistently invalidated and mocked. My parents had been doing it to me for 20 years. When she fell into my life, it just seemed natural to let her do to me the things she wanted to do.

She never made plans; I had to deal with her last-minute texts asking me to drop everything and come to her. When it was my idea, the timing was bad, the idea was wrong, the details were illogical. When it was hers, I had no say but followed along because I thought I loved this person.

For four months I did everything she wanted, everything she asked, everything she needed, because I though that’s what I wanted, I thought, that’s what you do for the people you love.

I thought I loved her.

I never really did.

It felt like love at the time, but since then, I’ve felt what love truly is. I understand the difference now.

I was infatuated with her, obsessed with breaking down the wall she’d so viciously built up. I was sure I could get through to her when no one else could. I was intent on learning every detail of her life so I could examine and cherish it.

Since then I’ve felt real love from my friends, my chosen family, the amazing girl I dated for two and a half months, and the incredible people I’ve filled my life with since the abuse.

I thought I had no regrets. I comforted myself with the belief that everything happens for a reason.

I’m sick and tired of excusing her. I’m sick and tired of refusing to admit the regret I feel for every time I let her shove me down. I’m furious that my society had me convinced that in the long run my abuse was worth it, because everything happens for a fucking reason.

Sometimes things just happen.

And you can be angry as hell.

And that’s okay.

Because sometimes there’s no good reason for things to happen. All the lessons I leaned from my abuse, I could have learned from having loving parents and a secure support system. I could have learned it from a better social life growing up, from a few casual dating experiences I was never allowed as an adolescent. I could have learned it from so many other events.

There is no good fucking reason I had to suffer at the hands of a selfish cunt for a year and a half because society allowed me to be stupid enough to believe that I DESERVED IT AND IT HAPPENED FOR A REASON.

I want everyone to take a minute to reflect.

You don’t owe the universe anything.

Sometimes shitty things happen.

And it’s okay to be fucking angry about it.

Because there was no good reason. It just happened.

Allow yourself to feel the extent of that pain, because no matter how shitty it may feel to know you were hurt without there being a positive outcome, it’s so much better than lying to yourself and excusing the actions of your abuser to defend the idiotic idea that people getting hurt is okay.

Garnet Stars

Garnet Stars

Moon whispers through the whispy clouds and the shivering trees as we walk. We pause along the way. Air nips but we’re bundled and brave. The sky looks fresh and sacred, deep with night and sprinkled with silver, dashed with garnets of stars. The path spreads curled in darkness to my left and your right, it’s late at night, you’re here. Nothing seems more right. I’m used to darkness spilling in lumps out of my mouth streaked with tears when a hand is offered. But with you all I can think is how happy I am and it’s clear as the garnet stars sending their light in a centuries-long stream ending in our eyes.

Cars croon in the distance and the light from the apartments behind the trees adds an accent to your face when you look into the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the moon.

You sit in the grass on the side of the path and I join you as close as I can get without the tight sadness in my eyes. We talk about the moon and the sky and look across the pond sketched with stars giggling in the nighttime breeze.

We walk again and whisper through the trees giggling into the chilled night and bumping shoulders when we trip through darkness. Gravel grumbles at our feet. My hair is sticky from daytime heat and I feel embarrassed about the oil in my skin, relieved for the thickness of my jacket keeping that from touching you. Your hair seems perkier and your skin smoother. You’re even smaller that I am. I wonder at the conciseness of your body, shaped and sketched from years of editing. Your thesis is finally on your face and it’s a good one.

You don’t like spiders. I try not to giggle when I think of you braving bridges and traffic and people and gowns yet stiffening when the sticky thin strings touch your skin. I know the way better and lead on to a clearer path free of webs. Anyway, we can see the sky better from here.

The golf course is green and well-groomed, almost eerie in the light of the lampposts. Tall spoon-shaped trees create the shadows and a feeling of walls as we walk. There’s a hill, so we climb, and it scoops down towards the street. You ask to see my phone and we lay in the grass staring at the garnet stars and listening to the soft music curling from its tiny speakers and etching into our ears.

I look at you staring at the sky with the tiny light from my phone beaming into your face and I want to tell you, I want to tell you every piece of me that’s ever been missing. When you look at me I close my eyes and wonder if you’re watching me breathe.

You stand and jump to roll down the hill, laughing and hollering, and I scream and join you, spiraling through the moistened grass and landing right into you. You grab me quick, my back pressed into your face, and we lie there laughing like lovers in a John Greene novel. My blood is shivering from cold and screams and spirals and the feeling of your body holding mine.

You roll me over to run your sprinting fingers down my sides and hear me laugh again. I fight back feebly but my fingers flail limp against you and I clutch your fuzzy jacket and scream. You’re on top of me and in my face and I’m gasping for more than one reason when I see your eyes and feel your arms and elbows on my chest.

You ask me how I feel and I try to hide the truth from my reply.

I want you to never stand up but as soon as it starts to feel okay you must think so too because you get up to grab my phone from the top of the hill.

I know I’m wrong and you’re trying, but the garnet stars in my eyes tricked me when I thought it might be okay. You walked me home and then left and I lay in the rug pretending it was the moistened grass of the golf course and the cat on my chest was you.

What I’d do

If anyone ever comes to me and tells me I have been abusive towards them, this is what I am going to do.

I will believe them.
I will examine my behavior to find flaws and improve myself.
I will apologize, and acknowledge that the apology itself does not help.
I will let them know that if they feel comfortable, they are welcome to give me details of what I did so that I can avoid such behavior in the future.
I will tell them that I know there is nothing I can do to fix the past, but if there is anything they would like me to do to improve the present and future, let me know.
I will let them decide what kind of contact, if any, the two of us have after this point.
I will keep track of and respect their boundaries that they set, and use everything I’ve learned from this interaction to improve myself as a person.

I’m saying this because even if I don’t consider myself an abusive person, anyone is capable of abuse and I am not excluded from this.
I am saying this because I want my friends to know they can hold me accountable for this.
I’m saying this because I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for almost a year that left me hurt, broken, and angry, and my abuser never did any of this for me. All that came was excuses, justification, gaslighting, reverse of blame, emotional blackmail and a continuation of the abuse.
Everyone should be willing to improve themselves.
Everyone should be open to at least considering what others say about them.
It’s on us to be the better people, to learn and grow and change.
And I’m sorry, if you’re not willing to do any of that, I probably don’t want you in my life.
Because I’ve had such wonderful personal and emotional experiences since then that have taught me I am worth more than the abuse I grew up with and expected from the people I became close to in college.
We are worth so much more than that.
Stand up for yourself. Spread love. Live, learn, and grow.
“We are all human” may explain our mistakes, but explanation is not justification. Part of being human is learning and improving ourselves and those around us.

Getting Back Together as Friends

I think the most interesting thing about my second relationship is how much my perspective changed afterwards. After dating someone for two and a half months who was so incredibly different from my ex, I had to wonder: was my four months with her even really a “relationship”? Were we actually “dating”? Or was it simply a toxic friendship that became too intimate, too personal?

Because after dating C, I realized what a romance should really look like. It should have everything we had–comfort, support, communication, humor, closeness, mutual respect and affection, and the willingness to try new things, to always ask first, and to discuss every feeling and every reaction that could affect things. My other relationship had almost none of that, even though it was twice as long.

But just as I am now reluctant to call my relationship with my ex a dating/romantic one, I am also very averse to the idea of calling C my ex. The term “my ex” has been used so exclusively for that first person and is, in my mind, intertwined with the memories of her abuse and neglect. The first time I called C my “now-ex” girlfriend, it felt uncomfortable and wrong.

Continuing our streak of impeccable communication, the two of us met up to discuss how we wanted to handle the breakup a few days after the fact. Even though I’d only had the weekend to recover, asking to see her, waiting to see her, and subsequently seeing her did not send me into a panic or an emotional downward spiral during or after the fact. We were both slightly awkward but relatively chill about the whole thing, which was incredibly reassuring as we talked about ways to maintain our friendship.

She even agreed with me about the whole ex thing. “I don’t really consider us exes,” I finally said. “I see us more as friends who dated for a little while.”

I didn’t kid myself. I knew it would be hard. I had dramatic ups and downs, as usual. There were times I wanted to call her, text her, snap her, facebook her, during the time we agreed to be silent. Those feelings, and telling myself not to do it, were extremely difficult.

But in the end, the best feeling was knowing that when I chose to reach out, she was going to be there.

Because C is not like my ex. She understands me. She cares about me. She’s willing to work with me. And she loves me.

More than anything, she’s my friend, and for that reason I see no need to call her “my ex.” I’m going to call her my friend. I hope I can call her that for a long time yet.

500 characters or less

Describing my passion in text while applying for still more jobs. Justifying my passion. Trying to figure out how I stand out.

Who else from my trip still talks, a year later, to that kid from South Dakota who admitted to self harm and suicidal thoughts?

Who else noticed the red flags and drew the supervisors’ attention to the girl who otherwise may have suffered without resources?

Who else gets through to the queer kids in a way that they understand and appreciate because I accepted each part of them openly, celebrating each facet of their expression?

Who else recognizes the tiny subtle signs of mental illness, emotional abuse, low self-esteem, self loathing, in the quiet kids, the ones who are not overt “troublemakers,” but who sit on the sidelines, or interact casually, but who hold back in the tiniest of ways, in ways that most people either don’t see or choose not?

Who else sees the flaws in the entire system surrounding child rearing and fights to uproot the ideology that children are the property of caregivers, that they are a chore, that they are a challenge to be overcome?

Who else sees the massive importance in the small things they express, the tiny details of their personhood?

Hopefully everyone. Hopefully every single person that applies, that in any way interacts with a child, has all of this and more.
Hopefully I have these, as I feel I do, and hopefully they are as beneficial as I feel they are.

I’ve seen the evidence of my positive influence on the kids I work with. But it’s almost impossible to express that. Time after time potential employers seem not to believe me. For the first time since I started writing, my words are failing me.
Something like this can’t be expressed, but only shown, and in a field where I myself barely understand the impact of my work, how can I possibly show it in the fifteen minutes or 500 characters I’m allowed?

We are What we Experience

We are What we Experience

When I have a significant interaction with a person that seems to go pretty well I usually think about it afterwards. I think about how the entire thing was a series of tiny decisions that I stacked on top of one another in reaction to what the other person said or did. And each decision I made can be traced back to something someone taught me. Maybe it stems from my RA training. Maybe it’s based off something someone did for me that I really appreciated. Maybe it comes from feedback given to me by a peer or supervisor when they saw what I was lacking. Maybe it comes from something someone did to me that I never want to see be done to someone else, so instead I do the opposite.
I guess what I’m saying is: we are what we experience. I feel like I started life at 17 with no real basis as to who I was, and in the past three or four years I’ve been putting together the pieces of life that people have given me to make my own. Everyone we meet influences us, whether it’s us wanting to be like them or wanting to counteract what they did.
How we put those pieces together is important, because it makes us who we are.

Contrary to Popular Belief, Inclusivity is Important

It’s not about “not offending people,” it’s about making sure people are safe. I’m not “offended” if you misgender me. I’m hurt, invalidated and dysphoric. I’m not “offended” if you make jokes about suicide or self harm. I’m triggered and sent into a panic spiral that can last for hours or days.
It’s not about policing people’s language, it’s about building a culture of respect and understanding where people are aware that everyone comes from a different place and people are willing to learn from the experiences of others, and respect that certain things are not okay to say. Is that really such a bad thing?