Allow me to preface the following bit of writing with the confession that this is difficult for me to think about, let alone write – and so it is far from perfect There are many thoughts, though I desperately want to articulate them, for which I cannot seem to find the proper words. Below you will find the best approximation of my experiences that I am capable of, at this point in time.
There are some experiences so special, so meaningful to you, so good that you want to keep them with you, play them over in your head on loop, carry with you always from place to place for all your life until you take them to your grave.
This is not one of those.
These are the sort of memories you lock away, deep in your heart because you are embarrassed, and ashamed. They frighten you. They enrage you. They are now a part of your past, and you have moved on, so you bury them deep and tamp them down when the emotional sands shift, or time and vulnerability wear down the burial mound and the gleaming bones of these old hurts begin to resurface.
I recently began watching the brilliant BBC series Black Mirror, a sort of modern take on The Twilight Zone focusing on the dark side of life and technology. One episode in particular unearthed many things which I had tried to desperately burn and bury.
In “The Entire History of You”, there exists technology that, if you are fitted for it, you are constantly recording and storing memories in an implant that you can play back at any time – whether in your own head or projected onto a monitor or a screen or some other device. This makes for, example, fun times at a party; it’s practical for gauging reactions at a recent interview or job assessment; and for the more obsessive, for replaying and dissecting every interaction to which you’ve bore witness between your significant other and the man with whom you’ve begun to suspect she is having an affair.
A glimpse of a glance between his wife and a seemingly random man at a party sparked an almost instant preoccupation for the main character. Their combined past memories were portrayed as happy, familial and content, and at the start of the episode he was presented as a reasonable, well-adjusted, normal, guy but watching how quickly he devolved into obsessive paranoia regarding his wife and this stranger just floored me. Had he been this intensely awful the entire time? It stopped me in my tracks. It absolutely terrified me. I stopped what I was doing and realized my heart was racing and I felt physically ill. I ran to the bathroom and vomited repeatedly and then sat on the floor and wept.
For almost 10 years of my life, I was involved with this sort of person. This obsessive, possessive, paranoid, controlling, manipulative person who estranges you from friends and family and is not satisfied until he browbeats you into believing it is your idea. Who negates your opinions because they are not the same as his. Who mentally beats you down over time until you have just given up and it is easier to do things his way rather than bother to argue for your own. From the age of not quite 25 to barely 35 I ate, slept and breathed this man. And that is precisely, I believe, how he wanted it.
I cannot even say it “began innocently enough”. It did not. Out of a sense of ennui and being a bit of a serial relationship-hopper I was newly dating a law student, an affable enough young man, but he was sort of an oaf and all of my friends hated him and he had terribly stinky feet. I was often bored at work and in 1999 I was just discovering the pleasant distraction of chatting with interesting people online. At that time, very out of the blue, a person started IMing me who seemed very interested in me, and getting to know me. We appeared to have much in common. I was about to hit my mid-twenties, I was at a dead-end job, I had a boyfriend I was not particularly excited about one way or the other, and life just seemed so incredibly dull. I latched onto this new friend with a ferocity that should have been a warning sign to anyone observing, had I let them or myself, if I had that level of self-awareness at that age. We chatted for several months in depth, about everything under the sun and I realized I was desperately infatuated with this person. Despite the fact that I already had a boyfriend, I agreed to meet this person, who lived 1100 miles away. I was ready to fly to NJ without telling anyone at all -even my family and my best friend – to meet a total stranger. It was at that point my online suitor revealed to me that he was already married. Of course, I too, was involved, but I had been up front about that from the beginning. I had not suspected this on his end and was devastated.
If this was not troubling enough, it also became clear to me, through our interactions, that he hated me spending time with my friends and grew positively enraged if any of these friends happened to be male. The interrogations were relentless on this point; he would not stop until he was convinced I saw eye-to-eye with him on this subject. He would keep me up late at night emailing at length about his thoughts on the matter and if he thought I was sleeping, he would phone me at 2AM and growl into the phone for me to check my email.
It never occurred to me to not answer the phone. To not respond to the email. To never talk to him again. There is a huge part of me that does not believe in regret; I believe that every choice we make leads us to something else and in my case I am very happy today and to have regrets would be lessen the choices I made that got me here. But there is a part of me that wishes at that critical point I had seen what was there all along, and what was only going to get worse. That I had never spoken with him and certainly never met him.
I was so blinded by what I thought was love that I went through with it. I met him. And we carried on long distance, in secret, for several miserable years. By the time his wife found out, I was convinced that instead of him leaving her for me, he would do everything he could to keep his family together. At that moment I thought, OK, well maybe this is for the best. I sent him an email not to contact me anymore and I promptly signed up for a dating site. I met up with someone, which, in hindsight, was not really a great way to deal with things, but maybe I thought it would be helpful to do would be to skip the mourning period of the relationship by distracting myself with getting to know someone new.
A week later, after work and just before getting ready for a date, I walked into my apartment to find the back window open, a pile of dirt on the floor, and my jilted long distance secret lover standing in the corner. When he did not hear from me, after several attempts to contact me when I had asked him not to, he flew to Florida and broke into my home. I did not, unfortunately, run screaming from the scene to file a police report. Instead I convinced myself that someone who would do such a thing must really love me quite a bit and we reunited with promises that I would move up to NJ to be with him.
And I did. Leaving my friends, family, and everything I’ve ever known behind, with no prospects for employment, I moved to New Jersey in February of 2003. I truly believed that there was some sort of happily ever after waiting for me in this place called Manville, NJ.
Six months later I tried to kill myself.
I don’t know why I thought that us living together would change things; if anything he was even more possessive and controlling. He wanted a play-by-play commentary on the week I had dated someone else. He wanted to me spend all of my time typing it up in an explicitly, graphically detailed, time-stamped manuscript for him and would grow furious if I spent any time on anything else. He would keep me up late at night interrogating me on the matter until we were both screaming and shouting and truthfully, after I while I just wanted it all to end. I had nothing, no one, not even and especially the one person that I had given up everything for. I couldn’t do it anymore.
I spent a week in a psychiatric ward at a local hospital and when I came home nothing had changed much, except where he had once been vocal and hateful and manipulative, now he was quieter about it. There were cameras in the house, keyloggers and spyware on the computer. Any emails I wanted to send to friends, any internet related things I wanted to be a part of (online forums, livejournal, etc), I did from work or the library from email accounts that I set up in secret. These were the only friends that I felt I had, but neither they nor anyone else knew how I was living. Secretive, scared, walking on eggshells all of the time, worried that anything I said might set him off. The wrong ingredients in a stirfry, the scent of my perfume – there was always something there to agitate him, to stir him up and set him on a path dredging up the past, rubbing it in my face in it and beating that horse to death which he would then begin to meticulously resurrect and commence beating all over again.
It must be noted that during this time, during the entire time I was in New Jersey – he was still living with his wife and children. He never left them. Never got a proper divorce. He lived with me 3 days a week, and with them the other 4. Out of the entire 6-7 years I lived there, I maybe spent one weekend with the man. This is how I lived during that time.
One day, in 2010 a few weeks before my birthday, he told me that he couldn’t do it anymore. He was hurting his children too much, he said. He was moving back home. After all of that – he was leaving, just like that. He packed up his stuff and was gone a week later.
I should have taken a moment, reassessed and been overjoyed, but instead I was heartbroken. Through everything I had come to believe that he was the best partner I could hope for, that no one would ever know me like he did, would love me like he did. I was distraught. Destroyed.
Not long after this abandonment, he came to me and admitted he made a mistake, that things were not working out the way he envisioned or hoped. By that time I had decided I would move back to Florida to be with my friends and family and everyone I had left behind. I had not made many friends in New Jersey, I hated the snow and cold and ice, I never went anywhere at all other than to work and back; there was absolutely no reason for me to stay. And yet this was a still a terribly hard decision for me to make. I suppose it meant that things were truly over.
Inexplicably (as in, I look at it now and can’t figure out why), we still spoke on the phone and met up secretly right until the day I left. I could not let go. I don’t know why – he hadn’t changed at all, he was still sneaky and manipulative and spying on my emails to friends – and yet I could not fucking let go of that monster. That fucking monster. I am shaking with rage as I am typing this right now. I am thinking of something he did in the few months before I left that perfectly illustrates the type of shitty, obsessive activity he engaged in. He knew I had been corresponding online with a male friend who provided me with facts and information for piece that was posted in a blog that I wrote for. The morning the piece went live, he created an email address with that friend’s name and emailed me from it, pretending to be that friend, and essentially asking me out on a date to celebrate. He thought this person had designs upon me or vice versa, and he wanted to see what sort of response I would send. (Friend, if you are reading this, I am deeply mortified about this. I never told you this and I hope it doesn’t bother you too much)
He often created accounts pretending to be some person or another and would try to cozy up to people that I was friends with online, to either learn things about me, or learn things about that person as it related to me. This is the sort of thing he would do.
When my sister, who helped me leave New Jersey, pulled the car away from the curb and drove past my former 6th Street home, I never looked back. When we arrived 2 days later in my other sister’s driveway, I realized I could never feel those things for that man again. They simply were not there anymore. There was a gaping hole, yes, where what I thought was love used to be, but I knew that whatever connection we had (though deeply damaged and dysfuntional) was severed. Permanently. I have not looked back since. All I needed to do was leave. For me, it really was just that simple.
I was never beaten, although one time he did shove me up against a wall, because he thought I was corresponding with people on a perfume forum and lying to him about it.
But I was absolutely mentally and emotionally abused by this man for years, there is no doubt about that.
He wasn’t always horrible. He took me to a bed and breakfast and a tea room and a winery for my birthday once, because he knew those were the kind of things I like. He encouraged me to finish college. He always found me bits of poetry or prose that he thought might strike a chord with me. I guess these are the fleeting moments that keep you in such a relationship, aren’t they? But things like that…they are like a coat of glossy paint on a rotten wall in a structurally unsound house. It might look ok from a certain angle every once in a while but chances are it will fall apart while you are still inside and then you are trapped there forever.
I try not to look at myself as a fool, or a victim, but while watching that episode of Black Mirrors I found myself screaming at the television. “You don’t have to answer him!” I shouted at the wife as he was browbeating her about some detail of her past. “Just walk away, leave the room, GET OUT OF THERE!” I screamed until I was hoarse, as she collapsed on the bed sobbing, as she played back her private memories for the monster of the man she thought was her husband. Whether or not she was having the affair was not the point (though yes, it turned out that she was). The point is you cannot treat another human person like that. No one deserves that.
And you, fellow human, cannot allow yourself to be treated like that.
Unfortunately, sometimes you can scream that at someone until you are blue in the face and it will mean nothing until they’ve hit the point when it means something. It never meant anything to me, until one day it did.
I am writing this because it breaks my heart to think that there is someone out there like me. I hope one day you realize that you mean something, you are something. That other person, the one making you feel small, making you feel ugly, making you feel like no one will ever love you. That has nothing to do with you. They are nothing without you. And if you leave, they will be nothing at all.
I hope you will walk away and never look back.