I’m staring at an empty space. In this empty space there will be words. The words are slowly coming to be as I make considerations of what fits where, and why, and how. This is a jigsaw puzzle, the language of abuse.
Over the years I have learned how to properly fit the pieces together in order to see an image. The image I see is of two girls, enraptured, irresponsible, unhinged. They don’t share more than two hundred and fifteen pounds between them. They are long, slim creatures with dark hair and white teeth.
One of the girls is very sick—she is an angry blade. The other girl is me. Or, was me.
We can look at the image together, You and I, but we can never quite access the frightening truth of the picture: one girl hits another girl in the face, she bleeds, she screams, they fuck. And again: one girl wants to leave the other, only to be met with threats of suicide, they argue, they cry, they fuck. (I hate to be blunt in this text, but transparency is the best way to explain the sadness of abusive relationships.)
Mental and emotional abuse is an impossible picture to quietly live inside.
It was my first year of college when I met this girl. I had never been with girls, but she found me somehow, and we fell in lust. That’s the simple truth of the beginning. I won’t write her name here, but I will state openly that I have no empathy towards her, nor any lasting affection or respect for her life or future.
All I know is that I do not want any part of it. She lives in my past, where nature has taken her and covered her in vines. And every so often, when I believe the ruins can be of use, I bring them up and try to help others to expand their understanding of violence.
Six months into our courtship—an obsessively unhealthy affair from the moment of conception—she began cutting herself when we argued. Thus, I became desperately afraid of confronting my own unhappiness. Beyond being manipulative, her self-mutilation was a tactic assuring an unbreakable co-dependence, because when we see a person hurting themselves and believe it is within our power to stop them, we do what we can to see that healing through. Therefore, I would always feel responsible to save her.
She hit me in the face on two separate occasions. In lieu of gory details, I will say that the latter blow to my nose left me covered in blood—frozen and empty.
That was nearly ten years ago. The girl I was then bears no resemblance to the woman I am now. Still, when I tell the story of being in an abusive relationship, my audience tends to listen with fascination as opposed to horror. This always made me wonder: Is abuse between two women perceived as lighthearted in comparison to abuse between a man and woman? Or is it that most people do not fully understand the potential scope of damage caused by violence between partners?
This question, for me, remains unresolved. Often I find examples of blindness towards—even acceptance of—abuse in the things we watch, read, and listen to in popular culture. I see abuse tolerated more often than I care to recount. And when I do, I understand that women are learning not to expect vindication or even validation in the face of struggle.
What are men learning?
I cannot speak for men. I cannot speak for all women, either. And I certainly cannot speak for those who engage in the act of abuse. But I can speak with those who find themselves helplessly trapped.
You and I, we are not trapped and we are not helpless. When I say “You and I”, I mean anyone who happens to be reading. I mean anyone who has stuck with this article in the hopes of contending the problem. Further, I mean those who have found themselves victims of abuse or friends of victims of abuse.
We are not trapped and we are not powerless. Socially, we have something to go up against. We have something to go up against both within and outside our homes. I believe it begins with the conversation, and the question of what one considers abuse and how one confronts it.
Abuse isn’t always black eyes and bloody noses. It is oppression, digression, humiliation and control. It is one human being exercising power over another within the walls of intimacy.
We stare at an empty space. We have developed a picture. We need to fight for one another and not be passive about what abuse looks like. It’s a picture we need to see fade, become yellow, disappear.
More from Eris here.