[W]holes in the Narrative

CW: Abuse

Every time that I hear the question “why didn’t she leave,” I feel compelled to write my story. Every time I hear “why was she still nice to him” I feel compelled to write my story. Every time I think about writing it my heart pounds and my mouth goes dry, because I know the potential consequences of writing this. It’s been easy to convince myself that one more voice, one more story isn’t necessary. Other women are writing about this. But the unrelenting appearance of these questions in regards to the Ghomeshi trial make it increasingly difficult to justify silence. It reminds me that we need as many voices and stories as we can get.

If you’ve never been in that situation, I can completely understand why you might wonder “why don’t women just come forward right away,” but I can feel the answer to that question in my currently shaking hands. And for me the stakes are far lower. I’m not facing a court of law; I don’t need anyone to believe this. I can choose not to respond to attempts to cross-examine what I experienced or how I acted in the situation. 

My story isn’t about sexual assault, but the same societal questions and judgements apply. You see, I remained in an abusive relationship for years. I became engaged to him, even though I had experienced violent episodes. When I finally walked away with only a backpack full of clothes and homework (I have exceptional timing and chose the end of the semester to leave), I still contacted him. I still spent a month attempting to smooth things over and remain “friends.”  And to be completely honest, it was not a physical act that made me walk away, it was the suggestion that I withdraw from school. There is no narrative structure in my response to abuse. It dismantles every aspect of linear story progression. There is no buildup, no climax, no conclusion. It is messy and confused and illogical.

If we were going to examine my character for consistency, I would fail that exam immediately. I was a proud and vocal feminist. I took women’s studies classes. I wrote frequently about women’s issues and defended women’s rights. I even talked about abuse. I was in an abusive relationship. I didn’t talk about that.

I don’t even remember what I was thinking or how I responded the first time it happened. I remember being pushed. I remember my back hitting the door. I remember what the door looked like afterwards, with the wood splintering and pushed in. I walked past it for months. But I don’t remember the details. I have a vague sense of falling, like maybe the door pushed open… but I honestly couldn’t give you a proper story.

Memory is weird. It splinters and fragments. Most of what I have are only disjointed images. A hand holding me against the wall. A hole in the drywall next to my head. The spiderweb of cracked glass in the car window punched while I was driving. I don’t think I ever had more than that. I couldn’t have pieced together a narrative or a sequence of action even immediately afterword. The data was always corrupted. There were only holes. In the wall, in my memory. I didn’t know how to trust my own story, my own experiences, when there was so little there. Nobody tells you about the holes. Nobody tells you that they leave a perfect space for the person who made them to insert their story. And you believe it because you believe in narrative structure and cause and effect and can’t fucking find it. You grasp at what is offered and it becomes your reality.

It wasn’t as bad as you remember. You instigated it. He was merely restraining you for your own safety. You are not lying when you say you are not abused. It has become your truth.

He never left a mark or injury. At the time I thought that it meant he didn’t want to hurt me. Now every part of me screams that it was deliberate. Fists inches from my head. Fingers just tight enough to hurt without bruising. I remember wishing he would just punch me because it would give me reason to leave. If the image left was inscribed on my body, maybe I could consider that evidence in the trial of my own memory. I don’t intend to minimize the dangers of more violent abuse or suggest that it’s somehow easier to leave in more extreme cases. There is plenty of evidence it isn’t. But that was how fucked up my thought process was. In the end, I doubt that it would have made a difference.

It would be nice if monsters were real. But in the end what you have is only another human being. A fucked up human just like you. A human being with stories outside yours. Usually stories that make more sense than yours. Friends, family, even stories of kindness. A nice guy. I gathered these stories and clung to them. I filled holes. I’m not sure I ever entirely stopped.

I was lucky. I had no kids. I had no socio-economic barriers to leaving beyond swallowing enough pride to move back in to a room at my mom’s. I faced little risk of social or professional fallout. I still stayed for years. I still spoke to him, even years later. If you took a look through my Facebook friends list today, you would still find me inconsistent.

I sat down to write a story, but maybe we need to talk less about stories and narratives and talk more about holes.