Monsters and Men

EDIT: !!TRIGGER WARNING!!, and at some points I “insult” mental illness. I don’t really feel that way, I was just convinced of it at the time. Mental illness is nothing anyone has control over and should always be treated just the same as a physical ailment: medical treatment and therapy can go a long way towards helping us live happy, fulfilled lives.

I bounced around a lot between parts one and two. I had developed something of a pesky and/or incredibly dangerous and self-destructive drinking problem that hurt my living situation with basically anyone who would have me. I felt like my brain was scattered everywhere at once, and I was yet again angry with the world.

One thing that quickly scuttled my mental well-being before moving in with my friend happened at a party she’d hosted a week or so before. A guy there was following me around most of the night. It started out harmless and mildly flattering, and I even flirted back a bit, but as he got clearer about his intentions, I tried to get clearer about mine. I started pointedly walking away from him when he followed me to other areas of the house, talking over him to other people, even practically throwing myself on a different guy to see if he’d take the hint, but he kept after me. A little later and after a few more drinks, he convinced me to come with him to his place to watch some cartoons and smoke.

I’m not sure why I went. It wasn’t to fuck him, but that’s what ended up happening. While I watched Family Guy and tried to focus on just what was in front of me, he took the clothes off my lower half. I protested once or twice, but I’d been through this dance so many times before with my ex that reflex kicked into my drunk mind. Lay still and wait for it to be over, then go about your business. It won’t take long, it doesn’t take long, and besides, you’re just an object, that’s what you’re here for. You brought this on yourself by being where you were, acting how you did, looking how you did, leading him on. You went to his house.

All the bullshit rationalizations, and the further ones of my roommate-to-be when I told her of the incident. “He’s a nice guy,” she said doubtfully. “He would never do that kind of thing. I think it’s just a misunderstanding. Talk it out with him.”

So I did. Turns out he was sober enough to drive us to his house, sober enough to doggedly tail me the entire night and feed me drinks, but too drunk to realize that “No, stop” meant…well…no and stop.

He was at every party at that house. He’s still occasionally around. I try to avoid him.

I left there after an argument with my roommate some months later. Moved in with my mother. Left a couple months later after an argument with her. Moved in with a “friend” who turned out to just be a guy who wanted to fuck me and was angry to be turned down. He kept Vonnegut and my PlayStation 2 when I left.

When I left, it was to go back to my abuser. It had been seven long months of unstable living situations, landing and losing jobs for various reasons that usually involved my drinking, and a suffocating loneliness fueled by rejections from friends and lovers and my own self-hatred. All I remembered of my former relationship was being the center of someone’s world. I didn’t necessarily want that, but it would be a welcome change from using and being used. I wanted to be loved, and resources were slim. My mother was focused on her new family. My siblings had been shunted off to their dad’s sister, who was steadily brainwashing them against my mother and me. My extended family may as well have not existed. My best friend was in love and inaccessible. I was completely alone.

I sent him a message on MySpace one day, partially from boredom and partially from curiosity as to whether or not he’d ever heard from our slum landlord again. He responded with something chilly about me claiming he had been emotionally abusive. I brushed it off, saying all exes talk. That’s how I felt about it at the time. I had deluded myself into thinking the things he had done to me were just “hiccups” in an otherwise decent relationship. Maybe if I had just been a little less rigid in my views…a little more willing to compromise…

We started talking again. He was still a great conversationalist. Still charming and smooth as ever. We started seeing each other again. My best friend’s then-fiancee slapped me hard enough to make my ears ring when he found out, making good on a promise that he would “slap the shit out of me” if I ever even considered getting back together with “that asshole”. My best friend, ever-supportive, looked for the good in the situation. She said hopefully that he seemed more sincere in his feelings towards me this time.

Neither of us knew that he was, in fact, sleeping with someone else around that time. I found out a couple months into us actually dating, but I allowed him to explain it away. I trusted him, right? He loved me, and I loved him, and he said love meant trust, so I had to trust him, right? Even though I had found out by checking a text that had come through on his phone around 3 o’clock one morning. Checking his phone didn’t bother me at that point, because he’d already gone through mine a couple times. All I saw was: girl’s name I didn’t recognize saying “Hey you ;)”. Flimsy yes, which is why he could explain it away. It wasn’t until well after that “girl’s name I didn’t recognize” told me herself that he’d pursued her well into our relationship. At that point, considering what else I’d been through in the relationship, I nearly laughed at her.

When I left the last “friend’s” place, I had nowhere to really go. Things took a sharp turn from bad to really bad when I got a DUI. I had been out with friends and decided to drive home for whatever reason. I was stopped on the side of a country road when I saw the cop’s lights flash behind me. I knew I was screwed. My ex told me he would leave me unless I sought help, so I checked myself into a hospital for suicidal ideation. They kept me for a week, then turned me back out. Still having nowhere to go, I decided to try actually getting help from the sliding scale mental health facility in town. They diagnosed me with Bipolar I disorder and recommended the free clinic for medication, but told me inpatient services were only for those with “real problems”. The best they could offer was a halfway house for suicidal people.

I stayed there for a couple days, but quickly went stir-crazy and wanted out. I stayed with my best friend at her grandmother’s the first night out. She fell asleep early, leaving me to surf around on her laptop. I checked my MySpace, then was struck by a morbid curiosity and checked my boyfriend’s. There was a conversation with a recently divorced female friend about getting together and cuddling up with a movie. She asked about me, and he told her that I was in the hospital for bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (which I hadn’t been diagnosed with at the time). “Isn’t that just great?” he asked her. To her credit, she responded that at least I was getting help, and that was her last message to him.

The floor dropped from under me. Of course, I knew my mental illnesses were something to be terribly ashamed of. Of course I knew it made me an awful person. But I had thought he forgave me for that and still loved me anyway. And to have it advertised to this girl he was very blatantly flirting with was…crushing. I stayed up the rest of the night, pacing and guzzling Diet Coke and cigarettes. He was supposed to pick me up the next day. It seemed like an eternity away.

When he finally came to get me, I was shaky from over-caffeination and lack of sleep and raw, taut nerves. It took me what felt like hours to finally force out the question–“Are you cheating on me?”

His reaction to that type of questioning was usually affronted denial, but this time he seemed concerned that I would think that. Finally, I had to explain that I’d guessed his new password from combinations he usually used and found the emails with the friend. He was apologetic, telling me it was a momentary lapse (as if that isn’t the most clinched cheater’s statement in existence) and he didn’t really feel that way. He chided me gently for violating his privacy, but said he would forgive it this time. We talked things out, I allowed him to convince me that it really wasn’t anything to be worried about, and things went back to what passed for normal in our relationship.

I started staying with him and his parents for the second time in my life (the first being somewhere in between bouncing around from apartment to former aunt’s to car occasionally to apartment in the ghetto…I swear, tracking my life requires a corkboard, tacks, and colored string). I lived there for months. During that time, I got a look at how my ex–now boyfriend once again–treated his parents. His mother was a sweet woman with a massive heart, and he ordered her around with the impatience of someone addressing what they disdainfully refer to as “the help”. He was slightly more respectful towards his father, but neither parent was allowed to have an opinion different from his all the same.

We moved out and into our own house about four or five months before our final breakup. Things were bad before this happened, including a time I had been locked out of the house for about four hours, but it was nothing compared to what was on the way.

I had been half-heartedly job hunting, but every prospect seemed to have some fatal flaw that had my boyfriend convinced I didn’t love him if I pursued it. Instead, I decided to go back to school. I was able to get a federal grant without having to obtain my parents’ financial information by explaining the assault when I was 18. My car had been impounded, and I hadn’t been able to afford to spring it, so I took the bus across town to the community college. I was there around 9 hours some days because of the transportation situation, so I became a regular in the library. I ended up making a couple friends on the bus after overhearing a conversation about smoking.

Here’s the thing about making friends: I wasn’t supposed to. By now, I had been cut off from my friends (except my best friend, who insisted on barging in whenever she felt like it, and whom I will love forever for that fact) and family. I was branded a cheater, even though I had never cheated on him, so I couldn’t be trusted around anyone. He worried about women because I was bisexual. He worried about men even more, however. One of my new friends was a man. The other was another bisexual woman. Both were self-proclaimed “stoners”. These were not friends I was planning on advertising to my boyfriend.

Still, they gave me something to do and someone to talk do during the waits between classes and the bus rides. I started to really enjoy their company, though, and I wanted to see them outside of class even though I knew it would never happen. Winter break came along, and I started to miss them.

For Christmas, we went to Chicago to see my boyfriend’s family. We ended up driving back with his dad in the car. My boyfriend was holding my hand, and his dad started talking religion. He mentioned something about everyone needing to be saved by Christ, and my hand squeezed my ex’s slightly out of a reflex to hearing something I didn’t agree with. He whipped his hand away from mine and began shouting at me. Again, he enlisted his dad to help him convince me that my atheism was deplorable, and I could deny truth all I liked, but that didn’t mean he would stand for it. I shut my mouth so hard my teeth clicked and stayed rigidly silent for the rest of the ride back.

The worst was still to come during that break. One night, we decided to get some drinks and get blasted. He fell asleep, and I drunk-dialed the guy I’d befriended and started talking to him. I told him I missed him and the others I’d been talking to out there, and suddenly the phone was ripped from my hand.

All 6’5″ of my boyfriend seethed over me, and I cringed back. He began screaming obscenities at me. He called me a whore repeatedly, accused me of cheating for the umpteenth time, and shouted down my explanations with all manner of ugliness.

Frustration built in me as I tried to get him to listen. When it became clear that wouldn’t happen, I pushed him. I had pushed him before, but mostly to get out of rooms he would physically block me into during fights. I had slapped him once for name-calling, subconsciously playing into the “offended female” trope, but those were the only times I had initiated physical violence against him. It wasn’t that I was afraid of physical altercations–hell, I was raised in a constant one–but I didn’t normally lay my hands on someone who hadn’t laid theirs on me first. Once that happened, it was on.

He bowled me over backwards hard enough to make my skull rebound off of the hardwood floor, and it was on. I spared a moment for a pained moan, then gained my feet and went after him. Things get very hazy at that point. I remember lights crashing in front of my eyes as he slammed me into a wall. I remember downing a bottle of my prescription meds and being told to just “kill myself then”.

I woke the next morning on the couch. One movement lit up my muscles and head with pain, and I gasped. The damage to me was a sprained ankle, multiple bruises, and a bloody knot on the back of my head. I struggled and failed most of the day to maintain consciousness.

His wounds consisted of scratches on his chest and sore balls, where I had apparently taken advantage of the extreme height difference and uppercutted him. He said coldly that he would have called the cops on me if they wouldn’t have thought he was the aggressor, being a male, and taken him away instead. I was confused. Me, the aggressor? I had pushed him. After he slammed me into the floor, I vaguely remembered scratching him. I wasn’t sure when I had punched him in the goods, but I was willing to hazard a bet it had something to do with my useless ankle and/or the second time he had connected my head with an unyielding object. But I had started it by pushing him. So that made the fight my fault, right? Screaming abuses in my face until I pushed him away was perfectly fine in his world, apparently.

Still, I blamed myself for the fight. That day. As time went on, I began planning my second exodus from this awful thing. If a man who said he loved me was willing to cut me off from people who really did, willing to inflict brain damage on me, and willing to overlook my unwillingness to fuck him, that was not a man I wanted to be with.

I met a man in one of my Literature classes who I immediately began calling “CuteJoe” because his name was Joe, and I thought he was cute (original, yes?). I had no intention of starting anything with him, but he was interesting to talk to the first time. He disappeared for a little while, but after Winter break, I caught him in one of the smoking areas again.

The guy friend all the fuss was over had rolled up a joint that looked exactly like a cigarette and given it to me that day. I went out to the bus enclosure, waited for everyone to catch their bus, and hot-boxed it. I went into my Lit class so stoned it took me five minutes to figure out what to do with the sign-in attendance sheet being passed around.

So after the class, smoking a cigarette with CuteJoe, I found myself unable to concentrate on what he was saying. I was just too damn high. I asked him to repeat his last paragraph, because I was just too damn high. I almost saw his ears perk up at that, and he asked if I had any on me. I still had half of the joint left, so he offered to drive me home in exchange for smoking with him. We chatted on the way, and that was the beginning of another beginning as well as an end.

What really convinced me, finally, that my relationship was truly on its way out was the next day. CuteJoe asked if I wanted to get coffee after class. I partially told him I was taken, but I also told him of the beating I’d taken. He was disappointed to hear both, but said he was fine with being friends and added that he could be quite resource if I needed to get away. We took our cups of coffee to the cream/sugar station, and I picked up the half-and-half pitcher and tipped it over my cup. Nothing happened. I twisted the lid partially off and tipped it even further over the cup. Cream spilled everywhere–on me, the counter, the floor, and into my coffee, overflowing it for good measure. I stopped in shock, then suddenly was caught by hitching, uncontrollable laughter. I laughed as I helped the barista clean up the mess, as I got my second cup, and finally faded into giggles when we sat down. My entire head hurt from the laughter, and I realized that was the first time I had laughed like that in at least a year. I told Joe as much, and he gave me a knowing smile.

In my defense, I partially fell for the man because he was attractive, sweet, intelligent, and shared many of the same hobbies, but the fact that he baked me a stout cheesecake with a dark chocolate panache, then took me out to a park with the stouts he didn’t use, a lunch, and the cheesecake was really the tipping point. We ate, then sat up on a hill and talked about life, dreams, and plans. We smoked a cigarette, rolled down the hill for the hell of it, then he took me back.

Before he left, he turned and caught the door, then blurted, “When can I see you again?” I felt elation swelling in my chest, and I made no effort to tamp it down. I liked this guy. I liked him a lot. I wanted to see him again. I didn’t want to stop seeing him, in fact.

It turns out I’m terrible at emotional cheating. I had agreed that I would tell my boyfriend about anyone I met, and if I did that, I could keep them as friends. I didn’t just tell him about Joe–I babbled incessantly about him. I wasn’t allowed to see him outside of school, but we had started hanging out quite a bit while my boyfriend was at work. Still, nothing physical had happened, and I kept my attraction basically under wraps.

St. Patrick’s Day rolled around, and I was annoyed. I wanted to go out and have fun. It had been some time since I’d been able to. I went to school that day in a funk. Joe offered to take me out for a reuben and a green beer after class, and I agreed. The problem was, once outside of school with him, I didn’t want to leave him. He talked about hitting the bars later, and I decided then and there to Rebel. I wanted to go out, and dammit I was a grown ass woman and should be able to go out.

He took me to his place so he could change. We ended up smoking and talking, and I spotted a large bottle of vodka and joked that hard liquor made my clothes fall off (really, I’m just so original). He picked up the bottle and thrust it at me with a grin. I laughed and mixed a drink anyway, after which we decided to head out. We made it to the front porch, still talking. An hour later, we were halfway down the driveway. Still talking. The next thing we knew, it was dark. If I had been planning on going home, that would have been the time to do so. Joe offered to let me crash, and I readily agreed.

We went back inside to talk where we could have some light, and he sat down on a loveseat, slung his arm over the back, and patted the spot next to him. I sat down, and his arm slid over my shoulders, pulling me into him. He sighed and said that was exactly where he had wanted to be for weeks–with me in his arms. He said it didn’t matter in what capacity he had me, as long as I was there. I melted. Of course, we ended up in bed together.

The next morning, I was scared and guilty and miserable. I paid handsomely for rebellions against my boyfriend’s rules, but some defiant part of me was perfectly satisfied with events. Oh we’ll pay, it whispered, But it was worth every penny. Seconding that was Joe, getting up with me to make me breakfast and the most delicious cappuccino I’d ever tasted. I was lost to him, and I knew it. That left me with only two options: leave my boyfriend or never seen Joe again. It wasn’t hard to choose.

He “caught” me one day. I was planning to skip class and hang out at Joe’s with him and his roommates. I was late getting back to school, and my boyfriend, who had searched through my school notebooks until he found Joe’s number, tested and told him to tell him, man-to-man, what was really going on. He went on that night to threaten us with his gun, so we stayed at Joe’s. I went back the next day to get my things. My best friend had enlisted one of her friends once again to help me.

While at the house, my once-again ex threatened to call the cops if I back-talked him. I kept my mouth shut while I gathered what I hoped was everything (it wasn’t, of course. The bastard kept my favorite coffee mug and birth certificate for whatever reason). When I was about to leave, he told me he would have done anything for me. I held back–just barely–from saying “Except let me be myself”.

That was the very end of things with my abuser. The years afterward have not been easy, but I’ve spent them free. I’ve slowly come back to the self I lost in that relationship, slowly begun to have dreams and hopes again. I’ve figured out that even though sometimes I think I ain’t worth much, I’m sure worth more than being restricted and hurt.

It’s a slow process overcoming abuse, and that wasn’t the end of mine. Another day.

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