The Incident with the Gun

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Two years ago my boyfriend sent me a text inviting me over for a cup of tea (code word for sex).  I had the day off from work, so I went.  I almost always went.  I drove the three minutes to his house and went around to the back door, letting myself in, as I also almost always did.  As I walked through to the kitchen, he emerged, pointing a shot-gun at me.  I froze.  I said something to the effect of ‘what the fuck’?  He lowered the gun, telling me he’d thought I was a prowler, (He was expecting me!  He invited me over!), then he turned and walked to another part of the house and put the gun away.

I want to say that I turned and left.  I want to say that I called someone, told someone, asked for help.  But I stayed like I almost always did.  I fucked him, put fresh bedding on his bed, and made him a cup of tea, like I almost always did.  Then I drove back home where I ruminated on what happened, growing more and more angry; more and more frightened.  Later when he phoned me, I confronted him.  First he told me, point-blank, that what I said had happened, did not happen.  Gaslighting.  But I was well familiar with that tactic.  I wasn’t having it.  Then he told me he was just ‘joking’ around with me, that I had no sense of humour, that I was taking it too seriously.  I told him it wasn’t funny.

I want to say that I never went back.  I want to say that I ended it then and there, but I didn’t.  For another two months I continued to go to his house, get into his bed, make his bed, make his tea, then drive back home to sit and wonder why the fuck I kept doing that to myself.

It’s been nearly two years since I left him.  I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.  I cannot stop thinking about it.  Every day I think of the seven years I spent in that relationship.  The catalogue of incidents and abuses turns over in my head, a silent newsreel, haunting me daily.

He could have killed me.  He could have blown a hole through my head, or through my body and left my adult children to deal with the mess.  He may or may not have faced consequences.  That’s neither here nor there.  I would still be dead; a pile of torn tissue and shattered bone in a puddle of blood, collapsed on his kitchen floor.  Final.  Un-fixable.

How did I get there?  I was not an innocent.  I was not a twenty-year-old virgin unversed in the vagaries of romantic relationships.  I was a forty-eight-year-old widow; a mother, a grandmother.  He was not my first ‘dangerous’ man.  I richocheted my way to adulthood through an obstacle course of physical, sexual and emotional abuse from which I emerged broken, but alive and with my sense of hope still intact.  He was something I thought I had left behind; but I realize now that He represents someone that can happen to anyone, given the right place, time and set of circumstances.  He happened when my eyes were closed, when my defenses were down.  He was not a random accident.

When I finally left him, it happened so quietly.  There was no heated argument, no violent event, no ‘spoken’ words at all.  I simply shot off a polite, but matter-of-fact email announcing that I was done.  I did not respond to his replies.  I was quiet, but vigilent.  Nothing happened.  Later I moved to another county.  About a year after I left he threatened me with blackmail.  I still did not respond.  It’s conceivable that he could carry out with his threat, but he has not yet and I don’t think he will.  He wanted a response.  He wanted to intimidate me into engaging with him.  It failed.  I believe he has moved on.

I was lucky.  Every day women are murdered by men they loved.  The liklihood a woman will be murdered by her abuser goes up exponentially when, or after, she leaves the relationship.  I did nothing unique or special to account for having left without becoming one of them.  It took me several months to realize that I survived the relationship, the gun incident and my own departure because he elected not to hurt or kill me.  If he had chosen otherwise, there was  little I could do to stop him.  I was lucky, but not entirely unharmed.  Once a week I pay a woman to listen to me as I try to sift through the wreckage of those seven years. Once a week I try to do the work of understanding and more significantly, forgiving myself for the damage that ‘love affair’ did to me; for the craziness and isolation that cut me off from the people that love me, and for the lies and ommissions that enabled the madness to continue under the unsuspecting noses of my children and my friends.

Why am I telling this story now?  Why am I exposing myself, in an open forum, where I could be subject to judgement and ridicule from complete strangers?  How might this affect my family or my friends should they read this and learn of the things I never ‘fully’ disclosed to them?  I do owe them the truth, and we’re getting there.  Gradually.

I’m not entirely sure why I am doing this, but it feels right.  Partly it’s a sign of the times.  In the age of Me Too, Time’s Up and March For Our Lives, so many survivors are standing up and telling their stories.  It’s encouraging and emboldening.  For the first time in nearly a decade I finally feel safe enough to speak my truth.  All this year I have been reading the stories of other women who also survived what I am surviving.  Their stories helped me to understand my own struggle and encouraged me to push through my feelings of shame and isolation and reclaim my dignity.  I want to add my voice to that chorus, so that perhaps my story might resonate with another woman who is struggling, so that she too might harness her strength and join the chorus.

I’m telling my story because my sense of hope is returning, because Spring has emerged and the children have marched, because I am not dead, I am not disfigured, and because far too many others did not escape that fate.  It could’ve been me too.

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Seriously. STFU about Al Franken

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I get it.  You’re hurt.  I’m hurt too.  A man we likeda man we believed in let us down. But here’s the thing; this shit happens.  This shit has always happened — even from warm, fuzzy likable men, whose values (at least some of them) align with our own.  He doesn’t get a pass for being an otherwise ‘great guy’.  Interesting fact about sexual predators – they walk among us.  They are our neighbours, our coworkers, our teachers, siblings, parents and partners.  Sometimes they’re assholes that we avoid at all costs; but sometimes we like them.  Sometimes they’re welcome members of our inner circles, and when they let us down, it hurts.

Here’s another fun fact:  Sometimes the victims of likable men aren’t very likable. We easily find fault with them on a host of issues, and in normal circumstances would not give them the time of day.  Deep in our bones, we don’t want to believe them.  I did not want to believe Leeann Tweeden because, for me, she represents the political ‘dark side’.  But that’s a bullshit excuse for denying someone’s story.  I know from my own experience that seemingly delightful, politically progressive men, do horrible things in private – things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy ever.  Misogyny and sexual predation are broad spectrum harms, no human collective is immune.  The same is true for survivors/victims.  We don’t get to cherry pick which victims are ‘good’ enough to believe and support.

Al Franken will be all right.  He’s not going to prison.  He was asked to resign.  He resigned.  He will survive.  We will survive as well.  He’s not our last hope for a just world.  If he is, then we’re all fucked at the start.  He’s just a likable guy who let us down.  And I get it. It’s not fair that other horrible men, accused of more troubling offences, are not being held accountable.  That needs to be challenged, every day at every step of way.  But crying ‘they get to keep their sex offenders in power, why can’t we keep ours?’ is a pretty shite argument.  So, seriously,  stop it.

 

Why Now?

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“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”
― Muriel Rukeyse

And my truth?  Whose world would split open?  What if I voiced those truths that never make it past my windpipe before decades of conditioning and the threat of consequences, pushes them back down to my gut with that invisible fist of censure and shame.  I described my stories as heavy rocks, lodged in my throat, like a dam holding back the flood of my secrets. She looked straight up at me, inquisitive, then wrote down the word ‘rock’.  My metaphors for self-silencing – rock, fist, a steel door – all solid, impenetrable, weaponized and threatening.  The stories stick in the back of my throat.  I swallow them back down, but inevitably, they bubble their way back up, like vomit after too large a meal.

#Metoo happened, with a sudden explosion of women (and men) sharing their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.  While many welcomed these stories, and, in some cases, shared stories of our own; others balked at the revelations, condemning the speakers and speculating on their motivations.  Why now, is the current refrain.  It’s a ridiculous question, for it would always be ‘why now’ no matter when now happens to be.  Now is inevitable.  Now is that moment that the dam burst.  In this watershed moment, right now, I timidly rose my hand and whispered ‘Me too’.  But it ended there.  I could not go further before that rock/fist/steel door pushed it all back, insisting ‘Not now’.

I see this image of my entire family – both the living and the dead – all standing together with one finger raised to their lips, admonishing ‘shhhhhh’.  Hold your silence.

  • You’ll hurt your sister
  • We won’t believe you
  • The past is the past
  • That’s not how it happened
  • You made it up
  • You made it happen
  • You didn’t stop it
  • Why now?

Collateral damages.  My family.  My friends. My partner. My children. My abusers and their protectors.  My stories are dangerous and unwieldy. They detonate. They are no more magnificent in their horror than the stories of so many other women, but they’re mine.  The implications are mine. Telling is a dangerous act.  I’ve done it before.  Telling is also a powerful and healing act.  I’ve felt that before.  These two aspects, the dangerous and the powerful, work in tandem in the act of telling.  I felt this incredible release putting my memories into words and voicing them, however hesitantly, to another person.  Sometimes I told the right person – the person who just listened, who did not rush my story along, who was not looking for some sort of resolution, some salvation at the end of the story.  I also told the wrong person(s) – the one’s too close to the story – the ones looking for a dénouement, or the ones who turned the story into an interview, a witness statement:

  • Are you sure?
  • Did you fight? Did you say no? Did you scream?
  • Did you report it?
  • Why? Why not? Why now?
  • Why now?

Then, the rock/fist/steel door goes to work pushing that story back down to that place inside me where my secrets live. And the cycle of repress-bubble up-boil over-disclose and repress again continues.

The trauma of sexual abuse is like a mouth ulcer.  No matter how hard you try to ignore it, your tongue seeks it out, irritates it; retreats, then repeats the process.  It’s there disrupting the ordinary business of daily life. It’s Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, beating beneath the floorboards.  I am here.  I will expose you. I will not be ignored.  And that, in a nutshell, is why now.  One way or another, trauma outs itself.

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I said #Metoo, but I stopped at that.  I choose not to share the details of my stories.  I don’t believe they add anything significant to the conversation, nor would recounting them now do anything towards my own healing.  For myself, this past year has been, even before the #Metoo movement, a series of constant triggers, where the very language and postures of men like Trump and Moore, as well as the vicious attacks on their accusers, has produced an intense visceral reaction in me. I am flung back into the memories and anguish of my own abuse, as well as the pressure to keep quite. Raising my hand is enough for now.