So by this time I was pretty much where he wanted me. I was too exhausted to argue with him, so tired of fighting and so fed up with getting upset that I just stopped reacting. The small voice of reason at the back of my head was silent.
The years I spent with him did their job. I had gotten used to completely paradoxical reactions to things. He could refuse cleaning or taking out a bin bag just because he didn’t like the tone or the words I had used. I was walking on egg shells constantly. It was so exhausting.
The worst part was that he would keep telling me that he loved me. And I wanted to believe in it. I wanted to believe because there had to be one good thing, even just one. That despite all the things he said or did to me, at least he loved me. That would make up for those chilling moments when it seemed like he knew exactly what he was doing.
“If you could see yourself, you would be horrified by the way you’re treating me,” I would say, exasperated after yet another character assassination.
“Maybe,” he replied.
He had to always come out on top. At times he could recognise the error of his ways, he would apologise. The silence would last a few minutes, but then I would get blamed for something that I couldn’t even remember happening. Once we had broken up, I told him about how the comments about my shoes had hurt me and he’d apologise.
A couple of minutes later he would however say: “But they were really ugly shoes.”
It was like I wasn’t allowed to have nice things. Most of his friends were girls, which I considered a good sign at the time. One of his friends, Laura, had come to a nearby university to study for a semester and he was going to visit her for a week. I knew that he’d had a crush on Laura at one point but that didn’t bother me. If he’d wanted to be with her, he’d be with her instead of me. On the days leading to his departure we’d joke about what I’d do, having the house for myself. I was really looking forward to having some quiet time.
That seemed to really wind him up because on the night before he left he suddenly announced that he wanted an open relationship. This had never come up in a conversation, this was the very first time he’d ever mentioned it. Then he left to spend a week with a girl I knew he’d had feelings for in the past. I heard nothing of him that entire week, and of course I was now miserable. As if he had wanted to make sure I would be.
Someone would probably ask at this point why didn’t I just leave? To people who have never experienced abuse of any kind, the solutions are always simple. Someone wrongs you, you leave. But it’s not that easy. Leaving requires courage, which at that point I didn’t have. My entire personality had been slowly but surely ripped apart, and it would be me who’d beg him not to leave me. It would’ve meant that I had failed.
And besides, if even he couldn’t stand me, who ever would?
At the end it wasn’t him who ended up hitting the other in that relationship, it was me.
One night I was in bed and he had gone out. He came back, absolutely black-out drunk. He would crawl in the bed next to me and his breath stunk so bad. His hot, sweaty hands were all over my body. Squeezing my breasts, going between my legs.
“Stop, I want to go to sleep, I’ve got work in the morning,” I’d say to him while trying to push him off. “Stop it, I don’t want to.”
It was as if he was deaf. He just kept going, became even more forceful. He climbed on top of me, I panicked and smacked him hard across his face. I had never hit anyone before.
That seemed to sober him up. His eyes stopped being glazed and I recognised the gaze that looked back at me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Oh thank god. It must’ve been because he was so drunk. He’s now going to be horrified at what he almost did. He’s going to apologise.
He didn’t. Instead he started calling me a frigid, and telling what a shit girlfriend I was. He turned his back on me and wouldn’t talk to me. Finally I got out and went to sleep downstairs on the couch. It felt like my insides had been filled with icy water.
The next day his cheek was red but he didn’t say anything about it. That night was never mentioned again but by looking at his face, I knew it had happened. This time it wasn’t me misunderstanding things. It had really happened.
I’d love to say that was the catalyst that made me leave him. But we stayed together for months after that.
“How did you finally find the courage to leave him?” one counsellor asked.
I didn’t. He left me.
But I have told professionals who I’ve dealt with to reword that phrase because it suggests that there is some sort of narrative: The abused woman finally has enough and finds the courage to leave the abuser. When in reality it doesn’t always go like that, and that makes you feel worse. I suggested they’d use ‘what happened at the end?’ instead.
But why am I telling this long-winded tale? This is supposed to be a depression blog. I’m alienating my audience that are expecting me to have rants about brain chemistry and to say fuck a lot.
Because one time shortly after our breakup I absolutely poured my heart out about this relationship to a girl I hardly knew while she was sitting next to me at a library. She didn’t really say anything back, and I felt incredibly embarrassed for opening up to a virtual stranger. What she must think of me.
The next time I saw her was a couple of weeks later, again at the library. Again she sat next to me. She didn’t say anything for a while after we had exchanged hellos. I blamed this on the incredible awkwardness my outburst had caused. Then she suddenly said, in a very quiet voice:
“I think my boyfriend is like that too.”
That was the beginning of a series of conversations, at the end of which she felt strong enough to actually leave him.
This is why.