Two nights before what I hope will be my last court date for a good, long while, I was up from midnight to 3:00am. My eyes stung and watered but I couldn’t sleep. I gave up an hour in and started watching a cheesy TV show I’ve been binging (my tastes always going far more light and fluffy when x’s abuse ramps up).
I finally fell asleep sometime after 3:00 and I woke up less than hour later, in full sleep paralysis, pinned to the bed by a man standing next to my bed. I couldn’t see his face. I was laying on my side and he had one hand on both of my wrists pushing me against the bed and his other hand was over my mouth.
I was in that foggy space between sleeping and waking and he seemed so real. I could see he had tattoos on his arm and I kept closing and opening my eyes, opening them as wide as I could to try to get past the webs formed between my upper and lower lids that were obscuring my view- I was trying desperately to see if it was x’s arm.
I was in this state long enough to do this for a half dozen times, to think fuck, fuck, fuck. To scan his arm to see if I could recognize even one single tattoo. To be aware that I couldn’t see clearly or move my head at all and that it was too dark to tell what the tattoos were anyway. To feel the weight of his palm against my mouth and chin and to make sure I still felt air in my nostrils. I could feel his thumb, splayed away from his fingers, resting against the side of my nose. Long enough to think, so loudly in my head, he’s really got me now – this is it. Fuck.
And then my eyes fully opened, not obscured at all by darkness, and I could see that there was no one next to my bed. Within seconds of that, I could move one arm and then the other.
I stared at the space between my bed and the window – a gap of maybe two feet – repeating to myself it wasn’t real. It wasn’t real. It. Wasn’t. Real.
As scary as last fall was at times, I only ever had nightmares of him or his family trying to get into my house. Once of him getting in and slowly coming down the hallway. Never touching me. Never so close.
As I tried to fall back asleep, I thought: why now when I’m actually so much less afraid of him? Why now when I can actually laugh and shake my head at his ludicrous accusations?
I had, only a few days before, remembered an incident from the first couple of years into the relationship, where x pinned me to the bed as we goofed around after work but before dinner one day. We were fully dressed and one of us must have tried to play attack the other one and we fell over onto the bed.
After a minute of laughing, he grabbed both of my wrists tightly, one in each hand, and held me against the bed. He straddled me and just stared at me.
I couldn’t move.
I twisted my wrists and he didn’t loosen his grip. He wasn’t smiling or laughing. He was completely still. With a totally blank expression.
I grimaced as I used all my strength to try to move him aside and free my arms, at least.
There was no mistaking that I was over it before I even said Let me go – fine – you win – you’re stronger.
He didn’t move.
I froze to pull together all my strength and tried again to free myself, grunting and cussing.
Goddammit. Let me go. Let me fucking go.
He didn’t. He smirked. Looked me in the eyes. And then laughed, before loosening his hands from my wrists and rolling over to the side of the bed and then laying there, laughing softly.
I left the room and went into the kitchen. I think I started washing dishes or cutting vegetables or some other active task – anything to try to ignore how scary that had felt. How scary his expression had been.
Anything to give myself a minute to try to decide I could just let it go. Anything at all to try to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal.
He came in the kitchen like nothing had happened. Poured some water or a beer or something. Leaned against the stove as I was at the sink and said are you mad or something?
I kept my back to him. That wasn’t ok. You knew I wanted you to let go and you wouldn’t.
He leaned even further into his lean. Took a drink. C’mon. It was for fun. Can’t I even fucking play around with you without you getting mad about something stupid?
(I hear you – yes, I stayed a long time after this, no it wasn’t always like this every day, yes I was addicted to the good feelings when things were good which was way more often than not at this point, no I didn’t see the gaslighting at all yet so I was spun sideways and wanted desperately to think I was overreacting.)
I turned to face him. You’re stronger than me. You proved it. You made it impossible for me to move away and didn’t listen to me. Nothing about that is ok. Do. Not. Do. That. Again.
He exhale laughed, shook his head, and stood up straighter. What happened to you that made you freak out about *that*? Were you raped before or something?
I turned away from him. Toward the sink again. Grabbed the counter with both hands and closed my eyes. You don’t have to have been raped to know it’s not ok for someone who loves you to prove they can dominate you physically and not listen when you ask to be let go.
And then the disorienting spin spin spin of deflection and projection and gaslighting went into full speed.
I can’t remember how it ended. That’s often the way of these discussions.
I know we weren’t really OK all evening.
I know that he never did it again.
And I know he brought it up at least three or four different times over the next five years. Each time I had shared something truly vulnerable. Especially in the late night talks we had after the reveal of betrayals that sobbing summer of 2016. Something I shared on one of those nights after a couple’s counseling session where I thought we were making real progress.
When I would share something painful from my past and he would say: Is that why you got so upset that time I was playing around holding you down? Because that happened to you? That’s what made you overreact and freak out?
(As was almost always the case, had there been video recording, it would show that I didn’t in any way freak out. I was oddly calm as I tried to break free of him. I was experiencing true dissonance in that moment and my body did what it could to get away, but my mind was five steps behind and my voice was quiet and almost emotionless as I cussed and tried to get free.)
You must’ve been raped or beat or something or you’d never react like that.
I would say no. Suddenly on the defensive instead of being comforted. Once again explaining why it wasn’t unreasonable to expect someone to listen when you ask them to stop something. Spun and spun and spun.
And the gaslight would flame up and we’d end up somewhere weird. I would be mentally exhausted. I would give up. I wouldn’t even remember exactly what got us there. Except that somehow it ended up that I was defending some action or words of mine for some reason.
At least half the time I would apologize for some real or perceived reaction I had during that conversation.
The last time I can remember him doing this, I had just shared a time in my very early twenties when I ended up making out with some guy I just met and he was pressing to have sex and I somehow knew, viscerally and in my whole body, that saying no wasn’t going to mean anything.
Many, many women know that nanosecond of terrifying clarity.
I made a rapid, barely conscious decision to betray myself and say yes wordlessly as opposed to find myself in a situation where I would have to be a victim. Where I might have to live with having said no and having been overpowered.
I didn’t date anyone for a year after that – didn’t even kiss anyone – as I figured out how I did that to myself and how I got myself to a place where that seemed better than fighting that man off. How I could make a choice that gave up all my power while telling myself I was the one in control.
It wasn’t, for me, a terribly traumatizing event. It made me face something about myself and I did that. I’ve never forgotten that betrayal to myself.
I finished telling him about that. About how it changed how I dated and still makes me sad for that young woman who made that choice when she didn’t have to. I probably held my breath for a second or two because, by then, eggshells were an understatement and yet I kept forging ahead with baring my soul to try to save us.
Oh – that must be why you freaked out when I held you down that time.
No support. No empathy (because spoiler: that’s the Volcano-sized issue and I didn’t see it for yearrrrs).
In fact, not only none of the positives you hope for in a partner you’ve made a commitment to spend your life with when you share something painful from your past, but the opposite. Blame. Deflection.
A delicate, tender thing you share becomes a weapon against you.
Suddenly, you not only don’t deserve sympathy. You are now blamed for your natural reaction to something they did. Years ago.
Makes it even more ironic that x spent years telling me I never let anything go. That he still cites that as one of the top five reasons he left me.
I am still boggled by the actual chemical fog my brain was in that allowed me to make excuses for, to look sideways at, to project positive reasons onto his weaponizing of my soft spots. The fog that helped me waste my time defending what didn’t need defending. For continuing to hope and share and try to model the kind of relationship I thought he could learn to have.
I saw that man next to my bed in those dark, pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning and felt his very real hand on my mouth and tried to see what was obscured for a lot of reasons, I think.
On Sunday, I had remembered him pinning me to the bed. I can’t recall what triggered that memeory. But it’s been sitting in the back of my mind as one of the biggest warning signs that I breezed past in my eagerness to believe the image he presented.
On Monday, x received my most recent court submission and that moment always makes me queasy to think not only of how he’ll take what is written and how he’ll twist it in retelling it to people, but also how he will retaliate. (Not if. Just how.)
Just twelve hours before that waking dream, on Tuesday afternoon, my lawyer had sent x a request for employment info. He’s working but trying to hide it from me so he doesn’t have to pay any child support. And *this*, taking his money, is what will really set him off. He’s of that child-support-is-unconstitutional ilk. Only recently, though, because it means he gets to be a victim. Again.
I believe that my sleep deprived body froze and let me live out the worst he could threaten to do to me, physically, as my body held me still, so that I could shed it.
So that I could shed it.
Live through it without living through it and then let it go.
It’s no mystery why his hand was over my mouth. My words are dangerous to him. Whether to the court, to his girlfriend, or here.
My silence is what he wants. It’s what I will no longer give.
I woke up and took a few hours to shake the feeling that waking dream gave me. And in that time, he sent my lawyer something he tried to send the judge but sent in an unofficial way that means it won’t even come into play for the hearing.
Accusing me of all kinds of new versions of old, horrible, false things he’s said about me. Abusing his son. Being psychotic. Harassing.
As I took a break at work, I could still see, in the freshness of the day, the arm next to my head that couldn’t turn, that arm in front of my eyes that wouldn’t see clear, and I thought You don’t really have me because what you want I won’t give.
My silence is an old memory.
You don’t have me.
I have me.