Sticks and Stones: Words Forever Haunt Me
I thought maybe closure would give me the confidence I needed to move forward in life. I had come to realize I was carrying years of insecurities on my shoulders. Day to day. Specifically, relationship to relationship. Every time something went wrong in any dating or friendship relationship, my head always went back to all the awful things he’d said. I’m not sure why we do that. Why we feel the need to remember all the worst things we’ve ever heard about ourselves and place them at the forefront of our minds and seemingly forget all the compliments about our beauty, our knowledge, our strengths, and our skills. We take all the resilient qualities that have carried us to this day and replace them with images and words that are detrimental to our progression in life.
I was young when I entered the relationship with Ben. I was also dating someone else at the time, but I had been miserable in that relationship for as long as I could remember. Once I learned more about all the aspects of domestic violence, I realized that misery came from over 4 years of being gaslighted. Four years of a phone being turned off when he wasn’t in the mood to talk. Four years of ditching our plans for a night out and telling me, specifically, he didn’t want me to come along, and, again, turning the phone off. Four years of putting me last and calling me crazy every time I’d had enough. Unhappy as I was, it was all I had ever known, and I was scared and uncertain as to what I should do. When I met Ben, he made me feel wanted. So, as one relationship ended, another began. And, immediately, the cycle continued.
I’d finally left a relationship where I felt emotionally trapped. I was so worried about letting down friends and family by leaving, that when I finally did go, I was determined to look out for myself first and foremost. Ben had other plans. While I wanted a place of my own for a while, he insisted that, because of how our relationship started, he could never trust me if we lived apart.
I had already let go of so much that had been familiar to me, seemingly letting go of a part of my identity, that I conceded. I felt like I couldn’t risk losing him, when I had already isolated myself in ending a long-term relationship that also included a lot of long-term mutual friends, a large number of which weren’t happy with me for the way I’d so poorly chosen to find my way out. The guilt got the best of me, and I gave in to the first of many mental manipulations, Ben and I moving in together as soon as I’d moved out of the house with my former boyfriend.
Nonetheless, I was excited to begin a life with Ben. But at only two months in, my karma had come full circle. He had been seeing a girl at work behind my back. He’d brought her into our home. And as much as I tried to clarify the situation with him, she was insistent upon inserting herself into my life specifically. She would show up at my work and make a scene, determined to be seen and heard by me. She would call and text me and him both repeatedly. Though we tried to iron things out after, I could never really trust him again. Which led to a myriad of fights, screaming matches, hurt and hate hurled every time things got rocky. And the abuse didn’t come just from him. It came from his friends and family members repeatedly insulting me. I’d beg for him to intervene, but my words fell upon deaf ears. Or complacent ones.
There were words no amount of time could wash off.
“You’re fat and you have rolls! Who would ever want you?”
Every time a relationship ends, I find myself obsessing over my body. The first thing I ask is always, “Am I not pretty enough?” I obsess over miles and calories. Revenge body is actually a horrible concept, if you’re wondering. You don’t go about fixing parts of yourself for other people. You do it for yourself. Furthermore, if someone says those words to you, you do not need to “fix” anything, other than eliminating their presence from your life.
“You have zits all over your face. It’s disgusting.”
I am obsessed with obtaining flawless skin. I hate my pores to no end, and I think photo filters are the greatest thing on earth, not because they change how I look in any way, but because they mask some of my physical insecurities.
“You have no real friends. No one cares about you. People only call you to go out.”
I let that one become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To this day I still have trouble connecting to people. My best of friends then may not be all the same as now, but some have stuck around. I don’t imagine that’s too different than most people. But, even as I watched friends evolve in their lives and move away and become detached from each other, I did little to salvage relationships or continue them. I had created this mantra in my head that if they really wanted to spend time with me, they would make the time for me. But, mostly, deep-down inside, I believed that these friends weren’t actually friends at all. That none of them truly cared. I put little effort into reaching out to others in order to create memories. I was quick to write people off and let them go about their way. To this day, I regret it, as I feel like it has cost me a lot in the way of finding close friends to carry through life, though I do have a small number of “ride-or-die’s.”
When it became apparent that patterns of infidelity had eroded all trust and the relationship was stagnantly doomed to go nowhere, I wanted out. We had both moved back in with our parents. He had lied and cost me a job. He would invite me over, ask me to stay, want to do things together, but adamantly repeat that he would never call me his girlfriend again. He also stopped telling me he loved me for over 6 months. He adopted that same habit of turning his phone off and ignoring me when he wasn’t in the mood to talk. But every time I tried to leave, he would call me a whore and a slut. He promised to make my “life a living hell” for trying to move on, even nearly half a year after we had agreed we were better going our own separate ways. It was as if since he couldn’t have me, he would make sure no one had me.
His threat to make my life a living hell was easily believable on my end. There were things about the relationships and friendships I had formed after my relationship with Ben that he viewed as a viable threat to his reputation. There were also things I knew about Ben that not many (if any) people knew. My fears weren’t based on any lack of logic. They weren’t unsubstantiated or exaggerated. And then the night terrors began. They were always the same. I would hear the back door open and boots slowly stomping their way across the wooden floor, through the house, getting louder as they neared the bedroom door. But the sleep paralysis would kick in. I would try so hard to scream in my sleep and get away, but I couldn’t move, and my screams sounded more like muffled zombie moans from The Walking Dead. Then, just like clockwork, right as the door would open, right before whoever it was stomping their way through my dreams would get to me, either my attempted screams or a sense of logic would propel me upright, gasping for air.
It was the words that always seemed to stick with me more than the physical violence. But I recalled it. Vividly. And, many years later, knowing Ben had moved on and was married and living sober, I decided perhaps mending fences might help me let go of the hurt mitigated by all the hateful things he’d said. Knowing he was under a year sober, I elected to reach out to his wife, who I had also been long-ago friends with. I kept my explanation brief and kind. There were things I felt he and I needed to iron out, as they were still affecting me and my relationships, but I understood if she was not okay with us communicating or if he was not in a place in his sobriety to have that sort of conversation. Several weeks later, he reached out.
There was a bit of small talk initially. In the many years since we had last spoken, he had not only married, but he had a daughter. He also lost his mother. It wasn’t long after pleasantries were exchanged that I got straight to why I was seeking out a conversation. There was no stone left unturned. I remember him punching me in the side so hard that my ribs were bruised for days and it hurt every time I moved. I remember all the nasty things he said. I remember him tossing me off the bed as I stood on it during a heated shouting match, flinging me like a rag doll into a dresser. The sharp drawer pull scraped against my back, but, luckily, didn’t create a puncture wound, and the large television on top of the dresser wobbled, until it landed only slightly out of place and, fortunately, not on me. I remember getting up and being pushed back down on the bed as he emptied a water bottle, a humidifier, and a bottle of juice all onto me and the bed. I recalled every physical blow. Every major fight. Every hateful word that ever came out of either of us. Vividly.
I ended it all with, “I just want to get better. To know that maybe it’s not me. I want to forgive you. It’s the only thing in life I haven’t been able to do. For some reason, that lowest point in my life stands out. I suppose I needed to hear from you that there was a clear understanding or accountability. An apology, maybe. I don’t know. I hate feeling so unworthy all the time.”
And all he could say was that he didn’t quite remember things that way and he didn’t really want to open that can of worms again.
It wasn’t the ending or validation I’d hoped for or sought at all. But it was a clear answer. That where ever he was in life, he wasn’t far enough along to accept responsibility. That where ever he was in life, my closure would never have anything to do with him and everything to do with me.