content warning: domestic violence, weapons, sexual assault
I discuss my litany of problems with my therapist; major uptick in anxiety, more flashbacks, continued distress over Kevin. When we dig into the flashbacks I quickly grow distraught and begin to cry, so we prepare to work with them using EMDR.
First I notice resentment over my perception that my abuser might be doing well while I am struggling. I grow hot and begin to tremble. Lisa waves her fingers before me. My face contorts into a snarl. I weep, struggling to keep my eyes open.
“I hate him,” I spit out, venomous, trying to contain boiling rage that feels poised to obliterate everything. “I wish he were dead,” I growl. I’m shocked by the ferocity of my own anger. I feel my eyes wide. She waves her fingers again. I see that night with the gun and recoil in horror.
She stops and I cover my face, avert my eyes, struggle for breath and grab several tissues. I can’t look at Lisa but I tell her, ashamed and seething; “That night he handed me the gun and told me I should kill him…” I blow my nose. I can feel Lisa looking at me. I’m so angry I can’t see straight.
“I wish I had done it,” I growl through clenched teeth and then break down sobbing. I’m violently angry and horrified. I still don’t look at her. I blow my nose several times and try to collect myself. I steal a glance at Lisa out of the corner of my eye; she looks concerned, her hands resting in her lap.
“How do you think your life would be different?” she asks.
I laugh; a bitter, resigned laugh. “Well, I’d be in jail.”
She asks what I’m angry about.
“He ruined my life,” I wail in agony, “And he got away with it.”
We stop the EMDR. We talk about what’s changed in me–my lack of confidence and self-esteem, my anxiety and exhaustion, my inability to trust myself. We talk about what happened in that relationship and how my confidence and trust were slowly stolen. We talk about the deceit and manipulation, the previous girlfriend he raped, the affair he had with an underage person. We prepare to address all this in our next session, which will be on Valentines’ Day.
I tell Lisa about the zoo that’s allowing people to name cockroaches after exes and feeding them to meercats on livestream. I’ve made sure the zoo has both names for that one fucking cockroach. I tell Lisa how I thought for half a second about naming one for Kevin. “But,” I say softly, “He isn’t a cockroach.”
We walk out to our cars together. In the car, I want music and pull up my iTunes library. Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” catches my eye.
The song came on while we laid on his couch together the first time I stayed at Kevin’s place. I looked at him in wistful vulnerability and told him how that song used to play at a cafe where I would work when I didn’t want to be at home. It made me weep every time, longing to be loved properly. “I heard it the other day and it made me think of you,” he said. I softened into him thinking how lucky I was to find love at last with such a warm, tender man.
I used to listen to it in the car on my way to him. That sweet memory calmed me down reliably on the difficult drive; I’d smile contentedly, feeling safe and serene. Naturally I’ve avoided the song since we broke up.
I take a breath, press play and turn on my car audio.
“I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.
When evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.”
I sing along evenly, my own voice smooth and sweet against Dylan’s.
“I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong.”
So he had remarkably flawed self-awareness for such a brilliant person; so what? I do not. People buried in their defensiveness can’t be counted on as a source of love; I can. I am singing a love song to myself.
“I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawling down the avenue
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.
The storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothing like me yet.
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love.”
So I’ve been hurt by another man with more investment in defensiveness than relationship. Sure, this was not a cockroach but a beautiful, unrepeatable human being I still miss every day. Yet it’s the same damnable story with the same painful ending.
A soft breeze floats in through my car windows on the way back into Durham. Right at the moment, the hurt isn’t as penetrating as usual. Did I really expect to find partnership with someone who couldn’t articulate any personal responsibility for the painful failures of his previous relationships? Did I expect that someone who wasn’t doing his own work was going to be strong enough to stand by me while I did mine? Didn’t I know I was looking at unhealed trauma? I did, and I let him close to me anyway. I can take responsibility for that.
I’m strong enough and brave enough not to turn away; I sit with my questions and feel the pain of missing him. I feel the pain of not having a partner to love and be loved by. On this particular unseasonably warm winter evening, I also feel the way I nurture my tender, delicate love for myself.