The day I fully understood the difference
I’d asked him to do the dishes and he asked if he’d dirtied any of them.
I was taking his clothes down with mine to put into the laundry as he settled onto the couch having come over to my place again for the weekend. I began yelling at him about how we never spent time in his pigpen of an apartment and when he came over to my place he expected me to cook, clean, and “entertain”.
He launched himself off the couch and charged me.
No. He didn’t hit me. This one had never hit me with his hands; just his words. He began circling, spitting on me in his open-mouthed rage. Hurling top decibel-level insults and leaning in towards me, towering over me, so I shrank and covered my ears.
At that moment I was suddenly seeing things clearly. Finally. I realized that if I went for my usual strategy of placating, calming, and apologizing that the next time he did this (and there would certainly be a next time) I would have volunteered for the abuse.
It’s a hard thing to admit but I was 39 years old at the time.
It gets worse. Three years earlier I had ended the relationship with this man for exactly this kind of behavior. Friends had warned me, supported me, helped me get him out of my apartment. After two months of longing and listening to way too many schmaltzy, stupid love songs I went over to his place and reopened a door that should have remained shut.
Apparently I hadn’t learned the lesson the first time.
But that day I learned it for real.
To be clear: I was never to blame for the abuse that man and the ones before him heaped on me. None of us are.
However, my part in keeping that cycle going was that I accepted it. When the first live-in boyfriend cracked me across the face for chewing my fingernails and then told me he wouldn't have had to hit me if I'd just stopped doing that, I turned down the wrong road. I believed him. I could have saved myself - and my family - worlds of grief if I'd simply packed my things and left. The fact that I didn't meant that I essentially volunteered for every black eye and cut lip and bruised upper arm that followed. None of which excuses him in any way for the abuse, btw.
Another caveat, I had that option. Too many victims don't. This piece isn't in any way speaking to that experience.
So what happened after my shining moment of clarity while that guy raged at me and then slammed out shouting for me not to bother calling to apologize?
I kept signing up for more of the same with three subsequent men. Low self-esteem? Yeah. Seriously bad judgment? For sure. Thinking I didn’t deserve better. Ohhhh, yeah.
It took what it took but I’m hoping anyone reading this who’s been tolerating crap behavior from a partner will see their part in it andrecognize that they do, we do, have agency. It’s tragic how many people are trapped in dangerous relationships where their agency has been stripped from them and, let’s be clear again, those people are victims. I wasn’t but it took me nearly twenty years of being punched, yelled at, ridiculed, and diminished to recognize I had the power to end it.
That January day in 2000 when I suddenly woke up and saw how I’d been accepting the unacceptable all along something snapped. I was a victim the first time around. Now I was bending over, offering my soft parts and saying “Kick me”.
Do I still volunteer to be disrespected from time to time?
Ask the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York.