As if any woman deserves to be abused. As if any woman deserves to be shamed. As if there is any justification for destroying another human, ever.
He apologized, of course. He never meant to hurt me, he knew he was wrong, knew that’s not who I was, promised it would never happen again. I forgave him, of course. For not only had I been raised by generations of women who exemplified the female doormat, but had also been subjected to years of religious teaching on how we should love others. If someone slaps you on the right cheek? Offer him your left. How many times do I forgive the one who hurts me? Seventy times seven. My heart cracks wide open for the women under this teaching who stay in abusive relationships, who are told, if you love him better, he’ll come to understand love and will no longer hurt you.
No dear woman, he won’t.
I no longer believe in a love that must suffer for the cause of another. For months I suffered. More months that I would even care to admit. I suffered for my own fear and shame.
I suffered out of love for our mutual family and friends. I suffered for him, to protect him, because I wanted to believe the best of him, I wanted to believe he was a good man who operated from a place of his own pain, and maybe with more compassion, more love, more understanding, maybe he would heal. Maybe he would become the person I thought him to be. Maybe there would be reconciliation, restoration, a way for closure.
Overhead, seagulls circle and I pick up a stone, feel the smoothness of it between my fingers, trace the outside of it. I ditch it toward the waves but like everything of late, the effort is halfhearted and lacks conviction.
I had learned about pretence in my childhood, about the masks we wear and the words we say to ensure there is never questions of what lay behind the falsity. In fact, I reached beyond a level of skillfulness to complete mastery of such impression. To many, this could be construed as deceit. To the rest of us, this is a tool of survival we have carried into our adulthood, one we are disinclined to trade for the perils of honesty when we are so accomplished in our secret-keeping.
To keep the secret of abuse, whether as a child or an adult, is to learn to live two different lives.
There is your outer life, the one where you hold yourself together for your family, where normal is rehearsed and practised, where you go about your life and hope the people around you don’t notice the tiredness in your eyes and the way your hands shake when you pick up your phone.
Then there is your inner life.
The one where your husband leaves for work and you are finally alone and can fall apart right there on the bathroom floor. The one where you cannot find the energy or motivation to get dressed, where you haven’t showered for days, don’t answer your phone, and find every reason not to leave the house. Where your work suffers, your health suffers, your spirit suffers.
Secrets destroy us. They eat away at our flesh and rot our soul and soon we begin to decompose, and all that festers inside our putrid body can no longer be hidden.
We see it in our anger, our addictions, our depression. In the way our bones ache and our joints hurt. In our mood swings and outbursts and the way we do not sleep for days, weeks, years. In our fear, anxiety, isolation, numbness, irritability, hyper-vigilance, disconnection, self-destruction. We see it in our crushed spirit and dried up bones. In the way we turn away from life, turn away from ourselves.