TW: abuse, mention of suicide
It took me more than half a decade to finally get myself help.
I still remember it all very clearly. The slow dimming and brightening of the Christmas lights in his room; the smokey smell of his skin. No, it wasn’t Christmas, nor did it ever feel like it was when I was with him. At the time, there was one feeling that enveloped me more than the others:
Fear of being stuck. Fear that I would never be able to get out. It’s been more than half a decade and sometimes I think I’m still there.
We were together for about a year. I was young and naive. The concept of “bad people” had not solidified yet in my head. I don’t know why that was, considering the amount of crime stories I’d watched and read at that point. Had I been hurt before? Yes. But I believed that people who did bad things to me did it because something bad happened to them, so I couldn’t fully view them as bad. More… hurt, and lonely.
I naturally gravitated towards people who were like that too. Hurt and lonely. I was like a mother hen looking for chicks to tend. My own mother had warned me before of people who take advantage of others by first luring them in with sob stories, like a worm attached at the end of a hook. But why would anyone do that? I would ask. I still don’t know the answer.
(Disclaimer: “hurt and lonely” are not necessary nor sufficient conditions for “bad.”)
I still remember his scarred arms. His smile. I don’t know if they did reach his eyes or if he just… narrowed them. He would smile whenever he was winning. When he pretended he was sick and dying so that he could pressure me into doing things, and I would buckle. I’m going to leave those “things” to your imagination, but you can pretty much gather what they are based on the topic.
Speaking of imagination, his was intense. He wove lies like threads of a sticky web, pulling characters and stories of friendship, heartbreak, and suicide right out of his ass.
The best thing is, I couldn’t help but get stuck in his web. The characters? I talked to some of them. They confirmed everything he was saying (they were all just him, by the way—surprise!). Besides, if I even dared doubt him, he would pull the “everyone-is-against-me-I-thought-you-were-in-my-corner” card. So, how could I question his sob stories, his lures?
Did I tell anyone? I did. I didn’t tell my friends, because I wasn’t sure how to navigate these things yet. Bad people were obvious, you know? They were the men in the alleys, the ones out on the streets cat-calling me. So what if my friends tell me he was bad? I’m pretty sure I would have internally agreed, but I would also reason out that they hadn’t seen him cry or make me soup or wake me up so we could watch Arrow together. “Real” bad people are one-dimensional. He was not.
But I did tell a few people. Adults. People who were supposed to know what they were doing. The response was okay to me at the time, but now that I’m older I see them as completely unacceptable. When a clearly depressed student comes to you and says that her boyfriend pretended to be sick to make her do “things,” what is the acceptable response? When this student tells you she has lost every shred of emotion in her body and in the same breath tells you the problems she has been having with this boy who they know was kicked out from school for violating his TRO, what is the acceptable response?
Let me tell you what it should not be: a mere attendance consideration and my favorite one, “That is very interesting.”
So, yes. We lasted a year. And I still randomly lose all emotion. And I still freeze whenever I smell anything remotely like him. And the slow dimming and brightening of the Christmas lights still take me back to his room.
Will it get better? I don’t know. I’ll tell you in a few years. But I have been fighting in my own way, and I have seen that I am not alone. I am now surrounded by people who will make damn sure that not another person gets violated, and that those who did will receive all the care and support. I am surrounded by people who have fiercely fought for others. I am surrounded by the gentlest people I know. I am finally getting help. Maybe that’s as good as it gets for me, but for now that is enough.
V’s story is part of a series of stories from survivors and advocates being published by Time’s Up Ateneo for its second anniversary, with the theme “From Complicity to Care” and the goal of promoting more caring communities for survivors and advocates. Our call for stories is open until October 31, 2021.
Please join our anniversary events—a feminist community night entitled “Conspiring against the Patriarchy” on October 23, 2021 and a public lecture and discussion entitled “Confronting GBV in Pop Culture” on October 30, 2021 both at 8pm PHT.