I’ve come to realize lately that I’m not as “over” some of the abuse that’s happened to me as I thought, for I while, I was. It’s disconcerting to admit how much another person’s cruelty can continue to affect your life and self many years after the fact.
Example in point: In the last couple of years of my marriage to my son’s father, he (the husband) worked shifts that started at 4:30 AM. Invariably, he would set our alarm clock for 3:00, and then when it went off he would set it forward ten minutes and go back to sleep, and do this several times in a row. He didn’t hit the snooze button, insisting it might not work, but pushed the “minute” button ten times instead.
WAAAH! WAAAAH! WAHH! WAAAH! click click click click click click click click click click
Under normal circumstances, this might have been merely an annoyance, but at the time, I was trying to care for a fussy infant with stomach issues who slept in our bed and woke to breastfeed every couple of hours per night and never woke up later than 7 in the morning. (Spare me your parent-judgment if you have it in store. I did what was right by my hypersensitive child and gave him what he not wanted but needed.) I was sleep deprived and suffering from exhaustion so severe that I couldn’t eat, despite losing 1500 calories per day in breastmilk, and would suddenly fall asleep sitting upright during the day. It was also a time during which our marriage was in its final stages of falling apart, which it had been doing before we ever said our ‘vows’; my soon-to-be-ex-husband had no interest in sharing in our son’s care; we had just moved to a new city and I knew nothing and no one; I was struggling to complete my bachelor’s degree amidst all the chaos; and to top it all off my anxiety and mood issues were rapidly coming to a head, and my husband was about as non-supportive as could be about my going back on therapy and meds.
So, that’s the long of it; the short of it is that when I asked him to please stop resetting the alarm every ten minutes every morning click click click click click click click click click click, and instead use the fucking snooze button or just fucking get out of bed when the fucking alarm fucking went off the first fucking time (not, I emphasize, the words I used at the time) so that I could avoid being kept awake for 40 minutes for the seventy-third time each night– when I brought up these matters– we got into a giant row, as we usually did, screaming at each other, calling each other names, threatening each other with divorce and custody and finances, and I, as I usually did, ended up crying and begging him to forgive me and then sitting in the bathroom while he slept, slicing into my thighs with a hunting knife and wracked with uncontrollable sobs.
Keep in mind, at this point I hadn’t really learned about panic attacks, hadn’t been diagnosed with bipolar or anxiety or autism, didn’t know why I felt so fucking horrible all the time, felt I was trapped for the rest of my life in a loveless, violent, manipulative relationship, and was basically alone in caring for a challenging child at the age of twenty, while also trying to remember who I was and get a degree that would allow me to provide for our family, and while most of my peers were out drinking from kegs at keg parties or something along those lines, I don’t really know.
So that wasn’t really the short of it: the short of it is that for all these reasons and so many more, that fight sticks in my brain and won’t get out. I am bless-cursed with a sporadically perfect eidetic memory for auditory stimuli. When something I hear makes an impression on me, because it’s such a horrible dry grating noise or because it was screamed in my face, for instance, or because it accompanied really vivid emotions, I will later not just remember that noise but hear it in my head over and over every time I think about it, with the same reaction that I had when it first happened. So I can close my eyes and hear it all now: the things we screamed, the click click click click click click click click click click. And it hurts, because I realize that I still feel pity and contempt and grief for the very young woman I was, and that even though I cope much better now with the kind of feelings those sounds elicit, they can still fill my brain and ruin my week.
Why am I thinking about all this at 3:40 in the morning? Because I can’t sleep, and I just set the alarm to make sure I’m up to get my son ready for school at 6:30. Click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click click. And it all comes back to me now, as Celine Dion predicted. And if it were just the alarm clock, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I could buy a wind up alarm clock, or set an alarm on my phone or computer.
But why bother, because it’s not just that, it’s so many small things around the house, around this town, around my head that would need to be locked away in a safe marked “TRIGGER WARNING.” I have a new bed, I’ve rearranged the living room, but even in my own apartment there are times and places when it hits me like a tidal wave of bricks, the memories, the feelings.
We’re taught these days to believe that we control who and what we are. But the truth is, we can’t help some of the things done to us. They are real, and they affect our brains as much as falling out of an airplane affects a body. You can’t wish it away. Like it or not, better or worse, whether you think it will or not, when you bring someone close to you, it changes you. You can become happy again. I know people do. But no matter how long it’s been, you can’t go back.