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May 6, 2010

Fault

 A fault is fostered by concealment. --Virgil

 There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the fault of his feet. --Samuel Beckett

The other night one of my closets friends came to me crying, currently going through a difficult time with a breakup. Instead of rage crying most of us are familiar with, she blamed herself for the difficulties her now ex-boyfriend had put her through, knowing full well what he did was wrong, but feeling responsible for him following through with his actions. Most of us would be appalled and tell her that, yes, she is being stupid because it isn't her fault and curse his name until it no longer held any meaning. But I couldn't bring myself to do that.

As she sat across from me, hiccuping and arms flailing, trying to finally verbalize the thoughts and emotions she had kept to herself since the relationship had ended, all I could see was myself, perhaps only two years ago, finally telling someone why I was so bitter and so unhappy, and why I couldn't just simply "get over it" because I felt it was my fault. The cheating, keeping me from my friends and family, demanding that I give up my education because it interfered with his life (and, hey, he got along just fine without college), telling me I was worthless, the only thing he would remember about me was having sex with me --the night after one of the many times he had broken up with me and gone out with another girl, had come home and tried to have sex with me while I was sleeping-- not paying for anything, yet telling everyone I was living off of him, yelling at me for something the dog had done, for something the government had done, sending him off to Iraq. For the American citizens not appreciating him the way he wanted to be when he came home.

I sympathized with his sense of loss and confusion, and blamed myself when he became enraged with me or treated me poorly because if I was a good girlfriend, a good person, he wouldn't be so unhappy with me. It took me years to accept that I was manipulated and taken advantage of, and that while the love I held for him at the time was genuine, his wasn't, that isn't what love is supposed to be. However, it's still difficult to accept that, being the stubborn and proud person that I am, I was shaped and controlled by someone other than me. At some point I had given up my free will in order to appease him, and it's frightening knowing that I'm capable of doing such a thing.

We look at these girls and we call them stupid and silly for not getting out sooner and putting up with behavior that they should know, and do know, is toxic. Perhaps the most haunting part of surviving an abusive relationship is simply surviving, knowing that at one point you were stupid and silly and the guilt and shame that comes with that realization. This isn't something where you tripped and fell or said something completely inappropriate, as embarrassing as those situations are, they pass and are forgotten with time. Abusive relationships do not. The memories always resurface when a new one is being foraged, "Is he a good guy, is he going to hurt me?" "Should I comply with what he says this time, is this a healthy compromise or am I falling into the same habit?" "He's angry, is it my fault?"

And not just with relationships, with everything. The loss of self often has me questioning what kind of person am I, can I be the person I want to be, and my own self worth. If I continue to look at myself as a victim I give up my agency and give him power, which is exactly the opposite of what I wish to achieve. But bearing the weight of everything that's happen to me is cruel, it's like excusing him for what he did and never having to suffer the consequences, and there's simply no excuse for his part of the ordeal. My scars aren't going to disappear because one drunken night he left a message saying "sorry and stuff" and that he reportedly feels badly about the way he had treated me.

The damage, there's so much of it. I suppressed much of it for so long because I simply could not function trying to piece it all together so soon after we had ended. I'd spend my days as busy as possible, in class and out with friends, and my nights gasping for air between sobs. It took a year, even with the help of family and friends, to build the mental stability necessary for me to face the shame and guilt that had built up over time and to finally tell someone that yes, I am a statistic, and this is what happened to me when I should have said "no."

What I do know is that my friend is stronger than me. Despite everything she's been through, she is still one of the sweetest and caring people I have met. While I sit embittered and wishing death upon my abuser, only now finding my life satisfactory three years later and thinking maybe one day I will be happy, she's smiling and loving, and moving on to the next chapter in her life.

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