“You have 1 friend request” my Facebook account informed me today. Whenever I see someone’s requesting me as a friend, my first reaction is always one of bewilderment. I mean, my circle of friends is purposely small, so the people I consider my real friends have long been in on my Facebook page. These days, casual acquaintances and relatives who’ve come to Facebook at the urging of their children are my usual requests, so I assumed this morning’s friend request was one of those types. Instead, I found myself face to face with a person from my long-ago past who, to this day, still strikes invokes feelings of fear and loathing in every fiber of my being.
Back in 1975 -, long before the terms ‘domestic violence’ and ‘post-traumatic stress syndrome’ became part of my lexicon; long before the days where teen dating violence was discussed in high school; long before the establishment of battered women’s shelters and domestic abuse hotlines – I was trapped in a secret web of violence with my battering boyfriend. Looking back at that time in my life, and armed with the psychological portrait of a batterer I’ve now practically memorized, I’m able to see the warning signs of impending abuse long before the first slap was ever administered: Insults, name-calling, accusations, isolation, intimidation, blaming, withholding, coercion. They were all present and accounted for.
“I want to sit in that chair. Get up and find another place to sit” he demanded. Up to that point, I’d been enjoying the evening talking and joking with him and his sister, and feeling a little cocky I laughingly said “No.” When he walked over, physically removed me from the chair, pinned me to the ground and started slapping me around, my mind rebelled. Who would do this? What had I done wrong? Doesn’t he love me? Why isn’t his sister stepping in a stop him? What can I do to make him stop? His sheer physical strength was too much for my 108 pounds and the best I could do was turn my head so he wouldn’t injure my face.
Afterward, there were the tears and the apologies and his ever-so-logical explanation that it was my fault. If I’d only obeyed him, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad. If I’d just done what he told me to do in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to drag me from the chair. “See how simple it all is?” he seemed to be saying. And it did seem simple enough because he’d already made apparent my inability to do the right thing just a few weeks prior…
He’d had some friends over for a jam session. I’d recently become enamored the use of the recorder on Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow and had just purchased a cheap recorder to practice on. While my boyfriend and his buddies were in the next room playing Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple songs, I stayed in the front room, trying to teach myself how to play along to Today and White Rabbit. Over and over, moving the needle back to the beginning of selected parts, I absorbed myself in memorizing the notes of these haunting melodies. Successful, I felt proud and excited to have discovered a new way to make music.
“You’re nothing but a whore” he told me after they’d left.
“What?” I thought, my mind racing. I wasn’t even in the same room with them. What was he talking about?
“I saw the way you looked at them, the way you had your mouth around your instrument!” he sputtered.
“But I didn’t look at them in that way” I insisted. “I didn’t”
“You did, you filthy bitch. You’re nothing but a fucking whore the way you wrapped your mouth around that – that THING!” he screamed. I cowered as he stood over me hurling accusations and describing my “behavior” in increasingly hateful and derogatory terms. According to him, playing my recorder in front of other men was a ‘signal’ that I wanted to give them all blowjobs.
I don’t remember how it ended. I only remember feeling ashamed and guilty for something I hadn’t done. I put away my instrument and didn’t play it again for another 10 years. It reminded me of what happened and the way he made me feel so dirty and confused. And alone.
The last time I saw him, he accused me of sleeping with other men. By that time we were married. The beating was severe. Eye blacked, face swollen, and (finally) afraid for my safety, I found a way out of my marriage, out of that relationship and him out of my life for good.
Eighteen years later and still reeling from the after-effects of another disastrous marriage, I found myself alone in my house, sitting on the couch watching the 10pm news. And there he was – HIM. He was the subject of a news story. His teenage son had been beaten up at school and the dad – HIM – was being interviewed for his reaction. I drew my knees to my chest and pushed my back into the soft cushion of the couch. He was in my house, my home, my safe place. I felt invaded, violated, discovered, and even though I knew he wasn’t really in my house, my gut reaction was to hide, to make myself as small as possible, to disappear into the furniture. My shame about the relationship I had with my abuser has stayed with me all these years. I married him knowing he was broken and fatally flawedm yet I believed I could learn to act better, to be perfect and to not make him mad anymore. Not long after my divorce, the subject of domestic violence became part of the national dialogue and I could identify every single warning sign from the list I obtained. He followed all the patterns of an abuser. I cannot honestly say, that if I’d had that information at the time, it would have helped. I, too, was broken. Years later, I went into therapy and learned to identify and claim my own rights to happiness and to decent, respectful treatment. I discovered my own personal reasons for tolerating certain behaviors and made a paradigm shift in the way I conducted relationships. I like to think I’ve made progress but still, I rarely talk about my experience and almost never mention being briefly married to an abuser when I was 18. There is so much shame.
Over the years, he’s gone by many pseudonyms – He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned, The Asshole, and my current favorite – The Entity. I cannot bring myself to even say his name because that word in my mouth feels and tastes like evil.
I signed up for Facebook using the caution I’ve learned over the years to practice. I was careful to apply all the privacy settings – to block my picture and mask my personal information – so imagine my horror when I opened a friend request today and found his unmistakable name and his aging face with the same sinister smile staring right at me.
“___________ would like to add you as a friend” Confirm or Ignore.
Ignore seemed too soft, but is my only option and I can’t click it fast enough. I wish for a button that says “Not No, but Hell No” or, better yet, one that automatically sends the inviter a restraining order after you click a button that reads “Go Fuck Yourself”. Fortunately Facebook gives me an option to block the offending person, which I also hastened to do.
Friend: It’s something we never were and the sheer gall of his request after all these years baffles me.
Ignore. It seems too polite a word for the way I feel about that person – yet it’s exactly the response that’s called for. The definition of the word means simply ‘disregard.’
I disregard you, He Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.
I disregard you, asshole.
I disregard you, Entity.
I disregard you, ________.