The Fragility of Relationships
I refuse to say his name out loud, but it rhymes with “mistake.” This is both beautiful and twisted. At twelve years old, he stood six feet tall, not counting the three inches his curly red hair added. Mistake was skinny and tall, with a sick sense of humour that was fuelled by the pain and misery of others. His voice dripped black with anger, and there was something unsettling about the way his “kind” voice sounded more like a spider whispering comforts to a fly resting on its web. Looking back, I notice that he didn’t really have a stable group of friends. He bounced from person to person, rotating groups each day. Never staying long enough to establish intimacy. I don’t know if he ever saw people after the bell dismissed us at the end of the day. Mistake was detached and guarded, careful not to share too much about himself with anyone. I can’t recall a favourite movie, plans for the future, or strong feelings about anything, really. He only said enough to pass himself off as normal.
I didn’t pay full attention to him until junior high school when he became fixed on me. More specifically, he was fixed on hurting me. As young and naive as I was, I knew that it probably wasn’t appropriate for him to break and launch all my pencils at me or jab my hips with scissors. Language Arts class, a pretentious name for English, was where I suffered the most. I had been wedged into the corner of the classroom between Mistake and a handful of his cronies, who joined in on the pestering. All I wanted to do was discuss The Outsiders; instead, I had this ginger-afroed monstrosity eyeing me up like a prized pig. My Language Arts teacher, unlike other adults, took me seriously about Mistake. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do to help, aside from offer to switch me to another desk. Even then, I was hesitant. I knew that Mistake would see right through me. My fear of him only seemed to bring him joy.
My other junior high teachers wrote off his behaviour as the standard “boys will be boys” crap. I questioned this since none of the other boys were as extreme as Mistake, who derived pleasure from roughing me up, “just as a joke.” Eventually, I took their word for it––they were the authority figures, after all. Maybe if more adults had paid attention, it wouldn’t have gone so far when it moved outside of the brick walls that kept me safe, like a prison. I never would have ended up in the psych ward, and maybe I would have avoided the firm grasp that the Mind Worm now has on me. The Mind Worm is what causes all of the painful flashbacks, depression, and trauma in the wake of my knowing Mistake. It is the voice that whispers lies, telling me that I am to blame for all that I have been through. In a way, the Mind Worm was conceived through this chapter of my life.
No one paid attention to my complaints. His abuse continued until I was worn down and allowed him into my circle of friends. He would follow us around on our lunch period and no attempts to drive him off seemed to work. So, we resolved to tolerate his presence. It didn’t seem like any harm could come from it. That’s how I started seeing abuse as normal. I left school looking like a blackened banana, all bruised and tender from being shoved into lockers. I didn’t throw a fit when he poured pop over my head and ruined my favourite white hoodie with the handmade thumbholes. I remember once even defending him by saying, “I mean, yeah. He’s kind of an asshole, but that’s just his personality.”
I wish I could go back in time and curb stomp my past self for saying that. When he started hitting me with video game controllers, or any other contraptions for that matter, I smiled and made excuses for my black eyes. He had real swords in his game room, and something told me he wasn’t above using those too if I angered him enough. Everyone knew I was clumsy, so it wasn’t hard to lie about the bruises Mistake had caused.
In high school, when I ended up in a relationship with Mistake, I made up stories to hide the truth from myself. I wholeheartedly believed I was responsible for every punch, every insult, and every unwanted fuck. It was what I owed him. I was his girlfriend, right? Once during that summer between grades ten and eleven, I tried to break up with him. Mistake showed up at my house, and I didn’t ask for help. He refused to let the relationship end. He forced his way into my home and punished me for attempting to leave. At the time, I believed he was right to do so. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t think this happened to sixteen-year-olds who got straight As and spent more time catching Pokémon than going to school dances.
It was grade ten, and we had been dating for three days when he first sexually assaulted me. He was a good 120 pounds of muscle heavier and at least a foot taller than me. Fighting him off was like a puppy trying to knock down a tree. A cute and valiant effort, but absolutely useless. The image of his spindly fingers drawing nearer to the body that, until then, I had kept unmarked by sin or scar still haunts my dreams. No one had ever hurt me, not even myself. I was too shocked to do anything but hope that my parents, who were upstairs while it happened, didn’t hear. I didn’t want them to think I was a slut. I lay there motionless while he forced his hand down my jeans. I stared silently at the wall in front of me as I waited for it to be over.
The first time he raped me was around Canada Day. I refuse to keep track of the exact date of my defiling, but the Mind Worm associates it with July 1st. It’s marked on the calendar as a celebratory day to screw with me. It has become our own bank holiday, the anniversary of the death of an old me. Every year my mind and body shut down, malfunctioning like a defective robot. The guilt never fully let go of me. That’s what wakes me first around 3 A.M. like some Dickensian ghost warning me of my impending doom. Every year I tell myself I’ll be fine, but at this point, I know to bring a bucket into my room the night before. I’m a pathetically hopeful fool, but I’m not stupid. It’s been too many years of stress-vomiting and electrocuting sobs that convulse my whole body for me to risk being unprepared. It leaves me cowering in my dark basement all day like some kind of depressed cave troll. While my friends are out drinking on beaches, clad in red and white, I rest my chin on the windowsill and watch the display of fireworks from my dark hole, reeking of despair. Loud noises give me anxiety anyway, so I guess it’s better down here.
I never understood where his violent nature came from. His father was a quiet man who kept to himself. His mother made up for her husband’s silence with her constant cheerful rambling and large presence. She seemed to fill the room with her hair rolling off her shoulders like wildfire and her ever-rosy cheeks radiating warmth and love. Mistake’s mother shared his sharp tongue, but only used it to keep the family in line. She was mindful towards others’ feelings and was probably the only person who could make Mistake squirm. Sometimes while he beat me upstairs, I would close my eyes and focus on the sounds of her traditional Scottish folk songs wafting up from the kitchen below.
His younger brother shared their father’s displeasure for company, and would stay hidden inside the room he and Mistake shared unless it was meal time. He was timid and awkward and secretly despised his height, wishing instead to be small and invisible. He always appeared to be trying to fold himself smaller and smaller, his spine curved in a silent question, pondering the curse of a body too large for its cowardly mind. If he had stood up straighter, he would have looked almost Entish, like his brother.
Mistake’s abuse continued all through that summer and into the fall. Once I realized no one noticed my recurring split lips and bruised face, I stopped making up possible excuses in my head and forgot about it. It must have been normal if no one commented on it. I stopped saying no because I learned that it led to fewer punches from his greedy hands. I shut down into total submission, feeling nothing. Wanting nothing. Being nothing. I was a blow-up doll to play video games with him in the spare time between throwing my body onto the cold tile floor of his bathroom and beating me.
Thanksgiving of 2012, I travelled an hour to a friend’s house in another city to escape my relationship with Mistake. She dialed the number and held my hand through the call as I bargained for my freedom. She hung up when his voice got so loud she could hear him as clearly as if he were standing in the room with us. That was it––I was free. My friend held me while I fell apart. Finally, the strings he had attached to my limbs no longer forced me to keep walking through the misery, and I could break down and cry for once. I didn’t understand why it hurt so much to get away, unaware that I had been holding in my pain.
To be sure I was safe, I stayed with her for four days. It was going to be a permanent end this time. I was tired of him insulting me in the mornings before even saying hello. I was tired of his insecurities leaving marks on my body. I was tired of being someone else’s punching bag when I was already my own. I was tired of crying every morning while I got ready for school, and being isolated from my friends because he didn’t like them. I was tired of being scared for my life.
I hated myself for so long afterward. God forbid the man be at fault for any of this. A shift of blame was never discussed. It was always the girl who seduced and invited the violent advances. My body was no more than a striploin steak, available to be taken by any hungry man in a ten-mile radius. I believed it was some sort of karma and that I deserved the pain. I think that was the opening the Mind Worm needed: weakness. An empty cave to drill into and expand, letting sadness pour into every crevice it made.
Thinking of it now has stirred something out of place, or maybe awake. I can feel a shifting, like loose sand falling down an animal’s borough. Sometimes the Mind Worm wears his face. I can hear his cruel laugh in crowded rooms. It probably does that to taunt me, to remind me that I am powerless, like I was then. It can make me crawl on all fours and shortens the leash if it feels like it. I comply, or else the situation only worsens. Sometimes, I see him in places I know he cannot be. Just when I think I’ve finally healed and shaken off the fear, the Mind Worm projects his voice or his red curls in my favourite places. It doesn’t want me to be free––it wants to toy with me. Let me think I’m doing okay and then shake me up like a snowglobe, unleashing a perfectly calculated chaos on an otherwise peaceful world.
Years later, I still blame myself from time to time, after everything. His manipulation wove itself neatly into the fabric of my thoughts, and I sometimes wonder if I’m remembering correctly, until I hear my voice begging him to stop. I see the silent tears I caught in jars and saved until I was able to free them. I have always struggled with speaking about this to strangers because I can’t tell who might be one of his allies, come to burn me at the stake for casting a hex on his reputation. Though I know somewhere in my mind that I am safe, I still feel his judgemental eyes on me. I hear his sickly manipulative voice, persuading people that I am confused and that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I am so afraid of not being taken seriously for what happened to me.
He can’t possibly do any more damage than he already has. I want to write his name with his own blood on billboards, a display of the times he made me feel less than human. I don’t want to be afraid again. If he hears about this story, I will welcome his punches like blue ribbons of achievement. Let the world see what a monster he is.