07 December 2010

Shitty things that happen to me.

So a thing happened over the break. It was awful and continues to be awful. And I am having a hard time talking about it, so I'm going to try and write it down.

Trigger warning. The following post describes threatened gun violence and a serious lack of respect for physical boundaries.

Thanksgiving break was more awkward this year than usual. Mom and Kevin (my stepdad) have been having problems lately, and from what I could tell before all the shit went down, it seems to stem primarily from the fact that they are living where Mom wants to live. When they got married, Kevin wanted to live in the country, despite the fact that my mother likes cities. So they moved to the country. To the middle of fucking nowhere. You have to drive 30 minutes to get to a grocery store, and Mom commuted 30 minutes every day to work as a recruiter in a warehouse. She didn't like it much, but when you live in the middle of nowhere, you take what you can get. Kevin worked for himself at home. Then this year, I don't know why or what was discussed, but they kept the house in the middle of nowhere and rented one in Dallas. (It's about a 2-hour drive, so the thought was that the middle-of-nowhere house could be for holidays and occasional weekends.) Mom returned to her old job in Dallas, which she likes much more, and she was ecstatic about the move and their new house. Kevin has apparently been miserable in Dallas. He doesn't like his job, he doesn't like the city, and has just done everything he can to make her miserable, too. They've been fighting constantly.

So I go visit, and it's awkward, like it always is with Kevin, because he is always weird about me being around. I think that part of it is that I always stick up for Mom when I think she's right (and more often than not, that's the case). He acts like we gang up on him or something. He also doesn't seem a big fan of me thinking I'm right about anything either, because he's got this inferiority complex and thinks that college-educated people just sit around making fun of and judging non-college-educate people. Anyway, the break goes okay, I spend a lot of time with Mom, and it's fun, and we drink wine and shop and do the things we do around Thanksgiving. A couple of days after Thanksgiving, we drive to middle-of-nowhere house, and hang out and drink wine. Kevin doesn't drink. After Mom walks inside to go to the bathroom, Kevin gets up and sits next to me and puffs himself up and says, "But I don't know why it doesn't chap your ass that your taxes pay for bums living under a bridge in Dallas." This statement was only tangentially related to what we were talking about. A couple of things: I was tipsy, and Kevin was not. Kevin is also a big fan of trying to be bigger than you when he argues with you, and gets up in your space, and does not fucking listen. We've had the Kevin-thinks-all-poor-people-are-totally-undeserving conversation. And it ended with me in tears. So he could predict what was going to happen. But I'm tipsy, and he pissed me off by bringing it up, so I argue with him instead of doing the smart thing, which would be telling him we are not talking about this. And he baits me, and tells me that he knows all poor people/homeless people are undeserving because of people that he knows. And won't listen to me when I tell him that most homeless people are vets, disabled, or single mothers. Numbers don't matter! Kevin has his opinions and anecdotes! Whatever. So I get in tears again, and I tell him I am not having this conversation anymore, and just because he doesn't have compassion for other people doesn't mean he can antagonize me for having it. I walk off. It is obvious why I walk off; he is not listening, he is acting as though my emotional reaction is completely illegitimate (and a sign of the illegitimacy of my argument), and we are getting nowhere except me being upset. You know, because of my silly lady-feelings.

I wash my face and go sit in the front yard. We had been in the backyard, so I hear Kevin and Mom yelling. Then Mom comes and yells at me because THERE IS A MIDDLE GROUND AND NEITHER OF US ARE WILLING TO SEE IT. Which is ridiculous, since my parents have NO IDEA where I stand on particular welfare issues. They don't actually give a shit, because they just know I don't disagree with their counter-factual assertions that most homeless people are lazy and deserve to starve to death.

After yelling at me, Mom goes back to yell at Kevin. I'm texting my friends a mile a minute, and call Adrienne, who calms me down a bit, and when I come back (it's been about 15 minutes or so), Mom and Kevin are STILL fighting outside. So I walk up, and I'm still, you know, angry, and tell them to please stop yelling about me, and just fucking talk to me. And Kevin says, "We're not yelling about you! We're talking about getting divorced BECAUSE of you!" And well, I've heard that one before. So I said, "No. You aren't allowed to say that. I've heard that from my father before, and he was just as full of shit as you are. Your problems with Mom are not my fault." And he was not happy about that response. We get into it, and Mom is pissed at me for yelling at him, and he's pissed at me for standing up for myself, and I'm pissed at Mom for not standing up for me or even listening, and pissed at Kevin for being a complete asshole without once recognizing the power dynamic in our relationship that makes every. fucking. disagreement. difficult. So he stands up and keeps getting in my space. And, dude. I had a verbally abusive father. He tried to physically intimidate me all the time. He knew that he would win every argument because he could, and he knew that he could just stand close to me to threaten me with violence. It didn't matter if he had any intention of actually hitting me, he just wanted me to know that he could. And so I back up. Multiple times. And I push Kevin away and I tell him to stop getting close to me. And he backs me up against a fence and puts his hands on my shoulders. At this point, I'm not even listening to what he says because my brain is in panic-mode. And I tell him to stop physically intimidating me (which upsets him) and to stop touching me, at which point he gets this horrified look on his face and sits down in the truck with the door open.

Mom yells at me, telling me, "He just wanted to hug you!" As if that made it better? I repeatedly told him to get off, and back up, and even pushed him back. I DON'T CARE WHAT HIS INTENTIONS WERE. I get to decide when I am touched, and that includes hugging. And instead of asking, "Can I hug you?" he continued to ignore my obvious distress and my desire for him to back the fuck off, because he thought that his good intentions and desires superseded my right to not be touched when I don't want to be. IF he had asked, I would have said no. I didn't want him to be hugging me any more than I wanted him to physically threaten me. I WANTED HIM AWAY. But my mother and him both acted like I was being irrational and crazy. And I tried to explain (very distressed, so I'm sure I wasn't entirely coherent) that he was triggering me, that I wanted him away to he would stop triggering me, and my mother said, "You think your bullshit is more important than anything." I have honestly never wanted to slap her as much as I did in that moment. It hurt to hear her say that, to know that she thinks my desire for bodily autonomy is just my irrational reaction to abuse.

And we aren't even to the bad part of the evening. At this point, emotions high, Kevin pulls out a gun. As far as I can tell, a loaded gun. (I don't know that much about guns.) And he fucking cocks it. My mother's reaction was puzzling, because while he is just holding the gun next to him, I think it's pointed more at us than at him, though it's not being aimed. She starts crying harder and screaming at him not to hurt himself. So I gather that this has happened before. The asshole has threatened self-harm with a loaded fucking gun to manipulate my mother more than fucking once. I'm more scared than angry, though, so I back up several feet (If he had shot it, very likely it would have hit one of us, because the trajectory of the bullet would have passed through him and we were standing in its way.) and yell at him to stop. He says to Mom, "She [he means me] accused me of being a pervert!" That, of course, didn't happen, but I think Kevin thinks I only have the right to say "no" to sexual touch, and thus my "no" meant that I thought it was sexual touch. I thought no such thing, and as I've never been sexually assaulted, by my father or anyone else, I was completely baffled by his interpretation of what just happened. But, you know, there's a loaded gun being held by an overemotional and obviously unhinged man, so I say whatever it is he wants me to say. I'm sorry, don't hurt yourself, we're only worried about you. I didn't mean any of it, but I was scared to death he was going to a) shoot himself, scar his son and my mother forever, and she would blame herself for the rest of her life or b) shoot me or my mother. He yelled and freaked out and waved it around until Mom finally got him to relinquish it, and she hands it to me (OH GOD, I thought, I don't even know how to make it uncocked! I just set it down in the grass next to me) and hugs him. And he gets out of the car and HUGS ME. And I'm so relieved that he isn't threatening violence anymore, and scared that if I get upset with him he'll freak out again, that I let him, and I keep saying "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." I think I meant it at the time--I'm fairly used to men convincing me that their crazy and violence is my fault.

Then he sits me down, since Mom has stormed off inside and said "I don't have to put up with this shit anymore" (truer words), and tries to have a heart-to-heart with me. I'm still, again, scared and emotional and upset, so I let him think we've made up, and I tell him he needs to go apologize. He is honestly baffled. "Don't you think she should apologize, too?" (Um, NO. You just held a LOADED GUN in our vicinity and threatened violence. NO, SHE DOESN'T NEED TO APOLOGIZE.) And I just look at him, aware that I can't even address how fucking not-in-the-pale his actions were, because who knows what will set him off again? And he tells me he's not happy, and shouldn't she care about him being happy? He goes inside and fights with her and comes out and she wants to leave. And so I am, of course, relieved we are leaving and I help her pack and she is upset, and she asks me to get him to talk to her again. So I go tell him, and he asks me if I care if they make up. I look him in the eye and tell him the truth; I only care that she is happy (and safe, but I didn't say that). He looks angry, which scares the hell out of me.

Finally, after much debating on Mom's part, we leave. About 10 minutes away, she asks me to take her back. I didn't know what to do, so I pull her over and tell her I can't go back there, because I'm afraid for my safety and for hers. "That thing with the gun--has that happened before?" She nods at me and says, "He would never hurt us." "On purpose, Mom. Do you think that was normal?" "No, he needs help. It's not normal." "Mom, it's dangerous. And it's manipulative." "But he might hurt himself if I don't go back, and it will be my fault." "NO. That would not be your fault. That would be his fault. All you have done is argue with him, and that does not warrant that kind of reaction." Finally, kind of reluctantly, she agreed to go on with me to Dallas.

Next morning, she asked me if I was okay. No, I'm not okay. "Why not?" "Because, Mom. I'm afraid for you, and I think that you are normalizing behavior that is manipulative and abusive. If that had been my boyfriend, you would have called the cops and forcibly made me leave that relationship. I can't and won't do that, though I do regret not calling the cops." And I know I shouldn't have said that. I knew it when I said it. But I needed her to hear that this was abuse. That threatening to kill yourself is emotionally manipulative, and the result is that she are too scared to leave. That is not okay. But what I needed her to hear and what she needed to hear were probably different, which is why I don't have any idea what to say to her now. I love her, and I'm scared for her, and I want her to be happy and safe. And I don't think she is either of those things now, and I wish she would decide to divorce him. I would be there for her, and would be her go-between, and go with her to the courthouse, and help her hire someone to move his shit out. I could be amazing at that. But instead I am sitting at home wondering if she wants to talk to me when I don't know if I can, doing fucking nothing to fix this situation. Because I can't fix it. And it's killing me.


Harriet J said...

SHIT, man. That is painful and damaging. I'm so sorry you have to sit there figuring out how to integrate this whatsoever into a life where you, like, get up in the morning and eat breakfast and go to work and (MY MOM IS AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP) chitchat with people and (IS SHE OKAY) watch bad TV and eat some dinner and (WHAT DO I DO) go to bed. I have been there and it is just the biggest wrecking machine in wrecking-machine-town.

I doubt it helps, because it doesn't fix the thing that needs fixing, but it sounds like you're doing a really good job. I mean, the most you can do is keep yourself safe, which is sucky and stupid because keeping your mom safe probably feels like a big part of feeling safe yourself, but you're doing a good job of balancing what you need with what you want. I mean, maybe you didn't say the magic words that a perfectly calm enlightened person would have, but you said what you needed to hear, what you needed her to hear, and that's invaluable for your own sanity. I wish there was a bigger Venn diagram space where what is good and healthy and sane for you to say is also good and healthy and sane for your mother to hear and believe, and I'm sorry there isn't right now.

And I'm especially sorry that this is just Version 2.0, it sounds like, of a bunch of shit you already had to deal with. That is some grade-A bullshit.

Rena said...

Gods. I'm so sorry, Courtney.

It seems like those two people should NOT be in a relationship together, no matter what. I felt that after the first paragraph or two. Obviously they want and need very different living situations, and it isn't possible for them to both have what they want. That's misery in the making.

And OMG. A gun? That man needs help, and not from you or your mother. No matter what his motivations are, that is a dangerous and unhealthy mental frame of mind.

=/ I've been through this type of thing with so many of the women on my mother's side of the family. Sometimes there isn't much you can do when the person you love isn't willing to admit that there is a real problem, or that they need help, or take any steps toward getting out of a bad situation.

It's like that old saying, 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink'. You can offer love and an ear and help, but she has to decide for herself. Meh. *sighs* I'm sorry you have to deal with this, lady. *hugs* I've had to sit by far too many times while aunts or cousins of mine stayed in abusive relationships and would not do anything to get out of it, even when they would complain about it to me, they wouldn't take any steps to get OUT of that bad situation.

One last thing: If you're talking about a go-between as being a go-between between your mother and that man - I worry about you in that case. Seriously, you'd be placing yourself in the same danger and subject to the same manipulation and abuse that he is currently using on her. If a go-between is needed, maybe it could be someone less involved to whom he would be less of a threat.

Quinn said...

I don't think I'm remotely qualified to give advice in this situation, but for what's it's worth, I hope you're not too hard on yourself. You got through a horrible and potentially life-threatening situation and kept your head as a bonus, and you were appropriately blunt with your mom about her being in an abusive relationship - frankly, you deserve a medal.

You can't make your mom get herself out of her situation, but you can make sure she always knows that you're there to support her if and when she does; it sounds like you're already doing that. I know how hard it is when you can only watch and hope that a family member digs themselves out of something awful - I went through something similar with my dad's drinking problem. But he recently stopped drinking, and things are actually looking up, so it isn't always as hopeless as it looks. Good luck to you, and go easy on yourself.

Anonymous said...

Whoa. That is an awful situation to have to deal with; especially what Harriet J said about having to deal with it all the time throughout your day and not being able to help your mom in the ways you want. I know I am merely a ghostly presence on the internets, but I am going to go with the rule that it's better to say something and feel stupid than say nothing, so I'll just say I am sorry about all this.

Courtney said...

Thank you everybody. Harriet, I think you just hit right on the head what every day feels like. I have been so unproductive lately, because those things in the parentheses are making it hard to work and focus.

Rena, I understand your worry, but I also know that acting as a go-between would make things easier for my mom if I needed to do it. If I thought it was unsafe, I wouldn't, and if I thought at any time I couldn't handle it, I would stop. The reason I would offer is that I am much more capable than my mother of recognizing manipulation and bullshit from him (and, frankly, from anybody) and resisting it, while knowing when I am no longer able to resist it and getting out when that happens. I appreciate your worry, but it seems to be a moot point anyway right now.

Alicia said...

Just chiming in to say there are a lot of people reading this who care about you and think you're doing splendidly in a really rough situation. And things won't stay like this forever, though it's always hard to remember in the middle of the storm. And whether they change for better or worse, we'll be here, ready and willing to listen.

Thank you.

LeeboZeebo said...

Your reactions, the advice you've given to your mother, and the worry you feel are all legitimate, very, very rational, and speak volumes about the care you have for the permanent well-being of your immediate family and for yourself. I know that realizing this doesn't necessarily fix any problems in your life, but I believe that it is important to assert this position, over and over if need be. You did the right thing, and you clearly have a desire to continue doing the right thing. I find that both admirable and special.

emjaybee said...

Hey, just a random internet person who reads you and only now saw your post. I see you're Tweeting, so hopefully things are better now.

I did want to add...do you have anyone at college or wherever to act as counseling for you? This is traumatic shit.

Also, if you haven't, you can call a domestic violence helpline and talk to them about what you saw and what your options are, and how to talk to your mom or what you can do to help her. You don't have to be the primary person being threatened to get them to talk to you.

There's similar dysfunction in my family and what I've figured out is that I shouldn't be surprised when family members refuse my help or even get hostile at me for pointing things out, because there's so much energy wrapped up in pretending that things are ok and they're doing well. I have decided to offer when I can but not to feel guilt when they don't take me up on it. Because my health matters too.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry. You have my sympathy as I've been in almost the exact same situation. Your story could've been one about my father. I hope that your mother seeks help and leaves him and that things get better.

Lola said...

I know you had a hard time talking about this in person to me but I'm glad I read it. This is way heavier shit than I thought it was about and wow. Courtney you are seriously one of the strongest women I've ever met and I really look up to you. Even if you are only a year older than me!
I agree with everyone above that says you're doing an amazing job dealing in spite of the circumstances and probably doing all you possibly can in the situation. My only two cents to add to all the awesome advice is that if it does come to the point of acting as go between you might ask an off duty constable or police office to act as a witness. They can be not in uniform but are trained to handle volatile situations and would be able to discretely be there for "back up" if needed. (hehe. Cop joke there. Sorry its in my nature to joke in bad situations.)
I hope if fortune leads us to being stuck in College Station together for another few years together that we'll continue to grow closer. In the meantime I'm here for you. Keep thinking of this semester as a fresh start and maybe it'll get just a little bit easier to deal with.

a. b. said...

Just checking up on you. I read this in December and it sounded crushing. I hope you're feeling better, and will write again soon. I really like your blog.