Labyrinths IX

I’m writing this instead of writing something about sex, because while I am either brave or self-centered enough to write about these kinds of things, writing about sex and issues of mine that intersect with sex still feels a bridge too far or too intimate somehow. Perhaps someday.

I have deliberately hurt people for the sake of hurting people before.

This is not a mea culpa, partly because the purpose of me writing this essay is not to “confess” to some unnamed confessor in some bizarre performative stunt, and partly because open-letter apologies are fucking bullshit, and partly because if I wanted to apologize for real, I would (and have in the past) done so in private with those I’ve wronged. That said:

I have deliberately hurt people for the sake of hurting people before.

I think if we are honest with ourselves, a number of us have. And I don’t mean the great unnamed masses, which can be gestured to quite freely in these rhetorically flourishes. I mean specifically survivors of abuse and trauma.

This is perhaps the most horrifying vision in these spaces. There is, through abuse, a uniquely profound hatred for your abuser that is developed. It is an ugly hate, and one the abused knows is ugly even as we desperately attempt to repaint it inside ourselves and with the rhetoric of those around us into some kind of virtuous revolutionary act. But in cold quiet moments, when we are reckoning the things we are willing to do to those who have wronged us, we know this is not triumphant but is in fact ugly, and in those moments we feel more corrupted by our abuse and by our abuser than in the more tangible, physical moments of abuse itself.

Because in many ways, as victims, we desire the ability to remain pure in our victimhood, devoid of complicity. This isn’t an unfair desire. Abuse, by its nature, is not meted out in some just and measured fashion. It is cold, stupid, and ugly, the blunt instrument of idiot chaos turned against the living. The way I’m talking about it now dances around the issue if only because the most accurate way to describe abuse in words is to be deliberately triggering and to make people feel immediately and violently unsafe, because that is what that space is and nothing fucking else, and I’m not brave enough to be that triggering in my words right now. In the past I was. I’m not sure if this is just a temporary thing.

I deliberately said “to remain pure” before because, though we may be impure by moral or historical standards, within the microcosm bounded by abuse, we begin pure. This is an ontological statement, I’m aware, one that sets as an axiom that all abuse is unwarranted and is in fact defined as punishment either physical or metaphysical not grounded in a justifying act, moment, trasngression, etc. or set of such. And it’s an ontological statement that, if I am honest, and not speaking out of my pain as a survivor or my rage as someone who witnesses abuse, is a slippery one and based more on circumstantial argument in certain spaces. There are certain abuses that are beyond the pale, and disgusting, and utterly baseless in all instances. There are others that appear to be triggered by things, or are intensifications of justifiable punishments where it is the intensity that breaches into abuse and not the cardinality of the act itself. (This act of defining the precise barrier between justice and abuse is itself a labyrinth/set of labyrinths to itself.) Regardless of grounding, its an ontological statement I’m willing to make: The abused begin pure in the moment of abuse and desire to remain pure in relation to their abuse and abuser from that point on into infinity.

So it is in this spirit that the replication of our abuse or patterns of behavior of our abuser become the most horrific to us. They pass far beyond even the abuse itself. They do this because there is a necessary fantasy of the abuse being irreconcilably awful, emerging from outside of justified existence and violently wounding the metaphysical tapestry of cause and effect, which feels in a certain way inherently just even if the vast majority of the time it falls outside of pure ethical or moral space, torn by this hideous uncaused and purely destructive act which can in no other terms be classified as anything but abuse. It is not a fantasy in that the cause justifies the act, but that no act comes without cause, and thus in a certain way all abused face the knowledge that their abuse, which is inherently unjust, is caused by some thing, even if unreasonably so, which is a haunting kind of knowledge to possess, and one that offers no clear path of interrogation.

The horror of the replication of our abusers is so complete because it feels in retrospect to justify the abuse. This is an impossible thought, a broken chronology placing effect before cause and futurity as direct precedent to past. This is broken logic no matter the field. And yet, internally, it feels like the metaphysical ground rises to meet the abuse, which was forever been ungrounded until this moment. It feels, in a brief and terrible moment, like all of the evil that was inflicted upon us was just, and that the at-time wicked hate we feel for those who did those things to us belongs to be pointed at ourselves, even wielded by ourselves.

These moments turn black and suicidal in an instant. That same destroying fever, that we would give nothing to see our abusers utterly snuffed out and annihilated, driven forever from matter and memory, erased completely from every archive real and unreal, turns against ourselves. And partly because it feels, of all people in the world, we should know better, we who were injured and often feel unable to heal those wounds. (I do not think those wounds can heal, because I think the metaphor of the wound here is mismatched and sets us with desires and visions of reconciliation that mismatch the event and the experience.)

And yet, the ugly secret of the abused: We replicate our abusers.

Studies show this. Experience shows this. History shows this. Memory shows this. You know when you do them, often better than anyone who might call you out, and sometimes in small secret ways no one will ever recognize but you. But you do them. And you know you do them.

They sit there. You don’t always know what to do with this knowledge and these actions.

It is a terrible curiosity. Not necessarily always to match our abuser’s primary abuse event or events in action and intensity, but small things, little cruelties, little viciousnesses, meted out against those that surround us, so that we might know what our abusers felt or thought or imagined. Because this is another haunting knowledge. The impossible question, why did you do this to me? that craves an answer no matter the cost, because it becomes the most important question we can ever ask of ourselves or the world.

I have deliberately hurt people for the sake of hurting people before.

Little things. Tiny things, invisible things. Things no one would know but me. Things perhaps larger, which you cannot always face, which are always less horrible when you do face them, because they are small things, like stringing someone along when you feel nothing, or not talking to someone for a period to see how they’ll respond to being alone in that way, which are bad but not the worst things you can do, even if they are not good or even okay things to do. Because I felt compelled, even if it made me seem sick or stupid, to know why this happened to me, that the question of the cost of certain knowledge was unimportant.

I’ve bloodied the mouths and faces of friends for no reason at no provocation. I’ve played “pranks” that amount to no more than small tortures and confusions for no other reason than the provocation of terror. I am not the only abused person to do this, or to delight temporarily in a sense of power that I’d always felt present but denied and wielded against me, even if I recoiled in fucking horror with myself after. Even if they were small things, petty shittinesses that only I would know was rooted in exploring my abuse.

These are the things that at times made and make me want to die, even though nothing I’ve done has ever been that terribly bad, at worst just the typical tedious shittiness of cishet white men in their teens and early 20s, which are not good but are far, far from the worst things you can do.

It’s something I look back on later, and I wonder if it was worth mutating my moral worth in those ways, even if that mutation was later amended and undone, and I don’t always know the answer. It presupposes that evil knowledge or corrupting knowledge cannot be used in bringing you peace, which I do not always believe is true, and it presupposes that moral righteousness is always more important than peace, which is a good thing to believe but a fucking impossible thing to feel sometimes. You can’t convey the abused mind to the non-abused. You can’t explain crimes of passion. You hope for the best, you apologize, you blame yourself, in these instances often more than anyone you might have wronged, but you can’t ever explain them. That is a tiny void, a nihilation, a permanent silence.

It is made more difficult by looking back and not knowing the worth or worthlessness of these things, the strange nihilism of gazing back hoping to find either abnegating guilt or relieving absolution, but instead finding something mute and uncaring, just history, just events, and their unchangeable nature, and an interiority to them, that I was briefly paralleling my abuser whether I knew it at the time or not, with ways to acknowledge the mechanism that leads to those brief releases and explorations of pain but no way to reconcile how they feel to have done.

Abuse is a labyrinth, a labyrinth of labyrinths, some bleaker and more perpetually painful than others. Like wounds that open up to new flesh, which opens automatically to new wounds, flowering and multiplying over time.