Bittersweet Vindication

From the 1944 Movie “Gaslight”

Have you ever been waiting for something to happen for so long, but still be shocked when it does? There has to be a word for that. Anticlimactic? Disillusioned? The whole week had been just a huge mess that threw me completely off kilter and this was the final blow.

I had been staying with my grandparents while my grandfather was in the hospital. I’m glad to say that the emotional and physical exhaustion of the week can all be put behind me as he has recovered and back home now. Driving up to visit my family there always brings a small bit of anxiety for reasons that no one else knows. I grew up in around the same area that my manipulative ex who I refer to as “Tom Riddle” did. I call him that because he is walking evil, but naming him anything with “Lord” in it would inflate his ego a bit too much. No, he’s still just an angry little kid who jokingly calls me Harry Potter because of the scar on my forehead.

I’m always terrified that I’ll run in to him when its least expected and I’m unprepared. Yet, I feel safe, in a way, being so far away from the University where we both went and he still lives, there’s a slim chance we’ll both be home at the same time unless it’s a major holiday. It’s either one of the other, constantly switching from completely safe and totally exposed. It’s exhausting. I could have sworn I saw him driving on the highway during Christmas time one year, but at most this is the closest I’d have gotten.

The distractions of the past week had dulled my hypervigilance and he was nowhere near the forefront of my mind. My friend, who had also had a horribly long week decided to have a few of us over to catch up and essentially drink our stress away. It worked beautifully! We danced to songs we used to love, talked and a bottle of gin later we were all relaxed and feeling great. One of my friends there I hadn’t seen in a few years, but they’re all the kind of friends who no matter the amount of time that’s gone by, when we get together no time has passed at all.

Somehow the topic shifted to “Names of boys who are always shitty”. We talked about the Tylers we all knew who kinda sucked. The Spencers and the Ryans who screwed us over. Some of us nodded in agreement and started thinking about shitty people with those names who we knew. At some point my friend actually said,

“But there’s no way we’re talking about the same person, right?”

As I nodded in agreement there was a small voice in the back of my head reminding me that she grew up and still lives actually near where he did. She probably went to the same schools that he or his friends did. I was still shushing the voice when I almost didn’t even hear her when she said,

“Yeah, it couldn’t be “Tom Riddle…’”.

I screamed and started hyperventilating. My other two friends who had moved on in the conversation were so confused.

I always knew there was a chance this would happen, I just never thought that it actually would. Turns out she was friends with one of Tom’s earlier victims, and the real story had been more gruesome than I had imagined. I remember her as being the girl Tom described as “The Spawn of Satan” and thinking later that it was most likely a much better description of him. The girl he brushed off as being awful to him and his family, crazy from the beginning like all his victims happen to be, is the same friend of a friend who nearly killed herself after being subjected to him. It sent a chill down my spine when she became so real to me and I realized she was just the first of many. She fit the bill perfectly; brown hair, warm and bubbly personality with a face to match, musical and vocal talent. Although I couldn’t confirm this, I’m sure she had adequate sized feet that, according to him, ensured the easy and healthy birth of his massive children for the army he apparently wanted to spawn. He undoubtedly discussed all this with her.

His MO had been the same even then, although I’m sure he’d perfected it over the last 9 years. Draw them in with his mind, he is undeniably quite intelligent and incredibly talented. Once they’re hooked, lay on the self-loathing nice and thick so any half decent person who cares even a little will jump to defend him. Talk about the life he wants together, how perfectly she fits in and how much she means to him despite the short period of time they’ve been together. Once the foundation is set, then the distance comes. The lies to get out of lies. The cold shoulder and the unpredictability of his affection or distance. God forbid she ever tried to defend herself, because that’s when the Gaslighting starts. The “don’t be the crazy girlfriend”. The “I would never do that to you, how could you think that?!” followed by the quite affective “Are you feeling alright?” where he continues on to imply that the victim is stressed/crazy/depressed/jealous/anxious/dramatic etc… Maybe it was him lying about where he was, why he didn’t answer his phone or messages or why he refuses to talk about something. In more recent years he got creative and added stories about how he is scared for the safety of the ex he totally “isn’t with anymore” which makes him seem like such a stand-up guy. Maybe even a story of an incurable disease thrown in there so he’s suddenly incredibly stoic and brave, not cold and manipulative. Others start to point out the holes in his story and she defends him fervently, desperately trying to smooth out the dissonance between the person they’re showing her and the man she thinks she knows. Eventually, this all culminates to him leaving. The circumstances don’t matter so much as the fact that by now her brain is completely twisted and she can’t rely on her perception of what really happened anymore. This is how he prefers to leave her, and with the same breath start the cycle over again. This may have been the story of ground zero, but unfortunately I can confirm personally that it wasn’t the only detonation.

I slowly began breathing normally again as my friend reminds me over and over how it wasn’t my fault. He made those decisions and is just a garbage human being, I’m not the only one. It felt good to hear that, yet I couldn’t help but feel haunted and unsafe no matter where I was. On one hand I got confirmation that my suspicions were correct and he’d done this before, yet on the other I felt small and helpless like I just realized the storm I had barely weathered was actually a tornado leaving devastation in its wake, long before and after me.

So what now? Form an “I survived Gaslighting by Tom Riddle” support group? Perhaps just picking at old wounds at this point. I’ve considered finding a way to casually tell his parents about his lies, just to expose him, but realistically that would be just to cause him pain and wouldn’t help anyone. By now he’s moved on to someone else. From what I can tell they seemed genuinely happy together, if they still are I don’t know. After his reputation spread across multiple faculties in our school, I’m sure he doesn’t have many options beyond her, perfect for him as she may seem. He set it up perfectly that this former friendly acquaintance of mine now thinks I’m a crazy ex, so she wouldn’t believe anything I say anyway. Hopefully she’s safe from his tendency to suck the will the live out of unsuspecting girls. I guess I’ll stick with just writing blog posts and sending them off into the abyss of the internet. Hopefully others can learn from my experiences or find comfort knowing that things like this happen to others as well, or know what to look out for to prevent it.