Love is Horrifying
My mother had the belief that Cary Grant movies could teach a child everything they needed to know about life. I never watched any of the disney princess movies or pixar animated films growing up, it was His Girl Friday, The Philadelphia Story. My favorite by far was Bringing up Baby. It’s one of those boy meets girl classics with a leopard involved. That film sparked my interest in love at the age of six and nearly every Saturday, I’d lie right in front of the television, watching it while consuming a cold tortilla. I hoped one day I would be half as pretty as Katherine Hepburn. I was assured by my mother that a similar scenario would happen to me when I was older and I wanted to grow up almost exclusively because of it. Nothing else would really matter because, of course, love concurs all.
At some point, I grew up. I saw the real world and found that my picturesk idea was maybe a false reality for a lot of us. For a while, I didn’t believe in love at all. Sure, it may have been just a lot of teenage angst, but I didn’t want to “believe” in it. At 17, I had never had a boyfriend whereas all my friends did. I choose to see it as a social construct because I had insisted to myself that I didn’t want to be close to anyone. Two years later, I had fallen in and out of love. I went back to the mindset that love was just an over exaggerated emotion. It was not a set feeling, it was an abstraction. And then that mindset shifted when my best friend, Emma, started dating a new boy, James.
Boys have always been a part of Emma’s life. She is very beautiful, talented and always has had this alluring nature to her. She’s level-headed, even-tempered and sweet to most. Suitors have continuously been lined up at her door and because of this, she hasn’t been single for more than a month since 14. Even so, Emma has always been independent and introverted, boys seem to come and go with not a tear shed. She has had the stalkers and the obsessed, but she always has found ways to get rid of them while maintaining her perfect image. She met James in March of 2014 and all of her previous mantras and ways of approaching dating came crashing down.
James is an attractive, manly and seemingly charming guy. He also happens to be a textbook psychopath, specifically having anti-social personality disorder. His charm is fake, he constantly lies to manipulate people and I have yet to see any signs of empathy whatsoever. He has been to jail and continues to do a plethora of illegal things. James cheats on Emma and somehow always finds a way to lie or get out of it. He keeps guns, knives and assorted other weapons in their house for “protection.”
Like Bringing up Baby, this is a story of a boy and a girl. However, there is no leopard and it is not a romantic comedy.
I got the call on a Tuesday night. I was at home, making chicken tacos and watching The Twilight Zone. I had just been over at Emma’s house a few hours ago, so I was a bit confused when I got a call from her mother, Julie. Now, Julie is no ordinary mother. She is a friend, therapist and “momma” to all. I call her my other mother and in some ways, I have a more maternal like connection with her than my own. She reminds me of that wise tree in Pocahontas and is a beacon for advice. When I got her call, the first thing I said was ‘Looking to have a three way with Mike tonight?’, referring to Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Julie’s favorite. There was silence on the phone. She then quickly told me we had a problem. I already had my car keys and purse before she fully explained what was going on because I knew it had something to do with James.
At this point, Emma and him had been dating for a few months. They had moved past the new, happy, rainbows phase fairly quickly and were on to the serious relationships plateau. Fights were frequent, but somehow even if he did something horrible (i.e. cheat on her with his ex-girlfriend), it was something they could “grow from” to “make them stronger.” They spent all of their time together, he had moved in with her and they declared themselves ‘soulmates’. They fucked like rabbits and there was a certain unspoken chemistry between them. I’d never seen Emma this way around a guy, she no longer took walks alone or worked on her dancing. I hardly saw her without James by her side since they began dating and don’t think we had a solid conversation where she wasn’t gushing over her new found love when we were not with him. I had mixed feelings about him at this time. He had a bad reputation around town and he sort of creeped me out. He would get vicious, then the next moment get very nice and charismatic. His constant lying and manipulation was concerning and I guess I thought Emma could handle it. I knew at some point the ‘new car smell’ would wear off and the shit would hit the fan. And this was the night where shit was going to hit the fan. Or so I thought.
I started driving to as Julie filled me on the situation. Allegedly, James told Emma he would pick her up from work and then suddenly went off-grid for two hours. Sure, James had disappeared in the past, but usually he had a solid lie to explain where he was. The idea of a car accident was tossed around but Emma at some point got a call from a friend at a nearby sports bar, saying James was there with the ex-girlfriend. This was a red flag. He had been caught with this poor girl a few times and things had not gone over well, it was a sore subject for everyone involved. Driving into town, I was getting more and more anxious on how to approach the situation. Emma is not very confrontational and she despises public display, so I didn’t think there would be a scene from Jerry Springer going on at the bar. But then I remembered a deviating factor: alcohol.
I heard Emma’s voice yelling from the patio as I walked up to the bar. She was sitting with James, both drinking beers. I snuck in the back and sat in a booth next to the door of the outside seating area and waited. There was crying, screaming, and lots of throwing of napkins. All this is going on while other people are eating their burgers, confused on what the socially acceptable thing to do in this situation is. Emma was going on and on about how disrespectful he was to her and James would laugh and say she wasn’t worth it. My fingernails dug into the booth, I wanted to intervene and throw something in James’s face, but Julie told me not to. So I waited. A half an hour went by and Emma finally stood up and said “If you want to try to be with me and make sacrifices, come to the house before midnight. If not, you’re shit will be in the driveway at 12:01.” All of the sudden, the entire porch explodes with applause. I’m pretty sure I even heard a “you go girl!” I jumped up to grab her hand as she walked through the doors and she cracked a slight smile. Her eyes look puffy and tired. She’s shaking, but begins to run out of the restaurant.
We reached a bench and sat down to smoke. Silence. I didn’t ask anything or make some joke to break the mood. Emma broke down at some point, crying with her head in between her knees. I rubbed her back and told her we needed to go home. She didn’t respond, just continue to sob in a fetal position on the bench. I sat and continued to smoke, glancing around to see if anyone was nearby. A few minutes went by and from seemingly nowhere, James waltzed over and sits on a bench across from us. Emma was sobbing in pain, choking on her cigarette’s smoke and James sat across from her, smirking. I broke the silenced and coldy demanded to know what he was doing here. He took a drag from his cigarette, laughed and said, “Everyone’s gotta smoke.”
I’ve seen a lot of sadistic shit in my life, but this moment stands out in my mind. James was sitting across from a girl he was dating, living with and had declared was his soulmate, yet here he was; watching her pain and enjoying it.
If his personality disorder wasn’t clear before this, it definitely was now. I got scared fast and grabbed Emma, told her we were leaving. She yelled something to him and I pushed her back towards the parking lot. It was 8:46 p.m.. In my mind, we had three hours and 14 minutes til I got to throw his clothes on the driveway. I was already making a list in my head of potenital boys I’d lay out as options. Life was going to be good, Emma was back.
We got home to find Julie sitting at the glass table on the patio, smoking and looking out into the backyard. The glass table is an important place in our lives. I have probably spent weeks worth of time around that table. Everything goes down there. I’ve laughed the hardest there, I’ve cried the most there and I’ve yelled the loudest there. When you sit at the glass table, small talk goes out the window and emotions are bound to fly. That being said, when Emma and I sat at the glass table, I knew the confrontation would begin. Julie started easy, wanted to make sure James was safe. He has been living in her house and Julie has developed some serious maternal instincts towards the troubled boy. After that question was out of the way, the yelling began.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Why do you trust this man, he’s a piece of shit!”
“Do you realize how abusive this is? Do you see how he takes advantage of you?”
“How can you love someone who doesn’t respect you?”
Julie and Emma had been over how toxic the relationship was. It was needed to be ended sooner than later. Emma sat in silence, listening to us go over all the past issues they’ve had and the concern we had for her safety. She would occasionally make a snide comment, but mainly she listened. Another good friend of ours, Dave, came over to help knock some sense into her. He dated Emma way back in the day and was a fantastic boyfriend. I deemed him the name ‘Good Guy Dave’, because he was the nicest guy I’ve ever met. Even after they broke up, they remained good friends and he was always there when she was at her lowest. Dave didn’t say much and he held Emma in his arms while she cried. We came to the conclusion that the relationship needed to end and unless James came back with some grandiose words of wisdom, the soulmates were separated. I remember looking into the sky as the day turn into night, praying to some non-existent God that James wouldn’t come.
I heard his truck pulling up and I felt a deep pit develop in my stomach. Emma jumped up like a kid on christmas morning, the love of her life was back. Dave, Julie and I just sat. We waited. I remember quickly drinking a Red’s Apple Ale, knowing I was going to need some liquid courage to have less fear of speaking up to James. The two of them walked to the glass table and we did this bizarre small talk for a few minutes. It was like nothing had happened. I remember James asking how my photo project was going. But something had happened, and I wasn’t dealing with that bullshit so I broke it, “So what the fuck were you doing today?”
And so the brawl began. Everyone at the table was yelling. I told everyone to shut up and Julie instructed me to rip him to shreds, so I did. I clued him into everything wrong in their relationship. I told him he didn’t deserve Emma and that he needed to see a therapist, among other things. He did not like this. He exploded and started screaming at me about how this was between Emma and him, we didn’t matter. I remember laughing, really hard. Harder than I had in a long time. Was he kidding? How could he think that my opinion, the best friend, didn’t matter? At this point, Jesse stormed out to his truck. He started to blast metal music. I grabbed Emma and took her aside. We sat on her grassy backyard hill.
“What should I do, Eden?”
I remember her face when she asked me. It was so innocent and scared. I told her very bluntly she needed to let him go, but she shook her head. She looked at me and said, “I can’t. I’m in love with him.” I wish I could say he brainwashed her or she wasn’t actually in love, but it was as true as the sunset. He brought her excitement, they had intense passion and she was madly in love with him unlike any guy before. I think at this point, I realized there was nothing I could do. Whatever he did or whatever he said, he would be staying the night. Emma would fight to keep him in the end no matter what, because nothing but her love mattered to her.
This is what is so haunting about this night to me. It didn’t matter that James is vicious, scary and somewhat insane. Emma was in love with the insane person he was. Logic from me and the trust embedded in our friendship didn’t budge her on her feelings. I wanted to throw up, it made me so inherently sad. I was watching someone I love destroy herself over someone she loved.
It hit me hard because it challenged so much I was thinking about love. In a way, there was a certain sort of envy I had for her in that moment. Her whole being craved someone else and it was somehow wonderful and horrifying at the same time. Love was just as real as I had thought it was, but it’s not just as simple as a boy, girl and a leopard. Love is a strong feeling, but not always a good one. It causes us to leap into the unknown, hoping things work out. There is no denying it and it’s the best high in the world, but how do we if it’s always know if it’s good for us in the long run?
For James and Emma, they stayed together after that night and remain to be in their fucked-up version of a relationship. I’m not sure James has the ability to love, but Emma still loves him wholeheartedly. I don’t debate it much with her anymore and secretly hope he just disappears or goes to jail most of the time.
I wish this story had a better ending, but it does not. If it did, it would be a lie. Abusive relationships effect people everyday and it is a hard concept to grasp if you’re not experiencing one. Some people may say abusive relationships don’t have love in them, but I would strongly disagree. Love doesn’t have to be reciprocal, it can be given and left with no respect.
I hope one day we all find someone how treats us like we deserve.
*All names in this story have been changed.