Literally Anything Can Take Me Back

On how I’m forced to remember my abuse

It’s the middle of AP Lit, we’re all quietly working on our research papers, me bent over my phone and a notebook, when I feel a hand grab at the back of my neck and shake me. I know it’s my friend just being playful with me, but I still can’t help but tense up, close my eyes, and quietly mutter “okay, okay, okay” repeatedly as an attempt to get the messages across: the message of “okay, please stop now”, and the silent message of “you’re giving me flashbacks of my ex who liked to choke me for fun.”

But you can’t really say that to people, especially in the middle of quiet work time.

Last week was a rough week following several rough days. I was plagued by consistent suicidal thoughts and self-destructive urges, more than usual. After a few days of relapse and draining emotional insecurity, I was begging for a clear one. That Tuesday was looking to be a much better day than the day before, with no harmful thoughts in sight. For the most part, the day went exceedingly well.

(“For the most part” is the key phrase, because this is where it doesn’t go well.)

Maybe it was the fact that we were doing a fast paced lab in Forensics and everyone was moving quickly. Maybe it was because of the boys in Speech and Debate swinging the plastic swords they found in the classroom at each other, and at me. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t had a breakdown today and my brain just hated me and didn’t want me to have a good day (it can happen sometimes!).

I got home, settled down at my desk, and pulled up some good old Rooster Teeth videos. When I later headed downstairs to grab a snack, it hit me.

A panic attack, accompanied by the ever-vivid memories of his hands, striking my face, holding me down, not letting me move, wrapping around my throat.

I can’t move, can’t breathe, and I’m not sure if it’s the attack or the memory that’s feeling all too real. I stood there for a second, gripping the pantry door, eyes darting. I rush back to my room to sit myself down and ride out the attack.

In an astounding half an hour, the fear subsides, and I can breathe again. Feeling him again is always wracking, draining, but I pulled through quicker than I usually do, which I’m beyond proud of. A few hours later, I tell my boyfriend what happened and how I pulled through, and he tells me how proud of me he is, how I can do anything, despite the abuse I received, and how he loves me so much.

And then I sent him, “I can still feel his hands around my neck. The feeling isn’t leaving. I’m not freaking out over it so much as I just wish it would go away.”

A week later, and I can still gauge every finger placement, how my windpipe would close, and his grip tightening, tightening, tightening-

And when my friend grabs me and shakes, it hits me again. It’s not her fault, she didn’t know, and I don’t want her to. There’s no easy way to tell the people you love that you were abused, and you definitely can’t expect them to treat you the same. Suddenly, you’re delicate, and they don’t want to touch you ever again; they don’t want to be a trigger, they don’t want you to feel trapped, they don’t want to be abusive.

They don’t want to be guilty of such horrors, the ones you faced and lived.

Yes, your actions cause me to flash back.

Yes, your words make my eyes water and my lips quiver and my throat close.

Yes, you are doing this to me.

Yes, I understand that you didn’t know.

No, it’s not your fault.

They sincerely mean well. But they tend to forget that in their search for forgiveness, for understanding. What they recognize is that you’ve experienced this, and “I can’t do or say those things to this person anymore, because they are affected by what I do.”

But what they fail to realize is that every flash back means another day of no productivity because I can’t think of anything else. It means hours of picking and prodding at my neck because I need to feel something else other than him. It means nights of me breaking down to my boyfriend over text, him forgoing sleep to calm me down and assure me I’m okay, that he will never allow him to lay his hands on me again. It means that there’s a chance when I shower two or three or fifty times that day, that I’ll scrub my skin raw to rid myself of him, and I’ll purge blood from my legs, as if this medieval cure all will save me from his torture. It means me questioning if I deserve love. It means I’ll once again try to justify him. It means reliving him, over and over and over and over, my tears doing nothing but fueling the fire. It means fighting and losing.

As dumb as it sounds, it’s hard to not understand if you haven’t experienced abuse firsthand.

Today, it happened again; while sitting in class, I dropped my lip balm on the ground. While bending over to pick it up, my head bumped into the same friend’s thigh, and she jokingly pushed my head down repeatedly, even when I said “stop” over and over. She might not have heard me- her headphones were in- or she might have thought I was laughing along with her.

But as soon as her hand pushed onto my head, all I could feel was him pushing himself further into my mouth and me choking, gagging, unable to breathe, tears beading in my eyes, trying to push away as he continues to go deeper. I closed my eyes and took a quick breather before struggling to return to my work.

It doesn’t take much for me to be reminded of him. My friend raising his hand to give me a high five makes me flinch and leaves him looking at me strangely. Another friend slaps me across the face as a “pun-ishment” for making a terrible pun, and I immediately fold into myself, trying to make me as small as possible.

People’s words don’t help either. A few months ago, on the Ultimate Frisbee fields, I was telling a friend how I would cry if I had to deal with a certain insufferable player for one more game. She looked at me and said “I remember a time when I used to care when you cried,” in her usual, laughing manner, and all I could do was shut down, because those words, those almost exact words, had been thrown at me before by this boy. I quietly told her this, and she gave me a sympathetic nod before going off to grab the disc.

Every once in a while, she’ll mention that moment to me, and we’ll have a quick laugh over it. The pain of the first sting still pierces me, just maybe not as hard.

Even when you do tell people, they almost never know how to react. Some will joke with you over it, a dumb little mistake that happened, that they think is easy to forget. Some will apologize profusely, saying how they didn’t mean it and they hope that “you’re doing better now”. Some will ask questions: “what happened?” “did he ever hit you?” “why did you stay with him?” “why didn’t you tell anyone?”. And you’ll get the dreaded polar statements of “I never would’ve thought! You?? I had no idea!” and “I never thought he was good for you, I always thought something was up.”

Again, they do mean their best, they really do. They just don’t know how to react. Explaining it in the simplest terms isn’t always easy; sometimes they just want to be in the know.

I’ve been mainly talking about how it’s usually through my friends that I’m reminded of him, which is true, because they aren’t aware of what went on, what I’m going through. But the stupidest, dumbest things can remind me of him, small things that most people wouldn’t blink twice at.

While watching The Force Awakens, I couldn’t help but notice how Kylo Ren had the same facial structure as him. When he yelled at Rey and threatened her at the base, I felt sick and silently begged him to leave her alone. Upon him killing Han, I buried my head into my boyfriend’s shoulder and cried, a mix of me mourning my favourite character and me letting loose my pain.

Most country music makes me feel sick, because it was all he’d listen to. When ever I wanted to listen and sing to my music, he’d make fun of me for it, tell me not to sing, and perhaps worst of all, tell me that if I was going to sing “Crawling” by Linkin Park the way I did, he would never let me sing in his car again.

Anything to do with guns gives me headaches and makes me want to throw up, and the ballistics unit in forensic science class was slight hell. We once had a conversation about gun control, he and I, and he told me that if I supported it, I was denying him his right to live. Listening to him talk about how gun control was pointless made me worry even more, especially when he threatened to round up all the queers in our school and shoot them, how he’d shoot my friends, how he’d shoot my brother, how he’d shoot me, and how he wouldn’t hesitate to.

Tall boys, boys over six feet with buzzed hair that walk with too much confidence, the way they talk as if they own the room, and you should be grateful for their presence- those boys make me go quiet.

It’s not like it’s their fault- Adam Driver doesn’t exist to give me nightmares, country music and guns aren’t trying to make me sick, and those boys don’t know they hurt me, and they don’t mean to. They weren’t born to cause me this pain.

And just like in the title, literally anything can bring me back to him. It can be a certain tone of voice someone uses, it can be the way a classic literary character treats her sister, it can be the smell of my cousin’s cologne at a family barbecue, it can be the way my friend drives just a little to fast down the highway. No one can truly look around us and shield me from what might hurt me. It’s impossible to tell what will set it off and when I’ll be brought down by it.

He wreaks my life, even after a year of not being with him, a year of not being touched by him, a year since our last meaningful words had any sort of backing behind them. He created his haven in me, a haven of storms and havoc that rouses every time someone touches me wrong, or talks with a barrage like his, or even gives me the look of “what the fuck is wrong with you?”, the one he gave me before he’d leave me in tears, and God knows what would cause them this time.

I wipe my weary eyes with my fingers, trace them down my neck, and intertwine them together in my lap. The flush on my cheeks isn’t from him hitting me, it’s from the thick hoodie and my boyfriend’s fleece pajama pants that swaddle me as I write. The bruises on me are from going too hard in gym ping-pong and slamming my legs into low tables, not his mouth, nor his fingers, nor his hands. The Vaseline and stacks of pennies on my nightstand make my breathing stop, but I close my eyes and turn away. I’ll move them later.

I gasp, breathing in air I know is mine, air I can believe he hasn’t touched. One day, I hope it won’t be just the air that he is gone from.