My first relationship was my worst relationship. I was desperately young. My first relationship was with the boy who turned me into the girl in the woods. He was a good boy from a good family living in a good neighborhood but he hurt me in the worst ways. People are rarely what they seem. The more I got to know him, the more I realized that he was always showing who he really was and the people in his life either saw through him or closed their eyes. After that boy and his friends raped me, I was broken. I did not stop letting him do things to me and that remains one of my greatest shames. I wish I knew why. Or I know why. I was dead, so nothing mattered.
Since then I’ve had many other relationships and none nearly that bad but the damage was done. My course was set. And it’s a shame that the measure is what is not so bad instead of what is thriving and good. I look at some of my worst relationships and think, “at least he or she didn’t hit me.” I work from a place of gratitude for the bare minimum. I’ve never been in a relationship where I’ve had to hide nonconsensual bruises. I’ve never feared for my life. I’ve never been in a situation where I couldn’t walk away. Does this make me a lucky girl? Given the stories I’ve seen women sharing via the hashtags #whyIstayed and #whyIleft, yes.
This is not how we should measure luck.
I have had good relationships but it’s hard to trust that because what I consider good sometimes doesn’t feel very good at all.
Or I am thinking about testimony and how there has been so much over the past day and some—women sharing their truths, daring to use their voices to say, “This is what happened to me. This is how I have been wronged.” I’ve been thinking about how so much testimony is demanded of women and still, there are those who doubt our stories. There are those who think we are all lucky girls because we are still, they narrowly assume, alive.
I am weary of all our sad stories—not hearing them, but that we have these stories to tell, that there are so many.
I have been thinking about a specific person who is no longer in my life since yesterday. Our relationship was not good but it was “not that bad.” I have been thinking about how sometimes emotional abuse is even worse than physical abuse. I don’t mind getting knocked around. I don’t say that cavalierly. There are simply some things to which I am numb. This person, though, wanted to break me down, which became interesting because I did not realize I could still be broken down further. Who knew? They did, I guess. They smelled it on me.
There was nothing dramatic or violent between us. It was simply constant criticism. Nothing I ever did was good enough. I was in my twenties and desperately insecure so I thought this was what all relationships were like. I thought this was what I deserved because I was so worthless.
I couldn’t be taken around this person’s colleagues without a rigorous critique of everything wrong with me that I needed to try and improve. Most of the time, as you might imagine, we were not together in public because I was just not good enough. I never looked nice enough. I talked too loud. I breathed too loud. I slept too loud. I was too warm while I slept. I moved too much while I slept. I basically stopped sleeping. I just hugged as small a sliver of the edge of the bed as I could and I stayed awake so my sleeping wouldn’t be such a nuisance. I was always tired.
I didn’t wash dishes correctly. There is a right way and a wrong way to wash dishes. I know that now. Don’t get water on the floor. Drain the dish rack. Be careful how you organize the dishes in the dish rack. One of my favorite things to do now is to wash dishes any old way. I spill water on the floor and I smile at it because these are my fucking floors and these are my dishes and NO ONE CARES IF THERE IS WATER ON THE FLOOR.
I didn’t eat food correctly. I ate too fast. I chewed too loudly. I chewed ice too much. I didn’t put things away correctly. I didn’t arrange my shoes by the front door correctly.
I swung my arms while walking. I would be told these things and then have to try and remember all the things I shouldn’t do so I wouldn’t be so upsetting, by just existing. We would be walking, and I would remember, okay, hold your arms at your side. Do not swing your arms. I would spend all my time just reminding myself, don’t swing your arms. And then I might get distracted and forget and accidentally let my arm move an inch or two and I would hear this exasperated sigh so I would redouble my efforts to make myself less upsetting to this person I loved. DON’T SWING YOUR ARMS, ROXANE. Sometimes, I catch myself trying not to swing my arms even now and I get so angry. I get so fucking angry and I want to swing my arms like a windmill. THESE ARE MY ARMS. THIS IS HOW I WALK.
One day I went to a department store and got my make up done. I thought I looked pretty. I wanted to look pretty for this person. I bought a bunch of make up so I could be a better girl. I went to their house to surprise them and they looked me up and down and told me what else I could do to be more tolerable to them. I stood there on the front porch, wanting my body to collapse in on itself. I had been so excited, so happy I had made myself pretty and it wasn’t good enough. I certainly didn’t try that again. I went home with all my expensive make up and my pretty face and then I cried that make up off. The make up is in a yellow bag in my closet even now. Sometimes, I take it out and look at it but I don’t dare use it.
I was never going to be good enough but I tried so hard. I tried to make myself better. I tried to make myself acceptable to someone who would never find me acceptable but kept me around for reasons I cannot begin to make sense of. I stayed because they confirmed every terrible thing I already knew about myself. I stayed because I thought no one else would possibly tolerate someone as worthless as me. I stayed through infidelity and disrespect. I stayed until they no longer wanted me around. I would like to think at some point I would have left but we always want to think the best of ourselves, don’t we?
But I am a lucky girl. I think most of my sad stories are behind me. There are things I will no longer tolerate. Being alone sucks but I would rather be alone than be with someone who makes me feel that terrible. I am realizing I am not worthless. Knowing that feels good. My sad stories will always be there. I am going to keep telling them even though I hate having the stories to tell. These sad stories will always weigh on me, though that burden lessens the more I realize who I am and what I am worth.
Sometimes, a person with bright shining eyes and warm hands tells me how amazing I am. They tell me they love me exactly as I am. I can hear the truth of these words in their voice. I believe them. It is the greatest gift and that’s why I fight for it. I allow myself this exquisite pleasure. I am a lucky girl.