When I was fifteen, I made a lot of mistakes. I thought that going to school with one eyelid painted blue and one eyelid painted purple was a super cool look. I never did anything that could be considered 'study' or 'homework' or 'a good use of time'. My locker was a glorified garbage disposal unit, my school bag was a certified biohazard with its own mould colony experiment, and my uniform always had ramen stains and random holes in it.
And, just before I turned sixteen, also got into an abusive relationship with someone who had a partner.
I know I talk about this a lot - partly for cartharsis, and partly to raise awareness for the many kinds of abuse that happen to many different kinds of people, including me. And I know I focus a lot on the 'abuse' side and less on the 'cheating side'; because honestly, for most people, they're so fixated on one story that they forget about the other/s.
The reason why I can't talk about the story in its entirety is because, to be honest, I really don't know what I'm talking about. The abuse that happened was mostly gaslighting; which 'is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.' I don't know exactly what happened; I don't even know what I thought or how much I knew. There are gaps in my memory that I have no hope of ever recalling, and why, from the outside, it looked like I was deliberately doing a lot of very hurtful things. Resisting gaslighting depends on your ability to trust your own judgements; and I didn't. I was a very insecure, naive kid who trusted a friend.
I don't know how responsible I am for the mistakes that I made then; for the pain that I inflicted on myself and on other people. What I do know was that our relationship started as a very formal email correspondence and escalated very rapidly from there. I do know that I was very naive and sheltered, even for a sixteen year old, and that I'd never had a relationship that came close to matching the intensity of this. I do know that, for the duration of the relationship, I had been told by my abuser to only consider it as a cut-and-dry friendship, even though I knew at the time, I definitely know now, and everyone else knew that it was more than that.
I knew there was someone else in the picture; and I remember the only times that I really pushed back against the web of lies were times that directly involved her. I don't know how to say that I genuinely didn't feel comfortable with it; and I don't know how to say that no matter how hard I pushed back, it wasn't any good. Had I not been in an abusive relationship, had I not been fifteen, perhaps I would have had the willpower to break off something that, for him, constituted cheating.
But I was in an abusive relationship. And I was fifteen.
The funny thing is, people are obsessed with telling me to 'get over it'; as if I like dwelling on horrible things that happened years ago. But they have never let me get over it, largely because they have never gotten over it. I have had to pay the price for being 'that girl' many, many times since then. People seem to enjoy holding me to account for a mistake that I made a long, long time ago; but nobody's really bothered with him. Nobody has ever called him out for cheating, or for abusing me; but people are perfectly happy to erase the fact that I was abused for nearly two years, and refuse to let go of the fact that, as part of that, I was 'that girl'.
Abuse is not a mistake. You can't 'accidentally' abuse someone. My abuser did not make a 'mistake'. Every day was a conscious decision to abuse me, and he has never been held to account, never apologised. It is an unbearable burden to carry for so long. I see him move on with his life, blissfully unburdened by any kind of consequence of comeuppance, and I wonder at people's audacity to label fifteen year old me a slut and to consider him to be such a bright upstanding young man.
And, by the way, I am not excusing mistakes or changing the topic; and people who say so fail, as so many people fail, to imagine abuse complexly. These two things are so inextricably tangled that to think of them in isolation results in absurdity, such as the absurdity of asking an abuse victim to apologise for the consequences of her own abuse. It is hard to think that I made such a terrible mistake - something that deserves so many years of vitriol - when not only does nobody seem to care about the person in question, but that the person in question abused his 'best friend', which is how I got caught up in this mess in the first place. How am I supposed to apologise for an unconscious mistake when nobody is pressing him for an apology for conscious acts of cruelty?
Things are not always as cut and dry as saying sorry; it is so often much more complicated than that. And I think, very often, about the way in which victims and survivors are expected to get over it, to move on, to forget about what happened, at the drop of a hat; and I think about how it has less to do with helping survivors heal and more to do with the fact that our stories are difficult, uncomfortable, complex, and challenges the hierarchy that often puts our abusers above us. I made so many mistakes growing up; and I own them all. I take responsibility for the many times I have hurt people and let them down. But I cannot, should not, and will not take responsibility for my abuse, which is at the core of what people are asking of me, in this relentless fixation on what happened in days gone by. Because as much as I was a stupid teenager who made big mistakes, I am also an abuse victim trying, very hard, to keep on keeping on.