What follows is an important and powerful story from the journal of a young friend of mine. Something to Ruminate upon. . . .
Today is my first anniversary.
Exactly a year ago I packed up my belongings from my partner's apartment in Tel Aviv with the help of Lauryn and Richard. Rich had come out from Jerusalem with empty bags for me to fill. Lauryn had her own luggage already full, this being her long-awaited trip to see me in the place I'd fallen in obsession with years ago. Hunched over under the weight of backpacks we wheeled our leaden suitcases down a kilometre of uneven sidewalk to the bus station. We threw everything in the hold, found our seats as the bus heaved forward, and then we sat there, uncomfortably passive, for the slow rush-hour journey through the hills back to Jerusalem.
I'd left a long note on the table explaining to my partner the need for my immediate and permanent departure. My friends and I had packed up every trace of me and cleaned and tidied the space I would never return to except in panicked dreams and nauseating recollections.
On the bus Rich made friends with twin girls who had the time of their life playing hide-and-seek with bits of stale cracker. Still enclosed in my own inner world, I wept, terrified. But from time to time I felt a glimmering wave of sensation in my intercostal muscles that presaged the elation in which I would nearly drown in weeks to come, when the significance of this choice sank in.
But in that moment I was racked with guilt. I thought only of how I could have done things differently to hurt my partner less as I ended it. I found no better alternatives throughout all that self-flagellation but the guilt persisted anyway. I knew that he was pathologically manipulative and controlling and that his love wasn't love, that he wanted a possession, not a partner, and had gaslit me into the kind he wanted. He never would have said so, but it was written in everything he did, the letters increasingly bold as the weeks wore on.
Back in Jerusalem, back among my friends who never knew him, gradually I named his love "abuse." Thanks to the divine presence of Lauryn, I'd already named our last night together "assault." I will never forget the look on her face the morning after when I told my unfiltered chronicle of that event. It is hard to say the word. It sticks in my mouth. I don't want to aggrandize my pain enough to make me a proper victim. It feels disrespectful and effacing to those who really suffer, so much more than I ever did, and have for years. I don't want to further drown out those who suffer in silence and solitude. I am privileged that even in my sometime isolation in a country that is not my own, I had community. The ranks of the less privileged seem limitless. But perpetrators get free rein when we fail to name those "lesser" evils, those less ripened fruits of the same poisonous tree we call misogyny. I want to rip it from the ground however I can. So I call it that. I choose my nouns, I practice them, I wear them: my not-so-easy As.
Although I'm unfettered and elated, until I left the country half a year later I was also constantly afraid that he would find me and kill me. A week after I left him I ran into him on the street as I was grabbing a bite. I held my ground, both physically and rhetorically; I managed to speak my mind without sending him over the edge. A lifetime of womanly socialization making a balanced cocktail with my feminism. Despite the metaphorical liquid courage, I shook the whole time. I realized afterward that my body had been telling me to run. After he left, the Ethiopian bus boy came over to me. "Everything okay, my sister?"
The choice to leave was divinely aided. I had Lauryn. I had Rich. I had bus fare. I am lucky.
It's the first time that, when given the choice between being happy with myself or being miserable for the sake of a man, I chose myself.
Growing up in the religious environment I did, I learned to believe that any action or thought on my own behalf was one of selfishness. I could advocate for anyone but myself. Anyone could be a person but me. It's thoughts like this that helped me accept abuse. I welcomed the outside control. It's familiar. It's safe, even when it's violent. I learned to try to ease my partner's violent emotions the way I'd always done for the emotionally volatile around me. I ignored the fact that it never really worked.
The person I am now is not who I was in that relationship. More importantly, it's not who I was before it, either. Over the years I have chosen many times not to kill myself, but this felt like the first time that I had decided--really, truly, independently decided--to live.
With distance I saw how close I'd been to giving up my life to please someone else. It would have been no Jesus act. My crucifixion would have emancipated exactly no one. The grace of the actual Crucifixion is that despite all the shit that humanity's tight-fisted, defensive selfishness has unleashed in the world since the dawn of sentience, I can know that I as a human being am still loved by God and capable of good. That the core of me is lovely. For too many years women have been overtly and covertly taught that to honour God we must deferentially honour men, no matter how they treat us in return. But we are the image of God, too; I will honour myself.
Self-love is a choice I make every day. I am the spouse I choose to love; this is my only guaranteed lifelong human relationship, no matter how many cherished friends I've had since infancy. I make my heart and mind the planting-ground for self-acceptance and awareness, and from that I hope to grow. Even at the lowest points in this year of union with myself, I have never felt more at home in my own skin. And I've never felt more powerful and creative and compassionate. Self-care is about more than bubble baths; self-love is not the same as self-indulgence. The powerful reality of these things is counter-cultural and anti-capitalist and anti-misogynist. It is literally revolutionary. It shouldn't need to be so, but it is.
This year has been my revolution. I set boundaries for myself and the people I let near me. I moved toward forgiveness. I faced fear after fear. I spoke my mind. I stayed quiet when I had nothing to say. I came home and accepted that that was a good thing. I allowed myself to be adored for what I am. I let myself adore the people in my life. Sometimes I was also a dick (sorry). But I was me, and I was happy about it. For the most part I was alone--at least in the way that our society chooses to acknowledge--and I was broke, but I was whole and lacked nothing.
This is an imperfect and unfinished glimpse of a thought; like me, it will keep evolving--but I am complete. Happy anniversary, Hannah.