“We’ve gotten to know each other really well this past little while,” he said, to which I joked back:
“And I still like you!”
The truth is I more than like him – Terry is great in terms of what it means to be a human being: strong, physically and emotionally, independent, kind, artistic, curious and caring – the type of caring that I am: he has this real drive to want to make the world better, so much so he takes it personally when he can’t.
For the most part, he has a fairly strong sense of self, but his identity wanes due to his sensitivity. If that seems like a strange thing to say about someone, it’s only because I recognize that exact same quality in myself. What people say about me and how much value I perceive I have in my relationships makes me question who I am and my worth.
I was concerned one time when I thoughtlessly and half-jokingly said, “You are going to break my heart” and he took offence.
“Oh no,” I thought. “I don’t want to be in another relationship where I have to walk on eggshells and constantly back pedal.” Sometimes people say things without thinking too much about them and sometimes they don’t know how to articulate how they feel and so it comes out awkwardly. The people in your life should be understanding of that.
But I’ve developed a complex from too many bad relationships with people who weren’t understanding. My enormous sensitivity (not my fault – that’s the way God made me) has made me more susceptible to internalizing awful, harsh and unforgiving comments shot at me which have warped my self-identity and concept of normality.
Here’s a good example: I was 16 the first time a boy broke my heart. I resented him for a long time for destroying my belief in fairy tales and the idea I held so firmly that love was easy and painless (remember when you used to think that?)
But I tried to be brave. Several months later an IM conversation where I asked him why it wasn’t possible for us to be friends escalated into him calling me “fucked in the head” and my retaliating with “Go to hell!”
That was only one of two times I’ve ever really shot back at someone like that. The second time was nine years later at a Hallowe’en cabaret when Terry leveled at me, “I don’t think you understand how this works, Raquel.”
Using my name in the sentence just made his criticism that much more forceful.
“No, I don’t think you know how this works!” I shouted in my Hallowe’en costume before I even had time to question myself or feel self-conscious about the gold glitter pouring out my nose.
I had just seen Terry kiss another girl and although we were not dating exclusively I was still extremely hurt.
Who is this girl who’s defending herself? I thought. Where the hell did she come from? It felt good. It felt really good to know exactly what I wanted to say and not question saying it. I felt like a grown-up woman.
“Normal” for me hasn’t always been what others would consider “normal.” “Normal” before this autonomy project would have been to internalize: maybe I don’t know how this works. How does this work? What is this? Maybe I am fucked in the head after all.
The day after the IM conversation I remember being astonished when I related the story to a trusted school counselor.
“I know a lot of teenage boys,” I remember her saying, “And none of them would ever say that to a girl. That is not normal behavior.”
It’s not? It was a revelation – that would explain my anxiety, then, which at the time was so bad I dry-heaved into the toilet almost every morning and sometimes threw up – verbal abuse had become normal for me and it was making me physically ill.
I had to change normal.
I called that boy the next day, swallowed my pride and apologized for the comment. He apologized in return. It was my way of trying to save a friendship that disintegrated the moment we hung up the phone, but looking back on it now, I hope I was an example for him of how to apologize to a romantic connection – how to be humble and understanding – I hope in the long run something good came out of the nastiness we resorted to for several minutes.
Likewise, I hope something comes out of my impulsive confrontation with Terry. I hope I demonstrated to some capacity (to myself or others) what a strong woman looks like when she’s angry – passionate, arms waving, a little worked-up and respectful (I did not tell him to “go to hell.”)
I said my piece and then I offered him a hug, which he returned begrudgingly. I changed normal – I didn’t suffer silently, holding in my angst and anger, too afraid of my emotions to say aloud how I really felt inside. Once out, I trusted him with my negative emotions – something I’ve never been able to do before.
At the height of our argument, I said, “You are not intimidating me.”
“No, never…never,” he said. “I would never try to do that.” His eyes were kind. He was telling the truth.
It took a few days and a couple hundred replays of the night’s events, but I realized I needed to apologize. I had gone over the top. I allowed the argument to escalate to a point the night was coloured for both of us.
I looked at my phone. It was 10 o’clock. Too late to do it now. Truth be told, I was kind of relieved.
But tomorrow, I vowed I would be all about redefining normal and the new normal for me would mean two things: not fearing voicing my emotions and being understanding of other people’s emotions – and when I’m not, I’ll cut us both some slack and say I’m sorry: I trust he’ll be understanding back.