The most intense abuse I experienced with James was always during the times we traveled. I believe that all bets were off once we got into the car or the plane took off from the runway. It was his opportunity to ditch his mask of sporadic kindness for the real James to emerge.
Our first trip was six weeks into our relationship where we visited to my parents en route to a folk festival. He was very cold and distant in the car, annoyed at me in general, criticized my driving, didn’t like the music I played on the radio and said I was acting “too happy.”
This was confusingly followed by him being delightful when we met and spent a day with my parents. Then cold and withdrawn when we left to attend the folk festival the next day. There was a tiny voice in my head telling me that something wasn’t quite right. I ignored it and decided that he must have been a little nervous meeting my parents, work stress or maybe I’d done something wrong.
A month of two after that we flew to Las Vegas for a few days. While in Las Vegas, my sweet friend Laura was also there. She had said to text if we wanted to meet up. But with a long weekend kind of trip, she and I knew it wasn’t very likely that we’d have time to connect. And James wasn’t keen on the idea, wanting to spend times “just as a couple.”
Well, connect we did, albeit only by a flurry of texts, on the last night of the trip. I was so upset and nearly left to stay with her and look for a flight home after James went nutty on me for taking too long in the bathroom at a casino. Yes, you are reading that correctly. Somehow my taking too long in the bathroom translated to me doing something suspicious on my phone with the implication being I had gone to the bathroom to text someone else. I wasn’t gone any longer than usual and was not texting. I was peeing for chrissakes!
I was still more of the old Jenny then as it was so early in our relationship (my sweet noggin had not yet been eroded) and was able to call him out about his behavior. I told him that I would never cheat on him, that he was treating me poorly and that I would never treat him the way he was treating me. I started to cry. And instead of just talking through this or being gentle to me, he said I wanted attention, was being dramatic and that he wasn’t going to speak to me. We walked back to the hotel and I cried myself to sleep.
Sometime during the night I woke up and couldn’t fall back asleep. We were staying in a suite so there was a full couch in the next room. I took a blanket and my phone and surfed on Pinterest and Facebook. (This was before I learned to completely stay off all social media and my phone in general.) James got up an hour or so later to go to the bathroom, saw me on my phone, shook his head and walked back to the bedroom.
I followed him, laid down next to him and tried to put my arm around him. He took my arm and threw it back to my side. He said I should just go text whoever I was texting before. Which again, I was not! We ended up leaving the next day with him barely speaking to me. When we got back to Chicago? He was his delightful self again and acted as if nothing at all had ever happened.
This acting as if nothing had happened would be an ongoing theme in our relationship. It caused me to be very confused about what was happening and if I was misunderstanding what had actually occurred. This is called gaslighting. Yep, it’s a thing. Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional abuse where the abuser manipulates situations repeatedly to trick the victim into distrusting his or her own memory and perceptions. It is also classic sociopath behavior and worked well in destroying my ability to trust my instincts.
Something I want to clarify for anyone who is thinking, “he sounds like an asshole but being an asshole does not an abuser make.” Yes, James was/is an asshole. But he is also an abuser and this is why. Anyone can have moments (myself absolutely included) where they are off, say something they regret or are unkind. The difference is that with abuse, there is a PATTERN OR BEHAVIOR meant to control, manipulate or cause fear, obligation or guilt. And that is a big damn difference. It’s this pattern that became the cycle of abuse I endured for months longer than I ever should have.