Last summer, I had a day when I was completely miserable. Despair is a word that comes to mind when I recall it. I was working in my shop on a hot summer day. Every noise was triggering me. I felt fearful and broken and alone. If it would have been acceptable for me as a shopgirl to curl up in the fetal position on the floor with a soft blanket, I absolutely would have. But I placed those feelings aside, as I always tried to do, to give a little joy to my customers.
That afternoon, one of my favorite shoppers, Lauren, came in bursting with sunshine. She is young and adorable and I love her. Her hair was in the cutest messy bun. I told her how much I liked it and how I am useless when it comes to styling my hair. She laughed and said, “Come here, I’ll show you.” And with a single elastic band and some gentle and quick twists, turned my sad mop of hair into the cutest messy bun.
She had no idea what I was dealing with and sprinkled a dash of love on me because that is the kind of person she is. I had no idea until six months later that not long before popping in the shop that day, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was facing several surgeries ahead of her, along with the loss of her hair. And in the midst of that grim diagnosis and an uncertain future, she showered me with kindness.
We are all faced with things that we cannot wish away. In our quiet and lonely struggles we carry on. For as self admonishing as I can be, I believe that we carry on bravely. I think we want to spare those around us from our grief. And we carry on because we believe in the genuine goodness of others and a hopeful future even when faced with things we never deserved. That’s what Lauren did for me in that moment of unexpected kindness last summer. Despite it all, our compassion remains intact and as impossible as it seems, flourishes. Extending goodness amid great pain is about as beautiful of a thing as I can imagine.
During the early part of our relationship, James told me that nearly every woman he’d dated had been raped or molested. At the time, I thought nothing more of him revealing that fact other than the man I loved had such understanding and compassion for us walking wounded. Such a gentle and caring man!
James’ confession to me that his past relationships were nearly exclusively with women who had experienced molestation or rape? While statistically 1 in 6 women in the United States are the victims of a completed or attempted sexual assault, his pairing up with women like me was no coincidence. Let me put it this way. As with other parts of being an abuser, he was fully aware of what he was doing. He knew.
For James, a woman with a past fraught with difficulty and pain from sexual abuse? It’s like panning for gold and finding a huge shiny bar. He knew what he had found and he exploited it. Each and every time. And with each and every relationship, he learned more, changed up his playbook and became better at exploitation.
The learning curve of educating myself about a sociopath is an upward trajectory. (Not the healing from a sociopath, that trajectory is messy.) In the beginning when I was still entrenched, I was going on faith alone. Meaning, every professional I consulted concluded I was in the midst of serious abuse and I trusted their assessment. After I extracted myself from James, the cognitive part kicked in and I could logically process what had happened. It was reassuring to know that there are specialists, professors and doctors who have studied such exploitation and the disordered minds that revel in it.
But now, all these months later, I can logically take it in and feel some sense of relief. That for as shameful and humiliating as playing the role of his girlfriend ended up being for me, all this shitty and vile behavior is 100% on him. It doesn’t make the ick go away. No, that stuff lingers. Just as he knew it would.