(TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses harassment in the context of an abusive relationship)
I’m at home, in the dining room, with my family – maybe I’m eating, maybe I’m studying, it depends – when there’s an unexpected knock at the door. Silence. We all look at each other furtively, nobody knowing quite how to react. Dad gets up to answer the door, slowly, without disturbing the tension, closing the dining room door behind him. Meanwhile, I tense up, fighting the urge to run into the kitchen like I used to.
Whoever it is, it isn’t you. However much my brain goes into overdrive at the sound of that knock, I know rationally that it’s never actually you anymore. It’s been years since I left, and since I eventually stopped responding out of fear. It’s been months since I’ve had any contact from you at all. Conversation gradually resumes, and nobody says anything more about it, because nobody needs to. I try and push you out of my mind, with varying degrees of success, at least until next time. Still, I can’t help but notice when there’s movement outside the downstairs windows; it’s always just shadows, always just leaves in the breeze, but you never know, next time that might not be the case.
I’m at uni, in my room, finishing off the revision notes I’d been working on that morning. I put the notes away, move the folder to one side and open Facebook. There’s a message request – a system probably intended to protect people like me from people like you, but which also “protects” me from group chats with friends, and honestly, I can’t ignore that “(1)” without knowing whether or not it’s you lurking behind there.
Sure enough, it’s you. Nothing new in the content. You swear you only want to talk – why can’t we just have a civilised conversation? And if I still don’t want to talk to you, could I please let you know either way? Eye roll. Ignore. Go for a walk. I don’t let you get to me anymore. What happened with you has become simply a part of my past.
Except it hasn’t, because you won’t let it. Every time, just as I think it’s over, you’re back, and it dredges up years of old thoughts and feelings. I fixate – perseverate, I guess. I bring up old messages, old articles I’d sent to friends which reminded me of my own experiences, old blog posts, old memories. It hurts, more than I can describe, but I feel compelled. I guess I have quite an analytical mind. I want to understand. More than anything, I want to understand how it’s come to this, how someone who loved me and who I loved so deeply could cause me such terror. It’s my fault. I’m over-reacting. Or it didn’t really happen. The only logical explanations according to this illogical society as internalised by my own thoughts.
A couple of days later, I’m online in between revision topics and I hear an ~oh so romantic~ story about a man who got his girlfriend back by writing to her constantly for months until she “caved” and it feels like a punch in the stomach. I feel like I’m back at square one again. You never give the wound enough time to heal. They seem really happy now though, so maybe that really is just normal romance, maybe it’s all my fault, I’m over-reacting, or it didn’t really happen.
I realise that the fact I’ve reacted so badly demonstrates that you, in some small way, still have power over me. I then realise that this is also demonstrated by the fact that I’m spending all this time and energy thinking about you at all, especially at this crucial time in my degree. It’s all in my head though. I should be able to just stop doing that. But I can’t, and it’s my own fault. I spend the evening writing and deleting several walls of text, intending to post in a Facebook support group, and when I eventually force myself to post something I take it down the next day because, for a reason I don’t even know, I’m the one who feels ashamed.
I’m walking to the town centre back home, and I see you behind me, running after me, shouting about how you only want one more chance.
I’m in the dining room, and you’ve just come in. You’ve got my phone. I didn’t see you take it, but somehow you have it, and you’ll only give it back if I do what you’re asking.
I’m at a pub with friends, and you’re there with your arm around me, acting like we’re a couple, nobody knowing how terrified I am that this is happening again.
…I’m in bed, in my room at uni, the radio blaring on my alarm clock. I sigh, get up, and wonder if I did anything to give myself nightmares. I don’t remember dreams much. But I know that you’re a regular feature.
I’m at uni, in my room, finishing off the revision notes I’d been working on that morning. I put the notes away, move the folder to one side and open Facebook. Again.
This time there’s a friend request. I never expected it to be you. Shit, I forgot to block when I ignored the message request. Or rather, I felt too guilty to block. I do it this time though; and when I do, I’m redirected to a whole list of my blocked accounts, all under the same name. Your name.
The self-doubt I’d worked so hard on getting over this week comes rushing back in. The rational part of me realises this, remembers that I’d even planned out a blog post last night and set time aside this afternoon to write it, but still, for the next hour or so, I barely recognise any of that narrative. Because it’s all my fault really. Or I’m over-reacting. Or it didn’t really happen.
I take a deep breath, think “business as usual” and get back to revision, trying to drown you out, trying not to let you have that power over me again. It’s too early to tell whether I’ve been successful in that regard.
But I don’t think I’ll be comfortable with unexpected knocks any time soon.