I took a gulp of Pinot Noir from my oversize wine glass in an effort to avoid the TV screen. Our weekly Big Little Lies viewing party took an unexpected turn as I watched Nicole Kidman's character, Celeste, hold back in a therapy session, defending the husband who beat her regularly in their own home.
I looked at my best friend's face to try to match her expression. I didn't want anyone to know I was having a moment.
In response to the therapist asking, "Does your husband hit you?" Celeste ultimately confesses that yes, he does hit her, but she hits him too. They are both violent. And after the violence comes aggressive sex. Celeste says she likes it, that it turns her on, but as the viewer we see what's happening. We see that their sex is rooted in rage, it's a release of the fear, it's a release from the truth about what's going on in their relationship.
Up until this point I believed that I had nothing in common with Celeste, that because I had not been physically abused, that we were not the same. But as she said, "I hit him too," my initial reaction was to look away, my body became warm, and I saw myself sitting there, hearing the same thing I had been saying for months without realizing what I was doing.
"I hit him too."
But this was figuratively speaking of course. I never hit David and he never hit me, but his words burned like rubbing alcohol on an open cut - soon David found all of my cuts and knew just which ones to rain down on.
One night on our trip to Seattle, he tried to hook up with someone else at my friend's holiday party.
We weren't together as an official couple, but we both knew what this was. We understood the magnitude of our relationship. Our trip together, the sex, sleeping in the same bed, the nods to moving in together and starting a family. David knew the best way to keep me at bay was to say all the things I wanted. He knew that words would be enough for that moment, because the self-conscious, insecure person that I was only held on to words, never really understanding what a loving partnership could feel like. I settled for his words.
As I watched him make his way to another party guest, flirting, exploring the house together, I knew exactly what was going on. That other party guest also knew and was thrilled about their current situation. I was not.
When I could finally get him alone for a moment, I expressed that I was unhappy, that I did not want to be at the party anymore, but if he wanted to hook up with this other person, it was OK. I surrendered to the situation. I decided to let him have his fun.
"How dare you," he said. And that's when he completely lost it.
I don't remember what else he said in that moment after downing two whiskey ginger ales to get through watching him with someone else all night, but I do remember the anger on his face, the disappointment. Like I did something wrong. I believed that I did do something wrong . . .
David went for the door. I tried to stop him but he was gone.
"You ruined this night for me," he shouted, running ahead of me.
I was in full panic mode.
Into the streets. To the bus stop. On to the bus. Chase him to his seat.
Hold on to me, David. Never let me go. Never let me go. Hold on to me. Love me. Please stay with me. I'll do whatever you ask, David. I will make it up to you, David. Please, just sit and stay with me; I need you to stay.
Here I was, running toward the light I saw in David, trying to hold on to the small crack in which I could get in.
But I could feel the crack closing up.
We took the bus to our Airbnb from there and didn't talk to each other for an hour. It was our last night in Seattle and we packed separately. Avoiding each other. I was in the living room, he was in the bedroom.
When I finished packing, I laid down on the couch and started crying. I couldn't believe I would be so stupid to let him know how I felt. I didn't want to be there. I just wanted to be in bed. I couldn't bear to watch David with someone else. But he insisted, and when I showed my discomfort, he showed how wrong I was to feel this way. He punished me; I couldn't say bye to my friends. All I wanted was David.
I finished crying and just lay in the living room in the dark. Then I heard footsteps. He came over to me with a pillow and a blanket, sat down next to me, and told me to lay my head on his lap.
I was so happy he wanted me back. Maybe he wasn't so upset about missing out on that party guest. Maybe I was still the one he wanted.
He stroked my back as we watched holiday movies on Netflix. Ah, this is it, I thought. I feel better now.
Later that night, we had sex.
The next day, we decided to spend our final hours exploring the neighborhood. I was feeling shame from the night before, but I thought that perhaps our trip would still end on a good note.
But David wanted to make sure I remembered what happened.
"You were a crazy b*tch last night," David said. "You ruined my night last night. You act all nice and fun, but you can actually be pretty terrible. It's OK though. I still love you."
In that moment I second-guessed everything, said I was sorry to cover up my shame and believed in what he said. Time after time beyond that night, I would take the blame, I would let him hit me with every word, pour more alcohol into the cuts. Let them sizzle and dance for his love. I would try to hit back with words, but then I would just feel guilty for doing it - I would feel like maybe I really did something to anger him when all I really wanted was to love him. And just like Celeste says as she reaches her breaking point, "When the bruises fade, he will attack me again."
"I hit him too, I hit him too."
But a year later and now I know better, I've come to understand my codependency and where my need for his approval came from. I watched Celeste show me that second-guessing whether or not David was bad for me was not the point. That it was OK to let go. That without him I could give all that love and glory to myself to help me grow and not be put in the same situation again.
Yes, I "hit" him too. But as Celeste pointed out on the finale episode, it was only in reaction to him hitting me.
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