Debbie-downer by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #6]
Over the past two weeks, the universe has delivered to me some of the most painful yet edifying experiences. As I do every week for this piece, I observe the world around me, searching for the subtle forms of manipulation and brainwashing. I try to smoke out the pestilent fumes of this lurking in the dark corners and unseen catacombs. This week I didn’t need to dig around to locate it, it went off like a bomb! In the psychological world of narcissism, it is called a “love-bomb”.
Let’s put a pin in this “love” grenade event for now to get some background and abuse info first. This love bombing is a technique I recognize from my childhood. My mother unknowingly implemented it in a very subdued way as a type of coping mechanism or counterbalance to use when my father was blunt, coarse or cruel toward us in any fashion. Its basically a deluge of affection. There is a chart called the “cycle of violence” used referring to the phases of domestic abuse. The three phases are tension building, honeymoon, and family/incident. Now as my mom was an enabler, her affections weren’t given to supply her. It was genuine and came from a place of true compassion. She was the “nurturer” Dad was the “reasoner”. She was “emotion”, he was “logic”. I think I can safely say for both of us that my sis and I were raised in a home by a very loving and permissive, yet somewhat volatile and enabling mother to an uninvolved and disconnected yet witty and intelligent father. There was no palpable tension building phase that came from her after the love bomb/honeymoon phase. Imagine only the love phase from mom and then the incident phase from dad with the tension building phase tucked quietly away in dad’s absent pocket. No warning, just BANG! Like a car bomb going off. Only luckily, in the case of my sister and I, it was just a deafening sound, then mom would swoop in for damage control to our senses. Trying to repair the psychological assaults to our self-esteems. Doing her best to pluck out the shrapnel in our psyches. At least we weren’t physically abused, right? Wrong! Psychological trauma can be just as much, if not more, devastating to human beings.
If it comes directly from the narcissist themselves, the love bomb is a method to shore up the target’s trust. Just like in the “honeymoon phase” on the wheel of violence, the abuser showers the victim with affection to psychologically encode a trust bond, complete with euphoric producing biochemicals like serotonin or oxytocin from adoration, hugs, etc., creating a high or rush in the victim, then they tactically use stress to incite an adrenaline response just when the victim is at ease in order to blindside their perception of safety and security, incorporating fear or terror to further heighten the chemical response along with the “incident,” which could be lashing out physically, breaking something or inciting some argument or any other dramatic situation. This effectively conditions the prey of the predator, making them their guinea pig and those rapidly shifting hormones act as a drug would on the system. It becomes an indeterminate addiction.
My partner of the past decade (married 6+ years) was raised by a doting, ostentatious, socialite mother and an emotionally distant and aloof father, we saw something in each other that we recognized – the same struggle. I don’t think we realized though what struggle was until early in our marriage but all signs pointed to some flavor of narcissism.
Leaving home was important for us to pursue our own philosophies and dreams. We moved from PA to GA. Here as we ebb and flow, suffering and healing as a couple from the conditioning of a shared narcissistic upbringing, the beast still rears its ugly head and most savagely when family members come to visit. My father, being uninvolved, does not opt to visit. My mother visits, but as the enabler alone she is not a narcissistic threat. She includes herself in our life as a couple with our child, has respect and reverence for our blended family and any family unit on the whole. She was raised to tolerate aka enable an alcoholic parent in a diverse family of fourteen characters whose bloodline relations and associations are extensive, if not pervasive there in my hometown. It’s unfortunately all too seldom, but when blessed to be together, we eat, talk, walk, imbibe, swear, laugh, disagree, argue and just be who we are, in each other’s company, shamelessly.
One healthy and vital principle my parents mutually shared that kept me strong was shamelessness. They both felt shame to be toxic. Another tenet I consider invaluable was critical thought, which I credit to my dad. His relentless quest for truth has been such an odd double-edged sword in my life, slicing to the bone at times in numerous cutthroat debates. Setting me up for an abusive climate in certain cases, yet somehow simultaneously culling me to be determined and resolved enough to identify and extract myself from abusive scenarios, even his own. A precarious and effective combination that is not without an onslaught of emotional and relational drawbacks in its execution, but it is the template I was given. I consider this model an ongoing work in progress and intend on making perpetual modifications toward its improvement for the duration of my life.
My husband is nine years younger than I and feels generally positive concerning his parents, though his words have often harbored a flat distress regarding their opinion of him. He deems himself the “black sheep” and his younger brother “the golden child” he has also stated that his parents “see him as a liability, not an asset” and that his mother “worries that he is too much like his uncle”, her late brother, who smoked too much and lived alone on a farm, passing away in his 50’s, She herself has uttered in an inebriated state to my partner that she was afraid she “ruined him”. She likely would have never admitted such a thing, but she does enjoy her “spirits”.
This is totally TMI according to my in-laws. Likely this sort of disclosure could potentially rattle my m-i-l. So why do this, why share such information, right? Here’s the thing: I was reared to be unbridled, unconventional, difficult, and blatantly honest, but I was also brought up by a narcissist, so grappling with my self-esteem was a nightmare. In all the years I’ve been alive I’ve learned one thing for sure about disclosure in the face of narcissism: it extinguishes it! As much as I’ve wanted and taken all the steps I can to keep that world away from mine, my in-laws have literally brought it to my doorstep. This is a “gift” I must refuse, but only by means of exposing it. To shine the light upon its darkness and watch the shadow dwellers scatter. This is why it is necessary to put a spotlight on such personal details.
Because a narcissistic tactic was very recently used on me where covert adult bullying was used to generate an incident, I used writing to respond accordingly. Psychology Today has an article entitled “8 Keys To Handling Adult Bullies.” Key 6 on this list is: “Talk about your experience.” For me, it’s not just enlisting in the help and support of close and trusted friends, but as a writer, my heart demands candid awareness of the topic. This incident not only jabbed at my bruised self-esteem from prior narcissistic abuse, but was also carried out by means of my least favorite mental state of all: mindless complicity. It was an arranged event likely spearheaded by my m-i-l. It’s people like this that inspired the term “monster in-law”. But let’s step back into the 80’s for a moment where I was introduced to two important life concepts: free will and manipulation.
My first revelation of self-determination helped tremendously in identifying narcissistic tactics later on in life. When I was eight, I began to feel withdrawn, isolated and different in class. In fourth grade, at ten, I started suffering from undiagnosed panic disorder in school and that continued until I was fourteen. I tried so hard to be a good, obedient, obliging student, but no matter how ideal I tried to be, it never seemed to be enough for my instructors.
I’ve mentioned this incident in a previous piece, but I will reiterate for new audience members how it transpired. One morning my brain took itself a moment to gaze out the window during class and get lost in the beauty of nature, the soft breeze swept across the dancing field, the sunshine and butterflies played. This peace was violently snapped away from me, a humiliating recognition of my private, healthy, meditative moment by the teacher publicly scolding me for “daydreaming” to the entire class. I immediately saw red. I was a good student. I had read the material, I understood it. My reading comprehension was always two grades above my age group. I was furious that my hard work had garnered no recognition, respect, or minute exception. Not even allowing me a reward as small as an innocuous moment of serene silence. I didn’t fuck off when it came to my assignments, responsibilities or my reading material. How dare she feel entitled to the right to trap not only my entire physical being in this dank room, constantly battered by fluorescent radiation for eight straight hours nearly every day of my young life, but now also felt at liberty to control my psychological freedom as well? Who the hell did they think they were! Realizing my fury while trying to suppress it made me feel immediately ill and I feared I might become sick. I didn’t know then what I know now. That the illness I felt was the suppression of the human fight or flight response. Meant to defend against attackers by engagement or escape, sending biochemicals coursing through my blood like adrenaline and cortisol. I also wouldn’t learn until my early 20’s how dangerous these biochemicals were, that when suppressed regularly would cause cancer.
My body knew this instinctively. But knowing I was forbidden to fight or leave, I hovered in a sick limbo that grew and grew til it became an imminent threat. I began to question “might I actually get sick?” I didn’t want to take any chances. I walked up to the teacher’s desk, told her I felt ill and two minutes later I was on my feet. I was rattled. I was extremely tempted to run outside, but instead I moved through those precious few moments to myself down the halls in slow motion to the nurses office where I ended up crying to an empathetic male counselor who quaked at his own speculation that I might have been premenstrual. That did it for him, my mom was called and I got to go home. There I told my mom the story and she laughed off the counselor for cowering at the scenario of a possible female anatomy or maxi pad discussion, defaulting instead to send me home. She also told me that I was too smart for that man. Even though nothing I did was, to me, premeditated…or was it?
I hadn’t considered the fact that every step I took to remove myself from what felt overwhelmingly like a toxic situation might have been subconsciously strategic, but it got me out, didn’t it? Not just out of that room but out of the building entirely. No, it wasn’t a conscious choice but my mom called attention to my successful escape. Intentional or not, this helped me recognize a power I never knew I had. It was an illuminating and euphoric moment of release. My spirit regenerated, my heart lifted, I had discovered free will.
Free will is the mortal enemy of narcissism, as is illumination. Now armed with the knowledge that my free will was being oppressed daily in an institution brought on a few new super fun conditions, including panic attacks, agoraphobia and eating disorders – overeating in my childhood years and later in my teens, near anorexic from a combination of anxiety and undiagnosed hypoglycemia.
So my first 15 years were psychologically chaotic. My partner experienced similar issues with institutionalization. Most notably he was given Ritalin for ADD as he would put his head down on the desk or be fidgeting in class and had a few key teachers that he loathed throughout schooling. The one thing that really baffled me to hear was that, after being in swimming lessons from young childhood all the way until his senior year of high school, having won medals for his accomplishments in the sport, he was offered a scholarship and turned it down! My jaw dropped hearing this. I could not personally imagine investing all that time and effort into something that I could financially ride on through college just to flush it. But his family had money and mine didn’t.
Living the life that I do now I can, without a doubt, attest to the fact that money is the root of all evil. The past ten years of our financial life has been both covertly and overtly possessed by his parents. What started off as two equal people working their way up in love became a hot mess surrogate codependent little mother and her codependent mama’s boy. Moving south towards what I saw as liberation and opportunity has sadly not removed the dead weight of his puppet masters.
My partner and I have had numerous discussions about his family’s narcissistic tendencies. He can’t remember to pay bills before shutoff, renew registrations, empty his full voicemails or emails, find his own job listings, write his own resumes, check his bank balance or do just about anything that any lowly administrative assistant would be required to do. His compulsion to gaming once racked up $500 on our credit card. I caught the charges in process on autopilot. I shudder to think of how he would manage in the world without a financial handler, without the luxury of his parents’ money to cushion such hard falls. His mother did it all for him as a young man like a prince’s attendant. Effectively micromanaging him to the point of crippling his ability to take such actions or make decisions for himself, potentially for life.
From day one it was this way and has continued into the present, 800 miles give or take from where it began. About a year ago he was at odds with his superiors at work. Things were shaky, he was vulnerable and right on cue his mother arranged to make a visit. Thankfully I had seen this transition coming nine months ahead and had a contingency prepared. My partner had completed a real estate course in April. He needed only to activate his license, take a few required continuing ed courses and he would be free to be his own boss. Jumping forward to his mother’s visit in September just before Hurricane Matthew hit us, she and my mother came to visit. I had been, as usual, nagging him about putting his request in for the days off she was visiting. He said he had, but they were not yet approved and in his typical “Fuck it” fashion he did not persist to have them approve it.
So when she came and we had an island rental awaiting us for check-in, he decided to just go ahead and assume he was permitted the days off and got himself fired. Normally this would have been a major blow, but then he proudly announced his status as a realtor, washing his hands of two years employment. I was upset over this reckless act, but his mother remained the same as ever, stroking the ego of the little prince. He found a little side gig then that made him $200 every 3 weeks and she covered his rent from then on for a year. His license wasn’t even active ‘til December nor did a client show until February.
The lack of financial coverage was hemorrhaging the credit card to 3/4 its limit. He showed NO sign of concern over this. I was beside myself with worry. I would spend entire days on end data mining for client contacts and spoon-feeding him phone numbers and as I handed him a list of 25 prospective clients, he would not even attempt to get halfway through it as weeks went by. He began to declare how much he hated real estate. I would try to be his partner, that was the plan made the year before. It was thoroughly and extensively considered. He would start screaming and crying inconsolably. Full on meltdowns ensued. His words were cutting and cruel to me and got to a point where I couldn’t take the verbal abuse anymore.
Now I was no saint. I was pushy about the real estate business. I was a stay at home mom with agoraphobia, anxiety and of course those lovely little PTSD relics from my own childhood. I tried to do my part, but the requests became nagging, and the nagging turned into screaming matches that became epic battles. First, I asked him to see a therapist, as he was clearly coming apart. He was incapable of making or following a schedule or putting forth any kind of consistent effort to gain further clientele than the two who had approached him. The trigger had been pulled and the micromanaging of his mother had breached the surface of his sanity. He was rejecting being his own master as if it were a failing organ. Then he was running me down randomly throughout the house if I mentioned getting any work done. Terrorizing me, slaughtering my self-esteem in stereo earshot of my daughter, throwing fists in our newly renovated living room wall and denting our just purchased metal back door. He would slam his head off the porch pillars and the frame boards about the house. One day he came after me and I slammed my door shut, begging at the top of my lungs, “GO SEE A THERAPIST! GO SEE A THERAPIST! PLEASE GOD – GO SEE A THERAPIST!” I had nowhere else to go and his behavior had become, without a doubt in my mind, abusive.
He had a “friend” from NY drop in for a weekend. They left and ignored me and my daughter all weekend to have “bro time”. I told him not to come back drunk, to just go home with his friend. He never went out and got drunk unless his friends came. When he returned inebriated I was angry and wanted him to leave. Again, he broke down bawling then started saying horrible things to me. Calling me a “stone tied around his ankles”. I told him I wanted him to leave again and he willingly went out the back door. I locked it and then he began pounding and denting it. He even cracked the door frame. I let him back in, then left out the front door with my kid, drove her around in the car for 20 minutes until he cooled off. My daughter was so scared that night, she asked me if he was going to kill us. I told her no, that he was just throwing a tantrum. If I had anywhere to go that night, I would have left. Everything I had ever gained to take care of my child in the four decades of my existence was put into that home. It was out of the question to throw her future away because of his utter disrespect and selfishness. We went back, he fell asleep on the couch, my daughter and I went to our beds, and that was that. This was not a new thing anymore. The first time I can recall was back in PA. He threatened to shoot himself with his gun. She was about seven and she was petrified. I made him apologize for making such an awful threat. But that’s where it began. Even before he ever left our hometown.
Post-New York “friend’s” visit, Hurricane Irma visited too. Uncanny. The Cat 5 weakened to a tropical storm, but the time it hit us, it was, quite literally, a breeze. After being shut out by my partner and his “friend” a week prior, I was vastly depleted of company and friendship and asked my partner to go to a hurricane party with me, four blocks away, just for an hour. He listlessly acquiesced. I made acquaintances with stragglers on the porch. My partner made surface salutations. it was a house party, cramped with kitchen chairs and a three piece band shoved into a living room that normally held a capacity of 4-6 people tops comfortably. We sat for 20 mins listening to a quirky spoken word/singer play a sax. My partner was not impressed. I could tell he was rejecting it. He seemed he was always resisting my attempts to make new friends and socialize. The band began to play, they were great but my agoraphobia kicked in and I was ready to go. Besides, he was clearly intent on being a debbie-downer at this point anyhow.
Four days after the hurricane, I wake to find one of our three cats lying dead in the vacant lot by our home. No indication of how she died. My partner was in tears for the next two days and even gave himself a black eye by accidentally hitting himself in the brow with the shovel that got caught on the roots while he dug. It was a hard day. We all cried and held each other.
Ok, it’s time to take the pin out and FINALLY detonate this thing!
On the equinox: Friday Sept 22nd. After 4 months of grueling effort, abuse and trauma. My partner closed at the very moment of the equinox on his first house listing. It was a massive financial relief. It looked like the worst was behind us as he had also begun a regular restoration job that had a boss and everything to tell him what to do. He had visited a therapist that reportedly told him “his independence issues with his parents had found its way into his marriage.” He was back in his comfortable rut as a subordinate. His independence from them would have to take a backseat to the more pressing priority – our financial crisis. I barely got a breath in before his phone rang. My brother-in-law was on his way to make a “surprise” visit. I was instantly uneasy.
I must run off on a very essential tangent here: I found a meme on the internet yesterday that states: “Children with narcissist parents usually fall under one of three categories: 1. Conformer (golden-child) 2. Rebel (tries to fight back) 3. Runner (gets as far away as possible) My b-i-l was what you would call “the conformer”. My partner, ever the thorn in the side of authority is “the rebel” and like the 4th grade daydreamer who could not fight and so chose flight, I am the “runner”. In the second year of my relationship with my partner, b-i-l had been trying to recruit my partner to convince me to inject my daughter with a whooping cough shot. Both ten years younger than me, he and his new wife were about to become new parents too. His wife, newly in nursing school, was being ultra brainwashed into the vaccine club. My daughter was already 4 years old and I had made my informed decisions on that subject long ago. My partner pressed and pressed, exceedingly disturbed over this topic. I simply refused. He tried to convince me but I was an immovable object. At the time I was pregnant as well with what turned out to be a blighted ovum. Sad at the time, but a blessing in disguise knowing now what I know about my in-laws and their frightening tactics to possess and obey those they should rather love and accept as they are. Expecting as I was, my nausea was intense and b-i-l popped into my partner’s room at his parents where we were hanging out (surprise, surprise) to harass me directly about getting the vaccine. Short of throwing up on him, I responded, “No offense, but fuck no!” From that day on I knew that he would hold a grudge against me. Mainly because my partner told me how he and his brother were opposites that way. Saying that if he and his brother were ever to commit separate murders that my partner’s would be a crime of passion and b-i-l’s would be premeditated: thought out in steps and planned ahead of time. I never forgot this valuable information.
Hanging up the phone, my partner could see the grey pallor sweep over my aura. Medusa’s minion was on his way. It was worse than a hurricane warning. I knew the devastation would be palpable. In my mind, my partner was like my mother, and had faith in everyone. It was a beautiful innocence that I was just not lucky enough to have. So my ever trusting dum-dum attempted to reassure me that his brother wasn’t like his NYC “friend”. That he was “an adult” with a family and would just do stuff with us over the weekend. Maybe they’d head out to the beach or to the bar for some bonding time. We had made plans to take my daughter to a young playwriter’s night at a venue half a mile from our home. She has had few friends since we moved and I was very excited to introduce her to some new creative kids. B-i-l went to school for writing for eight years, surely he would appreciate and be delighted to bond with his brother’s wife and child at such an event. Maybe this would be a second chance for us to feel more like family. I hadn’t seen him for three years. I was cautiously optimistic. Little did I know how dead my hopes would be dashed.
Morning came and things got weird as they always do before visitors arrive. I never invite anyone here as I’m perpetually ashamed of the state of our home. This is why guests are a trigger. Somewhere at some point in my life, cleanliness became a crisis. This issue is a deep one that likely originated from my mother. Visions of hollering across the house and blinding tears of frustration with my mom huddled over a scalding soapy sink in gloves or dishpan hands, take your pick. I’ve seen her do both in tears. On a scale of one to ten, my house is probably a five in presentation normally, but I scramble to kick it up to at least a six for visitors and this visitor was due in a couple hours.
As always, my daughter sluggishly addled at cleaning, picking up one bottle at a time while my “partner” frequently vanished upon the first task that took him outside to avoid helping with the next. Me barking along, returning a various multitude of misplaced objects to their homes. I didn’t even want to clean. I avoid cleaning because of emotional baggage but I was trying to show that I cared about his brother’s comfort. I was hungry and wanted to eat, but not until I thought of other’s comfort first. What a fool I was. That’s why I’m not a massage therapist anymore. Comforting clients without empathy began to eat away at me, as literally my skin began to erupt in blisters and rashes. After seven years and relocating south, those issues have, to my exalted relief, faded out.
Had I known what was going to happen that day I would have never lifted a finger. Had I known the truth about the people and events that would occur that night, I would have dropped it all and walked out that door, ate breakfast with my partner and daughter and sent the boys on their way never expecting them to return that night. I would have gone alone with my child to meet cool new friends. I would have never gotten my hopes up. But narcissists lie without guilt. Truth is only for ammunition or feeding their supply.
Rounding up recyclables and garbage in our house is a feat as large as washing a sink full of dishes in proportion to the time that it takes to get it done. In my frenzied cleaning state, I started verbally checking off what tasks were next when we would return from breakfast. My partner, who had seemed entirely unconcerned about timeliness all morning, had become suddenly hyper agitated and sharply objected to more tasks or we’d be late, evidently missing the part where I had said “when we get back”. This spiraled immediately into an argument that I was determined not to have. I yelled after him as he stormed out the back door on foot that we would be waiting out front. I grabbed my bag and threw on my sandals. I told my daughter to get her bike, we were ready to go now.
Out in front of the house, we waited for him to have whatever mini breakdown he was having. I was worn and exasperated. I thought he was in a hurry. Not enough of hurry to drop the shit fit. I hated that b-i-l’s arrival likely meant that every moment of our weekend would be forfeit to my partner essentially wiping bro’s ass anytime he blinked. Just like every visit. They wouldn’t want to be our guests and just chill. It was stress and obligation time. Since I did not produce the offspring of his biological child, my partner’s time was reserved and beholden to them. We were underlings to them, the entitled. My partner was their attendant and we were the staff. We were to be rendered invisible. We weren’t receiving them, he alone held the notoriety to do that in their eyes. They were assuming and assimilating him. l felt this certainty with every fiber of my being, despite my husband’s reassuring that there would be no regard here for the lengthy loneliness and disconnection my daughter and I felt here for friends and family. Here family was and I could feel myself being iced out from the second we knew bro was coming. My family wasn’t like this, they didn’t blow into town unannounced acting like I needed to be extracted from enemy territory. I was his wife. It was our choice to strengthen and endure here with each other. I was enduring him with more agony than anyone else could even know. Why was there dread? I’m not the kind of person that just assigns motives to others in my head. I’m aware of my tendency to ruminate, yes, I have obsessive thoughts. That’s by design. My mind would not be this way of it weren’t for my being raised in the world of a narcissist. I can identify this because of my experience with it. Because there is a trip wire alarm that goes off inside of me when it’s about to go down. Looking back, it wasn’t just baseless paranoia. It was intuition. I was bracing for what was coming. We wouldn’t be accepting them, they would be catechizing us.
This knowing brought tears to the eyes that I couldn’t contain. I saw the cruelty on the horizon and was powerless to stop it, I was at a loss to prevent it. My longing to bond with his family was a lost cause. I was defenseless. I rode with,my despair utterly exposed. My eyes poured, brandishing vulgarly the open wound of my married title. The epitome of this cursed last name. I missed my maiden name so badly, derived from the origins of lions, leaders and light. I was never going to take to Grieve: the steward, the manager. How befitting. Such a blight on an open heart. No wonder my partner struggled so.
We arrived at our regular breakfast joint. I was in no condition to all inside. I sat upon the cement slab on the side of the building, in the safety of a palm and oak canopy. My daughter at my side. My partner scuffled, pacing angrily. Preoccupied with his image and what others might witness, more concerned about himself than having compassion for the state I was in. It was too late, the spell was cast upon him. His heart was rigid. The stone sleep was upon him. The anxious way he was stricken, ornery and ruffled like a cardinal turned crow. His red feathers sponging up the self absorbent black ink of this affliction. He was turning. I always cringed upon their visits, watching his free will descend to be buried in some dark recess of himself. His eyes would literally cross ever so slightly. As if he were morphed into Renfield from Dracula, muttering of his master. After he his spat bitter venom towards me, accusations of my attempting to control him. Why did I always get like this? The process was too complicated to explain. It was like trying to teach a child algebra, it requires time, patience and focus, and we had none of those things available to us right then. I hung my head, it was hopeless to convey my genuine pain, the keen detection of the shroud impending. I was to be forsaken. This was no trick. The shift was about to be taken. This more oft than not horrific gift of foresight. As an energy worker for nearly a decade, it was imperative to release tears to combat the poisonous fumes of expectation from setting in. The food was in hand, we got back on the bikes. His compassion was dormant. His eyes became marbles. I was rejecting whatever psychological preparations he was conjuring to arrest his individuality. I could see him reeling, the silk he was spinning around himself. I could not bear it, I could not bring myself to “follow” him right then. I made an about face to ride down the next street and my daughter and he trailed behind. A few blocks later, he rode up to meet me. I thought he might speak, but instead he was maneuvering to take lead. Any other day I would have cared, but not today. Today, I could not trust his judgment. It was faulty and fixed on the arrival of his blood. The cult mentality was coagulating on a cellular level. I needed to keep a safe distance. As the light turned and he sped ahead, I guided my daughter left down the street we regularly took home. We were becoming apparitions to him anyway. Leaving him to his own devices. He arrived first. She and I entered separately.
I could not sit with him, the vibrations were too combative. I tried not think about his transmogrification. I ate in my room, he ate at the nook. Once replenished from the sustenance, we were both fortified. Discussion of our incoming visitor was not an option. I resumed the tasks I had anticipated to tackle after breakfast. The fridge had needed to be cleaned thoroughly for months. I had requested numerous times for my partner’s help with this, he always evaded it. Now, his brother’s arrival was just cause to complete it. Not only that, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of my energy in a stagnant place when the flying monkey arrived. At this point I hadn’t even confirmed that he was one yet.
Flying monkey is the term used for a lackey or stooge used by the primary narcissist to do their bidding. I refer here back to the “golden child”, the conformer who complies and is rewarded by his parents. If you’ll recall b-i-l was also the premeditated sort. Calculating in nature when it came to perceived attacks or challenges. This part of the recounting has been exceptionally hard for me to get out. I keep getting snagged up on a false delay. I want to believe it’s because of a deadline or pressure to complete the documentation of this. I know I am capable of completing it, so that isn’t the real issue here. The real issue is that I am psychologically stunted. I know that I must move through, not jump over the event. I think it is because I understand how unhealthy rumination is for a person with obsessive or compulsive tendencies. It is also extremely hindering to identify as the victim for too long. I always try to be conscious of my pre-programming or any circumstance where my mind frame is privy to falling back into an old pattern. So forward I must move.
I frantically unloaded the items onto the island and began to degrime the inside of the refrigerator. My partner halfheartedly helped. We got one third of the way through before the knock on the door. “Come in!” I bellowed, pre-empting my partner who was overly willing to fetch it. Again, the fabric of my reality feels torn here. The insecurity that I feel navigating through this is notably sticky. I know that in reality my partner was excited to see his brother. That would make perfect sense in any other comparable situation, but I suspected that b-i-l’s intentions were not to experience the joy of time with his sibling, but I was biased, of course. It would be so easy to blame my own programming, yet it seemed like when his family visited that they wanted to make him feel less at home, not more. They weren’t here to feel like part of his world. They couldn’t just open their hearts to living someone else’s way of life for a spell. It’s as if their changing scene closed them off more and locked them into their own clutching upon a fixed regimen of behaviors. They always came to take him away, not BE with US. Bonding time never felt healthy when they did it. It felt like there had to be an agenda. I had tried my damndest over the years to push this pestering suspicion out of my mind and yet it always returned, biting at me once more. At the moment it had been buzzing fiercely in my ear, so I was keeping busy siphoning the deafening hum of my intense premonition into a productive activity.
B-i-l entered. I saw the weathervane of my partner shift abruptly. He became the moon instantly assuming orbit around planet Bil. They met to embrace each other. I knew then that he was no longer of this world with my child and I. He had become an emotional drifter once more as he would every time any of his family came to visit. As I write this I feel the gravity of threatened emotional abandonment throughout my life. I play in my head the scenario of my partner not being here anymore, the loss, the lamenting and the loneliness. No one would look after me. My family had always been too busy. Enslaved, shackled to the gods of money. What must it be like to feel the mattress of your family’s financial security beneath you? It’s no wonder then, when I wake him up in tears some nights, that he so easily slips back into slumber as I lie awake for hours. What a somatic tonic, that certainty must be.
The rapid hug I received now plays in slow motion from my memory. Squinted eyes, choppy short blonde hair, a forced toothy grin like a devious anime character setting his “trust me” trap with a smile. My body felt like tectonic plates trying to align themselves out of an earthquake. I felt divided, and yet gave a strong hug back to try and secure any semblance of “family” that might be there. That’s what I wanted more than anything, but I wasn’t foolish enough to trust him and covet this just so he could use it deceive me into thinking that I had it; I knew that I didn’t. His subsequent actions would only sadly prove my speculation right by the end of that day.
Along with the airs he was putting on, there was a perceptible fragrance he had applied. A noticeable contrast to my partner who smelled more like hippy sweat and fart musk. But honestly, I wouldn’t trade in my fart musk for this spritz-prissy bitch in a million years. If he had any substance, it was buried in a tomb underneath his eau de imposter. I can’t fathom condemning others I barely know the way he did with me that day. What sort of conscience can withstand such malice towards someone who is practically a defenseless stranger? A scavenger, I suppose.
My partner ceased helping me with the fridge at this point. We bantered about various things. Like what they would do. Maybe go to the river, grab a drink. Discussed cool places to eat. B-i-l said he was not hungry after coffee, beer and too many “road snacks”. His brother distinctly mentioned “bro time” switching to a super serious tone just for that sentence. They always acted so archaic about it. Like we weren’t in the age of cisgender condemnation. It was as if their ideal world was some Stepford wives 50’s-60’s throwback in one dump truck loaded sentence. Whatever, gender division concepts deserved as little of my attention as possible. If we were going on a blast from the past then, my partner would first make a run to that “manly” city dump that he’d planned to many times over on his day off, but somehow never managed to make it. If he were such a man why was mom paying to keep us afloat, shouldn’t he be able to provide fully for himself AND his family if manhood was so damned important. For a guy that suddenly seemed so keen on gender role preservation, he sure did dodge masculine related issues every chance he got. On their way out I told my partner to let us know if they were grabbing food before they came back. We were getting hungry. We had also discussed the young writers night event we had planned to take our daughter to that evening so she could potentially make new creatively motivated friends there. I figured b-i-l would join us. Here was our chance to bond through writing. I was really looking forward to it. I continued cleaning the kitchen beyond the fridge. Anticipating hungry brothers as 3pm approached, they returned. I asked them what they wanted to do for food. They claimed to have already eaten. Apparently b-i-l became rapturously famished within that hour we were separated and could not wait to grab some shitty fast food at a window. Eating awesome Southern food was one of the key reasons tourists flocked to this town. My partner would never normally discount my child and I so easily, especially if I’d made mention of it before he left. My disappointment felt somehow overly scrutinized, as if it should not be hurtful to be removed from the equation. My partner was willing to go get us something, but at this point I was thrown off and hypoglycemic as I annoyingly get and it felt like I was forcing him to make a special trip now as they were clearly itching to suddenly get away from us – and now I was keeping them. “We’re wanting to head to the island”, they said. “Oh, ok” I responded, not knowing how to respond.
At this moment retelling this feels as heavy of a burden as carrying the one ring of power. The skies here at dawn are an eerie sort of Mordor orange as if a volcanic plague intends to rain down on all of mankind. What a little hobbit sacrifice I am in the grand scheme of all things. Such a small person in the eyes of nefarious evil incarnate. Only I’m not envisioned as an underdog. I don’t even have a Sam Wise by my side to stay with me. What hurts the most is that I am so small, alone. Several days gone by now and the wound still stings from the wraith blade that was sunk into me. I have to go on living life anticipating the next surprise attack someday. This is the burning wound of narcissism. There is solid observable behavior demonstrated here. The control, the tactics, the way my partner even partly agrees with certain elements of this that I point out in retrospect are signs that all indicate deliberate enmity.
Not wishing to hinder precious sexism cloaked in the false packaging of brotherhood, but I knew what brotherhood was, as I had it myself as a teenager and didn’t need the excuse of anyone stepping on my bonds to validate its existence. My bonds would endure the pressure. But just in case their bond was so brittle, I didn’t wish to test it. I told them I would just have food delivered to the house since they were leaving and there would be no scene made by it. It seemed like discomfort was a stick they were seeking to taunt me with, purposefully not making me a part of things. As if their closeness hinged upon a mutual contempt. That would make the utmost sense being raised by a narcissist. If that was the case, I didn’t even want to entertain the thought of it and just wrote it off, feeling sorry for anyone who sought to exploit my suffering as an adhesion in their damaged alliance. It’s a shame they had nothing else in common beyond the addictions they cultivated to escape from a matronly dictator.
I looked into his eyes as he simultaneously fed a regrettable intention to me through a lie. A false promise that they would return to see the show with my daughter and I stared right into my eyes and there was no denying it. He was preparing to hurt me. He honestly convinced himself it was for our own good somehow. I was on the chopping block and his eyes stared into me like as though I were a wounded animal he was working up the nerve to put out of its misery. Sparing me from the unspeakable wrath of trying to bond with his family. I couldn’t figure out if it was a state of deep denial at play here or what, but one thing was for sure, if there had been a runaway train barreling down at me and his brother at that moment, the choice was obvious to me. My bones would do the breaking.
They left. I called for food, sat, and watched TV until 7 rolled around. I sighed. 7:30. I didn’t even buy the tickets because I had lost faith that he was coming. 7:40, I texted “Where you at?” I watched him tap and erase, tap and erase. Five minutes went by and he called, his voice dredged by a thick layer of sympathetic and measured alarm, “Hey, listen, you’re going to be upset…” I interjected, “You’re not coming.” He confirmed, “Yes, but it’s not just that, my brother brought friends.” The tone was preemptive, as if there was something terribly wrong. “What do you mean? Are you leaving me?” I was instantly petrified. “No!” he shot back. “Did you cheat on me?” I held my palm to my chest bracing. “No, my brother brought all my friends down.” he confessed. I felt the first strike to my heart. Those people he called his friends had been my friends for the past ten years. He chose his words carefully to stake claim to them when next he uttered, “It’s an intervention.” The knife in me twisted, “An intervention for what?” I asked as my partner just recently gave up cigarettes, he had smoked weed but they were all good with that. He did no other drugs and drank maybe two beers a night, max. What did they mean? “They don’t think I’m happy.” the blade turned once more. This was a marriage intervention? Did that even exist? They didn’t want me there? The questions were too many. The fog of betrayal was too pervasive. If there was more, I don’t recall it. I just kept saying “What?! What?!” Then I hung up and sobbed. I was devastated. My daughter ran to my side. My soul felt like it was dying. The concussive force of the love bombing shot through my body and rang into my ears
All those people agreed to hurt me this way and he was there with them. He wasn’t planning on coming back. I wanted to leave, but again, I had no choice but to stay there shattered. Everything I’d ever had was in this place. I called my mom and cried inconsolably. My sister’s boyfriend called me and just let me fall apart on him over the phone. I called my guy friend and he apologized for drinking but he listened to every word, his ear up to my pain for at least an hour, he told me to come back and live with him. I told him he was wonderful to offer, but that I could not leave. My partner called me back, told me that he knew I would react like this. He told me I was playing into their hand. I asked him what game they were playing because I had no idea that I was even dealt in. I asked him how anyone else in my position would react any differently. I could pretend I didn’t care that seven people lied to me that day, that I’d lost five friends I thought I could trust to come straight to either of us and ask how things were. None of them ever messaged or called or gave a fuck how we were before then. When we lived in our hometown, no one bothered to be a part of our lives for almost five years. Now here we were a total of eight years later, three of them with virtually no contact from any of those people, and suddenly they knew what was best for him! They cared about him for twelve hours. They ganged up and lynched me and I wasn’t supposed to cry? The worst was that he had been drugged by their bomb to believe it was only done out of love for him. What was loving about an action that blatantly disrespects, rejects and hurts the ones you love in the process? It was shit. I knew they all just wanted to come down and get drunk and because I didn’t get drunk, I wasn’t welcome. It was so stupid! This wasn’t just a hair brained scheme they made up. This was an orchestrated event. Lady arachnid, queen narcissist had spun a web and sent the flying monkey to recruit reinforcements. His brother even made sure to contain him by taking him in the van, no letting him be in his own vehicle. A sort of depraved abduction.
That fucker b-i-l just had to let me down by proving my intuition right. His cologne and composure couldn’t mask it. I knew something was awry. He played the lone ranger as well as he could. It must have been a blast on Friday as he was in NC on the way down with a caravan full of “mean girls”, the majority of them boys, though you wouldn’t know it by the way they came up with such a drama-moist scheme conjured up from their vaginas, stifling their vocal chords and giggles at the diabolical plan to try and yank the respirator off of our marriage that was already struggling to breathe from the disease of narcissism.
I was now convinced, broken and ready to let him go. This level of betrayal was sick and I just didn’t want to be associated with any of them anymore. What kind of people did this? I never knew how badly they were all so screwed up. If I never saw any of them again, it would be too soon. My traumatized resolve kicked in. Over the phone, I told my partner, “If you love me, you’ll come home tonight to show me my feelings matter to you.” That was it. He tried to invite me down. I asked him why I would want to ever see those people again after what they did? They were no longer my friends. They came to ruin my marriage and potentially destroy my life. His brother wrecked any chance of us ever being family by setting this up. I began to perceive this as an open invitation for any friend or family member to come hurt me now and he would just let them. This was it. I was done with them all.
I started a fire in the backyard pit, contemplating burning lots of things including my wedding dress, but I anti-climactically ended up burning a holey tank top and just scattering a few items that agitated me in the yard and about the house, It was a boring lack of destruction as I cried on the phone to my mom until that ugly pedo-van full of “brotherly” candy rolled up with my partner meekly bowing his head on the passenger side, talking to his coward, liar brother for half an hour. That brotherhood was a sham. Again, I felt sorry for him. B-i-l was the gilded knight appointed by the queen and my partner was just their pawn, their jester, their Trinculo. He wasn’t a valued possession of theirs, but he was still their possession and I was not welcome to play with what they considered their toy. The yellow shit couldn’t pull directly in front of the house so they hid like cockroaches on the corner. I couldn’t get over how I was on trial, but never allowed to testify. The plaintiffs had designated themselves to play judge and jury and wanted my partner to finish me off as the executioner. It was surreal. The hole in my living room wall was from my partner’s fist as was the dent in my backdoor. How was I the one to be feared when I was the one being terrorized? Back and forth I went. From outraged and hurt to numb and flat from trauma. This was not a new feeling. It was familiar. The hypervigilance I had learned in my youth was now running as a default program again and has been sending me through its hoops: flight, freeze, fight. My poor system didn’t know where I was at or where I would be from moment to moment.
He got out of the vehicle and came into the house drunk and despondent. He drank himself tired so he didn’t have to confront the issue. All he keeps saying is that we needed a marriage counselor, over and over. It’s been a week since that and he has contacted no counselor. Does this mean that he doesn’t want to fix this? Does it mean that he never thought their claims about me were legitimate? Does it mean he’s just lazy or that he never means what he says? It doesn’t make sense to do nothing about something so monumentally important that it was worth it to demolish five friendships and possibly a family relationship permanently in one fell swoop. What was it all for? It’s suddenly baseless now? There is no closure, just an open wound waiting for the wolves to return and tear it open once more.
The lyrics of the Tool song “Intolerance” began to repeat in my mind in the midst of writing this: “Veil of virtue hung to hide your method while I smile and laugh and dance and sing your praise and glory. Shroud of virtue hung to mask your stigma as I smile and laugh and dance and sing your glory while you lie, cheat and steal. How can I tolerate you?”
My partner was sick the next day at work, from alcohol or guilt or stress. Who knows? It haunted my quiet moments, I distracted the thoughts every way I could. Messaged friends, called my mom. She told me to write. I would eventually follow her advice and document this as best I could remember through the words spelled out in front of you right here. Their weapons were tipped with a poison that would not leave my system. I tried to go to bed and could not stay asleep. Dark faces smirked in my dreams. I woke up at 1am two nights after and cried. There would be a lots of tears to follow. In the silence of those early hours. I would check a social media notification that chimed innocently at me through the black. It was a relic indie film page we had worked on together. It was all for nothing. the project never went anywhere. All that effort I put into those people and those photographs. My art, wasted by their selfish actions. Memories covered over with the ash of devastation. It hit me that I could get rid of it. I was a page admin and so could purge the content of this insufferable nostalgia! I shuddered a little to do it. If only they hadn’t done this. But I had to try in some way to make a statement that my trust in them had been obliterated. A few clicks later and it was all gone. I had betrayed the trust they had in me and it set a dying part of my spirit free.
I refer back to a November 2016 article of Psychology Today entitled “8 Keys to Handling Adult Bullies.” Now I am fairly certain that what I did was not what they were recommending. Number 8 on the list of keys was: “Setting Consequences to Compel Respect” elaborating: “When an adult bully insists on violating your boundaries and won’t take “no” for an answer, deploy consequences. The ability to identify and assert consequence is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. When effectively articulated, strong and reasonable consequences give pause to the adult bully and compels him or her to shift from violation to respect.” This was my intent, however they translated it and hopefully they learned something by it beyond righteous indignation. They attacked a family that night. They tried to yank an already vulnerable man from the bonds of his wife and child. They were deliberate, they were cruel and they were unusual. May karma have its way and balance this all back someday.
I wrote this extreme and obsessively detailed account flagrantly for the limelight of awareness to reveal narcissism, hypervigilance, obsessive thoughts, ruminating scenarios, and the deep dark unsaid streams of conscious silent screams. It is imperative that this condition be identified and exposed. This type of abuse is both psychologically and physiologically damaging. I am one of many that suffer everyday from this type of trauma. Consider this license for you to reveal your own story. Share, shout, unshackle yourself if you have a chance and are safely distant from the retaliation. I am not but to hell with their threats and intimidation. I will seek the healing I need. Together or alone, I will do this for myself and my family. All that I can muster to break myself of these chains will be done and my life WILL be mine once more. If you’re out there. I’m here with you. Blessings, dear souls.