Control

I’m working my way through my older short stories, editing and improving them, ready to post here. Stories should be enjoyed, not sat on hard drives gathering cyber dust!

I felt this was an important one to share, as it tells a tale of domestic abuse that often gets overlooked, and affects all genders, classes and social backgrounds.

This short story has trigger warnings for emotional abuse, gaslighting, alienation and control within relationships.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Control

            She was so young when they met. An adult on paper, yet in all the detail, still a child. She was luminescent with beauty, yet she wasn’t aware of her own glow. He was, though, he saw that glow and he claimed it, smothered it.

            The tumultuous beginning to university life was his perfect chance. He enraptured her and she quickly grew to adore him. Nobody had put her in a spotlight like this before, she felt his entire focus solely on her, and it made her every breath giddy with blossoming love.

            He wanted her to join in all his hobbies – that was so sweet. His friends were lovely, and they spent so much time with them now. He was correct when he laughed and teased about how silly she was, how clumsy, how naïve. She knew it was true after the first couple of times he pointed it out to her, she’d just never realised until now.

            Until one day, out of the blue, he tired of her. She wanted to talk about it, argue, if necessary, clear the air and get to the bottom of the issue. He refused. What could she do? She couldn’t make him talk. Alone, she returned to the halls of residence that now seemed alien. Caught up in his life she had missed making friends, what did she have of her own in this new place? She felt pathetic as she realised, she had nothing. What identity did she have without him? None. Her self-worth was drained dry.

            He pulled her back in to his orbit and the cycle re-commenced. Picked up and put down like a doll, over and over. She didn’t see it, though, she was just overwhelmed with gratitude each time he took her back. If only someone could shake that beautiful, young girl and make her see that this was the start of it. She was so young and inexperienced; she didn’t know what a normal relationship should be. She didn’t know that this wasn’t it. He knew… but he took what he wanted.

            She was hurt and confused with increased frequency, but he wouldn’t communicate. His emotional distance left their floor impossible to walk over, it was mountainous with the sheer volume of issues swept beneath it. When she thought of herself now, she saw his girlfriend, not her own person. The girl had slowly sunk away.

            Every time she cried, he would shout and rage. He claimed her tears were fake, engineered to make him feel bad. She begged him to understand that they were real, and she was hurting, but every time her tears betrayed her, he just made it all about him. Things grew worse. She now saved her tears, letting them flow freely as she lay in the bath, or when he was out. How could tears anger him so? She’d never once forced a salty drop from her eye, every tear had a mountain of sadness and confusion swirling within it. He belittled each and every drop by insinuating they weren’t real.

            As her circle of friends shrank, she ventured out less often. University ended and they bought a house. He liked her being there for him. He kept telling her how beautiful she was without make up, it was so sweet that he wanted her to look natural. He didn’t like girls with make-up, dyed hair, high heels… except a nagging doubt in her mind told her he did, but he didn’t want her to be desirable in that way. She didn’t know why he kept her like this, she wouldn’t ever cheat on him, they were nothing without each other. He had made sure she understood that.

            She was so worn down; she had stopped trying to communicate about any of their problems. It was fine, most of the time he was lovely. He made good choices for their lives, always his choices but they worked. Now they both had jobs and cars and a mortgage, it was better to let him make the choices. Maybe he was actually right that they didn’t need to discuss the issues, because they weren’t really issues – she was just perceiving them wrong. Besides… she would only cry.

            They entered milder times, an engagement before wedding bells rang out. She knew they were utterly co-dependent, but they were married, that was right, wasn’t it? The thought of ever being without him made her anxious, she was too vulnerable, they both agreed she wasn’t a strong person. Someone like her needed his guidance.

            How could he have said such cruel words as she lay in the hospital bed with their new-born, though? He was probably just tired… it had been a long forty-eight hours, nobody knew that better than her. She wasn’t the only one it had been hard for, though, of course he needed that long rest after he drove them home.

 Life got harder. Sometimes she got upset that he didn’t help her, but then he’d be angry that he had to point out, once again, exactly how much he did in comparison to her. She once tried to get outside help in while she worked her busy job, but he didn’t like people being in the house. She should have known, her mistake. The wrath of anger that flew at her that weekend, she would never forget.

            If she thought she had lost herself before, she was now non-existent. An invisible mum and wife. Exactly what she hadn’t wanted to be. He scarcely noticed her anymore until… someone else did. Someone saw the real her, the girl with the glow. Without ever physically touching her, this person awakened something that had lain dormant for nearly twenty years.

 

            Slowly, painfully, timidly… her mind opened.

            He thought he was perfect – he wasn’t.

            He thought she was flawed – she likely was, but it wasn’t his place to decide.

            He couldn’t handle any form of criticism – that was his issue, not hers.

 

            It was like a tug of war as his personality tried to claw her back under his control. Hers wanting freedom, hating how much of her life she had given up, wanting to reclaim everything she could have and should have been.

            She had to take baby steps, play him at his own game. She’d never physically been in danger from him. She counted herself lucky for that, so many people went through worse. Just because it could be worse though, didn’t mean that this was acceptable. This wasn’t healthy, she saw that now. She should be allowed to cry, be angry, be let down. She shouldn’t feel ashamed of her flaws. She should be allowed to be her own person.

She paid attention to his behaviour and what triggered him. She kept things simple, while she slowly healed her damaged mind.

One day a spark of self-belief ignited inside of her. She protected it and nurtured it until she saw the person she should have been in glorious colour, not the person he wanted her to be, the person he had tried to mould her into.

It was petrifying, her family adored him. He was the father of her babies. Her friends were distant after so long. She had the money to take this step, but did she have the nerve?

She had to make this clear.

 

I don’t believe you.

            I refuse to accept the way you try to make me feel.

            Your issues are yours, not mine.

            I will not play your game anymore.

 

            It’s an ongoing journey, that people still don’t understand. She wasn’t ever abused by him in the traditional sense of the definition. They lived in a gorgeous house and had social media full of beautiful photographs and holidays. Their children were adorable. But not a thing about it was right. If she could have only spoken to that beautiful innocent eighteen-year-old girl, if only she’d dated one of the lovely boys who admired her from afar instead of him, how different life would have been.

            It’s too late now though. Her deepest regret. She allowed him to take all that time from her. Time is something none of us can never claim back.


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