If you love someone who has been hurt, you have to learn how to live with rage.
I’m used to living with my own pain and anger these days. I know where it hurts, I know what to do on those days when it’s going to drown me, when I need to burn it all down.
Rose has been badly hurt at times. When I hold her, when I hear her stories, I swallow back my own feelings. I’m just present. She hurts, or is afraid, or hates herself. I hold on, I hold onto her, onto hope, onto grief, onto love.
Underneath this is rage. Touch her again and I will kill you. Make her cry and I’ll scream your world apart. Tell her again how worthless she is and you’ll inherit a firestorm. She’s not alone anymore. She’s no longer the only one, a place you can leave your frustration with the world, your own inadequacy and impotence, without consequence.
It builds, over time, I find.
I’ve been in relationships where friend or partner insisted that I do not get involved when they are harmed. Once someone had my boyfriend against a wall by their throat and he still would not allow me to intervene. I locked myself in the toilet and cried. I was 16.
I once inherited everyone in the world of my partner. They had access to me. People I would never have shared time with, never have let close, never have trusted, had access to me.
I once turned into a single entity with my partner. We had to operate as a unit in all things. What they submitted to I must submit to. What they hated and walked away from, I had to leave behind.
Then, I stood alone in a caravan, after all the years of trying so hard to be loveable and to make people feel safe around me, and I realised that I was in less pain now. It hurt less to be alone than to be the least important and valued member of a group that kicks downwards. I paid high prices for the illusion of belonging. I promised myself that I’d never let people treat me like that again. I’d rather be alone. I’d rather self destruct than let someone else do it to me.
Here I am, and this time I don’t inherit anyone. Respect is met with respect. Only those who love me get close to me. I don’t become a unit. I make my own choices about what I will suffer and why. I stand my own ground. And sometimes, I have to find ways to express rage, because I love her, because she deserves so much better.
And she deserves better than me too.
But how can you hate yourself when that’s hating someone she loves?
Sometimes I get angry with Rose. I thought I was hiding it well, discharging little bits in dark comments, sniping with tone or look. She called me out on it and the relief was huge. I’m not the only one watching to make sure things are fair and okay. It’s so much easier when we both watch. I’ve less power, less responsibility. I’m an equal. I saw a vision of myself as an abusive spouse, of where this could take us, and I cried bitterly. There was only one way out – painful honesty. Being real about the times we drive each other crazy. Being real about our limits. This was many months ago now, and I haven’t slipped since. Love and humility are a good match.
But I am finding that I’m losing my capacity to swallow my rage when she cries into my arms about something someone else has done. I know what it’s like to take it because you love someone. I know what it’s like to be forced to stand by. I don’t want to get into places I don’t belong. I don’t want to overshadow her choices. I don’t want to be someone else to manage. But I want everyone to know that she’s not alone. Those vile ones who took so much because once she was small and alone, watch where you leer. I loathe you more than you can understand. I restrain my violent impulses. I wake from nightmares and think of your faces, distorted with narcissistic self pity. Rage burns like fire in my bones.
Now, the wounds inflicted by those who lash out unthinkingly, who act out their petty frustrations and choose someone close to hand, someone they’re pretty sure will take it and won’t leave, how then do I hate those she loves? Where she forgives, I want to down the façade of unity. This time she has somewhere safe to run. This time there’s someone there to say ‘don’t hate yourself, you’re beautiful’. A place where your lies get washed away. I may not be there, I may not have my hand on your throat, but I’m watching. When she sobs into my lap about the names you call her, I’m listening. When you roll your eyes, raise your voice, curl your lip with that sneer, I’m clocking your contempt. When she swallows down an insult or doesn’t hear another assumption about how she’s just not trying hard enough and has it pretty easy I’m sharpening my teeth in the shadows. Don’t think things aren’t changing. Try that on me? Try that with her when I’m there? She has my heart, she carries it in her chest. I pay no allegiances beyond love, and I protect my heart.
It’s the simplest of things, to love those who love her, those who see what I see in her. To hate those who hurt her, her make her feel that she is somehow less, who use her as a place to ease the ache of their bones. And the rest – those of us who love but let her down? I’m watching you, just like I watch me. Make all the excuses in the world, but you had better mean it when you bow your head.
And me? I find it helps to have someone who doesn’t mind if you spit fire. The kinds of friends who just say ‘that’s messed up’ and don’t try to calm you down. A car is almost sound proof if you need somewhere to scream, or better yet, to scream along to music up loud. Break a few rules that won’t kill you. Direct the rage into making you look clearly at things you’d rather avoid. Clean up your act, clear out your own stressors. It’s okay to love, it’s okay to want to protect those you love. You can’t stop the fire but you can direct where it goes. Handle it with respect, with integrity. I read dark books and breathe turpentine. It passes, it eases. The scream fades in the air and a silence comes over, a space made for a different song.
She’s free, and I’m free, and we share pain and fury and grief and longing and fear back and forth between us like a complex knitting. She shares pain and I give her back rage. We are free and we are not free. We share terrible truths in the night. We see ourselves in each other’s hearts like dark mirrors. Love transforms these offerings, they are transmuted, purified by the process. An alchemy of broken hearts. At the end we are wounded, we are divine, we are human. We try to bring light. We try to bring peace. We lay down sword and tear and wing. We are restored to love.