What about the good times?
I have been running scared since getting cheated on, dumped, and then dropping out of law school. I took that summer and just cried all the way through it, frozen in shock. But after I un-froze, right around when I withdrew from school, my flight response kicked in.
What did I have to do to get away from the persona I had created which was killing me? Carrie the reasonable, Carrie the responsible, Carrie the adult- she pursued me mercilessly, chainsaw in hand to saw me into pieces and bury me out behind the wood shed.
Plans were made and quickly executed. Pay off what I owed my law school? Done. Pay off my private loan? Done. Save all my money to move? Done. Move to a city full of strangers? Done. Poorness and insecurity were much less scary than the spectre pursuing me.
I've gained a lot of ground on her. I keep looking over my shoulder, and usually I can see her in the distance, limping but still steadily moving forward.
"You could be a paralegal for a couple of years and pay off all that student debt" she calls to me.
"You could own a little house in cleveland and have a couple of dogs" At the mention of dogs I turn around, and she has new strength in her stride.
"Houses are so cheap right now, and maybe you could work for a labor law firm, and people wouldn't doubt how smart you are, and you could keep writing this blog to express yourself..."
And the chainsaw has been raised, and she's getting ready to swing, and I'm off again, like a rabbit disappearing into the bush.
But I haven't had to run as much lately. I've been prey for so long I don't know what to do with time off from fleeing. I am protected now. I have enough money. I have enough friends who have never been allied with Carrie the Responsible. Plain old Carrie has been getting lots of appreciation.
So what do rabbits do when a dog has stopped chasing them? I only see them when they are keeping an eye on a predator (me). Do they ever relax? They build nests, and they make rabbit love and have baby rabbits, and then spend long days chewing on clover, right?
What's my version of that?
If I could go back to being 19, I would tell so many people (men, actually) "Don't talk to me that way." I was in love with getting talked down to, yelled at, smirked at, ignored. Just ate it up. I think I thought becoming a woman was about being battered until your faults fell off like a lamb's tail.
Those men got to talk to me that way because I had turned my back on plain old carrie, and had allied myself with Responsible Carrie. They got to prey on me because I was preying on myself. There were so many boys who I should've bared my teeth at.
Every once in awhile I would. The fight urge would overwhelm me, and the tension would rise up through my arms and my eyes would flash and my voice would become low and growley.
My ex's friend Nathan, who is a sociopath, came back to town from basic training. Nathan was consistently a shithead to me. He was also my ex's best friend, and I kept thinking that there must be something I didn't understand about him, or that I was rubbing him the wrong way and maybe if I could learn to walk the tightrope we could be friends. Despite witnessing him treat women like shit, across the board, no exceptions. I think that may have been what my ex liked about him so much. Lots of people liked Nathan, because I guess everyone hates themselves and wants to be smirked at.
I saw him out about town and invited him to a happy hour to see my ex. Because geez, if I just try a little harder, if I just prove what a nice, reasonable girlfriend I am, then he'll have to be nice to me.
No. That isn't how things work.
My ex and Nathan talked and talked and talked at the happy hour, and I talked to other people, another demonstration of how reasonable and nice I was (I don't need to be attached at the hip to my boyfriend! You men have your time together!) But then I made the mistake of joining their conversation, and was quickly punished. Nathan was talking about how all the guys in his boot camp class loved Bush. I was going to ask how that squared with troops being upset about stop loss policies.
"But aren't they.." I offered.
"Shut the fuck up" he countered.
"No, you can't.."
"Shut the fuck up"
"Shut the fuck up"
And my fight instinct kicked in, rightfully so.
"You can't talk to me like that Nathan, I'm not your fucking girlfriend. From the moment I met you you've been an asshole, and I'm glad you joined the army, I hope you get shot and die."
Yes, I did tell someone going to Iraq to get shot and die. Also, his long-abused girlfriend was standing right there.
I ran to the bathroom and cried. I was ashamed of myself for exploding like that. Why? Where did I learn that fighting back against clear abuse was something to be ashamed of? Where did I learn that I should be able to take it, without ever giving it back? I waited until my face was halfway normal, then I went back into the bar and told my ex (who, of course, was still sitting with Nathan) that I was going home. He said, no, I'll come with you. I said, no, I don't want you to. He said, no, I'm coming. Then he said goodbye to Nathan, very apologetically.
I wish I had really gone home, but then some people showed up and I got talked into going to another bar instead of going home, and all that meant was that I was screaming at my ex on the sidewalk and crying in the next bar. I didn't know how to stick to my guns. My ex said he thought the whole exchange was a joke until I ran off.
I wish I had been sufficiently protective of myself to not apologize for that incident. I wish I had considered myself valuable enough to see what a crime it was to be talked to that way. I wish I had said to my ex, "You bring abusive people into my life, and I can't afford to waste even one friday night being insulted, and so we have to part ways."
I really didn't want to believe that I was prey. I really wanted to believe no one was out to get me, that if I just followed all the rules I would never be hurt, that there should be no need to defend myself.
Fighting back is proper. It is as natural as eating and sleeping and shitting. Having to fight back does not mean you made a mistake along the way. There are predators in our midst, and you didn't turn them into predators, and you can't make them see that they shouldn't prey on you. You have been entrusted with your gifts and abilities and voice, and you have been given the duty to protect those. The only proper way to react to an insult, to abuse, to belittlement, to smirks, towards physical violence is to use everything you've got to get those predators away from you.
But now that I've learned that lesson, I need to learn the next one: what do rabbits do once the dog has tired out?