Trigger warning: Sexual misconduct, Gaslighting
The term ‘credibility’ has haunted me for a while, now. I do not know, at this moment any better than I did before, what makes one more or less credible but even after I gazed at a string of text messages and e-mails and recalled phone conversations where my former partner has, by turn, manipulated and trivialised a particular incident, I find myself wondering “Should I even write about this?”
You see, the thought is, in a way, a consequence of my own doing. Even though I knew what happened was not right, I found myself denying the extent of the impact that the act had on me. Normalisation, it was. Because the person who had tried touching me sexually while I was sleeping was also the person that I had called my partner (ironically, a term he insisted on), the person with whom I had shared the fact that I had been sexually abused as a child, the person who had calmly assured me that he had been too. We had never asked each other any further details about the same. A quiet kind of understanding, I remember thinking.
Even though I knew what happened was not right, I found myself denying the extent of the impact that the act had on me.
This was also the person whom I had asked “when did you wake up?” in as unromantic a tone as one can make, the first time I had stayed over at his(or any boyfriend’s) place, not because he had done something impermissible while I slept or because I had experienced anything like it before but because Rosemary’s Baby has always been scary and not just for the Castevets and their friends. While dosing and raping are not a part of what happened, I had made my boundaries clear right from the start – that I was not comfortable with sexual initiation, of any sort, while I was asleep. I will be lying if I say that over time, there had been no snide remarks or blatant chuckles passed on my trust issues but I, somehow having to made feel guilty about it, let it pass.
When a violation of that boundary happened for the first time in my conscious knowledge, in the wee hours of the day my partner was to leave the city for a new job – my body went immobile, my mind blank. Sensing that I had woken up, the violating movement stopped and the violator moved swiftly away. I kept quiet for most of the morning, trying to find the words and the courage to confront. When I finally did, his prompt reaction was “Even I can say that it happened to me!” after which he started crying. Before long, I found myself consoling him since he had “no idea” what had happened.
A few days later, I received a text message in which he narrated an incident where no one else was involved but one which led him to confidently claim that he had a sleep disorder. However, he displayed little interest, (failed to even mention it later for weeks after) in consulting a medical professional until I requested him to. In the one year that I had known him, not only did the timing of this newly perceived disorder and its physical manifestation seemed a little co-incidental but his disinterest in seeking medical help, to me, sat oddly next to his teary state at having learnt that he had recently started to perform sexual acts in his sleep.
I do not know why but a part of me still harboured a certain affection for him and this part had this inherent belief that it was only him who could take all the pain away
As much as I wanted to leave, I do not know what made me stay. Besides his comforting assurances, I do not know whether it depended on the extent of physical violation not caused (though I still shudder at what could have happened if I had not woken up in time or worse, had been drugged) or on the fact that we lived in different cities and distance makes one feel any less threatened (I then declined to meet up in person because I felt I needed time to “get over it” ). As I was unable to normalise what had happened, I eventually ended things.
But I did something far worse. Instead of ignoring the list of things he sent in response to my decision, of the things he had done for me followed by a “stay away”, I found myself wanting to return. In a day. I do not know why but a part of me still harboured a certain affection for him and this part had this inherent belief that it was only him who could take all the pain away, that part almost seemed to whisper, “You overreacted”. Because here is what no one told me about having boundaries violated by an intimate other – you find yourself tied down in a tiresome, inconsistent cycle of love and of loss on one hand and of hate and anger, on the other. This made it difficult for me to call out on the assault.
Instead, I begged and cried. By giving power to my violator, I took away all of mine. This desire to return was declined (which I came to accept and with time, was even glad of it because what would have followed would not have been a healthy association) and in fact aided in further normalising the violation – as I saw him spew anti-sexual harassment dialogues a month later, which was especially triggering for me. He checked in on me only to remind me that he never had any “bad intentions”. On being asked about the disorder, he added “Not there, now. It was just stress.”
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