One of my biggest set of regrets revolve around one woman named Heather Barry. Heather was a sweet girl who suffered from a kind of PTSD from her first husband. Having never experienced long-term psychological and physical abuse, most of her problems were completely foreign to me. As a girlfriend, she was simply the best, She had a cute little apartment, made a lot of the fabric items herself, and she could even cook.
The things I couldn’t get over though, were not readily visible. First was the aftershocks of the PTSD. A notable one occurred as we were walking through the mall. I turned to her and asked, “so, what do you want to do now?” An innocent enough question. But it turned out to be one of the lines her ex would ask just before commencing a beating. She screamed, and she ran to the nearest clothing store and hid inside a circular rack of overpriced, light jackets.
It was embarrassing to be detained by the mall cops until this could be cleared up. Which was a different kettle of fish. The flashback trauma had to end, then she needed a second to re-establish where she was, then put together the last few minutes.
But this wasn’t the only moment like this. And there were subtle problems that slid deeper and deeper into our relationship. The mall scene was just one particularly visual (and auditory) expression of “I’m afraid you’re going to hurt me.” But there were so many others.
I grew up with a midwest work ethic and a medieval gentleman’s code of conduct. That is to say, I was told not to hit women…EVER. It took a lot of personal re-wiring to sew certain exceptions into that code: combat, full contact martial arts practice, and a little hanky-spanky. So the idea of hitting a woman outside of acceptable times, specifically a lady like Heather, and more importantly a woman I loved was utterly unthinkable.
Or so I thought. But it was from Heather that I learned the pressure of expectation. Because of the PTSD, Heather fully expected me to hit her (through flashbacks and such) so often and so deeply in her soul, I started to realize that I was slowly becoming more and more…able… to strike her. As this dawned on me I also realized that for no particular reason, a desire to do so was building in me. Ultimately, I had to end things with her or I may have given in to these desires and become the ‘next man’ to beat her.
At least, this is what I was telling myself.
For my birthday (or xmas, or some other gift holiday), heather announced plans to make me a gentleman’s full cloak, reversible for desert or forest. She had to announce it because the measurements for such a thing are pretty specific. And she wanted me to help with the fabric selection.
It took her a long time to make the cloak. Much longer than her normal skill would require. She apologized for being too busy to finish it but it progressed slowly. I was naturally eager to see the finished item, but reluctant to put any pressure on her to complete.
The end of the cloak making was during a rough patch in our relationship. It was just dawning on me that I might be able to hit her and few people I had to talk about it were of any help. Eventually, she confessed that she was a little afraid of finishing the cloak as she was afraid that would also mean the end of our relationship.
Ultimately, she was right.
Shamelessly, instead of seeking professional help with my issues, and trying to work things out with her, I let go of the relationship shortly after getting the cloak. In retrospect, the anticipation of the gift was, in fact, keeping me around. Over the years, I have painted this over with different platitudes: “I had to go before I hit her” was the first, “her fear was a self-fulfilling prophesy” was another. My favorite through the years was always “I was young and stupid”, which I was. But it was no excuse.
Long have I looked for Heather to apologize for being such a nit. I fear I shall take the regret of losing her to the grave.