What do we do when someone we know—a friend, a brother, a family member—is found to be abusing someone else? Saumya Arya Haas, with great sadness, decided what she needed to do.
When we cleaned out my parents’ old house, the harrowing time came to distribute the books. I coveted an antique Latin Dictionary. My mom let me take it, on the condition it stay in the family. I had it for years. Then, keeping my promise, I gave it to you.
In my birth tradition of Hinduism, there is this thing called Rakhi. Rakhi is an ornament, a holiday, a ceremony, and a relationship. A rakhi is a twine bracelet; today in India they are made of anything from tinsel to 24 karat gold. The ceremony is “tying rakhi:” a woman or girl asks a man or boy to be her brother and protector (archaic, I know). She ties the bracelet on his sword arm. Now they are brother and sister. Every year, the bond is reaffirmed on the holiday. There is no ceremony of unmaking.
You were mine. It was a sort of joke between us –when the lunar calendar holiday rolled around, I usually missed it. Ever belated, I would say: Oh shit, dude, I missed Rakhi again! You would demand your bracelet. So we were bound together by such unlikely detritus as concert wristbands, a lace from my Doc Martens, a piece of grass plucked from the earth of the Great Plains. We would seal the bargain with a shot of tequila. I was never a very good Hindu, but I like to think I made a damn fine sister.
A joke, and not a joke. We are always bound together by unlikely detritus.
I remember a Friday in the summer, our late teens. Driving up North. Stoned, in your growly red POS that we all loved. Day fading to a night smeared with headlights, taillights, northern lights. We pull over and lay on the hood of your car, holding hands easily. Watching the lightshow of the sky, ignoring traffic streaming by. We had both just read One Hundred Years Of Solitude and couldn’t shut up about it. So we talked. About books, about life (they were kind of the same for us). Some of the things I loved about you: you could look up, and see. You knew how to hold my hand. No matter the lovers that passed through, or stayed, we reached naturally for each other in a platonic love that outlasted everything. Everything, but you.
You got your chance to protect me. When I walked out on my first husband, I was bruised, broke and 21 years old. I fell into the open arms of my friends. Into your arms. Not in a romantic or sexual way (tried that; didn’t work), but you took me in as family. You were one of the circle that closed around me.
Oh, my brother.
You abused your wife, kids, pets. For years. I’m not talking about abusive language. You know what I’m talking about.
The universal cry of the betrayed: How could you?
I don’t want to hear your side of the story. I did, at first. You never returned my texts, calls, emails. After years of our handwritten letters and postcards crossing oceans, you couldn’t return a text? You were probably right to be scared. Rage always has the power to unravel me. We’ve gone toe to toe before, drunk as fuck, screaming about who knows what. I’ve punched you in the eye (we were about seven years old). We stopped talking for awhile after a heated argument about iambic pentameter (in our 30s).
Oh, yes. My rage. Going to the police station with your wife, and hearing a cop say to her: You’re telling me this wasn’t important for five years, but it’s important today?
When she told me, later, that she was thinking of going back to you, this is what I said: It’s your choice, but don’t expect me to be there for you. I can’t act like everything’s ok when I know he’s hurting you. I love you, but count me out.
And her saying How could you even say that. I need your support. He can change. I didn’t give him enough of a chance. And: It wasn’t really that bad it wasn’t was it really that bad, and both of us crying, and me calling bullshit and feeling like the meanest asshole on the planet. When all the denial and crying was done (for that conversation, anyway), she thanked me for the brutality of my boundary. That made me feel like more of a bitch, in a sort of exhausted way. And it reminded me of something.
You’re welcome, I said to her. And, I’m sorry. I know that sucked. When I wanted to go back to my ex, someone said that to me. It hurt, but I needed to hear it. It woke me up. After I hang up the phone, I sit with my head in my hands for awhile.
Then, I remember: it was you. You said that to me, those years ago. If you go back to him, count me out.
You are my first: a man of my heart’s family, who abused his partner. Who knows how to deal with that? It’s easy to be outraged when a distant public figure is found to be abusive to a spouse or girlfriend. But what do we do when it’s one of our own?
I see the circle of denial that has closed protective arms around you. Friends I have known for over twenty years, surrounding a man I have known since birth. I see that circle well. It’s easy to see from the outside. It’s my choice to stand here.
Yeah, I’m mad at them, but I kind of understand. It’s easier not to believe. It’s easier to think that the people you know really are people you know. The people you believe them to be. Maybe it’s not just easier, but essential, to our own identities: our close circle defines us. Exposing one of us as an abuser undermines our beliefs about all of us, about each of us. If I don’t know who you are, can I be sure who I am? When did you change? How could I have not seen it?
Nearly all the people around you once supported me in my decision to leave an abusive marriage. How do I make sense of that?
In some ways I am angrier at those in that circle than I am with you. Because. They may not be perpetrators, but these are the people who keep this shit going, while the decades roll by and women keep getting beaten, raped, and murdered by men they love. They help you walk away. They’ve got your back. They would stand by you no matter what was said of you. It sounds admirable.
I wish I could have your back. I wish I could have you back. My love for you is helpless. A reflex I have no control over, like gagging. Rakhi has passed and this time I have nothing, not even detritus, to bind us together. I will come across an old photo of us, and it stops me: cold, then hot. I read something seriously great, and I can’t give it you so I have someone to talk to about it. I don’t count your loss in time or tears. I count it in books.
Maybe I’m just a shitty friend. After all, what did you ever do to me?
I keep asking questions, as if answers could satisfy me. As if this is a misunderstanding that can be rectified or unmade, by words.It is not. Even knowing that, I keep questing about for something that makes sense.
It all comes down to: How could you be that guy, and still be this guy?
We think that romantic love is what will break us. What a joke. I would take a dozen divorces over a brother’s betrayal. And, yes, when you hit her (and hid it, and did it again, and again), you betrayed me. You betrayed yourself.
All bonds between us unravel.
I made you my brother. Now I disown you. Here is my ceremony of unmaking, the last sentence in our long history of words. Give me my Latin Dictionary back.
photo by carrotmadman6 / flickr