My earliest memory is of wanting a grappling hook, so that I could climb walls like Batman. My boyfriend’s earliest memory is of being sexually abused.
“Best in Show” is one of my boyfriend’s favorite movies. We’ve been together over five years, and for almost that long, he’s been trying to get me to watch it. Last month I caved. I wasn’t expecting to like it, and truth be told I didn’t really find it funny, but one line stuck with me.
Jennifer Coolidge’s character is shown with her husband, and she is talking about what brings them together. She says, “…we both love…talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.” There are things my boyfriend and I do not talk about, and there are many ways we find not to talk about them.
My earliest memory is of wanting a grappling hook, so that I could climb walls like Batman. My boyfriend’s earliest memory is of being sexually abused. He told me that it happened, but he never told me many of the details, and we never had an in-depth talk about it.
It came up during the initial stages of our dating, the Deborah Kerr-esque ‘getting to know you’ phase, when I asked about the first time he had sex. He avoided the question, and after some prodding from me, told me what happened. I remember feeling many things, one of which was panic. Panic at such a personal revelation, and panic that this meant he was somehow fundamentally, irreparably damaged in a way I wouldn’t understand.
We changed the subject—we did not talk about it.
Just like the film, we continue to find ways to talk or not talk about it. Over the years, I learned the basic facts—how old he was, who the abuser was, the physical mechanics of what occurred. But there is much more I don’t know.
I want to know if he feels defined by what happened, or if he separates it from how he views himself. I want to know if he ever thinks about it, and if he does, when and why. I want to know if it alters our sex life, and what we do, and what we don’t do. I wonder, always to myself, if the abuse turned him into the isolated and lonely teenager he became, and if it made him into the stoic, sad adult he sometimes is.
I’m not sure I believe in closure as a rule—it seems like instead of being able to reach an ending or achieve a sense of finality, everything has a way of reappearing. Things happen or don’t happen, and you learn to deal with them or you don’t, and you move on or you can’t. Closure doesn’t exist because we never fully close off anything. Situations pop up unexpectedly, and for whatever reason, you are reminded. An action figure’s spring-loaded accessory reminds you of your childhood fascination with Batman. An off-hand line from a movie reminds you of your boyfriend’s molestation.
I also don’t know if I believe in the current trend of constant, consistent oversharing. My boyfriend tells me he is mostly happy, and I believe him. Talking about something isn’t always a catharsis, and the asking being done isn’t always altruistic.
Maybe I’m slotting him into a role—that of the constant victim—when he doesn’t feel that way. Perhaps when I initially panicked at the mention of his abuse, my concern wasn’t really for him, but for me, and how I would deal with something that, in fact, he handled long ago. And it could be possible that by talking about what happened, after all this time, I am trying to fix something that is not broken.
He says he is ok. He says his childhood abuse does not define his life. It is simply a thing that happened. Or at least, this is what I imagine him saying in the conversations we do not have.
Maybe I am afraid—afraid that I will learn something that will somehow, after five years together, unalterably change how I look at him. Something that will, somehow, make me fall out of love. Or perhaps worse, I will ask a question that will change how he feels about me. That there will be a moment I can’t take back. I imagine him falling out of love with me for wanting to know too much, or for reopening old wounds, or for reminding him of something he needs no reminder of.
If he asked why, after all these years, I wanted to talk, I would say I just have questions. And he doesn’t have to answer them, but maybe I need to ask. I would say that I can’t imagine not being in love with him, regardless of what happens, but I want to know.
I would say out loud that maybe it isn’t about him at all, that this is just something I need to talk about. To reassure myself that he is ok, that he is a man affected but ultimately unscathed by what happened. I want to talk, but I already know the answers I want to hear, the necessary and fictitious replies to the questions I never ask.
He is fine. I know it. We don’t have to talk.
Read more On Rape and Sexual Violence.
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