Someone once told me that a place can’t hurt you. No matter how strongly you may associate a painful memory with a particular place, it was never the physical location that caused the pain. Logically, this of course makes perfect sense. People can hurt you, words can hurt you, but a location in space? No. That most definitely cannot hurt you.
But sometimes, it really doesn’t feel that way. Almost exactly one year ago, I experienced perhaps the worst night of my life, and it began at a seemingly harmless martini bar, one of my favorites. My ex-abuser and I had gone there many times before, but one night last May changed everything. Up until that night, everything had seemed perfect between us. I felt like I was so completely in love. But on that night, I began to realize that things weren’t so perfect, that something was very wrong with him. That was the night I learned what it feels like to be scared of someone you love.
It started out innocent enough. We were able to leave lab in time to make happy hour. He’d had a particularly rough week and he wanted to de-stress. But he started drinking and drinking and drinking, ordering one martini after another. He was on his third before I had even finished my first. He started talking to the man sitting next to us, who was somewhat drunk but still coherent. I don’t know who this man was, but I will never forget him. He looked at my abuser and me, with this kind of mesmerized look in his eyes (although most likely it was just the alcohol), and he told us that we would be together forever. He saw a bright future for us, with a lot of kids and a nice house. We would be so incredibly happy. He was sure of it. Little did he (or I) know that hours later the man I loved would turn into a monster right before my eyes.
When we got back to my abuser’s place, that’s when he changed. As if the demons he had suppressed for months were finally unleashed. He became aggressive, screaming at me, pushing me, trying to hit me with his belt; his roommate tackled him to the ground to protect me. I shrieked in utter terror, my throat making a noise I never thought possible. That night I felt like I was in a movie, one I never wanted to see. Because I never thought that anything like this could happen to someone like me. As his roommate restrained him on the ground, I looked down at him in disbelief and shock. It was the first time I saw his eyes turn black – the very first time, but certainly not the last.
Almost exactly a year later to the day, I will return to this bar, the bar from the night when everything changed. I have not been back there, or anywhere near it, since that night. I planned to never go back. Of all the things he took from me, a bar is the least of it. But as luck would have it, a celebration for a friend is being held there tomorrow night. And as painful as it will be to go, I cannot let her down. Every bone in my body is screaming at the thought of returning there, but I will go for her.
I know it wasn’t the bar that hurt me. I know it was him. I know that he was abusive and I am grateful that I am free of him, although I still do miss him. But that memory is still so strong and still so raw. It’s as if my brain needs to tie it to something. Maybe it’s easier to blame the place, instead of blaming him. I don’t know. Maybe this is my chance to reclaim something that I let him take from me and I should feel empowered. Or maybe I should be angry that he took it to begin with. But the truth is that all I feel is sadness and emptiness; that he was not the person I thought he was, that this is how it worked out, that the man in the bar was wrong – there was no bright and happy future in store. There was only abuse, pain, and loss.
Although this post is about happy hour, I don’t really have a happy ending for it. I will go tomorrow night for my friend. I will put a smile on my face. I will pretend that I am okay, and that this wasn’t the place where everything changed.