I have always been an expert at mental time travel. But when you’ve experienced some kind of trauma, this skill becomes all the more magnified. And not in a good way.
A complete mental time travel experience usually requires some sort of trigger or cue to bring me back to that particular day and event. Today, I was transported back in time to one of the many bad days I had with my ex-abuser.
Two days before we broke up, we went into the city on a hot summer day. Apparently I had been deciding too many things in those few weeks preceding this trip (even though he always left all planning up to me). So it was his turn to decide what to do. I naively thought it would help things if he planned every aspect of that day, so none of it could be my fault. Because I had learned by that point, I could be blamed for anything and everything.
He wanted to go to a museum. He had narrowed it down to 2, and I told him that one of them had a new exhibition opening, but it was of course still his choice. That was my first mistake. I should have kept my mouth shut. Because with him, any word I spoke would be used against me.
The second mistake was that I was running late that morning. I couldn’t figure out what to wear because everything I wore was always wrong and not up to his expectations of me. Before I went to meet him, I sat in my car for ten minutes and prayed, my gut fearful that one of his explosions was just on the horizon.
Naturally, this meant that it was also my fault the subways were running late when we got into the city. He made it blatantly clear to me (and everyone else waiting for the subway) that if I hadn’t been late in the morning, the subway delays wouldn’t have been a problem. My heart was beginning to race at that point. I knew this day was not going to have a good outcome.
So we got to the museum later than he wanted. We were barely speaking to each other, the tension continuing to build. He decided he wanted to go to the museum I mentioned that had the new exhibition. We started to walk around and see the different exhibits. I remember that every so often he would ask me what I thought of a painting. I was too afraid to even say anything at that point because I knew whatever I said would be wrong. And ironically, people always say that art is the one thing where there is no right or wrong.
He got bored after an hour of walking around and decided to play Pokemon Go in the museum (and yet he always called me the immature one, when he was a 30 year old man playing pokemon in a famous museum). Still, I hoped this would ease the tension since he loved that game. No such luck. Out of nowhere, he said he wanted to leave, an obvious note of bitterness and anger in his voice.
He was hungry and wanted me to pick out a restaurant. I couldn’t decide. Another mistake. We walked around in the heat as I tried to pick a restaurant he wouldn’t deem as being “wrong.” After awhile, he pulled me aside on the street in front of a French restaurant and started yelling at me – “just pick a fucking restaurant… why did we go to that museum with the new exhibit when you knew I wanted to go to the other one… why were you running late when you knew the museums close early on the weekends… What the hell is wrong with you?” Clearly, I had made one too many mistakes according to him.
He kept yelling, the sun beating down on each of us. His eyes were black again, wild and almost manic. I had learned that those black eyes were never a good sign. People started to look at us. I still wonder what they thought. Did they suspect he was abusive? Did they feel bad or embarrassed for me? Or did they simply think he was cranky from the heat? All I remember is that I never thought I would be a girl who gets verbally attacked by her boyfriend in public. In those moments, my brain struggled to figure out how on earth it came to this. Ten months later, and I am still trying to figure it out.
I saw this restaurant again today. The French restaurant where he yelled at me. I didn’t intend to see it, nor did I think I would even be able to recognize it if I did. There was absolutely nothing special or distinct about it. It was just an ordinary restaurant on an ordinary street, except to me. I recognized it the second I laid eyes upon it. It felt like no time had passed at all and it was just yesterday that I was there with him- the summer’s heat encircling me, his yelling and screaming filling my ears, my brain filling with panic because I couldn’t calm him down, the people on the street looking at us as he completely lost it.
I relived that entire day in a matter of moments. That’s what trauma does to the brain. It can transport you back in time to some of the worst moments of your life. The ones you want more than anything to just forget. But your brain won’t let you. The memories can resurface at any moment, whether triggered by some external cue like a restaurant, or by nothing at all.
I don’t really have a happy ending for this post. I still struggle with these painful memories and the power they have over me, as I am sure is the case for many other survivors reading this. But I am still here and I am still fighting. And maybe for now, that’s enough.