I asked her what she wanted from her life.
“I don’t see how it can be any different,” she replied, and it nearly broke my heart.
Let’s back up.
She’s (see my artistic license policy; and let me explicitly state this is an amalgam fictional character) in a pretty awful relationship. There’s abuse – mostly emotional, but some physical and sexual – as well as the logistical entanglements of money, having been a homemaker for years, and children. She’s female, but I know this can happen to men as well; I’ve been there myself.
I’ve been talking with her, trying to help her decide what she wants to do. Hell, just what she wants, and it keeps coming back to this exchange. So fast-forward again.
I sigh. “That’s not what I asked. I want to know what you would like to have happen if you… I don’t know… waved a magic wand.”
“I don’t have a magic wand.”
“It couldn’t happen.”
I’m reminded of my dog Taylor. The first house he lived in had the kitchen off to the side, and he was trained to keep out of it. When we moved, the door to the backyard required him to go across the tile floor of the kitchen – and he wouldn’t. As far as he was concerned, the back door might as well not exist, even though we were begging him to walk across it.
All of us – but especially women, thanks patriarchy – are trained. We are trained to see the walls of what society says is possible… even though these walls aren’t based in anything real. If we don’t have a concept for something, it’s impossible to comprehend (such as the color blue in early Western history, or the concept of progress prior to a few centuries ago).
In this case, it was the walls of society’s assumptions that kept her in this abusive relationship. She’d internalized them so much that she couldn’t envision changing the relationship, let along leaving. It did not matter how many ways I tried to phrase it, how many resources or options I pointed out. Her aspirations and dreams were limited by what she’d been told – both explicitly and implicitly – by the walls society (and her boyfriend) had set up around her.
I remember not being able to see a way out. I remember feeling hopeless. I remember thinking that since it wasn’t a big blowout fight that day, it counted as a “good” day.
I remember not having any hope.
And so I keep trying to coax the thing with feathers to perch within her mental line of sight, and to sing so that she can no longer ignore its existence.
And maybe someday, she’ll be able to imagine a better future for herself.
Because this scenario – or something so close to it – has played out so frequently in the last few years, I’m going to again note my artistic license policy, and add in that if the shoe fits, you should probably check out the signs of being in an abusive relationship.