When I was 14, I dislocated my right shoulder during a playoff basketball game. My upper arm separated from my shoulder socket, shifting forward a bruised, bulging bone—full anterior dislocation. The adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream made it difficult to source the hurt of the injury, though. I knew I was hurting—or supposed to be hurting—but it was as if my nerves couldn’t settle down enough to communicate the physical trauma to my brain.
In other words, I was unsure of the pain.
Loving you was a lot like that.
Dr. Robin Stern, licensed psychoanalyst and associate director for the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, defines gaslighting as: “the technique to control the moment in the relationship, to stop conflict, to ease some anxiety and feel ‘in charge’ again. It’s a way for someone to deflect responsibility and to tear down someone else, all the while keeping the other person hooked, especially if what they are hooked on is the desperate need to please another person—or prove that person wrong.”
You were my first example of a gaslighter. My life was intact, functioning normally, like my shoulder before that one game. Then I experienced you, and admittedly, I fell hard. You lit up any room you walked in, and I hung onto your every word. Not to mention, you were stunning. But you quickly taught me that a person’s beauty doesn’t always equate to their character. When we would fight, you would wound your words to make me question my sanity.
Do you remember when you posted on your Instagram Story, gloating about your relationship status? You told me and the rest of your 16,000 followers that you were “single and not settling,” even though we were certainly operating as a couple. Regardless of the murky waters of Millenial dating definitions, I had just driven with you to meet your parents and your younger siblings in Tennessee. You had just met mine in Dallas, and I was paying half of your rent. #CoupleGoals, didn’t you think? Obviously not. I was crushed. When I questioned you about it, you spewed back in an annoyed tone that I was “crazy as hell” to be upset about something as trivial as social media. Do you remember calling me “toxic,” affirming that if “we were going to be happy” I needed to grow up?
I began to question if my feelings were valid, and just like the pain from my bruised shoulder, I couldn’t source the pain of my bruised emotions. Stern cites this as a classic symptom of gaslighting—“you know something is wrong, you just don’t know what, and then you apologize for not knowing.”
You were working at a club just outside the city limits that night and wouldn’t answer the phone. I called 10 times. So I drove to you and paid for a table in your section just to apologize. For what? I’ll never know.
The subluxation of my shoulder was so severe, I was rushed to the hospital. In the waiting room, the nurse asked me if I felt faint. I stubbornly assured her that I was fine. Before I could finish the sentence, though, I collapsed. My body was under such traumatic distress, my vagus nerve overstimulated and I fainted.
Loving you was a lot like that.
Confused on whether or not I was actually hurting, I would endure our relationship up until I just… couldn’t. Everyone around me knew I was in pain, and I would convince them I was fine, because honestly, I thought I was.
Do you remember the night you drunkenly dialed me and asked me to come over? You were just getting off of work, hungry, and “wanted to see me [and] go to Waffle House—our spot.” I drove to your house and someone was already there to pick you up. You called me from the inside of the car to slur: “My bad. I’m in the car already and my phone is about to die. I’ll swing by your house when I get back.” I’ll never know how that night played out for you. Were you too inebriated to remember that you called me to get out of my bed to come over? Or that you had already told someone else to come? My throat and eyes smoldered in bitter fury. I angrily drove to the nearest Waffle House, thinking that maybe you had gone there with them instead. I was fit to kill. You weren’t there. I sat in the parking lot, half-relieved. I let my eyes water but caught myself before any tears fell. I ached. For you. For us. For myself. The vision of you allowing someone else’s hands on your skin burned a terrible image in my brain. That’s the moment you became too intense for me, and like my 14-year old body did in that hospital waiting room, my spirit collapsed.
The irony in both instances is that I fell apart waiting for treatment. In the first instance, waiting for my arm to be stitched back together. In the second, waiting for you to stitch my heart back together.
Only one of those healings ever took place.
The Mayo Clinic calls the shoulder “the most mobile joint of the body,” making it extremely “susceptible to dislocation”. As if on cue, I dislocated my shoulder a few more times after the initial incident. I even had surgery. But ultimately, I decided to quit sports. I had played basketball my whole life, but I knew I had to quit or it would lead to my physical demise.
I imagine if the Mayo Clinic had an article on love, the heart would also be one of the most mobile joints, making it, too, most susceptible to dislocation.
And although the tearing of my muscles, tendons, and cartilage will never compare to the gripping feeling of you tearing yourself from my life, I can’t seem to quit you.
Loving you is like that.