Sometimes, remembering who I was before I became entrapped with the Devil is too much to bear. Even the silliest of things I can no longer bring myself to do, at least not consistently or without the action demanding the majority of my will to carry out. Lately, I have been noticing that men are not my favorite people on earth. Perhaps, the better way to say this is that conditioning is giving me a run for my money, and I fight it because I acknowledge where it’s coming from. More aptly put, I shy away from them, even those I have known for years, because I am afraid of the consequences if I do the simplest of things: making eye contact, looking up at them as they pass, looking directly at them as opposed to through them when I get cornered into a conversation with them, and even bringing myself to acknowledge their presence.
“Me wo fusenaide (when spoken the w is omitted),” or “Don’t look away..”, is more than averting eye contact from someone. It implies something that is done out of shyness or discomfort and really means something more like, “Don’t cast your eyes down [from me].” But Westerners have trouble understanding this nuance, because many of us don’t use the phrase “casting eyes away” in every day speech. In Japanese culture, particularly with women, they are not exactly known for being as direct or anywhere near as open as Americans, for example. When making eye contact with someone and discomfort or shyness is felt, that acknowledgement is immediately taken away. Depending on the situation, it can almost seem like it is ripped away. In this situation, it follows that it would be imperative that I would choose “cast away” to describe my actions, because it is exactly what I am doing: averting eye contact with deliberate and immediately swift action meant to minimize what always followed. Punishment. Corporal punishment in extreme excess and sometimes hours of interrogation and holding me prisoner in the bedroom until he thought I should give in and admit to something that wasn’t true, so he could then further punish me for trying to lie to begin with and then mete out discipline according to my imagined transgression.
I was not very Japanese in this respect when I went to Japan. If truth be told, I never worked this out the second trip either. It must have been a sight to see as this brash American girl looked everyone, even men, square in the eye every time she talked to them. Including the first time she met them. Quite scandalous it would have seemed to those who were more traditional. Not a trace of the demure Japanese woman was within me. Perhaps because I was American, at least initially, they let me get away with it. Then after a while, those who knew me paid it no attention and acted like it was just something that was normal, every day business. But it wasn’t.
Compared to many women, I was a giant, even when I was a size 10. I was as tall as, if not taller, than many of the men, and the men exhibited shock that I acted like it was normal. And then there was my manner of speech. Direct, not forceful but there was also no lack of confidence nor presence of shyness. No one knew what the make of this, not at all. If I was Japanese, I am quite sure some of my friends would have told me I was rude. Seeing that I was there, I tried my best to tone it down so as not to offend anyone, but even then it was still a little too outside the norm. Still they let it slide in exchange for the cute American girl who spoke Japanese and tried to adapt to their way as best as she could.
Even after I returned from Tokyo to go to college at Salem-Teikyo in West Virginia, I was by no means the shy girl. I was friends with everyone, ever the groups that hated each other. The swim team couldn’t understand why on earth I would talk to tennis players who in turn couldn’t understand why I would talk to the equestrian club who themselves couldn’t understand why I would talk to anyone on the basketball team. “You could almost be one of us if you didn’t talk to them…” I unapologetically lectured them all one by one, and they finally came to the same conclusion and gave up hope that I would ever be an elitist snob for the sake of being in anyone’s innermost circle.
While some of them were put off by this in the beginning, they had to no choice to but bask in my awesomeness and love me anyway. They did so, because they saw that I was not being a phony. I was consistent in my manner of speech and how I interacted with and treated everyone, regardless of who they were, without categorizing and compartmentalizing them not as humans but as part of group. I was genuine, and they knew no matter what, they could take me for my word, even when they couldn’t do the same for those they kept in their innermost circle. Some of them came out and told me directly that they appreciated how I did not bend to pressure of a few that I would forsake who I was to be included or appease anyone.
As I look back now, I every so often catch myself feeling shame. Shame for being less than, unworthy, burdensome, and annoying. I feel shame for this, because I was trained to in the most insidious ways possible. A while back, there was an article that appeared in Cosmopolitan likening domestic violence to terrorism, and there was immense amounts of fury and dissension over this one article. In Stop Calling It Domestic Violence. It’s Intimate Terrorism, Ralph Blumenthal shares several accounts and even gives suggestions for victims and co-workers to be able to pick up on something they may feel is wrong. People were filled with ravenous anger at the thought that Michael P. Johnson, PhD, who is an emeritus professor of sociology at Penn State, could dare to call the violence in intimate partner relationships that destroys lives and claims far too many “intimate terrorism.” Terrorism is used on a regular basis to get people, even large groups of people to give into ludicrous, unfair, and often evil-tinged demands using methods that would convince those who, unless under extreme duress and incessant pummeling, would never agree. In the realm of political and religious terrorism, bombs, guerrilla warfare, torture, kidnapping, starvation, beatings, sleep deprivation, drugging, and more, are used to instill fear in those watching and to cause the victim (or their families) to give in to make it stop.
When you are speaking of domestic violence, catastrophic tactics are used against the victim here as well. It is just the physical implementation is more subtle and less militaristic than those over-taken by extreme and insatiable fanaticism. How else, then, should intimate partner violence be described if not as intimate or domestic terrorism? As victims, we are subjected to what seems like endless amounts of brainwashing, manipulation, and physical and emotional torture. As a sample of the methods many of us have endured, we are verbally destroyed, our minds, thinking, and logic manipulated by vicious repetition, we are subjected to sexual assault and physical punishments for displeasing or failing to comply with the abuser’s demands, we are deprived of sleep, often for over a week at a time, ambushed when we a vulnerable, interrogated and badgered and lectured and brow-beaten for days, weeks, months, and years at a time. Some of us are drugged. We are cut off from everyone we know. We can be poisoned and held prisoner – actual physical confinement – against our will. Threats are used to govern our every move. And more, all this until we switch on auto-pilot and try to navigate the mine fields that is supposed to be our homes…. a refuge from the chaos, danger, and unknowns of the outside world. A place to feel at peace, secure, safe, and loved. And yet through these vicious, well-planned attacks, it becomes a trap of torture, sorrow, isolation, and lamentation.
Due to the intensity of conditioning I was subjected to, I still battle this every day. Some days, you would never know that I am forcing myself to eke out every last bit of strength I have in my effort to win yet one more battle against this torture I endured. It’s a hard thing to explain to you who have not endured suffering on this level just how much it changes you and seeps in through all the cracks, penetrating deep into your heart so much so that you react and act out of habit.
How can you as a man understand that, as I walk past you, just as I feel like you are going to acknowledge me as I walk past, out of politeness, out of respect, I throw my eyes across the room on a blank wall, how I look at the floor, or search desperately for a woman in the crowd to look at?
How can you know that the thoughts in my head, racing a million miles per second, tell me, demand me, FORCE me to act accordingly, because I don’t want to be taken into the restroom and punched multiple times in the head so hard it bounces off the wall and I temporarily lose sight with each impact and then have to endure hours of interrogation and accusations. Because a man had the audacity to look at the property walking along minding her business?
How can you understand that I avoid your eyes, because the adrenaline surge pushes me to look away or ignore you, look through you as though you aren’t even there, so I can avoid being dragged in the house, thrown across the room, and dragged into the corner by my hair and beaten on until he is spent? That I do so to avoid being shut up in the bedroom for hours, sometimes multiple days at a time against my will for my transgression of acknowledging your existence on this planet?
How can I ever get you to comprehend that I do so out of self-preservation? Out of fear, although not been yelled, at, insulted, threatened, pushed, shoved, hit, punched, kicked, thrown, dragged around, or beaten like a man in seventeen months?
I have been struggling with this battle almost unsuccessfully now for about a month. Every time it happens, I have to fight that urge to cast down my eyes, to hang my head in shame, to ignore or avoid you, or sometimes if it is a man I know, to not run the other way in blind fear that I will have been caught smiling or nodding my head as I passed by. I struggle every day at work, because my department manager and one of the collections reps who sits two cubes away from me are symbols of my punishment. Multiple times I faced physical punishment as he accused me of cheating on him with them, which of course, never happened. Their only transgression (which is not one at all) is that they are black.
I have been struggling with the thought that this is going to be a trigger with Kerwyn later down the road. Even though he has done nothing, said nothing, or implied anything. Even though this kind, gentle man I have known for nine years has never so much as laid a finger on me in anger or called me an insulting, derogatory name. He already deals with things I react to solely on association alone. It has been a maddening fight for him, I am sure, and I feel like the biggest jerk that he is being subjected to this at all. It causes great hurt in my heart for him, because when I am triggered, he gets to see me in all my wild, ravenously mad and senseless behavior.
My biggest fear is that people would see me casting my eyes away from them repetitively, just as coincidentally, he could be walking beside me. I would hate for anyone to think I am this way because of him. I have struggled remembering how I was not like this before. I am sure he could support that statement. I am disgusted it is an issue. I am hurt that it is an issue, and for the first time in a very long time, I found myself not only hating what Kevin did to me, but hating him as well. I pray continually for peace, for strength, and that I find some way to get this under control. It isn’t fair to Kerwyn to have to keep dealing with this. It isn’t fair that men who have done nothing to me have to be affected by this. And even though it isn’t fair, even though it isn’t my mess, I am the one who must handle it and wrestle the side effects into submission every day until I figure out how to wiggle free. Until then, I must repeat, “Me wo fusenaide.”