With Eric, it always came down to this: me in the sun in the black dress without the underwear. Me undressing for him in front of the window. Me in the restaurant wearing the coat and not much else. Me with the drapes open. Me in the sheer blouse. Me on display. He loved that word—display. He said he wanted others to see what he owned.
I’ve always told men not to treat me as their accessory, but he was different. I was anything he wanted me to be. Why would I not be? He cherished all of it. He laid every part of my spirit out and pronounced it “lovable.” He pushed all the ghosts out of my world—every last one and proved I was valuable. I thought that lesson would stay with me forever.
I once loved an artist. Each of his paintings sold for tens of thousands, but every week, he’d develop a hatred for one of them and threaten to paint over it. So began the negotiation:
“Don’t. Please don’t kill this one.”
“It won’t sell.”
“I’ll take it.”
“I want the canvas.”
I only won the argument twice, and those paintings still hang on my wall—the most valuable things I own. I could never watch him paint over the others. It seemed like too much beauty to lose.
Many years later, I met S, and the world changed irrevocably. Like one of those rejected paintings, everything beautiful was covered in an oily black sheen. I’d learned that evil existed. That knowledge is a kind of grief so desolate that desolation heaves it up.
It’s too silent to be silence
too stricken to ache
too pervasive to pervade
It is beyondbeyondbeyond.
Submitting to a toxic man is like throwing everything you value into a black hole and then jumping in after it. There is no escaping now. Not even light can get out. Finding vitriol that intense is like learning the monsters under your bed are real.
S became the wound that time couldn’t heal. I lost the capacity to connect. Sex terrified me. The world terrified me. Humanity terrified me. Even rape hadn’t managed to ruin my sexuality to the extent that S had.
The trouble with painting over something is that you can’t erase the texture of the paint underneath. You must work it into your new creation. H’s reworked paintings were always more beautiful than those he created on new canvas. He told me the best way to make something exquisite was by building problems into the work and then fixing them, and reused canvasses came with their own inbuilt problems. He taught me that fixed complications came with more potential than first chances ever could.
With my naïve view of the world now covered in black, some days seem intolerably bleak.
On those days, I begin painting.