There are so many ways to erase someone. So many people talk about how wretched minimising someone is, how cruel it can be to blithely tell someone they don’t understand their own experience(s), and it is pretty fucking awful.
Solidarity is worse in some ways though. Maybe not the “real thing” but who can even tell what that is? What makes it so? It’s like the debate about sympathy vs empathy … but it’s not.
My mom is an expert at the one upmanship game. Whatever story you tell her, she’s got an anecdote from her life that can top it. Hers is worse, better, in all ways MORE. It’s like she’s trying to out-you you. Unfortunately she honestly, truly, thinks she’s being good to you and helpful. It isn’t sympathy. She’s not denigrating you, she doesn’t pity you – to show support she has to reframe what happened so that she is in the starring role. Her worldview simply doesn’t allow for anyone else’s reality.
Funny concept, reality. We imbue it with this sense of singularity and finiteness – there can be only one. It’s got to be the most subjective concept out there. What is this ridiculous insistence we have about fact vs fantasy, where we’ve placed fact on this sky-high pedestal. Everything needs to be proven, backed up with solid evidentiary support, or it should be chucked out like so much rubbish. Only certain types of proof are acceptable, of course, as we can’t allow just anything (anyone) to be raised to that hallowed ground. The more tangible the better, though pure logic is also revered.
As such, we throw our baby feelings out right along with that fantasy bathwater. Feelings aren’t a legitimate reason for decision making, unless you’re a fictional mystery solver with a reliable gut. For all that we counsel people to trust themselves and their guts, we belittle anyone that takes us up on it.
It’s all about us, really. Each one of us is the center of our own universe and we each have a separate reality that is true only for us.
In that sense, solidarity and gaslighting can be two sides of the same coin. They both assert someone else’s reality as the one, true version. That’s not what happened, don’t make up stories. I know just what you mean, let me show you how my story trumps yours.
I’m just as guilty as anyone else, for all that I try to be more conscious of it. When I was a little kid, no matter what you told me – how you tried to wow me – my response was “I know!” It was so important to know, to be right. It was critical to my survival, or so it felt. I’ve grown out of that particular habit but am still plagued by that deep-seated need to be right, to prove myself. When we argue, expect me to provide a collated packet of evidence wth all my exhibits neatly labeled and ordered to make my case. I never went to law school because it isn’t a tendency I want to encourage.
I don’t know if my survivial instincts are in line with the norm or odd. I know they feel odd but don’t we all want to be unique? We’re all so desperate for community and sameness and yet we all want to stand out in our own ways, to carve our own paths. Ostracism is terrible, a gut-wrenching invalidation, and yet – solidarity can be just as effective a tool to erase a person.
When I think back to that night, the whole plot unravels. I’m so sure I have it all sorted in my head until I remember the way you held me, the reassurance you needed, how well we fit together. You were always an excellent lover, and certainly never shied away from touching and cuddles, but that night it wasn’t just sex for you. I wanted so much to reduce it to the physical that night and you flat out refused. The things you said to me when I kept prodding you to talk dirty still make me gooey and are on regular rotation in the spank bank.
After you fell asleep in my arms, I kept waiting for you to wake up and shift away. You were always so conscious of your own space and comfort when we slept, allowing me to cuddle up to you but only to a point. Keeping yourself turned away ever so slightly, not in rebuff or rejection, just in independence. You were always so afraid of the cling, lol, and I know it disconcerted you when I didn’t.
I absolutely assumed that you’d have reclaimed your distance when I got up to pee … but when I got back and you needed me there, pulling me so seamlessly back into the spot I’d vacated, that’s the square moment I can’t force into the round hole.
To be sure, there are other moments, other memories, that call the whole thing in to question but most of them are little things. Small details that can be framed as inconsequential or misread, especially when held up against all the bits that prove my point.
That night though. It doesn’t fit. I can’t explain it away.
Most of the time, I forget about it entirely. It doesn’t fit with the narrative I’ve concocted and so I ignore it. I can pretend it’s an obnoxious outlying point on an otherwise nicely grouped scatter plot; pretend that if I zoom in a little, I don’t even notice it.
What do you tell yourself, I wonder? I’m guessing it’s the same for you but in reverse. You’ve crafted a narrative to fit the evidence, same as I have, though instead of using the events that shaped us you’ve chosen to focus on the tale your fears told you … Wow, that was judgy. Makes me think of her self-righteous claim that she bases her actions on logic, whereas I’m locked into feelings that aren’t based in reality. Hypocritical much?
I’m not sure how else to interpret it though. I know what happened – I even know how you reacted to what happened – I was there. I saw you. I FELT you. When we were together, I know you were unhappy about it but I also know that you were mine (just as I was – as I still am – yours). Yet, seemingly out of nowhere, you were parroting a whole new set of beliefs. It isn’t my imagination that you needed to keep your distance in order to maintain your new facade. It boggles my mind that you refuse to admit how fragile it is when you’re so worried that I’ll hold up the mirror and you’ll see all the bullshit you’ve smeared across yourself.
I think back to that last date, if one can even call it that, and the rawness of your pain. I noticed it at the time but it never occurred to me that it would be the last chance I had to address it. I believed you and so I figured there’d be plenty of opportunity to hash things out “properly.”
I think I knew, though, even then that you were saying goodbye. You gave me too much. You let me see what you needed – worse, you let me provide it to you – and so I had to go. No one’s allowed to know those things. You hide them from yourself. How dare I come along and insist on the integrity you claimed to espouse? How dare I believe in you and expect you to be the man you want to be? How dare I, indeed?
This is an old habit I’ve fallen out of and would like to revisit. Some months it’s really braggy and April is definitely one of those months!
Total Books Read: 40
Romance: 31 (77.5%)
Mystery: 5 (12.5%)
Speculative: 4 (10%)
These are the subcategories representing the types of books I most enjoy and it just so happens that everything in April managed to fit within them without any overlap – though that isn’t always the case.
As romance makes up such a large portion of what I read, here’s a slightly deeper analysis of the romance category:
– Historical: 24 (77.4%)
– Contemporary: 7 (22.6%)
– Heteronormative: 25 (80.6%)
– M/M: 6 (19.4%)
I, of course, have loads of subcategories on my goodreads shelves that aren’t represented here. There are so many tropes and subgenres in romance that I find it’s worth breaking them down for my personal analysis and to help me make recommendations to friends. Looking for a sports romance? There’s a shelf for that. An angst-ridden romance? There’s a shelf for that, too. I also have a trigger shelf as some books have elements that could be upsetting for folks that have dealt with certain types of trauma. It’s always important to cross-reference before recommending, imo. I have some 68 shelves currently on goodreads and 21 of them are related to romance (19 subgenres and 2 lists I’m working through).
I enjoy books for different reasons and my rating system is based on my personal enjoyment, as well as the likelihood of my making a recommendation of the book. Three stars is a middle ground that means I more or less liked the book but won’t be recommending it to anyone. I also won’t be warning anyone off. My dislike of a book doesn’t necessarily garner my disdain but certain tropes and plot treatments earn not only a shitty rating but a place on my ugh shelf. If a book is well written but I don’t enjoy it, I’ll usually comment about that disparity in my reviews. I do review nearly every book I read these days and for that alone, I adore goodreads. Most of the books I read end up in the 3- and 4-star realm. So here’s a look at how well I liked April:
I also tend toward batch reading of certain authors. I’m currently reading through the backlist of a couple romance authors so the number of books I read doesn’t really correlate with the number of authors I read last month. Other months the numbers are much closer. I think they’re as close as they are in April since I’m on the hunt for a mystery author to tide me over until the next Sharon Bolton book and haven’t found a good replacement. Lots of great twisty British mysteries with excellent attention to detail but not so many that are also police procedurals without being stuffy about it.
Total Authors Read: 27
Women: 23 (85.2%)
POC: 6 (22.2%)
Finally, for those who are interested in getting to know my tastes in greater detail, here are the books from April I’m most likely to recommend:
1. For Real, Alexis Hall: this was a re-read and, as is so often the case, I got so much out of the book this time around that I hadn’t gotten before. Not the first re-read and not likely to be the last! This is a contemporary, m/m, bdsm romance that perfectly encapsulates so many feels about both what it is to be stumbling through life looking for that one true thing and to be stumbling through life after having lost it. So good!
2. Once Upon a Marquess, Courtney Milan: I read both books one and two of this series in April and thoroughly enjoyed them. This is an historical (mid-Victorian), heteronormative romance that does a good job of show casing what it is to fall from grace and how challenging it can be to get out of your own head and let go of your problematic assumptions. Not your typical historical by a long shot, though that’s one of the things I love best about this author. I highly recommend anything Milan writes and she has long-held the honour of having written my favourite romance heroine (Jane, from The Heiress Effect).
Madeline sat and held her grandmother’s hand, tears slowing gliding down her face as the old woman ranted about the evil wolves roaming the hallways. The dementia came and went, the dark visions of monsters seeming to get worse each time. Sometimes Mama Evie would give quiet warnings, like the time she urgently whispered to Madeline that they must protect the children at all costs when the village was invaded, looking around wildly to ensure none of the monsters heard her. Other times were like today with her grandmother shouting at her about vile creatures appearing and wailing about the coming destruction of the world.
The nurse came in, syringe already in hand, followed closely by the doctor
”Her screaming is starting to bother the other patients” the doctor said gently. “We’re going to give her something to calm her down.”
Madeline nodded mutely as the doctor made a note in the chart, then left. The nurse approached her grandmother. Mama Evie, seeing the syringe, started to thrash.
“No!” Mama Evie shouted. “Don’t! They’re coming! We’re not safe!”
The nurse made soothing sounds and inserted the syringe into the IV port.
Mama Evie looked at Madeline beseechingly, pleading with her. ”No, my little Maddy, please …”
“Wait!” Madeline cried, “She’s lucid again.”
But it was too late. The nurse re-capped the syringe, having already injected the drug. Slowly, Mama Evie’s featured slackened and her arms fell to her sides.
”Don’t worry, this is really for the best,” the nurse murmured, patting Madeline on the arm and walking out.
Madeline allowed herself a few more moments of weeping before slashing at her eyes with her sleeves and telling herself harshly to let it go. She practised a few of the breathing exercises her therapist had taught her and, once she was calm again, reached out to take her grandmother’s hand once more.
A few hours later, she was woken by her grandmother’s harsh whisper. ”Madeline! Wake up, Maddy! You have to get me away from here. They’re coming, Madeline, and we can’t be here when they arrive!”
Madeline shook her head and said firmly, “You’re safe here, Mama Evie. Nothing is coming to get you.”
Mama Evie rolled her eyes and gave Madeline a pitying look. “No, foolish girl, they’re not coming to get me. They’re coming for us all. We have to get out of here so we can prepare.”
Mama Evie held the button that moved her bed into a sitting position and started to push off the thin sheets. As she swung her legs over the side of the bed, Madeline leapt up from her chair.
“No, Mama Evie, you mustn’t!” Madeline tried to push her grandmother’s legs back up and on to the bed but the old woman refused to budge.
”I’m getting out of here. It isn’t safe. They keeping pumping me full of drugs to stop the visions and without them we’ll never survive. Don’t just stand there, Maddy, help me!”
Luckily, just at that moment an orderly was walking by their room and saw her grandmother stand shakily against Madeline’s protests. He went to the nurse’s station and soon three hospital personnel were in the room. One gave Mama Evie a sedative while the other two got her back in bed and wrapped her arms and legs in restraints.
“Is that really necessary?” Madeline asked.
”Doctor’s orders,” said one of them briskly as they filed out of the room.