notgettingenough 's Reviews > Playroom

Playroom by Frances Fyfield
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Mar 15, 10

bookshelves: crime-fiction

‘But surely you know in that situation that you don’t have control’. We were talking about abusive relationships this morning and Anna didn’t get it. But Anna, my dear. The whole point of abusive relationships is that the abuser leaves you with this sense, just this sense that you do have some control. That if you do this, or don’t do that, or keep your desk neat, or cook this not that, then everything will be okay. They are nice to you sometimes, of course. Same thing. They need you to see that nice is possible, see what things are like if you do the right thing? Then I’m nice. They need to leave you with a modicum of self-respect because if you do hit absolute rock bottom, actually they have nothing with which to control you any more.

It’s on my mind to get this down now that I’ve spent a couple of hours talking about it, so I tell you a bit of my story because you can only sound half-convincing if you have ‘I’s in it.

Mid nineties. I’ve been living with the person in question for about nine years and I read this book, this one here, The Playroom. Probably Manny and Jordan would call it trash? I haven’t come to understand that term properly yet, but at any rate, it changed my life. All of a sudden I read a sentence that made my heart that very second drop out of my body through the chair, the floor, the earth and plummet right to the bottom side of the world somewhere. Oh. I’m in a straightforward abusive relationship.

Now, I would say I’m not completely dumb. Well, sort of dumb. I can’t imagine passing an IQ test. I’ve flunked shapes in holes since kindergarten, with the possible exception of sex. I say possible because it continues to startle me. ‘We’re going to put that in this?’ ‘You’re telling me this fits there?!!!’ As an act of faith, of course, faith in the practically infinite number of people who have done these things thus permitting the conclusion that the shapes do apparently fit in the holes I go along with it, but there is always a sense of surprise nonetheless. After sex I always feel a bit like going back to kindergarten and trying that thing they make you do with the cutout holes and the pieces you fit in the holes. I have an idea maybe I could do that after all. The feeling passes quickly enough.

So, dumb, certainly. The fact is I’d lived in this relationship for nine years and for about eight and a half of them I’d observed to myself that this was like an abusive relationshop. ‘Like’. Always ‘like’. Not for one second did it occur to me to take out that word. One might say I had particular reasons for being this dense. He was an alcoholic and that served as cover. Then when, most terribly, he gave up alcohol altogether I had what seemed a really rational idea that I was bearing the brunt of his difficult transition to relating with people sober and that things would change. There was always a reason to leave ‘like’ there. I’m sure there are always reasons for other people too. She’s (he’s) just jealous, just needs things to be neat, just this, just that. He’s (she’s) nice, really. And can’t you see things are better than they used to be? Look. As long as I do this then...or if I don't talk...or if I don't look....or when...then as long as...everything is okay. Really. Then everything is okay.

But then I read this book, read this sentence, read on and it might just as well have been my own life I was reading. I was so shocked that I hid the book after I’d read it. I guess he sensed that, sought out the book and read it. ‘That’s just like us,’ he said. With a sense of relief, it seemed obvious to me that if that was the case, that we both knew what things were like and we weren’t idiots that things would change, but they didn’t. Not one bit.

Attempt number one to get away was a dismal failure. When I went back I thought I’d die. But in fact I got a better plan together and attempt number two worked a treat.

What you understand, though, as a complete revelation if you are lucky, is that you have no control. You only thought you did. Once you realise that, then you can escape. I didn’t have anybody I was talking to, nobody pointed out the terribly obvious to me, but even if they had, I’m sure it wouldn’t have helped. You could have any number of people who love you telling you you are trapped in an abusive relationship, it really won’t help. It will come to you as your own revelation or it won’t. Those who watch you lovingly from a distance and see, can only hope for the best. That is my experience. But, then, I’m not good at accepting help. A more sensible person might – and did…

Later on after I’d escaped that person, he moved to the UK and an awfully bright but fucked up girl fell in love with him. I wanted to warn her off, but what’s the point of that? Like she was going to listen to me! But five years or so later, I knew she’d tried to get away now and then and failed. I decided to contact her like this. I wrote her an email describing in intimate detail her days, her life, conversations she had every day and ways she had of relating to the person she was trying to escape. I told her I could explain to her what she had to do to get away if she wanted. She wrote back a couple of days later, she said after she’d stopped crying and yes, she did want to know.

In one brutal email, this girl had discovered that she had no control over her life whatsoever. She had so little control that a stranger on the other side of the world who had never met her, knew everything about her life simply because I knew her life would be exactly like mine.

In a strange way we’d both realised what our situations were by reading about them. It took me two tries and a couple of years to get away. This girl was a good listener. She took everything I said to heart, did exactly what I said and got clean away before her partner could blink. It was clean, she never went back.

Admitting you do not have control over your life is a really painful thing to do. Understanding that even if you love a person and even if you think they love you, it doesn’t mean he/she isn’t an abuser, is very hard to come to terms with. I have no doubt that abusers love their victims and their victims love them. Still. Although there is good reason for the abuser to want the keep the relationship, the same does not pertain to the victim. They have nothing to gain whatsoever. They only think they do.

A bit later, I remember this. As you do take back your life and leave, he/she suggests they will kill you. Or, even harder from your point of view, kill themself. Again and again you are told you won't survive...and when that doesn't work, that she/he won't survive. You are made to feel weak and incapable on your own, or - desperation - that they are. One or other of you won't be able to function as a human being without the other. So you are made to feel.

When I left the first time, friends said to me, but how will he survive without you? When I went back I thought that's what want they all want, for me to die there. But, of course, they didn't know. Point is abusers are perfectly able to look weak if that is a useful thing to do. Second time around I just steeled myself. Ignored all those cries of sympathy for this person I was escaping. The friends all stayed true. You don't lose friends, you only fear that you will.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Alan (new)

Alan My sister was in an abusive relatoinship for 6 years (she was 16-22) and you're right she wouldn't listen to us. I remember at my dad's 50th hanging on to one arm and my dad the other arm as he tried to hit her, dragging us along. (He was a big bloke). She married and had two kids with him. Eventually though she saw through him, saw what he really was. She was very young. He used all the techniques you describe above to keep her 'in line'. Surprisingly clever for such thick ignorant git.


message 2: by notgettingenough (last edited Mar 16, 2010 03:05AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

notgettingenough Alan wrote: "My sister was in an abusive relatoinship for 6 years (she was 16-22) and you're right she wouldn't listen to us. I remember at my dad's 50th hanging on to one arm and my dad the other arm as he tri..."

Well done to your sister for getting out so quickly. I must say, having helped somebody else escape the same person I was involved with, I was rather envious of her, getting out after merely five years.

The really hard thing is that it isn't that there isn't love there and between that and this person who will, in the end, make himself/herself look vulnerable, you have to steel yourself. You have to make yourself hard and this person the enemy. In an objective way, a practical way at any rate. (It is possible to do this and maintain civility.)

I really found that quite hard to do. And yet, having failed the first time to leave properly, it became obvious that you have no choice. If you stay soft, they get you every time. I could still weep right now looking back on how easily I got trapped into going back after I left the first time. So you make yourself as hard as you can and later you can get soft back.


message 3: by Alan (new)

Alan yeh, my sister got the soft back, eventually.


message 4: by Stephen (new)

Stephen When I was a child, I remember a woman walking down the middle of our street in her nightgown, crying. My father ran outside, spoke briefly with her, then went into the woman's house where a great ruckus of noise began. Later, my dad pulled her husband onto the lawn and waited for the police.

It was only as an adult that I realized what happened that night.


message 5: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! You could have any number of people who love you telling you you are trapped in an abusive relationship, it really won’t help. It will come to you as your own revelation or it won’t.

Yes.

I rejoice for your escape, and appreciate your reflection.


message 6: by Alan (new)

Alan ditto, Eh.


message 7: by Ted (new)

Ted All of a sudden I read a sentence that made my heart that very second drop out of my body through the chair, the floor, the earth and plummet right to the bottom side of the world somewhere.

Do you remember what the sentence was? Or would it not have any significance to anyone but you, in the situation you were in?


notgettingenough Ted wrote: "All of a sudden I read a sentence that made my heart that very second drop out of my body through the chair, the floor, the earth and plummet right to the bottom side of the world somewhere.

Do you remember what the sentence was? Or would it not have any significance to anyone but you, in the situation you were in?


Much later, some years ago, I bought a copy of the book again, thinking I'd reread it and find that point....but I couldn't. I picked it up a few times, it bothered me that it sat in the shelves, but eventually I decided I'd be happier if I and it separated from each other.

So, no, sorry! Maybe I should try again. I am not sure how situation specific it was.


message 9: by Ted (new)

Ted That makes the whole story that you tell even more interesting to me.

Perhaps you shouldn't try again, until you are much older. Then if you found it, it would be even MORE interesting. Or whatever. Thanks


notgettingenough Ted wrote: "That makes the whole story that you tell even more interesting to me.

Perhaps you shouldn't try again, until you are much older. Then if you found it, it would be even MORE interesting. Or whate..."


When I said 'I couldn't', I meant I couldn't bring myself to read it, not that I couldn't find the point. I guess I thought revisiting the past could only be a bad experience.


message 11: by Ted (new)

Ted Sorry. I'm sure you were right.


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