** CONTENT WARNING: mentions of domestic abuse **
I’ve tried to tell this story so many times. I’ve over thought it. I’ve run away from it. I’ve drunk a little too much and I’m not sure how to begin to tell it. I’d much rather tell you about the amazing FODMAP roast pumpkin I just concocted and devoured whilst crooning “My Funny Valentine”…yes, my neighbours love me.
I survived an abusive relationship with a man eleven years my senior who was a professional I employed to help me with my injuries, fitness and body image whilst trying to become a feminist scholar and performance artist during which time a dear friend of mine who I fiercely adored was killed by her abusive partner. A clunky sentence for a clunky experience.
Let’s focus primarily on my experience in my last relationship for this article. I cannot begin to unpack it all at once, and some of it isn’t my story to tell in the written word.
Overcoming my grief and thriving, not just surviving, does not feel to me, the way I’m sure many people think it looks. I find myself currently seated in a plush lazy boy amongst my cherished possessions, a lit candle gifted to me from my mother, my plants, my Peruvian throw…and my current partners wonderful possessions intermingled with my own on shelves piled high symbolising a new life chapter.
I’d have found it difficult enough to focus solely on finding balance in this beautiful heterosexual paradise of an apartment regardless of my dating history. I’m super queer and something about a monogamous hetero-passing existence doesn’t sit well with me in the day-to-day regardless of how my current partner makes my heart explode with love and adoration. After I relearned how interpersonal negotiation worked in practice, as a couple, we now negotiate our way through everything from the domestic labour to emotional support and our hopes for the future.
What I am learning is that no matter how gorgeous your apartment, or your morning yoga and tea routine might be, sometimes you cry because you’re afraid of sharing the kitchen with the person you love because you were conditioned to stay the hell out last time around.
When the manipulation began, I’d just started my honours project and with all my twenty-two year old enthusiasm and light, I thought it would be the beginning of my career. Yes, thanks to all the support (and privilege) I had and have, I came out the other side of the project with the mark I needed to appear as though I had conquered the adversity of 2015… but hardly left the house for six months in 2016 out of fear.
Imagine emerging, having fought your way out of a sink hole. You’ve worn your nails down grappling at dirt walls made from your own gaslit riddled feelings. Your head pops up and you are dazzled by the day light, like a zombie with a hankering for genuine human contact…but not brains because you’re a vegetarian. Your eyes adjust after being cleared of debris and you look around to see…very, very little. It is a barren and heavily charred landscape that blurs into the distance. Cue the consumption of a lot of Banks albums and Rupi Kuar reading.
In hindsight the reality of the effects that the isolation I suffered after that relationship were textbook. My friends had been largely alienated by his behaviour and my emotional compass was very skewed for…a fucking long time. I am only now watching the work I do in counselling pay off with my closest friends as we rebuild, and see the seeds of new friendships flourishing. It’s been less than two years since I ended contact permanently. Two years, approximately, since I’ve seen him. And officially six months since I stopped worrying where he was and if he knew where I was…but sometimes I get scared he’s standing behind me at the shops and I’m still particularly weary of other men who look similar…and particularly of those who act similarly.
I feel like a failure. I feel just as small as that man’s actions were intended to make me feel. I feel confused, like I should have been better and smarter and simultaneously like I’ve been incredibly disrespected because I am amazing and full of empathy. I feel like I have very little control, like my words mean nothing, like my actions mean nothing. In my spectacular lucid dreams, those fears are brought to life in fantasies, flashbacks and nightmares, my powerlessness played out in vivid technicolor behind my eyelids. Most significantly, I still feel as though I have wasted a portion of my time on the planet. Sorry, no. That he wasted my time. Then and now, whilst I still spend time suffering the effects of his actions.
I am still dreaming of creating a platform to become an artist, a maker, a doer, a facilitator for others and a feminist bad ass who aims to keep her privilege in check and reduce her impact on the environment… but the honest truth of it is, I have only just found myself comfortable enough day to day to put these very rudimentary thoughts down on paper. Silence is powerful, but dramaturgically speaking, usually only when used in juxtaposition with sound.
This feels like it could be the beginning of a new chapter, albeit, a very clunky last minute and under referenced one. Not just because I’m making a new home with new found mutual negotiation and a lot of unconditional love, but because today I told you about why I have been so quiet, so inactive, so burnt out and so silent.
Today was a day for resilience in the form of writing. Tomorrow? I’ll start a podcast, a blog, write three plays, devise some meaningful performance art and get accepted into that doctorate program I have my eye on… A career is not started in a day, a platform not resurrected in one either. Today is the day I begin to tell this story, to reconnect. Today is a good day.
Karissa Taylor is a feminist bi-queer theatre and performance multi-hyphenate from Melbourne. She can act, sing, dance, devise, write, design and tech you under the prod table before you can say, “Well, actually…”. Her dreams are low-waste and vegetarian. Fiercely determined, ambitious and just a little bit exhausted, she doesn’t quite know what to do with her abundant skillset yet, but hopes to develop a multidimensional artistic platform that serves diverse feminist makers from multiple disciplines. Known as Kaz, she loves dogs and tea.
** CONTENT WARNING: mentions of domestic abuse **