Ruminations: Am I A Victim? by Stacy Pinto
In this personal essay, Stacy Pinto struggles untangling the complexities of a three year long relationship, and the decision to call herself a victim from events and circumstances that came around at the end of the relationship.
We were lovers, for 3 years. Maybe more if you count the previous years of best-friendship, and the year after when we struggled to untangle our lives from each other; we didn’t want to, but knew we needed to. We were kids, 18 and naïve, now 22 and still naïve, but hopeful and wiser. One a possible victim, the other sickened by a superiority complex. Wiser, nonetheless.
I was in the 11th grade studying humanities when I met him. I spent those last two years of school trying to fit in, finish first in school, complete college applications, SAT’s and English proficiency tests, travel with friends I spent most of my childhood with. Most of all, I spent a lot of time telling my friends stories about the different events that happened in my life; the weddings I attended, people I met on vacation. I would reel them in, and they would listen intently, elbows on knees, hands cupping faces, eyes wide with amazement, heads nodding in understanding, the ooo’s and aah’s, gasps followed by ‘oh my god Stacy, are you crazy!’ followed by endless laughs. I loved the attention. I continue to portray this tornado-that-is-my-life narrative, and continue to get calls for updates from friends back home. But with quarantine, things have become muy boring (I learn Spanish at snail’s pace too!) and I miss the drama in my life, which is probably why I choose now to finally detangle this beautifully toxic yet lovingly gentle relationship that ended a year ago. Maybe it’s an attempt to keep the narrative alive, or maybe it’s just a cathartic way of letting go.
He was in his last year of school when we met. We became the best of friends. After graduating with flying colors in the twelfth grade, he went to a university in the city we lived in, Bangalore. He really made an effort to keep in touch, he would spend weekend afternoons in my backyard reading, listening to music, laughing and talking about ‘his’ philosophy of life. Little did I know that he was beginning to like me.
A year later, soon after my 18th birthday, which also happened to be the summer before I would move away to university half-way across the world, we fell in love. We decided to start a relationship with an expiry date, as many high-school lovers do, and break up when I moved to Canada. We had three months. Nothing really changed, we remained the best of friends who now kissed each other goodbye.
I managed to cheat on him sometime during those three months. I went out with my friends and kissed a boy who was showing me the slightest bit of interest. Like I said, I loved attention. Guilt ridden, I told him immediately. He forgave me wholeheartedly, even though I definitely destroyed a small part of him. We continued.
We found ourselves unable to let go of each other when I moved away, so our relationship survived its expiry date. It was rocky and toxic – it’s not fun to navigate a relationship that’s new and defined by distance. My uncertainty of whether I made the right decision to stay with him did not help. I wanted to have the “full” university experience, was he worth not having it? We got through my first semester. We had sex for the first time that December, when I came back home for Christmas. It was uncertain, strange, exciting and nerve wracking, yet I felt loved and comfortable, and I hope he did too.
The next year was a lot smoother and much more fun. He was worth it. I loved him. I loved us. We had a system where, because we were both so busy with university, we would make it a point to video call each other at least once a week. Summer’s at home were filled with movie dates, lunches, dinners, tea, beers and cigarettes, friends, laughter, my backyard, piano, singing Disney music during long car rides, making up for the many days we couldn’t have sex and then some more. Sex injuries and pregnancy scares were common. I regret none of it.
I gained a lot of weight during my first year at university but he never let me feel bad about it. I realize now that that was kind of him. That being said, it was not out of the ordinary for him to prod at my insecurities and completely rip it apart by unprovoked jokes that he found belly achingly hilarious. This was his way of helping me get over my insecurities- and this defined the tone of our entire relationship. He always treated me as if I am somehow lesser than him and needed fixing. His expression of love was making fun of me, of my singing, my dancing, my “pussy” events for “pussy” people, my choice in university, my uncertainty in my future, my choice in studies, my looks, being called ‘dumb as shit’ for talking passionately about things I believed in (like intersectional feminism) …. the list goes on. This was “good for me”. He once said, ‘I’d catch a bullet for you dude, but I can never talk to you as an equally capable intellectual.’ In other words, he respected my negative freedoms but not my positive ones. He never denied them, but he didn’t respect them.
Actually he did deny them once. I had posted a picture of myself and my sisters at the beach on Instagram, and a predator created a fake account and DMed me. He described my breasts as juicy and said that he masturbated to them. I shuddered reading that message. I blocked him immediately. It hurt me. I felt disgusted and confided in him, who didn’t say much. A few days later I decided to post another photo of myself at that same beach. It was a nice photo and even though I hesitated, I did it, sort of to prove to myself that nothing, and no one, can or should get to me. He got angry at me and yelled. ‘You’re giving them what they want, you’re letting them win.’ He made me feel so guilty for putting myself out there and forced me, or shamed me, into taking it down. I did.
‘Don’t go wandering in a dark lane naked and expect not to get raped.’
I could’ve not taken it down if I really didn’t want to. But did I want to ruin our relationship for that? No. I loved him. This is what love is, no? Listening to your partner because they always have your best interest in mind?
A year later, while I was in Canada and he was in the U.K. completing his masters, we were doing one of our video calls. For the first time, we ended up having sex over one such call, he masturbated to my bare breasts. A few days later we called again, I was in my usual comfy clothes- a bra and sweatpants with my hair in a high bun. The agenda for the day was to do work together, we used to do that a lot. I was working on an essay, and he said he was working on his plan for a class he was to teach on Monday. My computer screen had multiple tabs open, I made him the smallest and put him at the corner of my screen, while readings on PDF and Microsoft Word took up most of the screen space. While I was quite focused on my essay, out of the blue, I noticed his hand moving in a jerk-like motion. I clicked on the green + to expand his window. I couldn’t see clearly, because the end of his arm was in a blind spot. His eyes were on his screen and he had a look on his face, a look I was all too familiar with. He was masturbating. He didn’t ask, we didn’t talk about it at all. He just started. I felt my insides churn, there was a sick taste in my mouth. I said ‘What the fuck?!’
He said, ‘I thought it was okay because the other day we did it.’
‘Are you even hearing yourself?’
‘Sorry, you’re right, I don’t know why I did that.’
This was two years into a relationship, four years of being best friends. And then people say not all men. Was he any different from that Instagram creep?
I have an evil father. Ever since I can remember, he’s abused my mother, sisters and I- financially, emotionally, mentally, domestically and for Ma alone, sexually. Abuse was my normal, and I didn’t know how to properly grieve through it because I was and am used to this. He was the first person I could pour my heart out to and talk about everything that I’ve lived- even little nuances of day to day miniscule events. Over the span of 3 years, our conversations moved from us talking about his philosophies, to just me complaining about my life. The last year that we dated was the year my mother finally decided to get a divorce, so every day had something or the other going on. He eventually became a diary I dumped my thoughts onto. He would give me advice that was sometimes helpful, but he mostly questioned the decisions I made. After telling him everything that was currently happening, I was also put in a position to defend the decisions I made. This was exhausting, so I actively stopped him from saying anything back. No one can really understand another person’s experience, because you can’t live them yourself. I just wanted him to understand I needed an outlet, and not feedback. Support, not advice. That me telling him everything was still not exactly telling him everything. I ended up using him, for the betterment of my mental health, that worsened his. Imagine having to forcibly be there for someone going through heavy trauma and not being able to say a thing about it. I was wrong to do so. I now find it hard to navigate what I should and should not talk about with a significant other- I don’t want to do what I did, but I also want to be able to be vulnerable. When I have a bad day, I just say I’ve had a bad day and leave it at that. And maybe do something fun like watch a movie and order take out. I also see a therapist now.
He dumped me because he couldn’t take me dumping my problems onto him. He also couldn’t understand my need to have a continuous standing conversation. He could love me even if we didn’t talk for months on end. I couldn’t understand how we could have an existing relationship if we didn’t do the one thing we could do, talk. But I guess he just couldn’t take the complaining anymore.
We continued having sex after he dumped me. He thought he made a mistake by breaking up with me. I didn’t know if I wanted to get back together with him after all that pain, but I also didn’t know if I wanted to let him go.
On a Friday night, I found myself mildly drunk, having sex with him, wondering why I kept going back to him. We stayed up that entire night, naked and vulnerable under cold white sheets talking till 3 am, figuring out what we were.
‘Why do you want to stay with me?’ I asked, my voice quivering, unsure if it was because it was cold or because I felt sad and empty.
He held me close, squeezed me tight. ‘Because you need help.’
I knew then I would always need fixing in his eyes. He had a superiority complex which needed to be fed. I would always be food. Unfortunately, I did need help. But not his ‘help’.
The time after we broke up was really hard for me. I didn’t know how to let go. I still haven’t fully let go. But I act as if I have, I act as if I never think about him, I act as if what he does does not bother me at all. But I do think about him, not longingly, but in a more I-hope-he-doesn’t-hate-me kind of way.
But I’m sure he does. Every time that we spoke after the breakup, he would make it a point to tell me he doesn’t like me anymore. I am a horrible person, that I am disgusting. He stopped being my boyfriend, and then later stopped being a friend. He made it a point to let me know, every time, that he didn’t respect me. I’ve never been more hurt by a person, not even by my father. It probably hurt more than it should have because I didn’t expect it. Because I stopped recognizing him. He was not the 18-year-old I fell in love with.
He broke up with me over the phone while he was in the U.K. and I was in Bangalore. We met a few weeks later when he came back home. I had friends from Canada visiting and I was showing them around at the time, so I wasn’t really available to meet him. One night we were finally left alone at my house. Everyone at the house was asleep, and it was just us in our backyard. I started kissing him, because I loved him and missed him. I told him I did. He told me he loved me too. We hugged and talked. I cried a little. It was all very overwhelming and emotional. We talked about never letting each other go, and how he had made a big mistake. He said he didn’t want to leave me and wanted to marry me. He wanted us to be together forever. Things were getting quite heated. He sat down, and I sat on top of him, kissing, hugging. I felt his hands around my butt and my breasts. I felt his need and I felt safe, relieved and familiar. Everything was going to be okay. I missed his touch. I missed him.
We moved inside as we started to get more intimate. We sat on the couch and made out, and then he pulled my pants down and asked if he could go down on me. I said yes. Then I got scared someone might walk in on us and said we should probably head over to the room. We did. We shut the door, he took my clothes off and I, his. He looked at me, caressed me and kissed me. My back, my neck, my cleavage, my navel. I remember it like it was yesterday. He looked at me longingly. I looked at him and realized I didn’t want to have sex tonight. I wanted to just be with him. I pulled him close and hugged him tight. I wanted to make the pain and the emptiness go away.
‘I don’t feel like having sex today.’
‘Okay.’ He hugged me back.
I held his face in my hand. I missed his face, his nose, his oddly shaped jaw line, his raggedy beard.
‘Do you love me?’
‘Yes’, he answered.
‘Then why did you do this?’
He kept quiet.
‘I don’t want you to leave me again, please,’ I said.
We started kissing again. He got on top of me, I thought he was going to tell me something. Then he got off the bed to the edge, and pulled my legs close to him. Before I could say anything, I felt him inside me.
But I said no, I thought. It hurt, I hadn’t had sex in around a year. It felt like everything inside me cracked. I felt like I did when the stranger said he masturbated to me, when he masturbated to me without asking, but a lot, lot worse. This pain was similar but much deeper, emotionally. The pain that I tried to make go away when I hugged him only increased, the emptiness I felt grew wider. Was this rape? I don’t know, I’m still not sure. I began to enjoy it so I stopped myself from thinking more and didn’t say anything.
The next day I received a text from him.
Thanks for having sex with me, I needed that.
I didn’t really want to have sex, haha, I replied.
Well, then thanks for letting me have sex with you I guess.
When I tried to talk about it with him a few weeks later, I called it rape. If it was not consensual, then it was rape, wasn’t it? He didn’t say much; he was eerily quiet. When we got into our next fight he told me that I was an evil person, and that I would go so far as to accuse him of rape just to hurt him. That I accused him of rape as a means to hurt him because he hurt me so much when he broke up with me. He said that I was just like my father. He really made me believe that. I felt so guilty and shameful. Even talking about the night made my insides squirm and crack at the same time. It hurt so fucking much. I wanted the pain to stop. So I apologized, and that was the end of that conversation for a long, long time. I also convinced myself that it wasn’t rape, that I really falsely accused him of it, and that I was the horrible person seeking out revenge. How could someone so close to me, someone I had known for so many years, someone I confided my entire life to, someone who knew my deepest darkest secrets, someone I loved and cared for so deeply, someone I wanted to marry and have babies with, how could that someone ever, possibly, rape me?
We completely stopped talking to each other soon after that. I left for Canada to complete the last year of undergrad. Every time a memory or dream, nightmare rather, about that night came up, I would push it back down and deny it. It would come at odd times, for some reason mostly when I was deeply focused on writing an essay. I hated losing track of work and not being able to function well within my already very busy schedule. I needed a quick fix, and I found cigarettes. Being able to see my breath float in the air somehow let me let go of the memory, the unsettling feeling and the morbid questions that came with it, at least temporarily. I’ve become quite the nicotine addict.
He called me out of the blue one week-night saying he needed to talk to me about something important. It was about that night. He had been crying himself to sleep for the past few months thinking that he did rape me, and wanted to know if he actually did. I fully believed that he didn’t at this time. I also wanted him back in my life, at least as a friend. I wanted him to feel safe to talk to me about anything. So after much hesitation, I said that he didn’t. I told him that it was okay because that night, time had lapsed since I said that I didn’t want to have sex, and that I ended up enjoying it anyway. But I knew, deep down, that this wasn’t the case.
Around a year later, we started talking again, just out of politeness, almost as if to acknowledge we used to be important to each other. We ended up getting into an argument. I got a notification on Snapchat saying that he took three screenshots of our chat. What?! He explained it saying he was screenshotting something else on his phone, but everyone on his contact list got this notification for some reason. I was skeptical. ‘You’re lying and I don’t know why’. He said I was being unfairly rude to him for something he never did. He belittled, as usual, my feelings of reasonable skepticism, and said that the whole world doesn’t revolve around you. I flashed back to the fight we had when he accused me of falsely accusing him. He was shaming me, again! I decided I’ve had enough and didn’t want to keep quiet to him about anything any longer. He shouldn’t be shaming me, or anyone, when his actions are being questioned. Something inside me snapped and I was able to properly confront him about that night. I told him whatever happened that night was not consensual. I didn’t want to say it, but I said it, he raped me. He denied it and asked me to press charges if that was so.
‘You can’t just change your story. Why didn’t you say anything when I asked you about it?’
‘I was in denial. That night, whatever happened after I said I didn’t want to, was non-consensual.’
‘You’re a disgusting person, you’re just doing this because I was an ass to you yesterday. You’ll go to any length to hurt me, I know you.’
‘All I want is for you to understand what happened that night, so no other person you sleep with has to go through what I did.’
‘I don’t need advice from a liar. If I did rape you, you are a horrible person for lying to me when I asked you about it. I’ve made peace with me not being a rapist and I have punished myself enough for thinking I was. I did not rape you. I asked you before we had sex and you said okay. I always do this when I have sex with anyone, and I did it with you.’
‘I never said okay, and you never asked me.’
Why was this conversation so familiar? I felt the same I did when we had first talked about it. Frustrated and humiliated, pain and emptiness. But now, anger as well, at him for not understanding, at him for telling me that I’m lying, at him for not believing me when I needed him to believe me, at him for shouting at me while I was crying, for not having a conversation when I needed, now more than ever, to have a conversation. Couldn’t he understand how hard it was for me to even bring it up again? No he couldn’t. He never could understand, not about what I went through with my family, not about the decisions I made with my life, nor with this.
As he continued to call me disgusting, I realized maybe I couldn’t fully call it rape. He didn’t start about his day with the intention to have sex with me no matter what. He didn’t push me down and force anything on me. He wanted to have sex with me. I just wish he listened when I said I didn’t want to. I just wanted to reconnect with him that night, I wanted us to heal, I wanted us to talk and figure things out and be together, happily, again. I thought I won him back. Maybe he wanted this too, and maybe sex was the way for him to reconnect. I just wish he’d listened to me.
I still miss him. I don’t know why, or how I could even feel that way. But I do. I don’t want to talk to him again, and I don’t want him to ever be a part of my life. But I miss him. I guess I miss the idea of him, I miss being in a comforting relation with someone that is there for you no matter what. It took me time to accept and welcome change in my life. The year after we broke up was the first year in Canada I spent on my own, without having a connection that tethered me to home. It was the best year of my life.
About the Author
Stacy Pinto, a third culture kid of Indian origin born and brought up in Kuwait, lived her teenage years in Bangalore, and moved to Canada to finish her undergraduate in B.A. Philosophy from Queen’s University. She currently works at an interior design firm as a digital marketer and as an event organizer at The Fresh Factor, an organic farm located at the outskirts of Bangalore.