This Is Not Another Jessica Jones Think Piece Written by an Abuse Survivor by Mo Daviau
Editor Fiona George, Editor's Choice, February 21st, 2017
"Maybe I’m also Jessica Jones."
1. In the deli case at Whole Foods are an array of empanadas: chicken, beef, spinach, cheese, each of them lined up like School Picture Day. The man in the hair net behind the counter asks me which one I want and I tell him spinach.
As he’s plunging his hand into a loose plastic glove, he smirks at me.
“Spinach,” I say.
I know he heard me say spinach. “Spinach” doesn’t sound like “beef.” He smirked at me, too. A smirk is a sign of contempt. Why was he trying to get me to take a beef empanada that I didn’t want? Was he trying to change my reality? I know I asked for a spinach empanada. Why am I being challenged on this? I know what I want and I said spinach and if he tries to tell me I said beef, I’ll fucking lose it.
As I walk away with the box containing the spinach empanada, I wonder to myself: was that fucker gaslighting me?
2. “You probably shouldn’t watch Jessica Jones,” a friend told me. I tend to ignore television shows; this was shortly after Thanksgiving, 2015. I didn’t know yet who or what Jessica Jones was.
Another note came in over Facebook: “It might be scary for you, but you should watch Jessica Jones. It’s about a woman with PTSD from an abusive relationship.”
“I watched Jessica Jones and it reminded me of you,” somebody said to me in a public message on Facebook, someone I used to work with at the bookstore in Austin. His desk was close to the employee bathroom. He probably heard me crying in there. I am one of the Internet’s top ten poster bitches for PTSD from an abusive relationship. Maybe I’m also Jessica Jones.
3. Before we began the treatment, I have to say out loud what I hope Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy will do for me.
“I want to stop being afraid of him.”
When The Abuser and I were together, I was terrified of him, but I couldn’t put a finger on why. I never felt physically threatened, but the panic center of my brain had been set off, and two-and-a-half years later, the alarm won’t shut up. I remember walking up Hawthorne to meet him for dinner one evening and having to stop in front of the mattress store to take deep breaths because I was afraid of what would happen when we were together. But I wasn’t afraid he’d hit me. Hitting me would be too easy. He had gotten me close enough to destroy me from the inside.
4. I am alone in my bed with the first episode of Jessica Jones on my laptop. I feel fine until we meet the character Hope lying in a puddle of her own piss in a hotel bed, refusing to get up and leave under orders of the villain who has mind-controlled her to stay put. Jessica Jones, whose superpower is superhuman strength, lifts the kicking and screaming Hope from the wet hotel bed and carries her out as she struggles and demands to be put back where Kilgrave left her.
I am a brunette and a bad-ass and the woman who is the equivalent of Hope in my abuse scenario is also much younger than me, with longer hair and an air of fragility that I don’t have. The Abuser told me that she was suicidal and that if I didn’t let him fuck her, she’d kill herself and that he would blame me. I think about her a lot—that she really believes I’m crazy and terrible, that maybe the whole “she’s suicidal” thing was yet another lie. If I ever hear she’s dead by her own hand, I’ll fucking lose it, so it’s information I avoid.
5. You know how Dan Savage has the Campsite Rule, for older/more experienced people who date younger/less experienced people to leave them in better shape than you found them? I tell people my abuser follows the Jonestown Rule: he leaves you believing the best thing you can do for God and man is kill yourself.
6. I saw his lack of empathy. I saw it in his eyes, glazed over when I told him about the night I called the suicide hotline on my ex-husband. It was like I was telling him about wanting to paint my car beige.
I saw it again when I came out of the bathroom pissing blood. I told him I needed to walk to the ZoomCare. Usually when someone tells you they need to go to the doctor, you ask them what’s wrong.
The Abuser didn’t.
7. “You Better Be Good to Me” by Tina Turner comes on my car stereo as I drive across the Fremont Bridge. It occurs to me to do the morbid thing of looking up how many wives Ike Turner had after Tina.
8. After a protracted hiatus, I start watching Jessica Jones again. Kilgrave gives Jessica her childhood notebook, which she thought she had lost. I equate this, and the whole deal with Jessica’s childhood house, with the daddy shit that I wrote about in my essay “The Cardigan” in The Toast. Soul rape. Is this standard abuser operating procedure, to mine the depths of your childhood trauma and reenact the highlights for maximum psychic damage? Why am I learning this now, at age forty, lying in bed in the middle of the day, terrified again to leave my apartment?
9. A friend tells me there is a job recruiter in Portland named Jessica Jones. That Jessica Jones? No, that’s just her name.
10. If a body catch a body coming through the rye gets stuck in my head as I do my daily writing. High school English: Holden Caulfield wants to preserve childhood innocence. The title is a misheard song lyric.
I spit into the little plastic vial that I send to the lab that measures my cortisol levels. I look at this stupid green box. The abuse blew out my adrenal glands. Emotional abuse is physical abuse. He changed the structure of my brain, he caused my adrenal glands to malfunction. I don’t make enough cortisol anymore, so I have to mail my spit to California. If someone had caught my body coming through the rye, I wouldn’t have to mail my spit to California.
This is funny, this mailing of spit. I try to make it funny. It’s funny to mail your spit to California.
11. Who the fuck marries IKE TURNER? After Tina?
Answer: three women.
Corollary: who the fuck votes for Trump?
12. I am on the phone with my new therapist, mindlessly scrolling through the internet as we discuss insurance. “Well, according to the assessment, you still have PTSD.” As we spoke, the tabs on my computer were open to news reports that Prince was maybe dead.
“But for the purposes of insurance, we need to pinpoint one exact event that triggered it all.”
Pinpointing the event becomes the most horrible therapy session of my life. I choose “non-penetrative sexual assault” from the list of my options, because “prolonged gaslighting, threats, and retraumatizing around the death of a parent” isn’t an option. I tell my therapist about the time he threw a Hitachi Magic Wand in my face—their weight and heft would be good enough for the insurance people.
13. The manager of my apartment building insists, for days, that I do not have a package. The FedEx website indicates it had been delivered and signed for three days earlier. I know I have a package waiting for me in the office but the building manager keeps telling me I don’t, he hasn’t seen it so I don’t. I go back in the office where the building packages are held and ask for my damn package and he starts with “I haven’t seen your package” and it’s sitting on top of a pile of boxes and I grab it and leave.
I am done being gaslighted.
14. I am sitting on a barstool next to a man with a face like bread dough. He tells me he is recently divorced. He is pensive and shy, stammering. He asks me if I would like to go on a date sometime. I tell him no. I’m not interested in him for the usual reasons: I’m not attracted to him, he sounded like he needed more time to heal from his divorce.
After I let the guy down and we continue to talk until his French fries go cold and he decides to leave, I realize that I could have done a hit job on him, comparable to the hit job done on me. He was vulnerable. He wanted to let me in quickly. He would have given me the keys to his magic castle. I could have told him everything he wanted to hear. I could have told him I loved him far too early. I could have fucked him until the oxytocin and dopamine in his brain were so loud that he wouldn’t be able to hear me when I started saying the things he didn’t want to hear. I, very easily, could have taken over his life, gotten access to his most private secrets, bludgeoned him, brainwashed him, blackmailed him, compromised his other relationships, suggested that he was a freak, threatened his custody arrangement with his ex-wife so that I would have more time to take over his life. In that exchange, I saw the opening that my abuser saw with me.
I’m not Bluebeard. I may be strung up in some metaphorical bloody chamber, but I’m sure as hell not putting people where I’ve been.
15. Three nights in a row, The Abuser is in my dreams. Instead of sitting quietly, we talk. He seems to be sorry for what he’s done and tries to be my friend. In my dream, I am assessing the situation. We are at a pinball arcade, talking. In one episode of the dream, he sees another woman he dated and when he goes to talk to her, I steal a car and beat it the hell out of there, away from him. Which is the right thing to do, but that action in my dream comes with the same sadness, the same “am I doing the right thing?” feeling that I had when I ran away the first time.
16. When I get a writing job in Vermont, I am anxious to go. I will be far away from the reminders that Portland holds. The job is only for a year—a year without negotiating my way through Southeast to avoid the spots with the bad memories. But I also realize that, in so many ways, I won Portland. My life here is rich with friends and love. I promise all the people I love here that I will come back.
17. I write the names of Picasso’s mistresses on the wall of my new writing studio in Vermont. Francoise Gilot, one of the many mistresses of Pablo Picasso, observed in her autobiography that Picasso told her he loved it when his women would fight over him. She said he liked to leave his women just a little bit alive, unable to function without him in their lives, even if he were nothing more than an antagonist and a dark cloud. Françoise Gilot was the only one who left him, the only one who thrived, the only one to see him for what he was and name it as such, despite the fact that he was the most powerful artist in the world at the time. At age 95, she is still alive, still painting, still yelling at interviewers to ask her about something other than him.
Be like Françoise, I remind myself.
18. I never finish watching Jessica Jones.
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Header image courtesy of Ángela Burón. To view her Photographer Feature, go here.
Mo Daviau is the author of the novel, Every Anxious Wave, which is nominated for a 2017 Oregon Book Award. A Portlander since 2014, she is temporarily exiled to a remote village in New England with an unstable group of writers and artists, where she is becoming well-acquainted with gas station coffee and different models of wood stoves.