It was really difficult for me to decide what to title this article. It’s been such a long time since I’ve last written, and there was so much I wanted to say in as few words as possible. I recently just ended a nine year relationship and while it wasn’t chronically abusive in itself, a mutual friend offered a healthy dose of ridicule and repeated affirmations about how interior and damaged I was. This was accompanied by disturbing images and videos sent to me over the course of 25 years. When it came time to finally stand up for myself, the reactions of my partner made me realize that not only had our time together come to an end, but how the abusive situation had been completely normalized and even expected. My feelings were no longer an issue, since I should basically know better and await our friend’s repetitive behavior. The worse part being that after every hostile interaction, my friend would emphasize, “You know I love you Mike, I’m just joking with you.” Like many abusers, the point is to gaslight your target and make them believe through repetition that something must be wrong with you… that your pain is actually your own fault.
I first met my friend… let’s call him “Javier” for sake of anonymity, almost 25 years ago on America Online. At the time I was very much attracted to “alpha” males and there was certainly little doubt that Javier considered himself to be that and so much more. He worked in Law Enforcement and as a young gay man this was definitely a plus. We dated for almost two months when I quickly realized he had issues with expressing emotions, anger, and just being plain human. He got upset easily and didn’t have any patience whatsoever. One beautiful day early in our relationship while driving, someone cut him off and he thought it would be appropriate to exit the car and approach the female driver… which didn’t sit well with her boyfriend who was also a cop. Javier realized that he actually worked with the officer, smiled and said “It’s okay you’re good…” and came back to the car. The entire time I was incredibly embarrassed and saw the moment as a kind of “light bulb” of awareness.
We continued to date for a bit until one night I decided to make dinner for Javier at his house, and he thought it best to stay upstairs and watch TV while I cooked. He turned on the downstairs tv for me before leaving and I knew then he wasn’t relationship material, but we continued to stay friends. As is the case so often with gay relationships, we often remain friends with people we’ve dated… and I still think that’s a really wonderful thing to do. As time went by, Javier and I grew our friendship, but the sudden outbursts of anger didn’t go away. One night while exiting a movie theatre with Javier, I looked at his chest and playfully pulled the time honored joke of telling something they had food on their shirt. When Javier looked down, I moved my finger up to touch his nose and playfully said “HA HA! Gotcha!” Javier immediately lost it and suddenly started yelling at me to never touch his face… his rant continued until I left to my car. I thought that would be the last time I would see him.
Eventually life found me in the first relationship since the death of my best friend, and I was head over heals for yet another Alpha acting male. It lasted only four months and the timing of the breakup couldn’t have been worse. I felt incredibly alone and broken, and Javier had once again worked his way into my awareness. When I was in the relationship his presence didn’t appear threatening to me in the least, so once again our friendship was rekindled. One particular day I was a total mess, I couldn’t stop crying and Javier thought it would be great to do lunch. We ended up at The Cheesecake Factory where I found it next to impossible to keep food down. The relationship experience itself had led me to lose over 20 pounds and I couldn’t stop crying at the restaurant. At first Javier was kind and caring, but when his words didn’t seem to have any effect, he suddenly began to scream at the top of his lungs “Shut the fuck up Mike! I’m so fucking tired of your crying!” Of course everyone turned around to look at us… my grief was temporarily suspended and replaced with the feeling of being completely mortified.
Javier started laughing hysterically, saying “Oh my god, did you see? He fucking blew his brains out! What the fuck was that?!”
By this time in my life Javier had become a fixture in my family. His outrageous words and phrases were a big hit with everyone, and he actually did often act like a hilarious stand up comedian. However the focus of his jokes started to change, and very quickly I became the punchline itself. The mocking was subtle at first, but little by little it started to get worse. The sudden bursts of anger didn’t stop either, they ranged in frequency and at times came out of nowhere. On one particular day we were roller blading in South Beach and I was talking about something as we skated down Ocean Drive. Javier suddenly started screaming at me without warning “Shut the fuck up! You don’t stop talking! It just never ends! Shut the fuck up already!!!” I just wanted to cry when the shouting was done and I was convinced Javier’s outburst would be his last in my presence. This kind of irrational outburst was just too much… and frightening.
Something else began to happen at this time with Javier, it was just as the Internet began to blossom and video was now something easily attached to email messages. So it wasn’t uncommon to get messages from people you knew, with the most unusual kind of attachments in video format. Javier made his affinity for disturbing images and video well known at this time when one day I opened one of his attachments. The video showed a very handsome young man with perfect hair and eyes, looking into a web camera… I still remember how clear the image was. Suddenly the young man pulls a gun out, sticks the barrel in his mouth, and…
I stopped the video immediately. I knew what was going to happen next. I called up Javier and was extremely upset, telling him he couldn’t send me such graphic content. Javier started laughing hysterically, saying “Oh my god, did you see? He fucking blew his brains out! What the fuck was that?!” It seemed like once Javier knew this kind of imagery was a trigger for me, it only got worse. The images were horrific… one of them showing a picture of a soldier posing with a dead man that he had literally just shot his head off, like some kind of trophy. It was absolutely disgusting and I made the decision to never open an attachment from Javier again. But then phones gained the ability to start receiving photos as well.
I am an animal lover. I have spent years of my life volunteering and educating people about animals, I have donated money to animal causes, both of my dogs are rescues and the list goes on. For Javier this was yet another weak spot he could target, and I started receiving pictures of dead animals on my phone. Mutilated animals. Kittens run over by cars, dead opossums with live young still in their pouches… and it went on and on. My complaints fell on deaf years but at least I had some support. My new boyfriend was also an animal lover and a paramedic, and he had no problem telling Javier he was sick or mental, and he needed to seriously stop. He told me on several occasions he didn’t like Javier’s influence on me, however on one faithful night Javier came to his aide and they kind of bonded.
It was New Years Eve and I got seriously drunk at a gay bar. I couldn’t find my boyfriend or Javier, and it turned out they had left me at the bar to go get something at a Seven Eleven. I could barely walk and was incapacitated, and I couldn’t believe I had been left alone. In a drunk panic I sent some nasty texts to my boyfriend on his phone… they went along the lines of “You’re just like all the other men in my life leaving me…” I can’t be certain because I was inebriated at the time, but they were deeply hurtful to my also drunk boyfriend. Finally, Javier showed up with car and my boyfriend, and of course he would not stop yelling at me in regards to the texts. He was screaming in my ear and I couldn’t even open my eyes I was so drunk. I removed the cap from the bottle of water I had in my lap, and I squeezed it hard sending water across the cabin into Javier’s face. He was beyond angry and started spinning my car in circles, making me feel like I was going to puke all over. He was determined to make me feel as horrible as possible, screaming and swerving the car back and forth all the way to the Interstate.
The routine was always the same, go for the jugular and then withdraw saying “I was only kidding, I love you.”
The yelling continued through our friendship, even when picking me up from surgery and under the effects of antiesthetic. It was not unusual for Javier to mock me in front of others, embarrass me, or event suddenly burst out with “Oh here we go again! It’s all about Michael!” in the middle of a group conversation. I finally told Javier we were done as friends after an incident where we were going to a club with friends, and he said out of the blue “So help me if you get drunk again I’m going to kick your ass.” This had become a recurring thing to say, he was always going to kick my ass for something, and I was done with being publicly ridiculed. I ended the friendship and he called up my sister crying and crying, saying I wasn’t his friend anymore and how upset that made him. I felt guilty as all hell, and he agreed to stop what had turned into outright bullying.
My friendship with Javier got better after that, but only for a while. I met Eric nine years ago and all went great at first until we had our first falling out. I hadn’t slept for four days and Eric and I got into a heated argument. He called Javier up and ended staying with him for a few nights… that of course opened the door for heightened and continued attacks on my character, and finally my Spiritual practice. The routine was always the same, go for the jugular and then withdraw saying “I was only kidding, I love you.” This disgusting repetitive display not only continued in Eric’s presence, it started to become part of a game almost. Sometimes both Eric and Javier would engage in a tag team approach teasing me about everything from my Spirituality, to my desire to help others. As the years progressed, Javier also became increasingly racist and a supporter of hateful ideologies. It was a powder keg just waiting to explode. My feelings meant absolutely nothing since it was always “It’s just Javier being Javier. That’s just the way it is.” This was like a huge flashback for me. Being repeatedly told that something offensive and violating is to be “accepted“, is something that was repeated to me a child that suffered from sexual abuse at the hands of my father.
Yesterday I made my position clear and told Javier we weren’t to be friends any longer. His response was “I forgot I can’t joke with you.” Not “I’m so sorry I hurt you.” In fact, I was told time and time again that I’m “too sensitive” and that “I need to just let it go” every time I displayed any sign of anger towards Javier. The gaslighting is incredibly intense when you’re in any kind of an abusive relationship. You’re always made to believe that something must be wrong with you, or that the very feelings you’re experiencing are your fault because you allowed them to exist. It’s fucking amazing when you look back… and that’s something I was told repeatedly also “You always dig up the past..” People that are afraid of the truth and established patterns or behaviors will always use this as an excuse. You should forget about the past because well, the past doesn’t show them in a very positive light.
The most hurtful thing regarding abuse is something I learned as a child. When I brought up the sexual abuse I had experienced with my father to people outside the family… the hands down my pants, the words “You like this don’t you?” , the pure ugliness and evil associated with this action, I was met with downright anger and hostility. My family was enraged that I chose to disclose this activity with a social worker, and I was told “He has a big mouth” in front of the family attorney. No one likes it when you point out the ugly that’s been occurring, because it points a finger at the complacency of others. And so just as my family was angry at me for talking about my dad, my husband became angry at my decision to end my friendship with Javier. His complacency was in full view of everyone else, he couldn’t say he didn’t know about it because even as recently as my wedding dinner, Javier threatened me at the table “So help me Mike if you hurt Eric, I will kick your fucking ass.” He had repeated this twice to make sure I heard him and I intentionally ignored his words. Demonstrating his alliance and support with my significant others had become standard practice for Javier, it made himself look stronger and my position extremely weak. And this worked as planned as my husband had grown particularly fond of him.
I have some ideas why Javier is the way he is… and self loathing because of his sexuality is front and center. In the 25 years I have known him I have never intentionally met a member of his family. He’s incredibly close with his mom, dad and brothers and holds them in high regard, however he’s incredibly closeted. So much so that he kept me and Eric (and my ex) tucked away in a box, and if I ever joking and said something like “Tell your mom I said hello…” he would become enraged and say something like “Why did you have to go there? It is what it is Mike… go fuck yourself.” He seldom introduces me to any of his other friends either, I’m not sure why but I have probably only met a small handful of them. However most of my friends all know Javier and they have seen what he’s capable of. One friend in particular would warn others prior to his arrival at dinner what would probably go down, while another was Javier’s target behind the scenes. Javier found him particularly annoying mostly likely because he couldn’t get under his skin, and during a group trip to Disney Javier was shouted at me “I can get him deported with a single phone call Mike, I just pick up the phone and they’ll deport him.” My friend was in the country legally, however Javier’s occupation in Law Enforcement gave him the perception of omnipotence of some kind or another.
I asked Javier once to become FaceBook friends and he warned me in advance that it would be open season on me. I literally thought he was joking since he always says “I’m kidding Mike, you know I love you…” but he wasn’t. He would insert himself into threads of personal interest to me and make antagonistic comments, even sexuality explicit ones complete with eggplant emojis… threads that my former boss and relatives were participants. I had to eventually block him and he was pretty proud that he got me to the breaking point, even boasting about it. My partner Eric mentioned to him that it wasn’t nice of him, but as always people just expected Javier to be a social deviant and my feelings weren’t really of consequence.
Abuse is like a cancer. It grows so slowly and before you know it, it’s at stage 4. Just as no one wants to acknowledge your little chances for survival, no one wants to admit that someone they love has been subjected to repeated harassment, abuse, or bullying. Not only am I proud for standing up to Javier, it was also the ideal opportunity for my husband to demonstrate his love, support, and affection. And when that didn’t happen, I knew our time was up. The fact that my husband even had to talk to Javier before a recent vacation to make sure he didn’t act up in front of people at my request, emphasizes his level of awareness. Still, the emphasis was the same… it’s my problem for feeling that way, it’s my problem for looking at the historical evidence. Yet as anyone that’s reading this is probably thinking, “What took you so long?” I can tell you that when such a toxic person invades your inner circle, they will garner support for their behavior because the end effect is similar to when they’re humiliating you in public… the want to make you look bad and elevate themselves. I am SO BLESSED however that the vast majority of people that know Javier saw this coming, and have rallied to my side for support. Sadly, I couldn’t count my husband as one of them.
The exit out of an abusive situation is never easy, and often has unseen hurdles. The gaslighting and finger pointing are intense. But the important thing is that you eventually take the steps necessary to put your own self first, and that can be the hardest decision to make ever. I don’t know what’s going to happen now… I don’t see myself ever in a serious relationship again, because I repeat painful patterns and honestly I need to respect myself more. I’m 52 now and I shouldn’t be spending anymore time on others, when it’s obvious I need to work on myself. And that’s what an abusive situation seeks to accomplish… the irrelevance of your personal feelings and emotions. Not anymore, not ever again.