For months now, you have swung violently between demanding friendship, and demanding distance. You have threatened me with homelessness, and poverty. With truths and lies and legal action. You have tried to silence me, and tried to make me speak. You have raged against me, like a cyclone. You have invaded my privacy and undermined my friendships. You have tried to build allegiances against me with my family and friends.
Last night you created a new online identity and, for an hour unrestrained, scoured my Instagram account for evidence. Of what, exactly, remains unclear. You ‘liked’ photographs of my coffee machine, a glass of wine, Sunday Brunch. Things that, at another time, we might have agreed were good or beautiful or fine.
Then you moved on, and ‘liked’ a slew of my lover’s photographs. Then hashtagged them #liarsandhypocrites and made aggressive, nasty comments. On our alphabetised bookcase, on our Sunday Brunch. On the date of our six-month anniversary, and the gift I gave her to mark it.
Did you think I would give up books and brunches after we were over? Did you think I would throw away everything we’d shared, everything you gave me? Everything I loved before we even met?
Later, after we had both blocked and reported you, my lover wrote and asked you to leave us alone. You replied (Don’t threaten me, puppet), furious that she had quoted some of the things you once said to your lover. The woman with whom you had an affair. Instructions. Demands. Confessions. Seductions. The truth, according to the old cliché, will set you free. But the truth can also a weapon. One you are unused to having turned against you.
Today, an old friend posted a piece on her blog about the attempts of her ex and his lover to silence her. In particular, to silence her speaking out about their affair. They are not us, and their story is not ours, but there was a great deal I recognised in her story. So much that resonated.
I’ve long struggled with this idea: how is it that speaking about an act is worse than the act itself?
I think you were angry with me for feeling upset that you slept with my husband, destroyed my family, and demolished the vision I had for my children’s lives. I think you were mad that I dared to reveal to others the things you’d done, to show the words you’d written to me. And I think this rage led you to want to punish me, to put me in my place, to silence me.
And I thought:
I’ve long struggled with this idea: how is it that my moving on after you had an affair is worse than you having had an affair?
I think you are angry at me for feeling upset that you had an affair that finally, after years of struggle and strife, ended our relationship. I think you are angry with me for moving on. For daring to love another. I think you are angry with me because, despite the fact that during our relationship neither of us was perfect – I was far from perfect – the way it ended reflects poorly on you. I think you are afraid of being revealed as someone who cheated on your partner, multiple times. I think you are afraid of what I know, of the truths I might reveal about you. Just as I am frightened of the ways you might use your stories – our stories, my stories – to hurt me. I think your rage and fear lead you to want to (continue to) control me, punish me, shame me. Silence me.
I have forgiven you for the things you did that hurt me. I have forgiven myself, too, for the mistakes of my past. I am striving to live in the present, and to look towards the future. To do better at living well. To learn from the mistakes I’ve made; but also, to refuse to be defined by them.
In 1872 Mary Ann Pitzker wrote a poem titled ‘Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?’ Perhaps you’ve seen it, since it has been doing the rounds of the internet, misattributed as a Buddhist sutra (prefaced by: If you propose to speak, ask yourself this ...). It’s a concise and useful summary of three of the four or five guidelines for speech in Buddhist teaching, which are that speech should be: true, kind, helpful, conducive to harmony, and (and this is sometimes omitted) spoken at the right time.
I will not be silenced. But I will strive to abide by these five precepts. To hold my tongue/quill when doing so is a good and necessary thing. A loving act, that issues out of respect for others, and for msyelf.
But I will also refuse to be silenced, especially when keeping silent does more harm than good.
My friend included an image with her post. In it, the woman’s mouth is taped shut, but she is holding a quill. Her eyes address the reader with determination: a refusal to keep silent at your insistence.
She cannot speak, but she can write.
She is writing.