Survivor Stories, Guest Post. Final Girl, Part 2

Thank you for reading part two of Final Girl’s three part series. If you missed the first one, you can find it here. *At the bottom of this post, I have linked to an article if you’re interested in reading further about the psychological effects of lying.

On Invisible Bruises:
Part II: The Lies

There are the names he called me.  And then there are the lies he told.
The two of us—we’re street artists.  We have our waking lives, and then we have our painter lives: nights when we load our cars with spray paint, caps, stencils cut from cardboard, posters rolled into tubes; nights when we creep to the lonely shed or the abandoned bar or the alley of broken bricks; nights when we wait until the coast is clear and we create in darkness the pieces nobody wants in day.
We have our identities, then we have our painter identities.  We have separate names for the art we make.  Personas.  Mine is the survivor: Final Girl.  I paint female detectives with flashlights, women praying, women crawling over glass.  His persona is the predator.  He paints girls in trouble: half-naked, bound and gagged.
The first mask he showed to me was charming.  Loving things came from his smiling mouth.  I was his dream girl; I was perfect.  He wore his sunglasses inside so he could stare at me at restaurants.  He wrote a note swearing to be my faithful partner until he died. 
We had an immediate connection made more intense, more urgent, by our secret: We did graffiti. A street artist couple.  We painted together; helped each other; shared tips, books, knives.  He held the stencil while I sprayed the paint.  He cut the text while I cut the figure.  We worked side by side, sometimes all night.  Our secret gave our relationship a hope of forever. It felt like fate.  It was such a great story.
How did it change? 
He took a phone call in front of me from a girl.  The girl was a teenage prostitute, a heroin addict in prison.  He told me he was just helping her.
He lied. 
He looked me in the eyes and lied.  He listened to my worry and lied. He lied by omission.  He lied with vagueness.  He lied with distortion.  He lashed out and lied.  
Because it wasn’t enough to lie, he had to make me doubt my judgment, perceptions, and memory; what I had seen and heard; what I knewin my bones to be true (he had paid the prostitute for sexual favors; was still paying her every month; and getting love letters from her; and taking her jailhouse phone calls, sometimes nine in one night; and calling her baby, sweetheart, promising love).  To protect himself he preyed on me.
The discrediting began, the little cracks that started to crack me.  He vilified me.  He called me judgmental, paranoid. He said it was all in my head.  He said I must be imagining things.  He made me apologize.  He made me feel shame for the shameful thing he had done.
I knew what he was doing, though I didn’t want to believe it.  I had seen it before.
On television.
In the 1944 film Gaslight, Ingrid Bergman plays an heiress emotionally tortured by her new husband.  In order to get her fortune for himself, her husband decides to have her committed to a mental institution.  There’s just one problem: She’s not insane. 
No matter.  He will make her believe she is.  He steals things and plants them in her purse, to convince her she’s a kleptomaniac.  He walks around in the attic at night, then says he doesn’t hear any footsteps.  And he turns the gaslights down, then swears to her they’re not flickering.
He tells her it’s all in her head.  He tells her she must be imagining things. He tells her she’s sick.
Psychologists use the term gaslighting to describe the emotional abuse where victims are manipulated into questioning reality.  It’s a way to control.  It’s way to dominate.
And it’s bullshit.

In the film, it takes another man, a police inspector, witnessing the wavering lights to convince the woman it’s not in her head. In my life, it took a home video: seeing the man I trusted, the man I thought I knew, the man who was supposed to be my faithful partner, fondling a teen prostitute.  I doubted my head and heart—but I had to trust my own eyes.
The lights are indeed flickering.  He did buy a young girl.  He did lie.  And lie. 
And I’m not okay.
A year of gaslighting, lies and insults and attempts to discredit my experience, to deny me reality—and I am not okay.  Not yet. It’s difficult to know what is real.  Sometimes I feel like the world is cracking.  I flinch if someone says: Trust me.
I have to focus on what I know to be true. 
I know how to shake the paint.  I know how to guide the knife.  I know how to make a shadow.  I know how to hold a stencil straight.  I know how to clear a cap.  I know how to hide my face.  I know the best times to do art.  I know the alleys where no one goes.  I know one-ply is best.  I know posters stick to metal.  I know when to switch the blades.  I know the formula for paste.  I know to make bridges.  I know throw-ups, and tags, and bombing, and pieces. 
I know what I am: a graf girl, a graf girl for life, a graf girl always, a graf girl even without the man who wanted to tattoo his painter name on my hip with letters he had cut himself, a graf girl alone.  I know who I am.

And I have to believe her. 

Final Girl is an Appalachian street artist.  Her essays have been published in Hillbilly Speaks and Bending Genre, and her art appears in many secret spaces.  You can see more examples of her work at https://www.facebook.com/Finalgirlart 


*For further reading about the damage done by persistent lying, I recommend the article, Great Betrayals in the New York Times. 
An excerpt from the article:  “Our culture may embrace the redeemed sinner, but the person victimized — not so much. Lack of control over their destiny makes people queasy. Friends often unconsciously blame the victim, asking whether the betrayed person really “knew at some level” what was going on and had just been “in denial” about it. But the betrayed are usually as savvy as the rest of us.'”

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