After living in a gas lighting situation, there are two ways things happen in my mind. One of them is the truth. The other is also the truth. The actual truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Gas lighting seeps into your soul, calling into question the validity of your own thoughts and memories. As a result, a lot of times you fracture and the memories fracture with you. The result looks something like this:
When I was a sophomore in high school, I took Spanish with Señora DiGiavanni. One spring day, we were taking a test during class. I sat on the far side of the room, test finished and turned over, gazing out the window across the room, when I hear a voice: “Fishburne, eyes on your own paper.”
This is where things split. In one story I am cheating. I am openly staring at the test of the girl next to me and trying to determine the answers. In it I am shamed by the teacher and try to mumble excuses to her, but my eyes still glance over, trying to copy Evelyn’s answers. In another story, I am finished with my test and staring out the window. When called up, I tell Señora that my test is finished and I was just staring. I bring my test up to her desk to prove it and tell her I have a hard time because my eyes and mind want to be outside so I perpetually stare in that direction. Part of my mind remembers the calm of staring out that window, the blue sky and green grass drawing me more than the lull of the classroom ever could. Part of my mind is fixated on someone else’s paper, trying to get the answers, but I can’t read them, can never read them.
She moves me to a different seat near the window the next day and nothing happens again.
When I was twenty-seven, I lost everything when a flood hit while driving in California. It was early March and my GPS put me on a road between two fields. I came up upon some water and my memory splits.
In the first memory, there is an inch of water and I proceed cautiously, wondering if I will have to back out or if it’s like this the whole way down. I make it three-quarters of the way down the road when my car suddenly rocks and water is all around me. My engine dies and I start to sob, grabbing my rain boots from behind my seat and opening my door to see what happened. Water starts flooding in and I close it, using the open window to climb in and out of my car over the next hour while I wait for someone to show up and find me.
In the second memory, I blow past a road closed sign. I see the water but believe I can just cowboy it through. It’s not that deep, I think, I have somewhere to be in a couple minutes. As I proceed, the water is higher and I am reckless, pushing my car ahead into the water closer and closer to dry land on the other side. I make it three-quarters of the way down the road when my car starts to go. I start screaming and cursing at this point, wild with adrenaline, praying, praying, praying my car and I will make it out alive. I pull hard to the right to avoid a tree trunk and my car stops, killed by the water. I grab my rain boots from behind my seat and open my door to see what happened. Water starts flooding in and I close it, using the open window to climb in and out of my car over the next hour while I wait for someone to show up and find me.
My car is totaled and I am stranded in waist high water.
Sometimes I think the truth is found somewhere between the stories we tell ourselves and the stories as they happen. The telling changes every time, memory changes every time, and in those tellings we have the opportunity to make ourselves better or worse than we truly are. When you have lived in a situation where the foundation of everything is constantly under attack, you develop certain tools to allow yourself to survive. Splitting yourself into two often is the easiest way to both float above and observe the situation while actively living it. Coming out on the other side, you have to pick a truth to believe in. The voices will always be in your head, questioning your actions and motives in the voice of your abuser, but you learn to silence them over time in favor of a truth that makes sense to you, that lifts you up and helps you to create a new foundation.
You survive and get to chose what truth is yours. Now don’t let them take it away from you again.