Back of the line is a new series of stories, written by our columnist Senator Lynn Ruane, from the back of the line…
“People who need support the most are often least likely to receive it. Whether that be health, housing or any other service. I have had hundreds of conversations over the twenty years in the addiction, homeless and community sector. I have used these conversations to inspire my writing. These stories are fictionalised to protect people’s identities. They are written in a way that helps the reader to walk alongside the person.
These stories contain references to mental health, addiction, sexual abuse, suicide and violence, so please read with caution – Lynn.”[restrict]
Sophie’s story, as told by Lynn Ruane, explores how coercive control doesn’t always look and feel the way you might expect, how it’s not always shouting and aggression, but can still destroy lives.
It didn’t matter how much Sophie* protested; all her friends insisted that she never gives people a chance. She felt an opportunity to let them in was an opportunity to ruin her.
“You are sceptical of everyone,” they insisted.
They were right, she was, and for the most part, she no longer trusted herself to pick a partner that wouldn’t hurt her. Every single one of them left her worse off than she was when she met them, not in a physical sense, but in terms of confidence, self-belief, and value.
In true Sophie style, she caved even in the knowledge that her low self-esteem always attracted the wrong type of people into her life. Sophie had a big personality; she was loud and believed herself to be a fighter. In the end, it was that fight in her that removed her from every bad situation she found herself in, so this would be no different.
He was a prominent accountant from a lovely country village. He had travelled the world and had a great way with words. A long way from the lives of the men she usually dated. Maybe just maybe her gut instinct was wrong and hurt was driving her motivation for keeping him at arms length.
Once Sophie made the decision to go on a date with him, she felt excited and just as quickly as she was about to dismiss him, she craved him. Sophie thought she existed in extremes, all or nothing, in or out, up or down, black or white. She either didn’t want a man, or she wanted him completely, and this fed the belief she held that she, in fact, was the problem. If only she knew how to exist in the middle of an event.
He knew so much, he spoke of sunsets in Peru, and on that very first date, he told her all about stars. She never had anyone hold her hand before, either. It was so new to her that she was a little embarrassed when he first reached for her hand as they left a small corner pub in the city.
Sophie sat across the bar from him, slightly shy but performing confidence as he spoke of the Southern Cross and the universe. He said of how one day soon he would show her the stars in the sky back at home. This gave her a buzz as she hated the unknown, and he was already talking about overnight stays back home. He broke her train of thought as he repeated in a sterner tone. “You miss out here in Dublin, you barely get to see the stars.” Was she distracted? Or was he intense? She wasn’t sure. He was different.
He told her all about what life is and what life should be and that they together would know what living really was. One day as they lay on the damp grass of a frosty Dublin hill, he placed his hand on her heart. He said “let’s find all the ways that we can be closer together. The more we heal from everything that came before our partnership, the more in sync the beats of our hearts will become”. He placed her hands on his heart.
She looked in his eyes and in her silence and stare was a yes, yes she will be his and him hers. Not quite sure what it all means, Sophie instantly accepts that he is worldly and this man is tapped into a beat of the world that she hasn’t experienced yet. But she wants whatever it is he is offering, this great concept of life and love and all that can exist in a moment. She likes it, he sees that she wants peace, he knows how to sell that.
One weekend in particular as they drove home, Sophie said to him that she needed to be home by noon. She had an appointment, and it was crucial to her job that she be there. He nodded his head in agreement as he turned the car off the motorway and headed for Newgrange.
Sophie reminded him what she just said.
“I don’t think we have time; I have to get to Dublin.”
He nodded “yes, I heard you.” He went off with a string of sentences about the Winter Solstice. “Connect with your origins, you know nothing of our pagan roots. There is nothing in Dublin more important than Newgrange today, the day of the invincible sun”.
Sophie wanted to push back; the speed of the car increased with his belief in the necessity of showing her the sun. “The light travels through a passage and into a chamber, and today is the only day you can witness it. Share in that with me, Sophie,” he insisted. “Work can wait, I thought we spoke about buying into the artificial need of man-made capitalism, I thought we decided that. When the earth calls, we come.”
Sophie noticed how his voice changed when he was making an alternative decision to the one they agreed, it had an insistence to it. Not only his voice but his eyes. Sunflowers blossomed in his eyes with the pupil serving as the inflorescence of the sunflower. It was quite haunting how the colours of his eyes changed.
The first time she noticed this striking eye colour, she went online and learned it was known as Kayser-Fleischer rings. She wondered why they appeared when he became somewhat exercised about something. These weren’t the only things she googled, in fact, her search bar now offered her questions like ‘how to know if your boyfriend is a narcissist’.
There were minimal pauses between his words which made it difficult to intervene.
“Brú na Bóinne Sophie, I am virile, and you are fertile. Come on Sophie, Newgrange is the womb of the moon, and I am going to take you through its passage, there is nothing in Dublin as magical as today in Newgrange.”
The speed of the car and the certainty in his voice that we must visit Newgrange made Sophie afraid to push back, mostly while the vehicle was in motion. Before Sophie knew it, it was 11.30am, and she was in a tunnel with a man waiting on a beam of light that wasn’t due until the evening.
“Sophie, your anger issues are a real problem, you haven’t said a word since we got here.”
This wasn’t the first time Sophie found herself somewhere with him that she did not want to be. As Sophie began to raise her voice and demand to go Dublin, he quite calmly, as always, told her she was aggressive and ungrateful.
“This is your history, this place is 600 years old, you haven’t a clue about life, fucking stupid jackeen”.
Sophie hated that he never shouted, because she did, and somehow that made her question whether he was right. She must be aggressive. After all, he just wanted to share the Winter Solstice with her. Something Sophie could never quite figure out though was how he always remembered these situations differently. He still managed to convince her that it didn’t happen exactly how she remembered it happening.
She was full of fear and him full of conviction.
She couldn’t believe this was the outcome of ignoring every single sign that flashed in front of her eyes for months. How presumptuous he was on that very first date, that she would be here staring at the sky. How silly she was to not see this as a red flag. Sophie berated herself for being so desperate for love that she succumbed to his grand gestures of togetherness.
Outside she could hear him crying as he sat on the top step of his wooden stairway. Sophie swayed between fear and pity. As she stood back to the door, she stared out at the dark countryside. She never had experienced darkness like it, the absence of street lamps and light pollution created a shade of black she wasn’t used to. An escape made all the more difficult by unlit country bends and ditches. Sophie resigned to the fact that she would either need to jump out the window and hope for the best on a terrain she didn’t know, or face him.
With a hurl in one hand, she opened the bedroom door with the other and slowly shuffled towards him. Bending down to pick him up, she looked him in the eyes and saw pain and fear that hadn’t been present for weeks. In a much softer, more defeated tone, he said.
“Please don’t leave me.”
At that moment, she sensed it might be safe to drop the hurl, but she carefully placed it closer to her own reach than his. She held him tightly, sympathetically and softly told him:
“You need help, but I can’t be part of this with you, you are making me ill, you are an emotional vampire, I am now empty of whatever it is, you have been taking from me”.
He looked at her like a vulnerable kitten that would never hurt her. Sophie knew now that manipulation was his talent and Google was indeed right, her boyfriend was a narcissist. She was his latest source of meaning, adoration and importance.
“Her? That Sophie one. She is a psycho bitch. Came at me with a hurl, she has serious issues that one.”
They all nod in agreement.
Lucky escape if you ask us, his friends say.