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Sin Number Three: When I’m Under Pressure, My Moral Compass Breaks

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This has most recently become evident this afternoon, when playing video games with the boyfriend-thing (or more,me playing Portal, him patiently giving hints when I sat and stared blankly at the screen for too long). It was all good fun until the very end of the game, where there is a timer and many tasks to be completed within five minutes. I got angry and stopped enjoying myself. I lost my sense of humour. I mashed buttons and when I did things by mistake that lost me time I quite seriously shouted at the screen “I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT.”

I sensed him becoming unnerved by this sudden change in personality. Only the week before I had told him, offhand, that I don’t take anything seriously. And on the surface, I don’t. I get caught in the rain, I don’t care, I enjoy running home in it. My plans fuck up, no big deal, I’ll find a way around it. Someone insults me on the bus, I smile and blow them a kiss. It’s all fine in my world. That’s how I guess he sees me, how I guess a lot of people see me, and I suppose most of the time it’s how I actually am.

However, put a time limit on me, or some other kind of pressure – you have to clean this room in five minutes, you have to finish this argument by at the latest 4am so you can get at least three hours of sleep before school – and I move through several destructive phases of anger. The first is plain old anger. Swearing, shouting, but still human and reasonable. This happens pretty quickly as soon as I am faced with either a time limit that the task I have been set appears impossible to complete within, or when someone is presenting some obstacle to my comfort and my reasoning doesn’t appear to be moving them. The next stage is catatonic, apathetic anger. This is the anger where I’ll just go silent and let everything slide. In terms of the impossible activity, this is where I give up, allowing myself to return to a state of calm within a few minutes. In terms of the argument, this is where I stop arguing. If the other person tries to continue the argument, this is where the third stage of anger comes in, the one that worries me the most. This is the anger where I completely lose my shit. I remember everything afterwards, I have a vague sense of what it feels like, but I’m sure as hell not myself during it. I scream, I throw things, I launch myself at people with intent to cause damage, I hurt myself, and in the later stages I crawl under furniture or bed covers and lie whining like an animal, just wanting the problem (usually, the person) to go away.

I’ll give a case study. I was living in a bedsit with my ex, for reasons I won’t go into. It was tiny, there was no hot water, our neighbors were drug dealers, it was winter. I had college the next morning. In the evening, my boyfriend had decided he wasn’t hungry because he felt ill, and he didn’t want to get anything to put in the fridge for later, he’d just have some of my food. So I went out and got something to eat – something fast food, I think at that point we were on a 7-Days-A-Week Subway binge, so I’d have come back with a sandwich and possibly some nachos. This would have been soon after I got back from college, so maybe 6pm. After that we probably had sex a few times, I did some homework, and we wound down to go to bed – a double mattress in the middle of the one room excepting the bathroom, that took up about half the floorspace.

At about 1am, as I was dozing in and out of sleep and my boyfriend was browsing the internet (he’d often stay up a few hours later than me on the laptop, because he had no job or school to go to in the mornings, and would often sleep until I got back from college), he put his hand on my shoulder and told me he wanted to go out and get food. I accepted this and closed my eyes again. There was a fried chicken place just around the corner at the end of our road that opened until 4am most nights. The food was shitty but cheap and substantial, and they knew us there. My boyfriend shook me awake. He didn’t want to go on his own. I had college in the morning, I was already halfway to sleep, and it was either below or hovering around the line of freezing outside – the snow kept icing over at night and turning the cobbled road outside the house that our flat was part of into a deathtrap. I mumbled all of this and turned back over. He told me to sit up. He didn’t want to go out there alone, but he was hungry. Would I rather he lay awake hungry until morning?

I realised he was really serious about this. Stage one, bog-standard anger, began to brew.

There were biscuits in the cupboard, bread, cereal, some fruit in the fridge. Didn’t he want any of that? No, he wanted a proper meal, any of that would just leave him hungry. This was almost a sensible argument. He ate twice as much as me, but I ate twice as fast, meaning that often we would get the same sized portions and my plate would become a shared one, and when I became full he would be eating off of two plates. No, he had to have a meal, three chicken pieces and a large portion of fries, and a can of Pepsi. He pulled me into an upright position in bed and told me to put on my coat and boots. I was still too sleepy to fully express the anger that was prickling through me, so I sat there and swayed for a moment, staring at him with unfocused eyes – I distinctly remember him with a hand on each of my shoulders, half of his face illuminated by the computer screen, only I remember seeing two or three of him. He told me to wake up again, told me I’d need my boots, that the snow would have iced over.

Bless him, he wasn’t, and isn’t, a bad guy, but when he calls me self-centred to the point of sociopathy he displays little self-awareness.

When he got up and started putting on layers of clothing I slumped back down into the bed. The next few minutes of the argument were conducted with me lying there, sat up but still wrapped in duvet when I gained enough energy to shout, and him stood by the door, which was about a foot to the right of my head, fully dressed with the keys in his hand. At one point I almost gave in and he pulled me to my feet, but I was blatantly too tired to do much else but lean against the wall. The late nights were a regular thing, even when I wasn’t being consciously woken up. I can only sleep in a pitch dark room, and he can only sleep if there is a light source, so even when he settled down for the night I was constantly aware of my surroundings, on the edge of true sleep. The main light had been turned on by this point, in an effort to wake me up. It only made my eyes hurt and my head spin. I collapsed back onto the mattress and was accused of being a drama queen.

Pretty soon I was in the catatonic anger stage. In this situation, though, this didn’t default to a win for my opponent, therefore he continued to try to get me out of bed. All I had the energy for at this point was to lie there and quietly implore that he go on his own. All he had to be afraid of was ice and drunks. He was a big guy, he had nothing to be afraid of, he just had to walk as purposefully as possible on the frictionless pavement and he’d be fine. By this point, though, I don’t think my boyfriend cared so much about the idea of walking to the end of the road and back on his own. I don’t think he even cared so much about food, as it progressed. It was the principle – that I wouldn’t give up something as trivial as sleep so that he could eat, that I wouldn’t make the effort to just man up, put on a couple of jumpers and a scarf and my coat and tuck my (his) pyjama pants into my Doc Martens and just go with him – that was truly awful and worth fighting all night for.

The next stage probably began when I slid all the way under the duvet while he was still talking to me. He tried to wrench in off me and I clung to it as if it was the only thing I had left in the world, wrapped it around me like a cocoon, and when he tried to unwrap me I started screaming. This was when verbal communication was abandoned and all I felt I had left to demonstrate my point with was noise and movement – when my fight or flight mechanism kicked in, but in a room the size of some of the smaller, cheaper hotel rooms you may have stayed in, with just as many exits, there isn’t much of a chance of flight. Once he’d peeled me out from within the covers I grabbed his shoulders, shook him, and screamed in his face. He did the same in return, rocking forwards and pinning me to the bed. I threw him off me and tried to get up, and he must have pulled me back – I remember him telling me not to dare to go shutting myself in the bathroom, my preferred method of returning myself to sanity during a fight, and the only way I would have complied with that wish at that point would have been if he prevented me by force. I found myself face to face with him again, his hands gripping my wrists, and I twisted them, freeing my arms up to drag my stubby nails down his arms, leaving welts that took a few hours to fade, and striking him in the face. I can’t say slapped or punched, because I didn’t try for either of these – my hand travelled in the direction of his face and made contact.

If there’s anyone you shouldn’t hit, it’s him. Not for fear of retaliation – except the grudge he will hold, although merited, will bite you in the arse in every single future interaction with him. It’s because he won’t retaliate. He’s too Good for that. When I hit him I suppose I looked even more surprised than him. He took hold of my wrists again, this time without meeting a fight, and told me quietly and calmly that I should never hit him. He ended up getting food on his own, in the minutes leading up to 4am. I missed college the next day, calling in sick but moving onto a disciplinary stage two anyway, because once your attendance falls below 85% you’re a cause for concern. I’d been sick quite a few times that term, either from the conditions in the flat, regular old bugs, giving myself food poisoning with my bad cooking or just unpleasant and weird circumstances that you can’t really explain to the college, like arguing with your boyfriend for so long the night before that it made you physically and psychologically exhausted.

I think that was the first time I hit him. There were a few times, but only so many as I could count them on one hand. I lean towards two actual strikes in the face, and a couple more general attacks and scratches – even the last night of the idyllic reunion we had for a week in April, we had a bad, sleep-depriving fight, and I flew at him and did something to his arms, possibly just chinese burns, maybe scratches, I can’t remember.

When I saw new-boyfriend-thing give those sideways glances at me as I became so incensed at a video game, something germinated in me. I now feel the need to warn him about this side of me, but what do I say? “Just so you know, I hit my last boyfriend a couple of times, so it’s a risk if I get angry that I’ll hit you too”? “It’s a bit of a long shot, but I’d recommend always letting me get what I want, when I want it, because otherwise I can get really violent, so, yeah, just so you know”? The one I settled for, while I was playing, was to turn to him and look him in the face and apologise for how I was acting, and say “I get really angry under pressure”. I could practically see him already picturing the furniture-throwing she-hulk I could turn into in a conflict. It didn’t feel good. I want to be lovely for him. He has me for the summer – hell, maybe even just until the middle of August. We are never going to be forced into a small room for long periods of time together. He is never going to ask me to do anything that would inconvenience me. Hell, he’s even uncomfortable with me giving him head without him repaying me in turn because it makes him feel selfish and guilty. I’m not likely to be pulled out of bed to go on a jaunt in the early hours when I need my sleep. I’m not even likely to have to pour my own drinks. (I have a policy of splitting the cost of dates, though. I’ve developed what I hope will be a lifelong phobia of being or appearing financially dependent on a romantic partner of any kind). I never want him to see me when I’m pushed into a corner and I start to act like an animal, because I never want him to be the recipient of that.

It might say something that I have a pragmatic remorse but not much actual emotion for the physical pain I have caused the man I claim to love, but find the idea of so much as raising my voice at the man I have simple affection and physical attraction to abhorrent. It either says that I’m lying to myself, or, more palatably, it says I’m attempting to learn from my mistakes.

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