This was not The Rant (Chapter II) I was planning, but it’s leapt to the fore over the past few days.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have been a coward.
It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s the truth, and I will not deny it.
That I know more now, and more things have happened to demonstrate the reasons I was initially uneasy before, doesn’t change that. I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak up sooner, and it’s why I’m not going to back down now.
This is going to be a long thread; there is no tl;dr summary, save for that above this point. That’s because from here on out, I’m going to talk about why.
People who follow along with what I talk about likely have a basic understanding that I’ve been through some shit over the years. This is one of those things.
I’m a pretty solitary person, an only-child introvert, grew up in a neighborhood with almost no other children, small and bullied at school into isolation until high school. You probably didn’t know me, but you knew a me, or maybe you even were a me.
Even if you didn’t, and that’s all as alien to you as something from Star Wars, it isn’t hard to understand why it would be rare and precious to find a community in which it was possible to be comfortable, to make good friends, and co-create pointless things with like-minded oddballs.
And to do it for over 20 years.
It’s hard to write this out. It is easier to dive into the proverbial bunker after freaking all the way out than it is to tell the story, because there’s no not crying about it, and I’m already beyond frustrated with myself about the number of tears spent to that end.
I’m just not that person to cry, either. I learned not to when I was very small, because it brings sincere pleasure to the absolute worst people.
So, this is hard, but hard or not, it’s also important.
Someone I had trusted — and believed in, and missed a lot of red flags of paranoia and narcissism and cruelty in — decided I was the bad guy the moment she saw me as something other than a yes-person who would never question her.
All it took was one disagreement, after about three years. That’s it.
It wasn’t hostile in any way. I tripped blindly over a well-hidden landmine, immediately apologized, asked what I could do to fix it. Didn’t matter.
She pretended it was fine. Everything was perfectly normal! S’all good!
Except it wasn’t.
People I’d been friendly with stopped saying hello, at first. Found reasons to avoid me. I didn’t even notice at first that it began with the other people closest to her, but it was too late by the time I did.
I started to think about the things she’d said about others over the time I’d known her — things I had blindly believed about the people she talked about, since she knew so many more people than I did. It didn’t seem like salacious gossip at the time, because every bit of it was couched in concerns about their ethics, their motives, what odd connections they might have and what influence they might be attempting to exert on me or others.
By the time word started to filter back, slowly, of the claims being made about me all of a sudden, I was horrified.
I had trusted her.
It hurt to know she’d not only share private things that also impacted other innocent people, but beyond that, make up entirely new ones, along with the kind of nasty assertions she’d made about so many others to me over time about why this, why that.
It hurt, but that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was realizing that — just as people who didn’t really know me believed the things she was saying about me — I had believed her when she told me similar things about people I didn’t really know.
And I had acted on it. I had internalized those nasty whispers as the truth about those people, and it took the same being weaponized against me to wake up to the actual truth: that was all bullshit, too.
The guilt was much worse than the hurt.
I had a lot of atoning to do, and a hell of a lot of apologies to make.
I made a public statement to the community without naming the person who had filled my head with poison, and listed the people I had wronged, letting them know I was sincerely sorry, and they could contact me privately if they wanted to know what was up, but I wasn’t going to name the person, though some folks guessed anyway.
Some did reach out, and I’m still grateful for that. I had no reason to expect a moment of their time or patience, and especially not their forgiveness.
Plenty of people still believed her nonsense anyway, because a tasty, exciting story is always more fun and memorable than a blandly sad reality. No fixing that universal truth, I guess.
And instead of playing the same game she had back at her, which I gather she’d expected, I had fallen on my sword.
Instead of ending it, it just got worse.
It was invisible at first. About three months before the outlandish accusations started.
I’d gone on with my life, having learned one hell of a lesson about saying anything about anyone to anybody else ever, and was keeping my head down in a very small circle of friends, trying to stay out of everybody’s way and be a good community citizen, so it seemed like it came from out of nowhere.
The lies had already taken hold before I knew anything about them. The claims made? It would have been impossible for me to do.
Other things — like asking a friend if I was being unreasonable feeling uncomfortable that someone seemed to be exploiting a kink of theirs at my expense without consent — was suddenly ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘trying to humiliate some innocent stranger’. (An innocent stranger who had never been named, and could never be identified.)
The same long time friend who had asked me to go easy on him in debate due to a personal struggle suddenly turned and insisted I spread around everyone’s personal business not a week later on her word so viciously I spent a lot of time in tears, all the while hoping he’d realize that if I was the person he kept screaming to the world I was, everyone would know about that personal struggle. I’ve never told a soul, to this day.
There are endless examples like this. Things people should be able to simply think about for just a moment and realize: “How could it even be like that at all?” (Nobody really does.)
It became increasingly impossible to do or say anything, or engage in any way with the community, the longer this went on, until I ultimately left.
It’s been about a year since then. It’s still raw. It had been an enormous part of my life for almost half of it, and I’m not young.
The loss is real, attempting to fight it would make Sisyphus flip a whole flock of birds and go back to his rock, and the bad guys won.
And that’s that.
The two friends I have still in that community miss me. I love them like family. They can’t ask me to come back without triggering a full-blown panic attack even so. I feel guilty about that, too. It’s not their fault.
I am terrified of it happening again.
There is a reason I encourage people to communicate openly and honestly, especially if they have concerns, and this is why. Head this shit off at the pass, folks; I’m literally begging you.
I am terrified because I absolutely see it happening again, with a newer group of newer friends, a newer community, but people I’ve come to care about all the same.
I am seeing a number of her. I am seeing a number of me.
I’ve had a wretched case of Cassandra Syndrome since it began; I see where this is going far too clearly, and no one is listening when I ask them to turn back, stop, or even pause to really think.
That’s why I’m scared. It’s the same reason I’m not running, this time.