What the Critics Said About my Poet Ex-Boyfriend Mirrored his Abusive Personality

by Michelle Hoppe

        The critic has this to say about my ex,

"There are two things going on simultaneously in XXXXX’s poems-- a mix of awkwardness and grace--the absentminded poet stepping on the toes of the goddess, and then apologizing, while his music plays on. The presentation of self is all periphery and sidelong glance and teetering at the edge, and tension--but with a bounce that keeps it all afloat."

        And he’s perfectly described an abusive personality. Idealization of the goddess, and devaluation of the self, but then it flips. Apologizing? For what exactly? I think they both know. “The presentation of self is all periphery . . .” Because XXXXX didn’t exist as a fully developed self. He carried so much hate inside that he had to let it out, and, when he could not let it out on the page anymore he let it out on women. He wrote about them as goddesses, which they are not, and which always leads to devaluation. Words gave him away. If only I had read him before I met him. If only he were actually famous like he claimed. If only I had called the police sooner. If only I had kept the bloody sheets. If only . . . If only poets judged poets the way I judge myself. If only this critic I have never heard of before saw him like I did. Who would I be able to be then? Our greatest critics do not write us. They live us.

        The critic continues,

"These poems are always on the verge--and then (at some point) they explode, like fireworks, in a shower of sparks. He’s been in some odd places, seen things no one else I know has seen, stepped back from and entered into experiences that required more than a share of providence to survive. His poems are just like him--shy and flirty without being coy. He manages to give it all away every time."

        He was words. His words were him.

        His friend lunged from a window and died, and XXXXX thought it was all murder and drugs and conspiracy. XXXXX took a knife to his wrists and let the blood make splatters across a wall, because, as he said, “I would have died at the height of my fame.” He said he knew he’d always be remembered if he died that way.

        It’s not so hard to write a poem. All one has to do is be.

He burned into my limbic system

fear and loathing, black swan, all the things

we wish we could forget.

        The first poem I ever wrote went like this. I wrote it in the second grade. It was called “The Daisy,”

The daisy is very beautiful.

It attracts bees.

I like its white petals.

I see it wave in the breeze.

Its seeds float in the air,

And I don’t really care.

        He was a famous poet for a minute to a woman who knew nothing of poetry, who cared nothing for poetry. I told him never to write about me. He thought that was romantic. I thought it was self-preservation. He said in NYC there were fans, women in bars with breasts hanging out, women desperate for attention, women he hated, that would come up to drunk him and ask, “When are you going to write about me?” He said he didn’t like it. He said conservative, shy, reserved, academic, and Mormon me was what he wanted. He said many things that were completely insane. I didn’t know. My only experience with sex was with a kind South African man in South Korea who wanted to wait till marriage.

        My only experience with NYC culture was my trip there with my Mormon father to see The Lion King, which he thought was far too sexualized. My sex education was fragmented so much that I didn’t know it was rape until I escaped him. Truthfully, I had been conditioned to think that having sex was the same as giving away my power as a woman. That my virginity was a commodity to be prized, and when that was gone I felt helpless. I couldn’t tell my parents, who still don’t understand why I did not tell them.

There aren’t a lot of stories in the media from conservative rape victims, because we’re not supposed to say anything. It’s so shameful. But, make no mistake about it, there are many, many conservative rape victims. Maybe this pervasive lack of empathy will end when they see their own daughters as victims, a friend said. But I don’t think so. These organizations are run by perpetrators.  It was devastating to realize the liberal media was as well.

        My family ran the Mormon church and parts of the Republican Party. I was already shamed for leaving the church. Rape was a whole other level. I knew that if I said I was raped on the other side of Mormonism that it would justify the system to them. That my leaving would be met with, “Aha! See what happens when you leave?! Told you so.”

        To my knowledge, that poet doesn’t write anymore. He isn’t. I am. I am still here. He was, truly, always about to explode, then he’d play innocent, and the game would continue. He knew nothing else. He bled and breathed the abuse cycle. He was a terror. He was a terrorist. I was a virgin. He was a serial rapist. He said, “Do you want to talk to the eight virgins I slept with in high school?”  

        Virgin naivety was his thing. That was his sexual predatory wheelhouse. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Shit happens,” my therapist said. Somehow, not overanalyzing it, not thinking it could have been prevented, not thinking I was destined to be a victim forever, that it was happenstance, that I did nothing wrong, helped. Shit happened. He did give it all away in the end. Every time he revealed more and more of his violent self. And I became more terrified, paralyzed, and submissive.

        I am lucky to be alive let alone write. For months, I could not read without having a flashback. I lost my ability to form coherent sentences. I lost my words after him. Little by little, I wrote incomprehensible letters to friends, to myself, and to anyone who would listen. I wrote,

“Oh, Me Too”

Only poems

Make them believe

I mean so much more

Than what is right here

On this binary world

Of good writing and bad.

        I wrote “bad” poems. I wrote “good” essays. I refused to let violence steal the love of language from my life. I was still alive, and I just thought someone, even if it had to be myself, should have let me know as much.

About the Author

Michelle Renee Hoppe holds a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University, where she edited two literary publications. She is an MSED candidate in special education at City College. Her work has appeared in The Write Launch, Prometheus Dreaming, Name Calling, and Leading Edge. She is the Founder of Capable, a publication dedicated to stories of disability and illness.