Note: By asking people to sit down and interview with me, they have to be willing to be a little vulnerable. Here, I’m taking a turn—if I ask people to open up to me, I have to be able to do it myself.
Anyone who knows me knows that I can be considered a comic-book nerd. It’s essentially public record, given my propensity for excited Facebook statuses regarding new Marvel films and my easily prompted rant about the reasons Batman is the greatest superhero.
When I settled in on Saturday to watch the newest product of Marvel’s partnership with Netflix, Jessica Jones, I was incredibly eager to see how the superhero-turned-private-investigator would be portrayed. The partnership’s first effort, Daredevil, was gritty and exciting to watch (though it felt a bit too heavy in the later episodes). I also am a huge fan of Krysten Ritter, stemming from her appearances in Gilmore Girls and her tragic role in Breaking Bad (and don’t get me started about the incredibly under-appreciated Don’t trust the B*tch in Apartment 23).
I watched all thirteen episodes over a period of 24 hours.
I hadn’t really intended to binge-watch the entire series. I tend to watch television more as something to have on while I perform other tasks—cooking, cleaning, even working on the rare (…maybe) occasions that I bring my work home.
Then the first episode grabbed me and took me somewhere I had not expected to go. I related to Jessica on a level beyond appreciating her strength and witty repartee with other characters. I understood what she was going through.
To explain this, I will have to give a little backstory into the show/the character of Jessica Jones.
Jessica Jones was introduced in a series of comics known as Alias. She’s a private investigator who just so happens to also have superpowers (the comics go a little further into this part of her history, explaining her brief venture into super-heroism under the name Jewel).
Jessica left her role as Jewel behind after falling under the thrall of Kilgrave (or Killgrave, in the comics). Kilgrave has the power of mind control, essentially—he can force anyone to do what he says, no matter the cost to themselves. He speaks, and his orders are performed.
Kilgrave forces Jessica to become both his partner in crime as well as his lover. When the series opens, Jessica has escaped this prolonged servitude and is experiencing what can only be described as PTSD.
As I watched Jessica in the first few episodes, I realized I was intimately familiar with her situation. I was familiar with her self-destructive spiral as she pushed everyone away, with her flashbacks that seemed to come out of nowhere, with her reaction to the places and things that triggered deeply upsetting memories.
This is where this essay gets personal.
I don’t remember a lot of college. This may sound like a silly assertion, or a bawdy proclamation of my party-hardy college days, but it is very different. In general, I remember everything. You can ask my parents—it drove them nuts for years. Forgetting what someone said at particular moment on a particular day was impossible, let alone entire chunks of time.
And then I met him. And my world went dark.
I could tell you the overarching story of our relationship. The first happy month. The turn in his behavior. The lies I caught him in, and the ones I suspected. The number of times I lied to friends. The ways he broke me into pieces and built me back up into what he wanted. How angry he got with me. My own desperation over my need for his approval, as well as my confusion over my inability to leave such a toxic relationship.
But the story of the relationship is not what I’m here to talk about.
It is incredibly difficult for me to write about my own emotions, especially my emotions about that time in my life. I can easily write about the value of all human life, but finding the words to describe when I didn’t value my own requires reaching much deeper.
I feel separated from that Lillie, the one who experienced the awfulness. I boxed up my college years in my mind and I set them on fire. All I have left are the little scraps I let trickle through, and the few friends I held onto after college.
And then I watched Jessica jump at a voice in her head and I felt it.
I watched her walk into a restaurant and have a memory forced upon her and I knew that moment.
I saw how she had pushed her old friends away and I remembered.
I hate to use the term “abusive relationship.” I often worry about invalidating worse relationships by using those words. He never hit me.
But he controlled me. I did only what I knew he wanted. I became a person I didn’t know. And in the end, it took me years to rebuild myself. Not just in terms of gaining back the weight that I lost, or building back the relationships I had broken, or working hard enough to prove my poor grades were not a reflection of my intelligence or drive in any way.
I had to re-construct my entire self. I had to look at the shattered Lillie and remove the pieces that weren’t me, glue back together the pieces that were, and search for new pieces where the originals were lost.
The fear that penetrated my being, the darkness that had consumed my soul—I’m still dealing with vestiges of that pain. I still hear klaxons and feel a pang of awful dread when I see the particular type of car he drove. I still feel nauseous and clench my jaw when a memory of him surfaces. I still feel my heart rate rise when his name is mentioned.
I had not realized how much that relationship had affected me. How much it still affects me, to this day. I knew it had ruined my college years for me, but I had thought they were in the past.
I am much stronger now. I laugh and say I learned a lot from college. And I did.
I assumed all it would take was time. That time would go on and the pain would be more distant. And it has. But I’ve realized that I won’t truly be able to bury the past. I have to accept it as a part of who I am, as a part of my story.
So here I am. Trying to accept myself completely. To accept my entire story, and not just pieces of it. To not just accept the growth that came from my experience, but the entire experience for itself.
I lived through it, and now I live on.