One of the hardest parts of working on a novel is not the actual writing, but the words that come out in the writing. In the post-apocalyptic Utopia I'm trying to describe there's a character who brings out things in me I prefer not to have to deal with because I tell myself there really isn't anything I can do about them. She's a woman who's part of a cult of religious fanatics who have broken away from the rest of the survivors. And like many breakaway cults in current times, her voice is pretty much duct taped shut because she's a woman.
The hardest part about trying to describe her life is that I'm okay as long as I can keep her in the general population of "the cult." She's fiction. I try to keep her fiction. But she keeps emerging as the women who blow themselves up because the men told them to do so. She's the women who stay with abusive men because their religion is based on men having power over them.
In a post-apocalyptic world I have no problem describing her. But at some point my descriptions have to draw on real life. Nothing I imagine comes solely from me. It comes from life experiences I put together, people I knew, women I still know. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that the woman I was describing was one I knew in real life, and her friend, the one who tries to get her to escape with her was also someone I know in real life.
That's the point where it becomes difficult to write the story. I'm not one of those writers who write to get revenge or punish people. I write because I have a story I want to tell. I can't write if my personal emotions get in the way instead of helping to clarify. I can't write if the characters I'm writing about are still alive and living in an emotional prison.
And yet these two women are in a hell as awful as the one I describe in the book. One of them is a complete emotional prisoner of her mate. He decides who she's allowed to have as a friend, and if he gets in any kind of spat with anyone associated with that friend, then she is expected to drop that friend and anyone who has the slightest connection with that friend. Over and over again, throughout the years she just drops out of sight because she's "not allowed" to communicate with people anymore she once communicated with. She can't even explain. The communication just ends. That's how much power he has over her.
Many of you are asking why and how this can happen in the 21st century? It's so freaking easy if you have a substance abuse problem, are an alcoholic, or are simply too insecure to believe in yourself. There are men who are emotional predators who seek the weak to exert their control over. The man who has done this to her has always been a control freak. He lives in a world that refuses to bend to his will, and he found over the years that for many women, love is the only chain he'll need to have total control over her.
The other man is just like him but for different reasons. He finds the weakest of the weak, the desperate drug addicts, the homeless, the socially inept. He takes them in and he enables whatever their addictions. He does this because it's the only way he can have a woman in his life. And they stay with him because as long as they do he will provide them with the drugs they need, the alcohol they crave, and he will feed their insecurity by convincing them no one else wants them.
Both these men disgust me and my heart goes out to the women. But I can't do anything. I can't get them off the drugs and alcohol they need to get by each day without jumping off a bridge somewhere. The men are doing nothing that can be proven enough to arrest them. And then for what? For preying on the weak, the desperate, the hopeless? If that was illegal, most of the planet would be in jail.
Often, dysfunctional relationships take out the ending on each other with the children. They make them weapons, little missiles of hate and misinformation. They use them to control and coerce. Do as I say of you'll never see your children again. But both these women have no children. But pets are often a handy substitute if you want to control someone. Or a bottle of wine. Or a bag of pills. Or simply a warm place to sleep.
As I write this I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows women like this. Let's face it, we all do. One of the reasons I decided to write this today was because I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out how to get her sister away from an abusive relationship that she refuses to acknowledge is abusive. There really isn't anything anyone can do as long as the cover story is in place and stuck to. I told her this and I tell myself this. It doesn't help the sadness either of us feel.
Meanwhile I have to go back and try to write the woman's story in the book because she is not the people I know. She is more than that. She is every woman stuck in a religious cult that considers her worthless. She is every war victim struggling to keep herself and her children alive when every corner she dares to look around is filled with those who want to kill her. She is every refugee woman facing hate and prejudice as she wanders the world looking for a safe place to sleep.
In the end, we are all these women, no matter how much we say or believe we are not. They are the canaries in our coal mine of indifference. My heart breaks for them because there isn't a damn thing I can do for them.