If I realized then how much it would stick with me, how often I would find my thoughts wandering back to it, I may have had the foresight to note who the author was, or even the source, but alas, I did not. I suspect I noticed I was nearly late to pick up my son from preschool, hastily closed my browser, and ran out the door. But like I said, the article stuck.
It was a compelling story of a young woman who had suffered through a traumatic abusive relationship when she was only in high school, and the difficulty she had navigating her way out while facing the social drama inherent to this already daunting time. I found the article beautifully written, honest, and truly inspiring. But that wasn't the reason I found myself unable to let it go.
Once I read the final line, I continued downward, to the dreaded "comments" section. I expected to see accolades to this courageous young women, not only for being brave enough to escape the violence, but for speaking out through this article. For giving victims a voice, and potentially helping others find the courage to do the same.
But that's not what I saw. In fairness, there were a few comments praising the author, or expressing horror over her experience, but the vast majority of comments reflected what I believe is an epidemic in our society: victim blaming.
I found myself outraged over commenters calling the author "stupid", and "naive". Yes, for real. These people simply could not understand how she didn't heed the "warning signs". How she could have possibly stayed in the relationship after the first sign of violence. Some even went so far as to say that she "asked for it" - that she deserved every occurrence of abuse thereafter because she didn't leave.
We live in a judgmental society, I knew that, but what shocked me was how easily people seemed to reject the possibility that perhaps life is more complicated than black and white. The only thing black and white about relationship abuse is that it is wrong and inexcusable. And victim blaming is counterproductive, cruel, and speaks of ignorance and either an inability or unwillingness to try and understand.
Though most of me wanted to write my own scathing comment calling out all of these previous commenters, to give them a figurative kick in the ass, fate dictated otherwise. I don't remember what routine event caused me to "X" out the article feeling unresolved and angry, but whatever it was, I'm grateful for it. Writing a nasty comment may have given me some kind of closure, and NORMAL may never have been born.
The article forced it's way back into my thoughts every now and then, for an indeterminable number of months, and because I had some time to consider it, my anger deflated and evolved into something else. Understanding. I began to understand why some of these people thought the way they did. Many of us are very lucky. Privileged. We grow up in a society, which, for many of us, educates on issues like domestic violence and relationship abuse. We begin to see these issues as antiquated, like smallpox - a terrible, dangerous problem that time, education, (and science in that case) has all but eradicated. We think to ourselves, I would see these warning signs, I would know what to do. I would tell someone, I would get out.
And for many of us - the luckiest of us - we never have to find out what we would really do in such a situation - how we would react. Because there's always a clarity in retrospect that is clouded by a muddlement of different factors when you're in the moment. And it occurred to me that it isn't easy to understand these factors - to know just how bright, or dim, those "red flags" would really be. How closely they can resemble what we otherwise believe to be parts of a normal relationship. And what about the outside factors? We all have different family situations, different friendships, different support systems, and sometimes little to no support at all. I realized that no one really knows how they would react to certain situations if they haven't actually lived them.
It isn't all black and white. And that is why I decided to write the gray.
Rory's story is told both in the present and in flashbacks. I wanted readers to live it - to feel it. To become slowly sucked in the way victims often are. I wanted readers to understand the emotional conflict, the consternation, the terror, and the hopelessness. To realize that the victim-blaming is already there, without outsiders adding their own uninformed judgments. That, in many cases, the victim's own mind is a perpetual crossfire of self-recrimination and second guessing - of wonderings if different choices could have prevented their own pain and suffering.
The gray doesn't refer to the line of right and wrong - because there is no gray area there. The gray is about the right and wrong way to react, to read the signs, and to show readers that the obvious response - or at least the response that is obvious to outsiders looking in - is often the most difficult. It often doesn't lead to justice, or salvation. Much of the time, it only leads to more pain. Because our society is terribly flawed, and blaming the victim only exacerbates the problem.
But there is hope. I can't tell you how humbled I am that so many victims, or survivors, of abuse or sexual assault have reached out to me about NORMAL. I'm honored to hear that they identify with Rory, and how closely her story resembles aspects of their own. But the truly inspiring thing is that almost all of these people have made sure to tell me how well they're doing now. That there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And it's a message that largely reflects my motivation for writing NORMAL as I did.
I chose to start the book during the fallout. After Rory finally had the courage to tell someone what had been happening, and escaped the violence of her past. But victims know that that is never the end of the story. There are lasting effects of such trauma, and Rory has to navigate them and survive. But I didn't want NORMAL to just about surviving. I wanted my girl to live. But it isn't easy for victims, so if you're wondering why this is a series and not a standalone - there's your answer. I didn't feel I could give Rory the happily ever after she sincerely deserves in the time span covered in NORMAL. She has a great deal more to work through, and even if she gets her happy ending, she'll be dealing with some of these issues probably for the rest of her life. But that is okay. Because I believe in Rory. I believe that one day she will wear her scars proudly, and live the life she deserves. And if her story can help even a single other victim, then I've achieved what I set out to do.
Thank you for reading!