This article originally appeared on VICE Australia
I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a photo of my first boyfriend with a new partner. I was transfixed. It's a peculiar feeling when an old love finds new love. Initially, I felt forgotten. He was my first boyfriend, and I'd been entirely besotted. Yet, here he was, in a new relationship. I had visions of her sitting in the back of his station wagon, watching him surf like I used to. It infuriated me but deep down I felt happy for him. He deserves good things.
It's an entirely different feeling when an ex who abused you finds love again. I remember how different that moment was to seeing my first ex on Instagram. It was like a slap in the face, only the slap hurts even more than the ones you knew before.
When someone hurt you so much, over such a long time, you don't even consider their next love. It's easier to assume that they are incapable of it. Seeing them being kind to another woman feels ugly, wrong. No longer is he the lonely, guilty man you thought he was. He is someone else's now.
And here I am wondering if I owe her anything—as her predecessor of sorts. I turned the idea of reaching out to her over in my mind, but I couldn't bring myself do it. If she ever asked me, I know what I would say: I would tell her to run. But maybe he's no longer the abuser I thought he was. Perhaps he will be kinder to her. Perhaps she is just less volatile.
And even then—where does that leave me? Where's my apology? An explanation, even, for why he controlled and humiliated me for so long. For making me believe I was the "dumb cunt" he said I was.
Scouring the internet for advice, I came up with nothing. Amidst the endless forums addressing "How to love again after…" or "how to start feeling like yourself again" there were absolutely zero resources on how to deal with this situation.
All I wanted to know is what responsibility I have to her, if any. But it's as if the internet raised its hands, and sighed that we are meant to believe that our abusers just disappear: like a poof of angry smoke. Once we get on that plane or burn those photographs, they no longer exist.
So here I am scrolling through her Instagram. "Husband, now," one girl comments on a photo of the two of them. I feel sick.
Of the myriad of resources for those who've experienced abuse, most describe survivors, unintentionally, as blank canvases. But the "today is a new day" bullshit only remains motivating for so long. I'm not looking for ways to be "okay" anymore. The truth is, I am okay. I was okay yesterday, and I'll be okay tomorrow. Where the resources fail us is that they want us to forget, blissfully, that our ex-partners still exist.
Abusive exes go out for breakfast, update their statuses, and have permission to fall in love again. If you live in the same city, you're probably going to bump into them. But there's no Yahoo Answers describing the dark, sad feeling in your chest when you do. There's no website dedicated to assisting us in our pursuit to encourage other women to leave long before we had the chance to.
I ran into my first boyfriend at a sweaty pub once. "Madison," he called amid the loud guffaw. His girlfriend was nearby, sipping something, talking to her friends. I thought they looked damn good together. It was, honestly, nice to see them.
There will never be a time when it's "nice" to see my abusive-ex and his new girlfriend, even if it's in a photo. And it's not because I wish it was me with him grinning, full tourist, outside some Buddhist temple. It's because when I think of my first boyfriend I remember two people doting on one another with respect—regardless of the relationship reaching its inevitable expiration date. He's fully capable of loving in ways others deserve to be loved—even if it means having to witness their sun-bleached life together online. But when I think of the life my abusive-ex and his new girlfriend will have together, I just see hurt.
It may be unrealistic, but I hope the abuse stopped with me. That I was the first and last to bear his wrath. That in our time together, I collected all of his anger in my hands, and there's simply nothing left to douse her with. I hope, for her sake, that I did.
See more of Madison's illustrations on Instagram