Content Note: Emotional Abuse, Rape, Victim Blaming
Twilight Recap: Bella has successfully fended off invitations to the dance from Mike, Eric, and Tyler, by organizing an all day road trip to Seattle and clearing her plans with Charlie.
Twilight, Chapter 4: Invitations
So today let's return to the subject of gaslighting. The Standard Repository of All Knowledge and Wisdom defines "gaslighting" as "a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim."
The next morning, when I pulled into the parking lot, I deliberately parked as far as possible from the silver Volvo. I didn't want to put myself in the path of too much temptation and end up owing him a new car.
Getting out of the cab, I fumbled with my key and it fell into a puddle at my feet. As I bent to get it, a white hand flashed out and grabbed it before I could. I jerked upright. Edward Cullen was right next to me, leaning casually against my truck.
"How do you do that?" I asked in amazed irritation.
"Do what?" He held my key out as he spoke. As I reached for it, he dropped it into my palm.
"Appear out of thin air."
In the kindest possible light, Edward can be seen as a very complex character. He's a 100+ year old vampire with a compulsion towards murder, and he is trying to make a concerted effort to not murder people anymore. Bella presents a unique temptation for him in that he's strongly attracted to her as a compelling food source (her exquisitely scented blood) as well as an interesting mental puzzle (her psychic shield against telepathy). Edward fully recognizes that any association between him and Bella is very likely to end in her death or in the death of his family -- neither of which are desirable outcomes for him.
So now we come to a problem within the narrative: why did Edward call Bella's name for attention in Biology yesterday, and why is he showing off his powers of speed and/or stealth today?
A reader could see this behavior as that of a conflicted man in the throes of his first new love. In the conflict between his head and his heart, the result is that his behavior is inconsistent and sometimes contradictory. He knows he should stay away from Bella, but he just can't. He knows he shouldn't provide further evidence of his supernatural powers, but he can't resist showing off a little to the woman he loves. Indeed, I think we're meant to interpret Edward this way.
But then you get lines like this:
"Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." His voice was quiet as usual -- velvet, muted.
And I'm not so sure I can agree with the above analysis. The "he can't help himself" argument sort of works if you strip out every piece of dialog that Edward has in the book and just look at his actions. I don't automatically blame Edward for wanting to be near Bella or for wanting to show off to her, because love is a very powerful motivator, and I can understand why he acts in accordance with that motivation.
Yet we don't just see Edward's actions. We have to read his words. His first words to Bella today are cruel, dismissive, and abusive. He blames Bella for 'failing' to see him, even though he knows that the real reason she didn't see him is because of his supernatural powers of speed and stealth. Furthermore, the blame he dishes out isn't merely a failure to see him this time; he calls her "exceptionally unobservant". Edward is claiming Bella is sub-standard to her peers.
If Edward had his good judgment temporarily overwhelmed by a need to show off to the woman he loves, he could have recovered his aplomb in a number of ways that didn't involve insulting Bella. We've already discussed a number of possible covers for Edward's abilities, including a fictional past as a track star at his previous school, or just not answering the question at all. Edward instead chooses to verbally undermine a person that he supposedly cares about -- cares about so much, in fact, that he becomes visibly enraged at the suggestion that he might regret for a moment saving her.
Of course, part of this is a tie-in back to Bella's witnessing Edward's supernatural powers during the incident in the parking lot, and Edward's subsequent attempts to gaslight Bella in the hospital. Edward has an established pattern of trying to undermine Bella's confidence in her perceptions of reality in order to protect himself. But while this is a good explanation for his words, it doesn't mesh at all with the "love" motivation that supposedly forced him to show off to Bella right now against his better judgment.
I mean, he loves her enough to show off his powers and associate with her, thereby putting himself and his family in grave danger, but not so much as to not be emotionally abusive to her? That doesn't add up! He's showing off to Bella now because his heart has overwhelmed his own logical decision to stay away from Bella -- and yet his heart has no problem speaking to Bella as hurtfully and dismissively as possible.
I suspect the key here is that Edward is supposedly trying to push Bella away with his hurtful words. He can't 'help' but give in to his need to be with and around her, but he can consciously choose to be a braying jackass to her, in order to scare her off. Then she'll be safe, as will be the Cullens, and Edward can be nobly sad and lonely forever. This is actually a good set-up for a flawed and abusive character in desperate need of therapy so that he can realize that being a jerk to people isn't a "Get Out Of Moral Dilemma-ville Free" card because hey if she didn't like it she would have left.
It is not a good set-up for the Most Perfect Love Story Ever.
"Why the traffic jam last night?" I demanded, still looking away. "I thought you were supposed to be pretending I don't exist, not irritating me to death."
"That was for Tyler's sake, not mine. I had to give him his chance." He snickered.
"You . . ." I gasped. I couldn't think of a bad enough word. It felt like the heat of my anger should physically burn him, but he only seemed more amused.
I share Bella's outrage, and could probably come up with a few words for her in a pinch. Edward's 'prank' of physically restraining Bella in order to force her into an emotional confrontation she didn't want with a person whose very appearance causes her existential angst from a near-death experience is not amusing. Nor is his insistence that Bella 'owes' a hearing to every boy in school who wants to get into a romantic relationship with her.
I recognize that this is probably supposed to be another "impotent angry Bella" moment, but I'm going to read this as Meta-Bella lashing out at Edward, and I'm going to savor it as I would a Godiva raspberry white-chocolate star. Mmmmmm.
"So you are trying to irritate me to death? Since Tyler's van didn't do the job?"
Anger flashed in his tawny eyes. His lips pressed into a hard line, all signs of humor gone.
"Bella, you are utterly absurd," he said, his low voice cold.
See, now I would have preferred "so you are trying to exert inappropriate control over my life in the manner of a creepy abuser?", but kudos to Bella for voicing her frustration. And in case the first time wasn't enough, we get to see Edward's complete umbrage at the merest hint that he might be the sort of morally bankrupt murderer who would do whatever it took -- including letting someone die -- in order to preserve his own existence.
Talk about Closet Monsters.
Also, if you are keeping count at home, this is the second time Edward has insulted Bella today.
My palms tingled -- I wanted so badly to hit something. I was surprised at myself. I was usually a nonviolent person. I turned my back and started to walk away.
"Wait," he called. I kept walking, sloshing angrily through the rain. But he was next to me, easily keeping pace.
"I'm sorry, that was rude," he said as we walked. I ignored him. "I'm not saying it isn't true," he continued, "but it was rude to say it, anyway."
Meta-Bella is rocking it up today, people. I knew I stole that term from Slacktiverse's Meta-Hattie for a reason, it's just that it's been so long since I've read this passage.
This is good advice on so many levels. If you find yourself wanting to hit someone, walk away. If you find that someone is trying to emotionally abuse and/or physically control you, walk away (if possible). If you ever find yourself in a conversation like this, or indeed in any conversation at all with Edward Cullen, walk away.
Of course, if it's Edward Cullen, there's a strong chance that he'll follow you, despite having sworn to avoid you in order to protect you, himself, and his beloved family. Also, for the sake of the count: that's the third time Edward has insulted Bella today. And extra-credit is in order since he managed to work it into a non-apology.
"Why won't you leave me alone?" I grumbled.
"I wanted to ask you something, but you sidetracked me," he chuckled. He seemed to have recovered his good humor.
"Do you have a multiple personality disorder?" I asked severely.
"You're doing it again."
Once again we see Edward's propensity to laugh during or immediately after his apologies. We saw this the last time they were in Biology class when Edward was apologizing with his 'sincere' voice while snickering and smirking the entire time. My feeling is that Bella has her wires crossed a little bit: Edward's behavior isn't so inconsistent and mercurial as to mean he has more than one personality at his beck and call; it's just that his one, consistent personality is that of someone who is deeply amused by the suffering of others. If there is a conflict here, it's that Bella seems to expect Edward's personality to be as pretty as his face. Life is rough when you're not in a Lucas 'verse.
The other disturbing thing here is the beginning of the narrative thread that Bella is 'responsible' for Edward's actions. She "sidetracked" him, as though he didn't just show up, grab her keys, and then pretty much not converse with her except to belittle and insult her. But it's ultimately her fault because she didn't stand there in mute silence when he tried to hand her the keys, right?
I suppose "unwillingness to own your actions" might be consistent with the personality of a 100 year old vampire who has murdered to slake his blood-thirst, but at the same time, I have to reiterate that I'm not going to be cheering for this guy unless it's a story of his self-discovery into how to take responsibility for his actions and not blame everything reflexively on his victims.
I sighed. "Fine then. What do you want to ask?"
"I was wondering if, a week from Saturday -- you know, the day of the spring dance --"
"Are you trying to be funny?" I interrupted him, wheeling toward him. My face got drenched as I looked up at his expression.
His eyes were wickedly amused. "Will you please allow me to finish?"
So let's recap this. The conversation started -- well, after the opening volley of insults from Edward -- with Bella asking why he physically restrained her on the school grounds the night before. Edward openly admitted to engineering a trap for Bella so that Tyler would get "his chance" to ask Bella out.
Edward did so after observing Mike and Eric ask Bella out, and after observing that the interactions clearly distressed her. He doesn't know how much the interactions distressed her, because he can't read Bella's mind and Bella hasn't confided in anyone, but she's made it clear both in her body language yesterday and in her actual language today that she found the requests extremely unwelcome and unpleasant.
So naturally, Edward designs his next statement to clearly mimic the requests from the day before and in doing so to cause Bella the most emotional damage.
Edward doesn't know why Bella found the invitations painful; in fact, Edward knows almost nothing about Bella whatsoever. Maybe she's had such a bad experience at a previous school dance that invitations to dances are her own personal trigger. I can easily come up with at least four major reasons why Bella might find unsolicited invitations to a school dance to be incredibly painful and traumatic -- and I'll bet we could easily come up with more, if we all put our emotional spoons together.
But the fact of the matter is, Bella doesn't need to supply a good reason to Edward. The fact that the invitations caused her pain is all he needs to know. By presenting her with another invitation -- clearly dressed up to look like the ones from yesterday -- he's deliberately trying to mimic the situation and hurt her all over again. Why? Because he finds her being mistaken funny.
There's one more reason why Edward's request is cruel. Bella is interested in him, and that fact probably isn't lost on him. An extra subtext to his faux request is that if she hadn't come up with this out-of-town excuse to let the boys down gently yesterday, she could perhaps have had Edward take her to the school dance, but that's lost forever now! Whether or not this is something that actually bothers Bella -- she of the Cannot Dance Without A Broken Clavicle, and ooh, put that down for one more Trigger Warning reason for why Bella dreads these invitations -- is unclear, but the point remains that Edward is a jerk here for a whole rainbow of reasons.
I bit my lip and clasped my hands together, interlocking my fingers, so I couldn't do anything rash.
"I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride."
Oh my god, YES. Of course I want a ride from the man who:
1. Reacted with physical hostility on the first day we met.
2. Avoided me for days afterwards.
3. Disoriented me by pretending everything was fine a week later.
4. Asked invasive and inappropriate questions about my personal life.
5. Supernaturally saved my life the next day and then heaped lies and insults and threats on me.
6. Aggressively shunned me for weeks.
7. Laughed at my emotional pain yesterday.
8. Physically restrained me from leaving school until more pain was inflicted on me.
9. Piled insults on me from the beginning of this conversation.
As a woman, I would very much love to get into a car with a strange and hostile man I barely know and commit myself to a several-hour road trip. How did you ever guess, Edward? You're practically Miss Cleo with your powers of insight and clairvoyance.
"What?" I wasn't sure what he was getting at.
"Do you want a ride to Seattle?"
"With who?" I asked, mystified.
"Myself, obviously." He enunciated every syllable, as if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped.
Yes. Because treating someone like they have a disability just because they haven't leaped onto your train of Moon Logic is always classy.
Alright, time for my obligatory rant about Edward's 100 years of practice with telepathy: how does Edward not recognize that this request is totally confusing, disorienting, and inappropriate? Doesn't he spend a huge amount of ink berating Bella for being too trusting? Won't he pretty much behave as if Bella's near gang-rape in the Scary Big City is her fault for not having an armed male escort at her sides at all time? Doesn't he live with someone who was gang-raped and murdered by a combination of Man She Was Engaged To and His Stranger Friends?
So why does Edward think it's so strange for Bella to not immediately understand his oddly-worded request? I wouldn't understand it, were I her. What Edward is doing here is completely and totally socially unacceptable. Remember how I scolded Mike for demanding Bella change her plans, and Eric for waiting by Bella's car in the parking lot, and Tyler for approaching Bella's car when she was stuck in traffic, all because they were not seeing things from her point of view or leaving her an avenue for escape? This is a million times worse than that.
Pro-tip for non-creepy people: do not unsolicitedly offer day-trip car-rides to people with whom your only relationship is a few terse conversational encounters, largely littered with insults. And if you do make such an offer, don't be surprised if the reaction is a Flat What.
I was still stunned. "Why?"
"Well, I was planning to go to Seattle in the next few weeks, and, to be honest, I'm not sure if your truck can make it."
Hey! It's another spot on the Emotional Abusers Bingo Card! We'll have five in a row soon if Edward keeps this up. A close cousin to the "You Are Responsible For My Actions" excuse is the "I Am Doing This For Your Own Good" claim.
In the former, Edward doesn't own his behavior because it's really Bella's behavior that is the 'problem' and his is just the logical chain reaction that he has no control over. In the latter, Edward doesn't own his desires because it's all really for Bella's sake that he's offering his services, and not because it's something he wants for himself. This is a particularly insidious tool in the Abusers Handbook, because it masks the real fact that Edward wants certain things from Bella -- things she may not want to give. He's not offering her a ride out of the goodness of his heart; he's offering her a ride because he wants to be with her that day.
"My truck works just fine, thank you very much for your concern." I started to walk again, but I was too surprised to maintain the same level of anger.
This is not a good sign in abusive relationships. Confusion can be used to further undermine the victim's confidence, as well as redirect appropriate anger, as Bella is experiencing right now.
"But can your truck make it there on one tank of gas?" He matched my pace again.
"I don't see how that is any of your business." Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.
"The wasting of finite resources is everyone's business."
I can't speak to this, so instead I'm just going to bang on my keyboard. Please do forgive me.
I'm sorry about that, I really am.
"Honestly, Edward." I felt a thrill go through me as I said his name, and I hated it. "I can't keep up with you. I thought you didn't want to be my friend."
"I said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't want to be."
"It would be more . . . prudent for you not to be my friend," he explained. "But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella."
If there is one thing I've learned about relationships, it's that when someone says "You should stay away from me," there's probably a good reason to take them seriously.
It took me a long time to realize that. I honestly thought that if admitting you have a problem is half the battle to correction, then a lover who knew they had problems was significantly better than one who didn't know or hadn't yet admitted it to themselves. I hadn't really come to terms with the concept that some people don't think they can change, or perhaps don't intend to change. I didn't understand that an expression of remorse ("I'm no good for you...") was not necessarily a statement of intent ("...but I'll try really hard to be.").
It would be foolish of me to say that everyone who says "You should stay away from me," should be listened to and obeyed unilaterally. People are unique individuals, and that statement can be uttered from hardened abusers, to wonderful people with low self-esteem, to any number of people in-between. I'm not saying that Bella should run screaming in the other direction just because of this interaction here.
But I do think Bella should run screaming from Edward. Everything about this statement seems to indicate a total unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions and desires. He's tired of "trying to stay away" from her, and I grok that this is supposed to read as an incredibly romantic confession ("You're so irresistible to me!") but instead sounds to me like an abdication of responsibility: he's tried to stay away from her, but he can't, so it's up to her if they're going to be together or not. But if she accepts him, the responsibility is on her head. Edward is washing his hands of the situation.
Except he can't, because he doesn't have that moral right. Bella isn't deciding to be involved with him based on clear and open communication of the dangers involved to herself. And even if she had, Edward still has a moral responsibility to not be a murderer. If he really thinks he represents a threat to her, he maybe shouldn't leave town forever, but he probably should arrange for a trusted chaperone at all times. Heck, I'd expect S. Meyer to be on board with that.
His eyes were gloriously intense as he uttered that last sentence, his voice smoldering. I couldn't remember how to breathe.
"Will you go with me to Seattle?" he asked, still intense.
I couldn't speak yet, so I just nodded.
He smiled briefly, and then his face became serious.
"You really should stay away from me," he warned. "I'll see you in class."
He turned abruptly and walked back the way we'd come.
"You really should stay away from me, but I'm not going to honestly explain why. OH LOOK A PUPPY!"