Content Note: Abusive Relationships
Twilight Summary: Bella has traveled to Port Angeles, where Edward saved her life, took her to dinner, and brought her back home without the knowledge of her father Charlie. During the ride home, Edward confirmed that he is a vampire and can read minds. In Chapter 10, Edward will take Bella to school, Jessica will question Bella closely about their relationship, and Edward will eat lunch with Bella and discuss vampire eating habits.
Twilight, Chapter 10: Interrogations
Alright! We're all rested up and back in the Twilight saddle again! Just in time for Edward, who is definitely not better than chocolate, to ruin our good moods with his horrible hostile behavior towards the woman he loves more than anything. Let's get to it, shall we? (And remember that we're back-tracking just a bit -- last time, we went through Chapter 10 with an eye towards Bella-and-Edward's abusive behavior towards Jessica; now we're going through Chapter 10 a second time with an eye towards Edward's abusive behavior towards Bella. Excelsior!)
IT WAS VERY HARD, IN THE MORNING, TO ARGUE WITH the part of me that was sure last night was a dream. Logic wasn’t on my side, or common sense. I clung to the parts I couldn’t have imagined — like his smell. I was sure I could never have dreamed that up on my own.
One of the frustrating things about Twilight for me is that we aren't on the same page at all, it and I, when it comes to the subject of love. A *huge* portion of this chapter is about female desire and how incredibly sexy Edward's face and voice and body are. Even his breath is sexy scented, in a stark (and deliberate?) contrast to the usual bad-breath of dead, decaying vampire-creatures that live on the death and destruction of other living beings.
And on the one hand, I think this is healthy. I think it's one of the reasons why these books have taken off the way they have. I think there's value in saying, hey, women have sexy feelings too and women can be attracted to men's bodies. Yay for female desire and for the normalization of the same; boo on the people who hate on Twilight because it's about female desire since I rarely see those same people getting all het up about the approximately eight hundred beiberbillion pieces of pop culture that are constructed towards male desire. So there's that.
But! Female desire, as awesome and valid and great as it is, doesn't key to me as the same thing as "love". So I read all these passages about Edward's perfect face and his smoking body and his amazingly tight pants -- okay, not that last one because this is all very coy and abstinence pornish -- and I'm all onboard with Bella being lusteriffic and then suddenly the book shifts a gear into lovelorn and I'm left feeling confused and disoriented. Because Love and Lust, for me, are connected, but not as intimately as all that. I've lusted after Edwards while still recognizing, internally, that they still weren't better than chocolate. Bella doesn't seem to have that internal recognition in play.
So we're back to the fact that she and Edward have apparently gone all Werewolf Brand Imprinted (TM) on one another and we're just supposed to accept that that's how love works. Okay.
Anyway. All that to say, Edward's breath, voice, body, face, and presumably butt are flawless in the extreme and therefore love. But it's totally pure love and not lust-based 'love' (the kind that you fall out of after getting the sexeh out of your system) and the fact that Bella is willing to overlook all of Edward's assholish behavior in order to be with him is evidence of the depth of that love. Check.
“Do you want to ride with me today?” he asked, amused by my expression as he caught me by surprise yet again. There was uncertainty in his voice. He was really giving me a choice — I was free to refuse, and part of him hoped for that. It was a vain hope.
“Yes, thank you,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm. [...]
“I brought the jacket for you. I didn’t want you to get sick or something.” His voice was guarded. I noticed that he wore no jacket himself, just a light gray knit V-neck shirt with long sleeves. Again, the fabric clung to his perfectly muscled chest. It was a colossal tribute to his face that it kept my eyes away from his body.
There's something really wrong with this passage, but it took me a few read-throughs to figure out precisely what. Then it hit me: "He was really giving me a choice."
Interpreting that as charitably as I possibly can, I'm going to assume that the intent there was to indicate that the "uncertainty" in Edward's voice was intended to give Bella a free choice without expressing his own personal preferences. In other words, the question is meant to be entirely neutral, with no Edward-induced value on either the yes or no options. Whatever she chooses, they can still be friends, he won't berate her for making the 'wrong' choice, there's no pressure intended, and so on and so forth.
That's with me being charitable. The less charitable interpretation is that this is the first time that Edward, Bella, and Edward's car have been in the same scene together in which Edward didn't either physically force Bella into the car with him by dragging her by the collar of her jacket or order her to get in if she valued her life and the lives of those around her. Excuse me while I go get the ick out of my head.
Moving on, I'm struck by the casual callousness of Edward's language here, "I didn't want you to get sick or something." I suppose he's just playing it cool, trying to keep things low-key, but that doesn't work because that's not really the relationship that he and Bella have at this point. They're way past keeping things cool, and this latest attempt won't last long into the car ride, so it almost seems kind of cruel to be chilly here and yet so intense a few pages from now when Edward starts lamenting that he wants to read Bella's mind and can't. You can't, after all, get much more personal than that.
It might seem like a nit-pick, but almost everything Edward says to Bella is framed in this awkward, almost hostile manner. I find myself craving a simple and direct "you can use my jacket if you like" or something in a similar vein: an open offer for Bella to accept or refuse, rather than a tortured explanation of how Edward cares about her enough to think in advance to bring a jacket but not too much in order to keep cool and distant, and then Bella has to either accept his implied protection or protest that she doesn't need it, or -- most frequently -- both at the same time. Can we just have five minutes without co-dependency issues?
He turned to smirk at me. “What, no twenty questions today?”
“Do my questions bother you?” I asked, relieved.
“Not as much as your reactions do.” He looked like he was joking, but I couldn’t be sure.
I frowned. “Do I react badly?”
“No, that’s the problem. You take everything so coolly — it’s unnatural. It makes me wonder what you’re really thinking.”
“I always tell you what I’m really thinking.”
“You edit,” he accused.
And then there's this. Oh gods, there's this.
Edward and Bella have been together for all of, what, a few hours? A day or two? (As a couple, I mean. I'm ignoring the long "I'm ignoring you in the wake of the accident" lead time.) And he's already aggressively accusing her of not being completely honest with him, and giving her grief for not opening every part of her mind and soul to his scrutiny and comment.
This is not healthy. And it's not something that makes me like Edward. We've mentioned "True Blood" here before, and I'm going to again now. For all the many, many issues that the series + books have, there is at least a tentative nod to the idea that being the only telepath in a relationship can have some very difficult consequences and can be very isolating. A major reason why the telepathic Sookie is attracted to the men she dates is because their thoughts are largely closed off from her, and she feels a sense of peace and quiet when she's with them. And yes, this leaves her open to devastating betrayal and pain, but in a way she seems to welcome that as well, all in the name of living a "normal" life.
Edward doesn't want a "normal" life. That's fine; everyone gets to make their own choices. If he'd rather be with someone whose mind he can read, that's something for him and Bella to talk out and discuss. Edward needs to lay out his needs on the table and Bella needs to decide if she wants to try to accommodate him or if he's definitely not better than chocolate. That is part of being in a relationship with anyone -- figuring out if you can deal with their baggage.
But what is not part of a healthy relationship is badgering people because you have baggage and they've failed to accommodate you to your needs and desires within the first half-week of dating. Especially when those "needs and desires" are extreme invasions of privacy like "I want to have access to all your thoughts, unedited, any time I want."
And then there's this:
“You don’t want to hear it,” I mumbled, almost whispered. As soon as the words were out, I regretted them. The pain in my voice was very faint; I could only hope he hadn’t noticed it.
He didn’t respond, and I wondered if I had ruined the mood.
They've been together for a few days at most. Edward is already aggressively berating Bella for things she has no control over (her mind-shield) and her failure to accommodate his needs for complete access to her unedited thoughts. Bella can barely summon a voice to defend herself, and then when she does, immediately worries that she's "ruined the mood".
How is this not an abusive relationship, I don't even.
“So what are you going to tell [Jessica]?”
“A little help?” I pleaded. “What does she want to know?”
He shook his head, grinning wickedly. “That’s not fair.”
“No, you not sharing what you know — now that’s not fair.”
He deliberated for a moment as we walked. We stopped outside the door to my first class.
“She wants to know if we’re secretly dating. And she wants to know how you feel about me,” he finally said.
“Yikes. What should I say?” I tried to keep my expression very innocent. People were passing us on their way to class, probably staring, but I was barely aware of them.
“Hmmm.” He paused to catch a stray lock of hair that was escaping the twist on my neck and wound it back into place. My heart spluttered hyperactively. “I suppose you could say yes to the first . . . if you don’t mind — it’s easier than any other explanation.”
“I don’t mind,” I said in a faint voice.
“And as for her other question . . . well, I’ll be listening to hear the answer to that one myself.” One side of his mouth pulled up into my favorite uneven smile. I couldn’t catch my breath soon enough to respond to that remark. He turned and walked away.
We've already discussed my myriad of issues with Edward and Bella sharing what's in Jessica's head, and their coy decision to exchange love notes via Jessica and telepathy. My contempt for this couple is legion and well documented.
Yet here we are again from another perspective. Bella has to ask Edward flat out how she can define their relationship in a way that others will accept and Edward will be comfortable with: Are they dating? Edward's answer, like all his answers, raises more questions than answers. He implies that they aren't really dating, since there are other, less acceptable but more accurate, explanations available, but doesn't enumerate what those explanations might be.
And yet I think Bella has some right to know what her relationship with this man is. Does he want to feed on her? Turn her? Be friends forever? Date? Marry? Have sex with? I'm not saying Edward should have all those answers now, or even that he should be forced to bare his soul at this moment, but I do think that Bella deserves some kind of "I want" statement from Edward. If it's "I'm attracted to you and I want to be near you", then alright, they're a dating high school couple. An unusual one, yes, since one-half of the couple is a vampire and the other half has a fully formed mind-shield despite that being a Sparkly Vampire Power, but so be it.
Bella shouldn't have to use Jessica as an excuse to ask basic "so what precisely are we doing here" questions.
And then the bell rang for lunch. As I jumped up out of my seat, shoving my books roughly in my bag, my uplifted expression must have tipped Jessica off.
“You’re not sitting with us today, are you?” she guessed.
“I don’t think so.” I couldn’t be sure that he wouldn’t disappear inconveniently again.
But outside the door to our Spanish class, leaning against the wall — looking more like a Greek god than anyone had a right to — Edward was waiting for me. Jessica took one look, rolled her eyes, and departed.
How much do I love Jessica for rolling her eyes at the whole situation? So much.
I'm going to wind this post up and leave the rest for next week, but here's another example of the same thing. Bella doesn't know if she'll have lunch with Edward, because she doesn't know if he'll show up or if he'll want her to eat with him. She doesn't know if she'll see him tomorrow or if the family will skip town without even a goodbye. She doesn't know if his family will successfully pressure him to stop putting them all in danger by dallying with a human.
None of this is because Edward is a vampire. Bella wouldn't know this stuff with any of her human suitors, half of whom were probably relocated to Forks as part of a witness protection program for supernaturals, based on the locals curious willingness to not notice odd things about newcomers. No, Bella isn't left in the not-knowing because Edward is a vampire, but because Edward refuses to communicate with her. Rather than talk to her about them, about his hopes, about his dreams, and about whether he'll be there for lunch, he spent the morning talking at her about how she can alter her behavior to make his life easier.
In this chapter, Bella doesn't get anything. She doesn't get to have needs and desires of her own. She wakes up, is aggressed against in the car by Edward, and has to answer questions for Jessica whilst remembering that everything is being psychically overheard by Edward. Then she'll be collected for lunch and aggressed against by Edward again, based on what he didn't like hearing from Jessica's mind.
This is an abusive relationship because -- once again -- Bella is covertly burying her needs. Renee needs Bella to be the adult in the house and take care of everything, and so she does without complaining until such time as a replacement is found. Charlie needs Bella to be the servant of the house and take care of the femininely-coded chores, and so she does while silently seeking out fulfillment from one of the boys at the local school. Edward, the boy of her dreams, then aggressively explains how he needs complete access to Bella's thoughts, so Bella immediately becomes a study in how to wipe any "inappropriate" thoughts and feelings from her language, body language, and facial expressions in order to make Edward happy. Seriously, here's an example:
I banished that thought before his quick eyes read it on my face.
We'll get to what the thought was next week, but for now it's frustrating -- no, terrifying -- for me just how willingly Bella folds into another abusive relationship. I don't blame her; it's what she was brought up to, and it's what society holds up as a model for us to follow. But I'm frightened for her because this isn't something that I think can possibly make her happy. Either Edward is going to have to change, majorly so, or any happy ending tacked on four books later is going to feel fake and unreal to me.