Extra Content Note: Discussions of rape, abuse, and kink.]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 17, we play baseball.
Twilight, Chapter 17: The Game
Chapter 17 remains the longest chapter ever written, and I despair of getting to the actual baseball. But we are going to eventually, I promise! But first we have to wade through a lot of abstinence porn (which is great if that's your thing but is probably not great if that's not your thing) and a lot of Edward being genuinely awful at Bella. So let's put on our Wellingtons and slog through.
First we have to get Bella into an "off-roading harness" because the jeep is going to drive partway to wherever they play baseball which, apparently, is not reachable by your human roads (and only partly reachable by your human off-roading vehicles).
“What’s all this?” I asked when he opened the door.
“It’s an off-roading harness.”
I tried to find the right places for all the buckles to fit, but it wasn’t going too quickly. He sighed again and reached over to help me. I was glad that the rain was too heavy to see Charlie clearly on the porch. That meant he couldn’t see how Edward’s hands lingered at my neck, brushed along my collarbones. I gave up trying to help him and focused on not hyperventilating.
I think Bella is supposed to be hyperventilating over the fact that Edward is touching her (as opposed to just generally being frightened to ride in this vehicle with him), but it feels like we're at a point where this is overdoing it a little bit (ymmv). It's like, yes, you want to jump his bones, well done, but if that's seriously putting you at risk of going into cardiac arrest or whatever, then maybe there's something medically going on here besides good old fashioned teenage lust. And you just know that cardiac arrest will be next after hyperventilation, since everything has to be extra intense and even better than before, which I think is one of the natural enemies to "good" abstinence porn (again, ymmv)--the mentality that each level of Not Doing It has to be even more amazing and quivering and breath-taking as the previous stage of Not Doing It. Those kinds of expectations are hard to sustain.
Here's where my relative inexperience with romance novels come in, because I don't recall--but could be mistaken--that mentality being nearly so prevalent in other, non-abstinence romance novels I've read. I mean, sure, the sex is usually great (and often greater than with Any Previous Partner, natch), but I don't remember any usual insistence that Fuck #2 be that much better than Fuck #1, and Fuck #3 puts them both to shame, and clearly Fuck #4 will just explode the universe etc., simply by virtue of each fuck session being numerically higher than the last. Usually the fucks are good, but they're often good in milestone ways: this is the first time they slowed down, or this is the first time they did it after an argument, or this is the first time after their wedding, or this is the time they did it while on the lam from corrupt Canadian police. Or whatever. And usually those milestones also correlate to levels of intimacy: this time is better because they're more familiar with each other's bodies, or this time is better because they trust each other more, or this time is better because they have a bond of experience. And so on.
I think abstinence porn ends up laboring under these difficult expectations because it ends up, probably accidentally but almost certainly (in my opinion) to its detriment, as focusing on the sex while losing sight of the intimacy. So whereas sexually-active couples in other romance novels can have decent sex but with lingering passages on their amazing exploration of new and improved depths of emotional intimacy, the non-sexually active couples in abstinence porn seem to often forget about the emotional stuff entirely and instead focus on the HYPERVENTILATING fact that Edward's fingers are now a mere seven inches from Bella's vagina on account of him having to strap her into the Jeep's off-roading harness including that one buckle that juts out between her legs. That's practically sex, y'all, and definitely better than yesterday when his hands were just on her shoulders and therefore mathematically further from her vagina.
My own experience with abstinence culture unfortunately makes this emphasis on sex to the detriment of intimacy right very true to me, but while that may make this an accurate portrayal, that doesn't make me terribly happy about holding it up as a good and healthy relationship. And it makes it all the harder for me to cheer for this couple, who is lacking in any real exploration of trust and emotional intimacy because they're fetishizing hand-holding and seat-buckling, when the scenes that do develop their emotional intimacy usually come off as controlling and abusive and awful.
“This is a . . . um . . . big Jeep you have.”
“It’s Emmett’s. I didn’t think you’d want to run the whole way.”
[...] Then something sunk in.
“Run the whole way? As in, we’re still going to run part of the way?” My voice edged up a few octaves.
He grinned tightly. “You’re not going to run.”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Keep your eyes closed, you’ll be fine.”
I bit my lip, fighting the panic.
Like that bit there. Even if I accept that for whatever reason they do need to vampire-run to the baseball playing area, I just cannot accept that it's loving and sexy (ymmv!) for Edward to be smirkingly awful about the whole thing. I can think of about a million comforting things he could say to Bella here--I'll go slower this time, The second time will be easier, You did so well before, etc.--but only about a handful of things that could actually be worse. He seems to be genuinely amused by the fact that she feels sick and pained and uncomfortable and frightened. That doesn't go well with emotional intimacy, no matter how good the quivering not-sex is.
I don’t know how he found his way in the gloom and downpour, but he somehow found a side road that was less of a road and more of a mountain path. For a long while conversation was impossible, because I was bouncing up and down on the seat like a jackhammer. He seemed to enjoy the ride, though, smiling hugely the whole way.
Also: This has to be uncomfortable for Bella. Even if it's not, it's weird that Edward--he of the Ooh you're a delicate human flower and I love how breakable you are fetish--isn't concerned that this must be uncomfortable for his fragile human girlfriend. Again, we're left with the impression that Edward likes Bella's discomfort.
And then we came to the end of the road; the trees formed green walls on three sides of the Jeep. The rain was a mere drizzle, slowing every second, the sky brighter through the clouds.
“Sorry, Bella, we have to go on foot from here.”
It's a small thing, maybe, but I don't understand this weather. Back at the Swan house, it was down-pouring hard enough to grant a measure of privacy to the touchy love-birds. Here in the forest, the rain is "slowing" down to a "mere drizzle". And the whole point of the baseball game was that it has to be masked by real thunder in order for the humans not to worry about the thundery sounds of vampire baseball. It would seem that this storm is playing out in reverse order: downpour, drizzle, dry thunder.
Anyway, let the record show that Edward at least said he was sorry, even if he's not sorry enough to get her to the clearing some other way.
“You know what? I’ll just wait here.”
[...] “Hmmm . . . ,” he mused as he quickly finished. “It seems I’m going to have to tamper with your memory.”
[...] “Tamper with my memory?” I asked nervously.
“Something like that.” He was watching me intently, carefully, but there was humor deep in his eyes. He placed his hands against the Jeep on either side of my head and leaned forward, forcing me to press back against the door. He leaned in even closer, his face inches from mine. I had no room to escape.
“Now,” he breathed, and just his smell disturbed my thought processes, “what exactly are you worrying about?”
Then there's a lot of abstinence porn in which Edward repeatedly grills her about what she's afraid of while he sinfully kisses the base of her throat, the point of her chin, her eyelids, etc. SINFUL! And so tantalizing! And we're past cardiac arrest and into full-on rewiring of Bella's brain. Et cetera.
There's a lot here that will, again, either work for you or it won't, but the combination of Edward physically trapping her while interrogating her until she changes her story (over and over again) doesn't work for me at all. I could kinda work with one or the other--being trapped or being sexily interrogated into the right answer--but the two of them together just push over my ick factor limit. As does the word-choice here (memory tampering? really?) instead of something like "convincing" or "motivation". And the fact that the sexy interrogation lasts just a little too long, with Bella resisting it just a little too hard (she seriously gives the same answer several times before she submits) is just a little... ack.
You read scenes like this, you understand how 50 Shades of Grey happened, is what I'm saying. And not the sexy kinky FSoG that it's marketed as, but the abusive worrisome FSoG that it actually is.
“You see,” he said, his lips moving against mine. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, is there?”
“No,” I sighed, giving up.
Then he took my face in his hands almost roughly, and kissed me in earnest, his unyielding lips moving against mine.
There really was no excuse for my behavior. Obviously I knew better by now. And yet I couldn’t seem to stop from reacting exactly as I had the first time. Instead of keeping safely motionless, my arms reached up to twine tightly around his neck, and I was suddenly welded to his stone figure. I sighed, and my lips parted.
He staggered back, breaking my grip effortlessly.
“Damn it, Bella!” he broke off, gasping. “You’ll be the death of me, I swear you will.”
Uuuuunnnngh. "There was really no excuse for my behavior. Obviously I knew better by now."
So. Okay. So.
Here is where I have to put a big ol' disclaimer over everything ever. If you want to like Twilight or rape fantasies or non-consensual erotica or sexual submission or any or all of the above: Seriously, that's fine. 100%. There will be absolutely no judging against that in this space--this is a kink-friendly space. Pretty much nothing that I write about Twilight and rape culture and whatnot is directed at sexually mature/aware people who just enjoy getting off to this. I'm totally okay with sexually aware people getting off on whatever pushes their love-buttons for them.
But. Okay? But.
I'm looking at this novel like what if I'd read this as a teenager? as in, when I was a young virgin in a purity obsessed culture, not even remotely sexually mature and definitely totally immersed in rape culture to the point where it took me years to even call my rape "rape" because I thought rape had to involve strangers and bushes and ski masks. And the biggest, mainest reason why I couldn't call my rape "rape" for years--and why I forgave the guy who did it and stayed in a relationship with him for months afterwards--was because, specifically because, I had been taught that there was "no excuse" for my behavior and that obviously "I knew better".
He couldn't help himself, I thought. I'd allowed him to convince me to be in a position such that his Base Manly Urges overwhelmed his Noble Humanity and his penis had basically no chance but to leap on top of me. <singsong voice> MY BAD. </singsong voice>
I'm being flippant about this because, I'll admit, it's still kinda hard to talk about. I really, really wanna go back in time, sit down with college!Me and explain that boys are capable of controlling themselves and that any boy who says otherwise is looking for an excuse to support his bad behavior. But then books like Twilight are dancing around in the background shouting at her to accept the status quo of rape culture and explaining that Boys Will Be Boys. So, you know, fuck off Twilight, I'm trying to have a heart-to-heart with me here.
So if anyone out there is reading this post and thinking that people can't control themselves and it's up to their loved ones not to 'tempt' them, let me please just tell you that this is bullshit. If a guy rapes you or drinks your blood or hurts you in any way because you did X, where X could be putting your arms around him for a kiss (like Bella does here) or literally any other possible action ever, the responsibility for his actions is on him and him alone.
And... the thing with Twilight is, it's not just Bella saying/thinking that Edward isn't responsible for his actions: Edward agrees with her:
“You’re indestructible,” I mumbled, trying to catch my breath.
“I might have believed that before I met you. Now let’s get out of here before I do something really stupid,” he growled.
He threw me across his back as he had before, and I could see the extra effort it took for him to be as gentle as he was. I locked my legs around his waist and secured my arms in a choke hold around his neck.
Like what the fuck is this I mean really. He's outright agreeing that if he does something "stupid" (i.e., murder her) while they're alone together, it'll be her fault for being so tempting. Then he throws her across his back--not a verb choice that sounds gentle, caring, or painless--and it's apparently an effort for him to not be more abusive about it than he already is. I just don't even.
“Don’t forget to close your eyes,” he warned severely.
And, again, not kink-shaming if this is your thing. But it's not being presented as kink, it's being sold to us as true love. As the best true love, with the litany of how Edward isn't just perfect for Bella, but rather is Perfect capital-p and Bella just happens to be the lucky girl who catches his eye. None of this reads as 'loving' to me; it would be difficult for me to imagine a relationship where being all this at someone--after you (a) hurt them, then (b) trapped them from leaving, then (c) threatened to kill them, then (d) hurt them again, followed by (e) being severe at them--could somehow be seen as loving and emotionally intimate.
Sexually intimate, sure. But emotionally intimate? I just don't see it here.
“It’s over, Bella.”
I dared to open my eyes, and, sure enough, we were at a standstill. I stiffly unlocked my stranglehold on his body and slipped to the ground, landing on my backside.
“Oh!” I huffed as I hit the wet ground.
He stared at me incredulously, evidently not sure whether he was still too mad to find me funny. But my bewildered expression pushed him over the edge, and he broke into a roar of laughter.
OH MY GOD KILL IT WITH FIRE. AND STAKES. AND MORE FIRE.
I just don't even. I just don't even. After all that, excuse me, bullshit about how it was totally safe to ride on his back and she was just being a big baby because he wouldn't let anything hurt her and why doesn't she trust him, etc., he lets her dismount in such a way that severely jams her tailbone?!? And then he laughs at her?!? And this is a good thing because it means he's not mad at her for, I guess, the crime of putting her arms around him when he trapped her and started kissing on her?!?
FUCK YOU EDWARD CULLEN.
jd;ldjkldsjalkdj alkdj alkdsj lakdsj alk;jlkjqiueqoyahjkdlhwnebqwguiat uy qweta sandbm!!
And there's a bunch of stuff where she tries to walk off and he's laughing at her. And then he grabs her by the waist and tells her she's going the wrong way and he's laughing at her. And then he gives her shit about being understandably mad at him and he's laughing at her. She trusted him, she trusted him because he trapped her and pushed her to trust him and then she got hurt because he's a bag of scat and then he laughed at her and he's laughing at her.
“Oh, you’re the only one who’s allowed to get mad?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“I wasn’t mad at you.”
[...] I tried to turn away from him again, but he held me fast.
“You were mad,” I insisted.
“But you just said —”
“That I wasn’t mad at you. Can’t you see that, Bella?”
Sure. He's mad at himself. That's why he's always hurting her and belittling her and laughing at her and scolding her and chiding her and threatening to kill her and upbraiding her and insulting her. Because he's mad at himself. That works out really great for him, doesn't it.
“Then why?” I whispered, remembering the black moods that pulled him away from me, that I’d always interpreted as well-justified frustration — frustration at my weakness, my slowness, my unruly human reactions. . . .
He put his hands carefully on both sides of my face. “I infuriate myself,” he said gently. “The way I can’t seem to keep from putting you in danger. My very existence puts you at risk. Sometimes I truly hate myself. I should be stronger, I should be able to —”
[...] “I love you,” he said. “It’s a poor excuse for what I’m doing, but it’s still true.”
[...] “Now, please try to behave yourself,” he continued, and he bent to softly brush his lips against mine.
I held properly still. Then I sighed.
I don't know how many more ways to say this, but here's one more try.
Anyone who says "I love you" in between hurting someone, enjoying their pain, and then going right back to hurting them, is a dangerous abusive asshole. I'm not saying they're a liar--they very well may love, or at least think they love, the person they're abusing. But hurting someone, deliberately and repeatedly, while relishing their pain and fear and humiliation and vulnerability--that's abusive behavior. And no amount of love, or protestations of love, can change that abuse into something nurturing and healthy.
Edward Cullen may genuinely love Bella, but he doesn't love her enough to treat her with kindness and respect. And he may be angry with himself, but he's not angry enough to change who he is and how he behaves towards others. And since his intentions--his anger at himself and his love for Bella--aren't magical wards that shield her from harm, they're meaningless to me at the end of the day. All that matters is his actions, and his actions are abusive.