Confronting Shawn’s Psychological Abuse; A Proposed Cool-Off–College Memoirs: Life at Roanoke–December 1992, Part 2

Confronting Shawn’s Psychological Abuse

On the 10th, I got up at 8:19 but had to lie down to not get overcome by nausea (the flu, you dirty-minded people), but Clarissa was probably at class by that time.

My first impulse was to call Shawn because we both had Music History that morning.  I could also have called Pearl, but Cindy might still be sleeping.  At least if I called Shawn, it would probably be a wake-up call, the only thing he’d found so far that got him up on time.

I brought the phone (just a receiver with a cord, no cradle) to my desk so I could lean against the backrest on my bed, and dialed his extension.  Two or three rings; then a weak, sleep-laden “Hello?”

“Shawn?” I said in a much stronger and more awake voice.


“Are you awake?”

“Just barely.  I only got three hours of sleep last night.  I didn’t get to bed until 5.”  (That was from studying, and had nothing to do with me.)

Five?  That’s even worse than four!”  (Referring to an earlier conversation.)

“That’s how long it took P– and me to get to bed.  I got my Calculus done!”

“Finally!”  That’s all I ever seemed to hear about–the Calculus homework he had to do.

“What time is it now?”


“So I have 36 minutes to get to class.  Thanks for waking me up.”

“Probably longer for you.” (This referred to his chronic lateness.)

“No, you’d be surprised what I can do when I have to.”  This is the same day that I later heard from Pearl: He got to class on time, highly unlike him, but some other kid was late.  He said, “I even got here on time.  Why didn’t you?”

He said, “My mom called me at 8 this morning.”  (I suppose he went back to sleep then.)  “Then you called.  I thought, ‘My alarm clock’s pretty loud this morning.  It’s never been that loud before.  Oh, it’s the phone.  Aw, man!'”

“What were we going to do in class today?”

“Turn in papers, maybe do some listening to music, etc.”

I said, “I hope it’s nothing too important for me to miss.”

“Why?  What’re you doing that’s so important that you’re skipping class?”

“That’s why I called you.–Probably barfing.”

“Oh!  Well, if you think barfing is more important than going to Music History and Appreciation….I only got three hours of sleep.  So, you see, there are people going to class in worse shape than you.”

“Could you tell him for me?”

“Yeah, I’ll tell him you’re going to be too busy barfing to go to class.”

“Don’t tell him that!  Tell him I feel sick and can’t go to class this morning.”

“Okay.  Anything else?”

“No.  I was going to keep the phone call short, just in case.

Clarissa was a good roommate, getting box lunches for me from the cafeteria.


That night, I wrote to a friend that I still hadn’t barfed yet, but sure felt like I would.  I wrote that Shawn kept talking about his old girlfriend all the time.  I wrote, “I feel like saying, ‘Quit bringing her up!  She’s engaged; she’s gone!  Start thinking about me!”

In another place I wrote that he was afraid we were on the rebound, but by then, we both should have been off the rebound.  It had been twice as long since the breakup than Peter and I had been together, and it was a year and a half for Shawn.

On the 11th, he said that, due to long and complicated reasons, “Let’s wait until after the break to talk about the things we have to talk about, because right now I just can’t handle that and finals.”

On the 13th, I noted that Shawn was overburdened and almost burned out.  This could have influenced what happened later.  It certainly meant that I was getting no visits from him; my arm and flu would also have affected that.

I prayed that he would figure out his true feelings for me, whatever they might be–though I also prayed that he would like me.

I played with him a lot when I saw him.  That day, when he walked up to my table, I said in a fake mean voice, “What do you want?”  He smiled at me.

On the 15th, I’d been studying for Music History finals with Clarissa, when Shawn called around 11 or 11:30.  Even though it was originally supposed to be about music, he asked me to tell him what I’d been wanting to say.  I began to say, “Why are you always criticizing me?  My friends don’t agree with you, and they like me just fine!”

This may have been referring to a time when Shawn told me things people had told him about me.  Since I didn’t record the things he said this time, I don’t remember them all now, but rather how they made me feel.  These things were nasty and untrue, yet he believed them!

Also, someone had asked Shawn why I was sad all the time.  He said, “She wants to be.”  What kind of crap was that?

I was no longer depressed about the breakup, not since probably mid-October or early November, but I had plenty of other things to be depressed about: Peter kept playing with my mind, pretending to be friendly and then biting my hand every time I extended it in friendship.  He spread lies about me and even used the administration to try to force me to shut up about what really happened.

Shawn’s actions did not match his words, and he kept criticizing me.  Shawn should have said, “She’s sad because she’s dealing with some difficult stuff in her life right now.”  Anyone would have understood and cut me some slack.

But instead, his reply made me sound maudlin or morose, like I was too stubborn to be happy, like I wanted attention or enjoyed sadness, like I was a negative person who would always be a downer.  In fact, I am an optimistic person who is usually content.  We can’t be expected to be happy all the time, no matter what, just to please others.

I needed Shawn’s support, not his criticism.  I was being cruelly treated by my ex and needed someone there to help me through it, not criticize me for being upset about it.  This is a common problem for people being abused or bullied in some way, being treated like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t blow it off and pretend it didn’t happen.

I told him now that I wanted him to defend me against the character assassinations of his friends.  Who were these people, anyway?  I didn’t know.  He refused to tell me who they were.

He didn’t even tell me details or dates or examples or anything that could’ve supported his claims; there was nothing to jog my memory so I could say, Oh, that’s what happened, that’s what I did.  They could be people who didn’t even really know me, people who had some axe to grind for some unknown reason.

All my life, from babyhood through high school, I had been bullied by other kids, made fun of and called weird and accused of nasty things I did not do or think, with no clue why they treated me so cruelly when I was nice and meek to everyone, and far too terrified of everyone to do the things they accused me of.  So it was hardly a stretch to believe it was happening all over again with new bullies.

These people were calling me “just Nyssa” to Shawn, like there was nothing about me worth bothering with.  Maybe it was Heidi; I never could figure out what she had against me.  I was just late on occasion to suite meetings; I wasn’t mean or anything to her.

Maybe it was a friend of Peter’s, such as Dave O’Hara, who–I discovered the following year–just listened to whatever Peter said and decided I was a horrible person without even knowing me or interacting with me in any way.

Shawn said things that I could not imagine even doing, could not remember doing.  The only people I could be close enough to, to do these things, would be my close friends–including Shawn.  My old suitemates seemed to like me just fine; my current suitemates, some I liked, some I didn’t like so much after the pledging fiasco, but I mostly did my own thing and didn’t interact with them often enough for there to be disputes with them.

But other than Shawn, my close friends insisted the complaints were not true.

Some of the things may have been true for a little while freshman year, but those issues were situational, had long since stopped, and I no longer did that (such as incessant talking about Peter, which I stopped early in the spring after Sharon complained).

I lived by a code of niceness, sweetness and kindness to everyone, so that others would not suffer from me what I had suffered from others.

And most of the time, this is how people described me, even Shawn freshman year: nice, sweet, innocent, kind, caring.  And usually I was too frightened of others I did not know well, to do any of these things.

Everyone has faults, but Shawn made me sound like this horrible, mean, aggressive person who went around hurting people.

But when I perceived that someone was dangerous for me, such as a bully, I would avoid that person, not antagonize them, since I did not have verbal sparring capabilities.

I don’t recall ever yelling or arguing with anyone, not even Heidi.  My problems with Ruth did not include yelling, just her criticizing all the time and me quietly seething, because she was my teacher and not my equal.

Outside of Shawn, my only dispute was with Peter, and I rarely spoke to him.  I rarely spoke to most people beyond a few simple pleasantries or class discussion, and when I spoke to friends, most of the time it was pleasant and fun.

None of his criticisms made any sense; they did not sound like me at all.  This is one reason why I identified with the description of people with NVLD being accused of all sorts of things they don’t actually do, because their disorder makes them appear to be acting deliberately when they are not:

Perceptual cues serve in the same capacity as traffic signals; they govern the flow, give-and-take, and fluctuations in our conversations.

The child who cannot “read” these nonverbal cues is frequently determined to be ill-mannered, discourteous, curt, immature, lacking in respect for others, self-centered, and/or even defiant.

This child is none of the above.

Like the color blind driver who cannot respond appropriately to traffic lights, this is a child who is utilizing all of the resources available to him in order to try and make sense of a world which is providing him with faulty cues and unreliable information. —Sue Thompson, Nonverbal Learning Disorders

As for him–What, was he upset that I would disagree with him and get angry at him for how he treated me?  Was this why he thought I had these faults?  Were these unnamed other people actually made up to validate his remarks?

Like, for example, he scolded me once for chasing him, but he kept letting me catch him, encouraged me by coming over and asking me over, then begging or encouraging me to do the things he wanted.

If he did not keep kissing and carrying on with me, I would have stopped “chasing” him and turned my attention to James.

Rather, I always let him take the lead, let him decide when to come over or ask me over, let him decide when he wanted to do more than talk, because I did not wish to force him into anything, to be blamed for any of it.  He could have stopped the physical relationship at any time.

When he used my body, led me on this way because every time he said he wouldn’t do it again so I thought this time he was doing it out of love, and then constantly criticized me afterwards, I had the right to be angry.

When he constantly analyzed our relationship, I felt I had the right to respond with my own perceptions, not just agree with his.

I also felt criticized, like I wasn’t worth dating, because some of my theological ideas were different from his.  He’d tell me he wasn’t so sure about dating me because I believed in ESP.

As if I had to agree with him on every doctrinal point or I wasn’t worth dating, no matter what my other qualities were.  Couldn’t I think for myself?

Yet even my Nazarene pastor, at my church back home in South Bend, believed in ESP.  I believe it was he who said we must have ESP for God to be able to speak to us.

Later, in March, Shawn kept asking me, “What else is going on?” so I kept thinking of something to say to answer his question, even though I was probably tired and wanted to go back to my room.  Then he complained that I was rude to keep him up so late that night.  !!!!!  Why did he keep asking me to keep talking if he wanted me to leave?

Was he actually projecting his own faults onto me still, as he once admitted to doing?  And all these supposed faults were his reasons for not making an honest woman of me, a legitimate girlfriend rather than a toy when he was bored.

He also kept comparing and contrasting me to his ex-girlfriend.  I was always found wanting for one reason or another, whether my appearance or the way I did things:

I was too reserved.  I didn’t do my hair like other girls.  I didn’t wear makeup.  I didn’t dress sexy enough.  I didn’t play around with friends enough (i.e., behave like an extrovert).  Everything I did was wrong.  Everything about me was wrong.

Even the first day we ever met, in September 1991, he scolded me for probably an hour, cutting down everything about the way I acted, saying I was too shy and needed to talk to complete strangers.  He’d say his ex was like this, making me think if he liked one girl like this, he could like another–but no, it became a fault he could not get past.

He screwed with my head so much that I wanted to scream.

I wanted him to see me as beautiful, sweet, smart, passionate, creative and pious.  I wanted him to know everything about me and like what he knew.

I wanted him to recognize what I did: that we both liked many of the same TV shows and music, had similar religious backgrounds; he had a nutty sense of humor which I could appreciate; and we could have a lot of fun together if only he would do what he kept admonishing me to do every time he got me to lie down next to him: relax!

But now I was having it all out with him in our phone call.  I didn’t record everything, not wanting to remember much of it, so I don’t remember what I said, what he said.

But there were tears on both sides (him about his past, me about something I did not record).  There were also things he did not want me to reveal to anyone, so I won’t.  He eventually told me I could forget everything he said before I began to cry.

Shawn asked, “Are you crying?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Tell me again what you want to say to me.  I’m listening.”

I told him that I’ve always been told I’m weird, that I’ve always believed it.  Probably from something he said, I said, “I didn’t realize it was more than a suspicion.”

“No, you are definitely not weird, no matter what you believe.  You’re one of the most normal people I know.  Now things you do and say make sense to me.  I’ve found out what it was I could never put my finger on.”

I told him how Peter had been making me feel.  I told him how an old admirer/crush in high school called me beautiful: He flirted with me all through Photography class.

When one day he finally asked me out, I had, unfortunately, discovered from my mom that I was not allowed to date till I turned 16.  This guy then put his hand to my face and said, “You are beautiful!”  Peter called me gorgeous and the most beautiful girl on campus.

But Shawn had torn that all down again, always saying he was not attracted to me, even after spending an evening acting as if he were, making me feel homely and undesirable, when my lack of dates and boyfriends back in high school had already made me feel this way.

Shawn said, “Maybe I’m shallower than Peter, then, since I couldn’t see your beauty.  A beautiful side to you is certainly coming out now.”

He realized how he’d harmed me by always criticizing me, due to my “demon,” the insecurity, the belief of being weird, and the not having found myself.  (I think the last is just psychobabble, frankly, but I had the idea I was supposed to do this.)

He told me to cry, get it all out, because he was there in my room with me, in spirit.  He’d finally broken down a barrier.  We talked until almost 4am!  (Test–Music History–9am, Tuesday!)

He said, “The phone is the best way for us to talk because it’s not physical.”  I agreed.  He said, “If I’d come over tonight, something else would’ve been happening instead.”

As for the “she wants to be sad” comment, he told me what he’d really meant, but that it didn’t come across the way he’d intended.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record the true meaning and have now forgotten it.

A Proposed Cool-Off

We spoke more after lunch on the 17th.  He gave me some brochures on self-esteem from a nearby table, since the campus kept various such brochures by Memadmin’s office.  He rolled them up together and handed them to me.

I tried to put them that way into my right coat pocket, so people wouldn’t see what they were about.  He said they weren’t going to fit, but they fit, and I buttoned them in.  I said, to use Shawn’s recent assessment of me, “I have a strong will.  I made them fit.”  He smiled.

I told him more things….

Then I had to type up “Bedlam Castle” for my final, and he had to finish some delinquent Physics homework.  (Geez–Physics and Calculus?  No wonder he was so swamped!)  But later on, we spoke again.

He said the physical things were going to stop because they felt wrong to him.  From that and other conversations later, it was clear that things were spinning way out of control; we were playing with fire.  I said, “You’ve said that before.”  He said, “Yeah, but this time it is going to stop.”

I felt relieved on one hand but depressed on the other.  It felt like a breakup because I enjoyed it so much.

I suggested we do more social things together, start getting to know each other, hobbies, likes, dislikes.  I hoped this would begin a new stage, that maybe he would eventually return my feelings.

He said, “I can’t be your boy friend, but I can be your best friend.”  Even that elated me, since I’d wanted him to be my best friend since February.

It felt we had turned a corner, that things would be different now.  He felt so sorry for the night that had scared me.  He recited the Epistle verse that we are to think on whatever is virtuous, whatever is pure (Philippians 4:8).  I said I no longer felt virtuous and pure; he said, “No, you are still virtuous and pure.”

The funny thing is, this whole weird twisted relationship lasted longer than the others I had before I met my husband: one year and two months.

Cast of Characters (Work in Progress)

Table of Contents

Freshman Year

September 1991:

October 1991:

November 1991:

December 1991: Ride the Greyhound
January 1992: Dealing with a Breakup with Probable NVLD
February 1992:

March 1992: Shawn: Just Friends or Dating?

April 1992: Pledging, Prayer Group–and Peter’s Smear Campaign

May 1992:

Sophomore Year 

Summer 1992:

September 1992:

October 1992–Shawn’s Exasperating Ambivalence:

November 1992:

December 1992:

January 1993:

February 1993:

March 1993:

April 1993:

May 1993:

Summer 1993: Music, Storm and Prophetic Dreams

September 1993:

October 1993:

November 1993:

December 1993:

January 1994:

February 1994:

March 1994:

April 1994:

Senior Year 

June 1994–Bits of Abuse Here and There:

July & August 1994:

January 1995:

February 1995:

March 1995:

April 1995:

May 1995: