Have you ever written something, then published it, and then gone back and looked, and thought, “That’s actually really controversial, and I don’t know if I am accidentally condoning something that I really don’t want to condone?” That has happened to me a million times since writing and publishing The Shattered Genesis. The story revolves around nothing more or less than a large group of survivors starting life anew on a mysterious alien planet. Sometimes, the common thread between all the story lines gets very fine, and it is just a collection of almost vignette-like moments that form a cohesive whole only by deepening the relationships of the characters. Sometimes, moments occur that will affect the rest of the series. One of those moments is of this controversial variety, and it is one with which I struggle constantly.
Here are minor spoilers.
After James and Brynna arrive at Don Abba’s house (Don is the leader of one faction of Earthean survivors, and he has aligned himself with Adam, the King of the free people of Pangaea), they discover a lawless, almost anarchic system in which there are no rules. Don has wild parties every night, and at those parties, he and his people consume an otherworldly substance called Peace Fruit that, at least a first, provokes a heightened state of euphoria similar to MDMA but without the risk of overdose. James and Brynna consume this one night, him willingly, and her through a contact high, and though their night is magical, the following morning is not. James suffers a common side-effect of this plant, in that it re-surges in his system, erases any rationality, calmness, and humanity, really, and after he and Brynna have a particularly nasty fight, he attacks her. Physically. Almost sexually. Brynna only escapes because Adam shows up to pull James off, and once he does, Brynna does physically hit him back for attacking her.
But at the end of it all, once he comes to her, in tears, on his knees, she takes him back. Yes. She takes back the man who hit her while he was high.
This is problematic, even for me. I could have changed this scene to make it less terrible. I could have changed it to make it easier for my reading audience to forgive James for this terrible assault. But I couldn’t. For some reason, whenever I went back to delete this scene altogether, or even just to tweak it, I couldn’t touch it. Why? Am I trying to teach women and men that it is okay for the latter to be forgiven in the event of physical abuse? No. I’m not trying to teach anyone anything. This is just the way the scene turned out. This is the way it resolved. So, how do I justify keeping Brynna and James together after this incident occurs?
Well, it had nothing to do with, “This was his first offense,” or “he said he would never do it again.” It has to do with the fact that he had no idea when he consumed this drug of its terrible side effects. No one did. He was given this under the pretense that it would induce relaxation and euphoria which would then result in amazing sex, because that’s what Don told him. That’s what James’s friends told him. I have frequently drawn parallels in my mind to how in real life, when women and men are abused, sometimes they talk themselves into staying with their abusive partner, “He/she was drunk,” or “he/she was high,” and how that excuses the behavior, because it allows a woman or man to tell himself or herself that it will never happen again. I justify James and Brynna still being together because James was ignorant to the effects of this mystical, magical, foreign plant, whereas we, out here in real life, here on the Earth, are totally familiar with the effects of alcohol and drugs, and how they can be the catalyst, but not the base reason, for abuse.
Brynna says that she is afraid of James being stigmatized after this event, but as she learns, many others had similar side effects. In fact, she learns James consumed three berries of Peace Fruit, which would make whatever side effects he were meant to suffer even worse. If I am trying to say anything here, it is that there are more to pharmaceuticals than meets the eye, but I don’t even think I’m saying that.
Let me pair this scenario with another that occurs in my second book, The Bargaining Path. Violet, Brynna’s sister, and her new friends, Caspar, decide they want to get revenge on Violet’s mentor who has just kicked her out of the Medical Program. Together, they consume “Devil’s Touch” (which I based off of Devil’s Breath, a real-life natural substance that practically erases free will and replaces it with almost complete suggestibility. Look it up, it’s terrifying), and together, they attack this woman, holding her to the ash-circle that keeps these really gnarly evil tree creatures away. Violet assaults this woman. She does so under the influence of mystical, magical, weird, unknown drugs. If I hold James accountable, must I also hold Violet accountable? Or, if I don’t hold James accountable, must I also not hold Violet accountable?
I do not condone abuse. I do not condone staying with one who is abusive. I love the scene in the second book where James expresses his fear that, with his new strength and stronger temper, he will hurt Brynna, and he asks, “If you thought I would hurt you, you would leave me, right?” And she says that she would. Know that I am not just sticking up for my characters and my story when I say that if Brynna thought James was a physical threat to her, she would be gone. Gone, gone, gone. But as she says, it would be hard for her. She would be relieved to be away from one who could harm her and the people she loved, but it would be hard. James recognizes his own dangerous flaws, and she recognizes them, too. With her dark past, she would not suffer abuse if James were merely drunk or merely high. She gives him a second chance because he and several others did not know what would happen. She barely knew, and she is practically omnipotent, for goodness’ sake!
If it had happened on Earth, Brynna would have left. If it had been booze or pills or cocaine or anything we “Eartheans” know that had resulted in his abuse, Brynna would have left. I want to clarify that these strange and mystical circumstances were what kept her with James, and that is all.
I am clarifying this for myself, so I can stop thinking that I inadvertently sent a message with which I do not truly agree. Brynna and James fight (verbally), and lie to each other, and betray each other, and hurt each other emotionally, but it is not just James hurting Brynna. Brynna hurts James, James hurts Brynna. They love each other, they fight, they break up, they find their way back to each other. They have established their relationship on this foundation of need, of this recognition of a desire for constancy. They survived the end together and began to reestablish their lives in this new and dangerous world together. They do genuinely love each other.
But if James were a constant physical threat to Brynna, if he were abusive, she would leave. And if she were abusing him, he would leave.
For the record, no one has accused me of condoning an abusive relationship, or of writing (and therefore glamorizing) an abusive relationship. But I want to say my piece on this in case anyone ever does, because this is an issue that is very important to me, and I would never, ever, ever condone abuse. On Pangaea, in these totally weird circumstances, James can be forgiven. On Earth… Not so much. At least not for me.
(Wouldn’t it have been so much easier if I had just changed this scene?? Curse me and my stubbornness. Rather, curse my story’s stubbornness. They really do take on a mind of their own, don’t they?)
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I’m T. Rudacille, author of the Eternity series. The first book in the series, The Shattered Genesis and the second book, The Bargaining Path, are available for FREE in the Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords stores, and The Shattered Genesis is also available in paperback on Amazon!