A survivor of abuse is not easily spotted. People don’t wear signs or buttons or have such extreme reactions to stimuli that it’s obvious. Most walk around and go about living their lives without anyone around them knowing they’ve had horrible experiences. What many people expect from abuse survivors are PTSD symptoms, which are not universal by any means, nor are they a daily occurrence, even when they do happen.
What if the abuse was emotional? What if the signs of abuse are subtler?
Emotional abuse is much harder to see. It’s elusive because there are no bruises, cuts, or torn skin. Rejecting, isolating, terrorizing, ignoring, corrupting, and being overly controlling are some of the ways people emotionally abuse. This type of abuse often starts out small, and the actions of the abuser may initially seem justified even. But then the abusers escalate and chip away at those feelings of self-worth and independence.
In the North Star Trilogy, my character Kevin Magnus was emotionally abused by his father. It was chronic, persistent, and life altering. As seen in book 1, Spark, Kevin’s abuse started when he went off to kindergarten and continued until Kevin moved away from home. Peder rejected Kevin, refusing to give him any sort of affection. He isolated him, not allowing him to have normal peer interactions unless they were pre-approved and deemed to have value beyond simple friendship. Peder shamed, belittled, and ridiculed Kevin, and even exploited Kevin to help his own career. There were never any tender moments between Kevin and Peder. More than anything, Peder thought he could control every little part of Kevin’s life, even as he matured.
In Spark, Kevin is extremely compliant and passive with his father. When many of us would’ve yelled and screamed at our parents in the same situation, Kevin keeps his mouth shut, nods, and agrees with the man. He’s afraid, even years after his emotional abuse has stopped, of doing something wrong, because Peder made it abundantly clear that mistakes were never acceptable. Kevin was withdrawn as a teen, not attached to his father at all, and he also acted more adult than was typical of his age.
Kevin was in his mid thirties when Peder died, and still he had very little attachment to the man. That was all because of how Peder emotionally abused and programmed him. I use the word program, because Peder started chipping away at Kevin’s self worth before Kevin was old enough to defend himself. These abuse experiences don’t simply wash off or go away after the abuser is gone. Kevin will continue to struggle with these tendencies that were programmed into him.
Kevin was able to rebel in Spark by secretly falling in love with Hugo as a teen, but then he went on to live the expected, perfect life by marrying Erin and having two children with her. The marriage wasn’t good, but Kevin waited until his father died before he asked for a divorce. Months later, he reunited with Hugo and now they are anxious to start their lives together.
In Fusion, they are just beginning to live that life, but Erin delivers horrific news that will put Kevin’s relationship with Hugo at risk. Kevin is faced with a very tough decision. With Peder’s training just under the surface, Kevin is conflicted. He has to find a way to build a bridge between his old life and his new one, the one he truly wants to live.
How do you tell your friends and family you’ve fallen in love with a man when they’ve only ever known you as straight? How do you explain to your kids that you loved their mother very much, but your new partner is your best friend from high school?
Kevin Magnus must figure it out while trying to build a relationship with Hugo Thorson, whose bigger than life, out-and-proud drag queen persona is simply too big to be contained in a closet—even for the time it takes Kevin to come up with an explanation for his kids and Erin, his soon-to-be ex-wife.
But Erin faces an even bigger obstacle—one that shakes the entire family to the core. When she unexpectedly turns to Hugo, they form a connection that forces Hugo to grow up and offers Kevin the chance to become the kind of father he wants to be. Despite the coming complications, they’ll all benefit from a fortunate side effect: it becomes clear that Hugo is very much a part of this unconventional family.