Spoiler Warning for Middlewest The Complete Tale
Content Warning: Abuse
I was in an abusive relationship with a partner when I was a teenager. I knew it then, and believe me; I still don’t go more than a few days without thinking about it now. The cycle of abuse is just that: a cycle. You don’t usually notice when you’re first sucked into its vortex. But eventually, the guilt, the self-hatred, and the constant need for approval to prove to yourself that you’re not, in fact, worthless settle in. It did for me, anyway. And even if you become aware of the pattern, it’s so hard to break it. And then, even when the abuse is over, the effects linger like the static on an old TV just after you turned it off—a near-permanent imprint that’s hard to see, not necessarily visible to everybody all the time, makes you question everything and most definitely is really there.
Obviously, not everybody’s experience with abuse is the same. The tolls it takes during and after are unique. But the guilt, the self-hatred, the constant need to be reminded that you’re not a total failure or a screw-up? Those feelings are pretty universal. While the abuse Abel endures in Skottie Young and Jorge Corona’s Middlewest is far from the experience I had in my own formative years, the path from abuse, to self-hatred, to realization, to rage at his abuser, to self-acceptance, and to forgiveness is chillingly identical. I see myself intensely in this kid.
Abel’s father has physically and verbally abused him for as long as he can remember. The comic displays this in greater detail than I’ll elaborate on here. But it renders him unsure whether he is even worthy of love. Of course, he is, just for existing, and he is for all the ways he proves it throughout the series. But I remember the worst of those several years as I watch him suffer under his father’s roof. When you’re told over and over that you’re bad, you’re wrong, you’re not enough, and you’re worthless, you can’t help but internalize it. You start to believe it’s true because it’s easier to accept it’s true and allow your abuse to corroborate your self-assessment than it is to have your self-perception shattered constantly. Abel gets the chance to step outside of himself, though, thanks to some magic that literally helps him do so. And fortunately for him, it sets him on a path towards recovering his sense of self and worth.
Middlewest isn’t about recovering from abuse, though. It’s not even about the rage that lives inside Abel, passed onto him by his father and his father’s father before, and manifests literally in an outrageous and deadly storm. Middlewest is actually about what happens after the storm. It’s about what happens when the anger dies down, we can see the path behind us and the path ahead clearly, and we finally have a chance to choose for ourselves how to feel about ourselves.
It’s been a lot of years since my abusive relationship. But I still freeze up when I get flashbacks. I still raged at the text message she sent me on my birthday this year. And I still spend seemingly endless time untangling the ways that relationship has damaged my sense of worth, my relationships, and my confidence. But Abel’s bravery in the end of Middlewest as he confronts his father one last time is exactly the reminder that I need that all of that is okay. I can’t change the fact that I was abused any more than Abel or anybody else ever could. I can only choose how to move forward. And I have a right to choose how in a way and time that feels good to me.
For Abel, it’s choosing to forgive his father without forgetting what he did to him. Despite pages of Dale’s weeping and pleading for forgiveness and the opportunity to make amends, Abel isn’t ready to accept that. And he doesn’t have to. It’s his own life, and he deserves to move forward at his own pace, not at the behest of his father. He tells him that he accepts the apology and perhaps truly believes him but does not accept what he did to him. The door is left open for them to perhaps reconcile one day after they’ve both searched their souls while apart. But for now, Abel needs to do for himself what he had never been able to up until that point: choose how he wants to feel about himself.
It’s not as simple in real life. Certainly not. I struggle with it constantly. Should I have responded to that birthday text and acknowledged that I forgive, which I do, but will absolutely never forget? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I’m not ready to decide, and that’s fine. It’s my guilt, my self-hatred, and my constant need to remind myself that in spite of it all, I am worthy of love and self-actualization without the weight of conforming to somebody else’s idea of who I should be or how I should think or act. And I’m going to take as much time as I need to forgive myself without forgetting.
Middlewest: The Complete Tale is available wherever comics are sold.