What’s the difference? Satan’s gonna ride his ass, one way or another.
—Gabriel talking to Dean about Sam in “Changing Channels” Supernatural, season five, episode eight.
It doesn’t matter who you tell. No one’s gonna save you. You’re mine.
—My ex, talking to me, frequently.
I will break you, boy!
—Asmodeus, King of Hell, talking to Gabriel in “Bring ‘em Back Alive.” Season thirteen, episode eighteen.
I’m a domestic abuse survivor. I started watching Supernatural as an escape, since fantasy is the ultimate escapism entertainment, a few years ago and fell in love with the stories, the characters. They represent the best and worst and everything in between of humanity. Even the non-human ones, like Lucifer who once thought he’d killed his brother Gabriel but who still shows a desire for Gabriel’s approval, and like the Archangel Michael, heaven’s herald and defender, who starts an Apocalypse. But in season thirteen, the most recent season, I find even more. I find representation, reassurance that I am not alone. In the character of the archangel Gabriel, I find myself. Imprisoned, thought dead, used and betrayed by the Prince of Hell, Gabriel is eventually freed but broken.
In him, I see my story. And because it’s told without rape, without a powerful man abusing a less powerful woman, because it happens in the realm of the fantastic, I see my story without reliving the trauma. As Gabriel goes through what my former therapist and I dubbed the five stages of domestic abuse and healing, I reflect on my own journey through them. And as he begins to find his way to freedom, I relish in mine as well.
Stage One: Hopeless Resignation
Not Stockholm syndrome, no. That’s the assumed answer to “but why didn’t she just leave?” But I never grew comfortable. I stayed with him, but I never learned to love being abused. I stopped loving my lover once the abuse began. There was no room for such emotion, for the vulnerability that love brings. He stole my virginity, with the help of a spiked glass of wine, in the bed we shared on the nights I could escape my parents’ watchful eyes. At nineteen, I was convinced I was grown enough to make my own way. That way just happened to be straight into the arms of a separated, but never quite divorced, man. He needed me, he swore, to mix the medication that pumped through his veins and kept his lungs breathing. Stealing my consent made him feel strong. And then the slaps, the punches and kicks, the tears and begging—begging for him to stop, begging for him to forgive whatever I’d done to cause it—they must’ve made him feel invincible. I was not invincible. Shrinking, snail-like, into my shell, the me before, the college student, academic, hard-working, creative writer and thinker, disappeared.
And so too did Gabriel. The Gabriel of his past, before his faked death at the hands of Lucifer, the laughing, lecherous, lively trickster angel, has disappeared. When we see him again in “The Thing,” season 13, episode 17, it’s in a stained straightjacket and heavy chains, dirty and disheveled, his lips sewn shut on his former sardonic words with a heavy black thread. His captor, Asmodeus, stands on the step above him, stabs him with a needle, withdraws Gabriel’s angel grace and injects it into his own veins. The demon who Lucifer called his weakest creation, the runt of his litter of hell princes, now reigns over Hell full of stolen power and demonically corrupted grace. Gabriel, an archangel, once the most powerful, now huddles at his abuser’s feet. He doesn’t try to escape.
To paraphrase a therapy session: When you have nothing left to lose, you lose yourself, and then you lose the will to escape.
Stage Two: Rescue and Escape
After two years of being together, a year of living together, me working while his disability checks went to who-knows-where, my lover kicked me out. Faced with the option of returning to his marriage and child or keeping me underfoot, he chose to set me “free.” But it was a freedom I fought against, convinced as I was that I was where I belonged. Where I deserved to be. The tiny, dingy apartment I could never keep clean enough, the kitchen where I prepared meals he found fault with, the bedroom where I performed acts I had no say in—it was all I knew anymore. “I hate you. I don’t want you anymore. No one would want such a disgusting bitch. Leave.” And I did. Moved back with my parents. Pretended I was fine.
Gabriel, pulled from hell in “The Thing” by Ketch, a villain trying to find redemption, offered to the Winchesters, desperate for an archangel to help save their mom. He would’ve been the perfect gift—if you overlook his lack of say in the matter. As Ketch tugs him to his feet, seizes an archangel blade with which to slaughter any guard demons, and drags him out, Gabriel struggles. Against escape, against Ketch tugging him away, afraid to leave, afraid of the repercussions of escape and of freedom.
Another therapeutic insight: When you’re broken, you’re afraid to become whole. Wholeness requires examining the cracks—what they are, how they got there. The cracks may let in light, but they still hurt like hell.
Stage Three: From Silence to Words
I didn’t speak of my abuse for years. Not to friends, not to lovers, not to family. Not even to myself. Convinced of my brokenness, I didn’t think anyone would listen to me anyway. When I did start telling my story, it wasn’t out loud. My lips were sewn shut to the words, but my hands, clutching a pen, poured the words out in journals and scraps of paper. When I confided in others, it was via electronic messages, texts, or written in poems. To speak it aloud gave the words power, and I had so little power left.
Gabriel, in the Winchesters’ bunker an episode later. Sam cuts the threads condemning him to silence, but Gabriel flinches away. Not only does he fear the knife; he fears the words that the thread has held back. Fears to give voice to Asmodeus’s abuse, to his own weakness. Sam gives him back a vial of his stolen grace, feeds it to him like to an invalid struggling to eat enough to stay alive, but Gabriel flinches from that, too. That grace has done terrible things in Asmodeus’s service. That grace isn’t a part of Gabriel any more. Sam tries to understand, to reassure Gabriel he knows what he’s lost, but Gabriel remains silent. Until he’s left alone. Then, he pours out his story, written on the walls of his room, covering their surface in Enochian. The language of angels. When he does speak, it’s to correct Sam—“porn stars,” he says; that’s who he’d been partying with when kidnapped. Still afraid, but he’s telling his story.
Back in a therapy session: When everything’s been taken from you, telling your truth is regaining ownership of your story.
Stage Four: Fight and Flight
For years after I moved away from my abuser, I looked over my shoulder. Afraid to trust my freedom as long as he was out there. I ran from his name, from any place we’d gone together. But still he found me, years later. I was walking past a bar, on the way home from dinner with friends, in an area of town I was sure he’d never visit, a liberal hotspot away from his confederate flag waving, white supremacist family. But he was in that bar. He looked up, saw me, followed me. Grabbed my upper arm. “I just want to talk. I never forgot you. I still love you. We were good together.”
His fingers tightened against my silence. Until I remembered my freedom. Jerked my arm free, shoved him away. “Never touch me again.” I left. He didn’t follow. The next time I heard his name, it was to hear that he’d died, succumbed to his diseased airways. Not powerful after all. Just a little, sick man twisted from his inability to cure his lungs who turned my compassion for his condition into an excuse to make me feel weak. To make himself feel strong. Who saw my fear at seeing him again and thought it gave him power. But his power ran out. And me? I started breathing deeply again and haven’t stopped since.
Because it’s television and on a limited schedule, Gabriel isn’t given the luxury of healing over time in the bunker. Once he speaks in “The Thing,” his eyes shine blue with the glow of his grace, the same grace lingering in Asmodeus’s unholy veins. Asmodeus sends demons ahead to overpower those who sheltered Gabriel, but he comes for Gabriel himself. We see Gabriel, head bowed, shrunken and following his former captor out of the bunker. He looks back sadly, bidding goodbye.
Asmodeus pushes him in his silence. “Boy, I will break you.” And Gabriel remembers who he is. Remembers he’s no boy. Remembers he’s an archangel. Finds his power. His wings unfurl in black shadows against the wall, his body glows white hot, the filth disappears from his form, and he appears for a moment like the trickster angel of the first seasons. Then, telling Asmodeus “I always hated that suit,” the white three-piece suit of a plantation owner dandy, he ends his tormentor in a column of flames. Sam, optimistic he’s fully back, asks for Gabriel’s help in the coming war against the apocalypse. Gabriel declines, flies away. Finally able to go where he wants, live where he wants. Finally able to breathe.
A therapeutic insight: After escape, you realize how much time you wasted holding your breath. And nothing is sweeter than that first exhale.
Stage Five: Rejoining the World
Before I met my abuser, I was a first-generation college student, majoring in education while rediscovering the magic of imagining worlds and crafting my own stories in English classes but losing my desire to teach under the bureaucracy of the school system. When he talked me into dropping out “for our good” I told myself it was for the best. Threw myself into working and trying to build a life and forgetting that I had once dreamed of more. Even after he made me leave him, I gave up. But college pulled me. Four years after dropping out, I went back, enrolled part-time in classes at a community college where I first heard the magic words “you’re a writer” from a mentor, then transferred to a four-year university, then to an MFA in Writing degree. Along the way, I learned how to tell my story, how to shape it, how to see it from outside myself. Learned to see I wasn’t broken. Now, over a decade later, I teach at the community college.
Gabriel doesn’t run away forever, of course. He returns the next episode, asks for help vanquishing the demigods who sold him to Asmodeus, promises to help the Winchesters in return. The demigods defeated, Gabriel finally expresses his pain. “You have no idea! What they made me do!” He shares his story. How his grace was stolen. He has to fight like a mortal now, his grace still depleted, but it’s returning. And he promises to keep fighting with them. Promises to help save the world.
Scrawled in my therapy journal after viewing the episode: “Once your power returns, you think of the people who helped you start to heal. The people who listened to your story. Who encouraged you to share it. And you realize you want to do the same.”
Gabriel’s arc isn’t the typical domestic abuse story. Asmodeus wasn’t his lover, and there was no initial period of grooming or feigned love. I don’t even know that it could technically be classified as domestic abuse. But in his story, I see mine. In his defeat, his brokenness and lost grace, I see myself, the shell, empty. In his Enochian wall scribbles, I see my old journals, now long lost to time and moves. And, in his defeat of his abuser and determination to fight, I see my own healing. My own realizations that I may have been broken, but cracks heal. Grace returns. Archangels rejoin the fight for good and abused girls grow up to heal and share and teach.
Gabriel’s final words in season thirteen: “I’m not running anymore.” Neither am I.
Karyl Anne Geary Fischer is an adjunct instructor at Jefferson Community and Technical College and works on a children’s psychiatric unit. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Spalding University. Her essays and poetry have been published in The Offbeat, Bitch Media, Lunch Ticket, Sweet, New Southerner, so to speak, Stonecoast Review, IUSoutheast Review, and Barbaric Yawp. She is currently working on a collection of essays about growing up in Kentucky and some essays about the television series Supernatural. She blogs at karylannewrites.wordpress.com.