The air was different that day. Charged. She could feel the electricity clinging to the air as she sat up on the futon in what would have been the nursery. He was snoring in the other room, that was why she had left their bed. At least that’s what she told herself. It was a gloomy day out, clouds littering the sky and threatening to discharge their loads at any moment by releasing uncontrolled torrents of rain.
She wanted to cry, so she went for a run instead. Crying wasn’t okay; feeling wasn’t okay.
She was definitely not okay. But they couldn’t talk about that.
She ran eight miles that morning. At some point around the halfway mark, the rain let loose and soaked through her running clothes. She let herself back into the apartment, dripping, and dried herself off with the towel in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs. When she was de-rained enough to not ruin the carpet, she went into the kitchen. The Britta pitcher was right was it always was in the fridge, and she used it to fill a glass with water. Her back was to the hallways that led to the bedrooms, so she didn’t know he was behind her until his hands slipped through her hair.
“Morning,” she whispered before taking a drink. She was used to being on her toes around him as his mood could change at any moment, but it was definitely different that day.
“You’re wet,” he replied.
She nodded. She didn’t dare speak.
“Where’d you go?”
“Running.” She didn’t turn around. He was like a cat with a mouse; if she waited long enough, he might lose interest and leave her alone.
“You didn’t ask.”
“I’m sorry,” automatically came out of her mouth. He had been sleeping when she left. But she couldn’t make excuses, not to him. That was unacceptable.
She tried to sidestep away from him and out of the kitchen, but he grabbed her by the nape of the neck and she froze. He slammed her face first into the counter, and the glass of water she had been drinking from went flying. She gripped the edge of the counter and used it to guide herself to the floor, cowering into the corner that was formed by the breakfast bar. Glass ground into her leg as he took her by the hair and smashed her again into the cabinet. Using her left arm as a shield, she tried to glue herself into the corner as best she could.
But he came at her with the barstool again and again.
It was a long time before he stopped.
She passed out, or maybe fell asleep. It was hard to differentiate between the two. Everything around her was dark; it had gone from morning to night, but she wasn’t completely sure it was still the same day. At any moment, she expected to see him looming above her. She had to get away, but she couldn’t breathe.
Pulling herself upright, she let the cabinet bear the brunt of her weight. Everything was bleeding together; everything was fuzzy. She tried to suck in air, but something was stopping her lungs from filling up. Someone was drilling nails on the inside of her head; she couldn’t move her arm. And there was blood. So much blood.
She needed help.
She tried to scoot across the kitchen floor, but she put her good hand down on something sharp. Broken glass. Fresh blood flooded the water, and she was dizzy at the sight of it. She put her head down on her knees, realizing she wasn’t going to be able to get up on her own. Her phone was nowhere in sight; no one was going to help her. If she was going to get help, she would have to figure it out on her own. And she definitely needed help. She needed a miracle.
A light clicked on in the living room, spilling down over the breakfast bar. He stepped into the kitchen over her legs, which were extended slightly across the tile. “You’re still here.” Reaching about with his foot, he nudged her leg with his shoe.
She clutched her freshly cut hand to her chest. There were two of him, wavering back and forth. Even more frightening. She couldn’t see straight. Her head didn’t want to stay upright. Something was very, very wrong with her. If he tried to pick another fight, she wouldn’t be able to get away.
“Are you ready to apologize?” His voice echoed above her.
Apologize? She couldn’t think solidly enough to remember what she had done. She was shaking as she tried to take another breath. A wheezing sound came out of her mouth. Everything was shades of red and black and gray. Apologize?
He kneeled down so that they were eye to eye. “Well? Answer me.”
She leaned her head back against the cabinet, trying to make the black spots disappear.
When she didn’t answer, he slapped her so hard that her head bounced back off the wood. “Get. Up,” he spit.
She couldn’t move. She tried; she sent signals to all of the parts of her body that would make her move. But nothing responded.
“You want to treat me like garbage?” he snapped. “I’ll show you what it’s like to be garbage.”
He grabbed her by the hair and hauled her upright, forcing her to stand. Her knees gave out almost immediately, and she couldn’t stay up. Searing pain tore through her entire body as she collapsed back towards the floor, but he kept a strong enough grip on her hair that she felt like she was being scalped. Their apartment was small. He had her by the glass doors before she could really process what was happening. When he finally let go, it was only to unlatch the door and slide it open.
“This is what it’s like to be garbage.”
He drove his foot into her ribs and she curled up in a ball to try and deflect the blows.
And then she was outside, and the door was sliding shut behind her.
She leaned up against the balcony railing, the hand she had cut snaking up the rails and then clinging there, lost. It was cold and wet out, but the door had clicked locked behind her; she couldn’t go back inside. It was below freezing, and she was still in shorts and a t-shirt. Each breath she tried to suck in was short and choppy, and she knew she wasn’t getting enough air. Everything hurt. She was going to die. She was going to die, and she had spent way too many years of her so-called life serving a man who was content to beat her and then leave her outside for to die, like trash. That was what she had been told love was—serve and support your husband and reproduce, just to find yourself in a proverbial wasteland of failure when you can never measure up. She could never measure up.
The neighbors were right there, right below them. If she could scream, if she could get their attention, if she could do anything…It occurred to her then that where she had hurt, the bones that were broken, the bruises and cuts, she didn’t hurt anymore. Shock was setting in. She was never going to get away; she was never going to be free.
If she didn’t do something, and soon, she was going to die before she ever really became anything.
If she survived, she would have to leave. It was time to come out of the dark.