Tag Archives: domestic abuse

Less Than

He was not allowed in my apartment. Yet, the night he proposed, he baked a chicken there. And potatoes. The little ones, red, chopped up and coated in some sort of butter and garlic. His need to do the thing he wanted overrode what I wanted, and I had no way to stop him. I wasn’t even home; I’d been traveling that weekend, leading a youth retreat with his mother to the Thunderdome for some religious concert whose frontliner no longer seems important. His mother let it slip on our way back that he was there, because I mentioned wanting to take a nap after spending the weekend with so many young kids; when I expressed my discontent over his presence in my apartment, she called me ungrateful for the meal he’d provided.

“A better girlfriend would appreciate all of the effort he’s put in. Would say thank you.” Her precise words still resonate. A better girlfriend. I had tried to be that. I had. But nothing I did was enough.

The first time he threatened me has stuck with me in strange technicolor detail that floods me at such random times–when I see a flower, when I hear a song, when someone gives me a card. We were sitting on the couch in the apartment I shared with his sister, a red and yellow plaid deathtrap that I covered with a gray blanket, watching a movie. He pulled the blanket over us to have what he jokingly referred to as “happy movie time;” I said no. It was the first time I said no. It was the first for a lot of things. It somehow escalated from there, yelling and screaming and me wanting to cuss but not because I was still a good woman of God then, or so I thought. I remember the precise moment it occurred to me: You are unhappy here. Go.

So I did.

My keys were in the always empty crystal fruit bowl on the two-seater kitchen table, and I stood up and scooped them up without fanfare. I said nothing to him. He may have asked where I was going; he definitely paused the movie we had started. We hadn’t gotten to the pants-off stage of things, so all I needed was my coat and I was gliding out the door before he even knew what was happening, on an elated high because how had I never realized before that it was as simple as walking away?

I mean. It was never that simple.

He had me by the elbow before I was at the door to the parking lot, said some words about how I couldn’t go, how we would fix it, how I could change. Me. Me change. I didn’t want to change then. I opened the door and he dug in with his fingers as I stepped through, sinking through the coat like a falcon on prey.

“You can change, I promise you can.” He was so certain, so, so certain that it was me that needed to change.

God, his fingers hurt. Asshole.

We were suddenly at the car, a tornado of emotions and rage and something called love that wasn’t actually what it was named for. He threw me to the ground like I was nothing because I was nothing, so I screamed fire because it seemed like the thing to get people to come. He backed off; I got in the car and drove away as he banged the back hood and then threw himself down like a toddler in a fit. It was dark, but I still saw his shadow in the rear view. My elbow stabbed; I cried.

Fast forward a few weeks. I told myself that I loved his sister too much to leave. I didn’t know, then, what that love was. I thought I could go back to the apartment she and I shared and not be involved with him, just with her. We made a rule that he was not allowed inside, but I came home the week before Valentine’s Day and there he was, on the tattered couch, ready and waiting with the blanket and a very clearly planned agenda. I locked myself in my room. He came every night that week with gifts I had no need for–a teddy bear, roses, chocolate–and then the Phantom of the Opera tickets. It was a limited run engagement of the movie starring Emmy Rossum as Christine, and it was playing at one moviehouse in Wisconsin. Like the Phantom himself, he had banked on the fact that I wouldn’t be able to resist the music. He guessed correctly.

There were red rose petals on the seat of his Chevy when I opened the door; the car smelled of sickly sweet flowers layered over the normal blend of Axe and All Spice. He took me to dinner at Outback when we normally only went as expensive as Chili’s, and he told me over an onion blossom and then filet mignon that he was sorry for his part in things but he knew I could change. “You can be better. Then we can be better.”

It’s my fault you’re not better?

I didn’t say anything.

He paid, for everything, when before we had always split. Was he actually changing? Was this how it was supposed to be between us, a quiet storm held back by steak and movie candy? We got in the car to go home after, me quietly humming after Emmy’s haunting vocals and him clutching the wheel at ten and two. His hand slipped down to my thigh.

“So we’re together again, then?”

It was a choice, a simple yes or no in a car going nearly 70 miles per hours down the freeway, and I said yes because it seemed easier. I had to be with someone to be whole, and if not him, then who? I let his hand stay on my thigh. I let it drift. I forgot how my elbow had hurt and resolved that yes, yes I would change, because it was better this way.

I always went back, and that is how he knew he could push the envelope, he could bend the rules that I had set for our relationship. He could make an entire meal in my kitchen where he wasn’t supposed to be, and I wouldn’t like it, but I would say nothing. He knew that I would go home and let myself in and sit at the cheap Target kitchen table that he’d disguised with a fancy fringed red tablecloth topped with silver candlesticks and eat baked chicken and my favorite potatoes off of what I could only presume was his parents china set, because I owned nothing more expensive than a Goodwill plate I’d gotten for a dollar.

I wasn’t surprised when he got down on one knee the instant my too-fancy knife and fork touched down in their after-meal positions. A week and a half prior to my trip, we were sitting in his parents kitchen when he presented me with a ziplock bag filled with rings.

“Do you like any of these?” He opened the bag and unceremoniously dumped the collection onto the table. There were a plethora of choices—a simple gold band, a silver ring made of an ivy pattern, some random sparkly pieces that looked like costume jewelry. The one that stuck out to me was made of leather, a peace sign about  half an inch high that spoke to me and slid onto my finger as if it had been created for me.

“Will you marry me?” he half laughed, half joked.

“I mean, I guess?” I twirled the ring around, admiring the fit. “But you’re joking right?”

“Yeah I’d definitely get you a real ring,” he quipped.

The peace sign ring was his mother’s. To no one’s surprise, he used the size to order an engagement ring and wedding band duo, which he presented me the night he cooked me dinner.

“Am I supposed to make a speech here?” he knelt beside me at my dining table, the real ring box open and extending in my direction. He’d done a good job picking it out, the diamonds were small and just my style. I carefully took the ring from the box and slid it on; I don’t think I ever actually said yes. It seemed like taking the ring was more than enough.

B and I sat together on my ugly plaid couch and snuggled; I clutched the remote and he clutched my vagina. He had preloaded the remake of Amityville Horror into the DVD player before I arrived, and it played and I sat and I thought about my life, and I made a choice to be less than.

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Out of the Dark

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.

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