by MD Maurice
a woman struggles fallout from domestic abuse
|Word Count: 1490
My new friend sits across from me and takes my hand, as if that will make this easier. He takes my hand and I can not believe I am here again, here at this familiar place in yet another fledgling relationship. I owe him an explanation. We have just had our first real fight. In the heat of the argument, he had taken one critical step toward me to close the distance, to reach for me. I had reacted with wild terror. I had backed myself into the corner like a frightened child. I had cowered, covering my face. He was horrified, beside himself with having provoked such a reaction in me. He sits there across from me, his kind eyes pleading for an explanation. So...I take a deep breath and begin to tell it. Again.
I took one step back from him and collided with the wind-chime made of seashells. It exploded across my bare back, a sudden symphony that sounded like breaking glass. The floor was under me then, the grit against my palms and the wind-chime swinging uncontrollably over my head. I hadn’t expected the blow. I never did. Even when his voice grew husky and choked with rage, even when his eyes would swell up to their rims with tears, even when he’d take that one menacing step toward me - that blow always came as a startling surprise. The shock matched only by the shame of it. It was instantly sobering, evaporating my own rage and rendering me immobile.
He'd flung himself at me again but by now the worst was over. He’d broken the barrier of security with the physical blow and would now resort to his standard spitting and curse words. I'd managed to scurry far enough away from him so that the distance it would take to get to me, seemed too great to cover in his already dimming rage. My glasses were irrevocably broken. They lay next to the shattered remains of my cell phone. I wanted to burst into tears, looking at it in a hundred pieces by my feet. He dropped into a chair, his chest heaving, reluctant to leave me alone as his conscience began to roll in on him. Soon the apologies would come, then tender hands assessing the phantom bruises he was always careful not to leave.
So many times I think about my father, how ashamed of me he would be if he found out. How he would feel if he knew that this was the life I'd made for myself. I think of his gentle and protective arms again as I shakily find my feet. I pick up the all the broken pieces as he watches me, wary. I wonder how it ever got this far. It amazes my even now, still hurting in the afterglow, that I am one of "those" women. I am one of those women who let their husbands hit them. I was worse than most others though because I knew he had this special kind of sickness and yet I had still married him. I continued to stay.
There is so much shame in it all. There is so much dirt and filth in knowing the truth, being smart enough to know the right and wrong of it, and to do nothing to stop it. I just keep on keeping on; repairing the walls, picking up the glass, covering the marks, smiling through the pain and pretending it all never happened. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t my life. He loved me, didn’t he? He was always so sorry, so torn apart afterward. I’d end up consoling him, cradling him against my sore rib cage. I'd sit there crying fresh tears over and over again, each time telling myself it was the last time. Then, there would be that blow, coming as a surprise. Again.
There is a different pain reserved for when the people you love most hurt you. It’s a deep, visceral pain that takes root in your stomach and slowly leaks a toxin into you, until your soul is poisoned forever. It creates a permanent handicap, a scar on your personality that never lets you argue normally or feel anger too purely. You conserve your own rage, silence your own passions lest they bloom out of your control and become the seething, hurtful thing you scream about in your nightmares. It is safer to become automated, to become complacent, to become quieted. You don’t examine it too closely. You don’t think about it. You never talk about it. You smile, and laugh at the mere suggestion of it. You’re in control. Everyone knows you’re that kind of person. You are your father’s daughter, a professional, an independent woman, a leader. Veterans have their flashbacks, so to is it with "those" women. Women who become conditioned and learn not to raise their voices above a certain octave or stand their ground too strongly or let their guard down and make a careless joke lest they provoke the rage.
Then there are the brave and lucky women, the ones who reach a moment, a moment when they stand up, and take a step forward, into the light.
My moment came on a cold Sunday in November. Suddenly the rage that boiled up into the light was mine, not his. Suddenly the world shifted and it was he that raced away, running for the shadows as I spat and hurled curses at his fleeing back. He had nearly killed me, shoving me through our glass door. I got to my feet expecting to be cut to ribbons and finding myself with only the most superficial cuts and bruises, I ignited. I lunged at him and the fear on his retreating face drove the air back into my lungs and fired all my limbs. I shook the pieces of broken glass free my hair and left. The right side of my face throbbed as I pressed the payphone to my cheek and relayed my address to the cop on the other end. I spelled my name, I stepped out of the shadows dragging my abuser with me into the light. The sun came out as I rode away. That sunshine gave me hope but somehow I feared there would be dark places in my soul forever. I thought to myself, "those women" they can get away, but can they ever really heal? Will I always be damaged?
“I’ve always suspected, I already know," my new friend says to me. as if that will make it easier. I wonder how much more I should say. What else does he expects to hear? How much of an explanation will be enough? He sits there, just watching me. What is he waiting to hear? What it feels like? Does he want all the gory details? Does he want to hear about the stickiness of spit in your hair, or the way a dresser drawer pull feels embedded in your back? Or about the taste of blood in your throat? Or how the feeling of a loosened tooth in the side of your mouth causes that sick dread to creep across your heart? Or the way your heart pounds when a face you recognize unexpectedly appears at the window, seconds after he’s hit you in the face? How your heart throbs with anguish and you desperately wonder if they will notice the red mark that feels like a throbbing stain? Do I really owe him these things, these explanations that coat with a heavy shame? Are these awful memories the currency for new and lasting love?
And what about things more insidious? There was the way I would burn inside when friend's eyes settled on the holes in the walls and broken door and for an instant I thought they suspected my secret. Sometimes a sideways look would make the bottom of my world fall away. Or worse, that the threat of violence had influenced my perceptions on love and sex, blurring the very line between passion and brutality.
Violence awakens something inside that still lives below the scar tissue, a part of you that still believes boys never hit girls. I want to tell him about the way violence can magnify the gentleness of other men. I want to assure him that I understand, not all men have monsters lurking beneath their skin. I want to tell him that I know some men are strong and brave and that it's possible to be masculine without hurting. I want to tell him that I know he is one of these men. But, should I also tell him that even those wonderful, gentle men with their promises and patience, are sometimes not enough to erase, to fix, to heal? I smile sadly, knowing like so many before him, my new friend hasn’t the stomach for it all. I smile and take a step back. I walk away.