The sky was the brightest of blues the day I first saw him. He was walking into the red brick church, clearing the steps two at a time as the sunlight, white in the clear sky, shone on his tall form.
“See,” my friend said. “I told you he was cute.”
I was home from college for the weekend: nineteen, but feeling old and worn out from a relationship going awry.
“He’s tall,” I offered.
We didn’t talk that day, but when I came home for Christmas break, I asked him to come to a party at a friend’s house. I admired the straightness of his nose, the navy in his blue eyes, and the politeness of his demeanor. Instantaneously, we were a couple.
I stayed home to finish my degree at a local university. Not because he asked me to, I reasoned, but because I was changing majors anyway. Soon, he was driving me to my night class, even walking me to the door of the classroom. The fluorescent hallway lights created an artificial glow over his head as I smiled up at him, feeling loved and protected.
On Valentine’s Day, he bought me two dozen roses and a ridiculously large, velvet-wrapped heart filled with Godiva chocolates. The gifts engulfed the kitchen island, blocking the light from the chandelier over the dining table. My teenaged brother devoured the candies one by one, knowing to save any dark chocolate for me. “Who is this guy?” he asked. “These things are expensive.”
We got married on a bright June day. I wore a ball gown dripping with pearls and lace flowers; he wore a black tuxedo. The morning light made the tulle of my dress shimmer as I walked down the aisle, young and naïve in my bride-perfection.
Given to bouts of silence when we argued about some small thing, he wouldn’t talk for strings of long days. I would take two-hour walks, plodding endless circles around our apartment building, just to leave the thickness of that silence. When I forced a conversation, I was met with yelling, rage-ful and divisive. I fought back sharply and quickly, but ended up face down on the floor between the wall and the bed with blood seeping from my nose and staining the carpet, the light from the bedside lamp illuminating the spot.
He was sorry. He was crying. He was emotional. I forgave.
I went on a day trip to the museum with my brother, reveling in the feeling of being away and independent. I came home refreshed and chatty, but he was angry. “You wore that?” he said. I looked down at my clothes: jeans and a tank top layered with a red shirt. “I told you not to wear that; I can see right through it.” He slammed the door to the basement before stomping down the stairs to his weight bench. I heard him turn on the single overhead light with a click. I imagined the naked bulb swaying and helpless from the force of his pull.
In the laundry room, I took the shirt and sliced scissors through the red fabric. I held it up, ready to tear it in two. As I did so, light from the window blazed through the scissor slits onto my face. I paused for a moment, feeling the beams of light, but I was set on my task. With one vicious tear, the shirt no longer existed. Instead, a few indistinguishable shreds of fabric fell to the floor. I left them there and turned away.
The only light breaking into the room came from the TV. I huddled on the couch, bracing myself. He was yelling, in my face. That one forehead vein throbbed right in the center like an angry snake, slithering towards me, about to pounce. I hid my face, just as the hard-zippered edge of a large couch pillow slammed into the space next to me over and over again. I turned my body, trying to get away, but the pillow caught me right above my eye. Feeling the welt begin to form, I ran for the kitchen to grab my car keys. He stood in front of me daring me to leave, telling me I could never come back. I tried to go anyway, but he planted himself like an unyielding, impressive stone. His presence was too large for me to pass by. I went upstairs to bed.
All the recessed lights were on in the kitchen. They were glaringly loud, but not as loud as our voices, shouting, arguing. He was hovering over me, trying to take up all my space, giving me no room to breathe my own air. There was only his air, gushing from him, overtaking me, swallowing me whole. I rushed by him, and as I approached the garage steps, he slammed the door hard in my back. I tumbled down the stairs and onto the concrete. Dusting myself off, I felt ashamed and sore, a watermelon-sized bruise began to form from my hip to my thigh. I pushed past him back into the house, ignoring his voice, longing for peace. I took a shower in hopes of feeling clean again.
“You stupid, stupid Fuck Face.” The light from the late afternoon winter sun blinded me as I drove the pick-up truck toward home. I turned to look at him in the passenger seat, gauging the seriousness of the situation. “You’re joking, right?” I said.
“No, you’re a fucking idiot. A stupid fucking idiot.” My hands went numb as I tried to grasp the wheel tighter, willing myself to keep quiet until I was safely in the driveway. The familiar anxiety began to take over and made me struggle to breathe. I put the truck in park and got out. He followed me inside, yelling, insulting; calling me childish names that made me want to laugh. I went to the bedroom and stood in the corner, wishing for invisibility. I stayed there until the feeling returned to my hands and my heart stopped its racing rhythm.
He was late. In my parents’ living room, I folded laundry and talked with my brother while I waited. The U-haul sat in the street outside, packed with boxes, mattresses, and already fading memories. Tomorrow we were moving hundreds of miles away—away from everyone I knew—in hopes that life would be better, less stressful, easier.
The clock ticked to midnight when he walked in. He looked at the jeans I was folding – his jeans – and complained about my technique. I took the laundry basket upstairs, not wanting to cause a scene in front of my brother.
The light in the guest bedroom was already on when I opened the door. As I turned to put the laundry on the bed, he was right there with his middle finger in my face. I sidled past him, used to the choreography, and shut the door.
He followed, but I placed my hand on his chest, pushing him away. Our eyes locked; I was afraid. In a split second, his hands were around my neck. My upper body knocked against the wall over and over again as I struggled and slid to the floor. He slid with me and thrashed my head up and down against the base boards like I had no weight or value.
He let go. I gasped and choked as he opened the door and disappeared downstairs. I followed him, tiptoeing down the wooden steps, watching him sit on the couch and brazenly turn on the TV. In a voice raspy with fear and pain, I said, “You will not stay here with me.” He looked up with dead eyes and no response. I said, “You need to leave; I’m not staying here with you.” He stared at me, refusing to acknowledge my words.
I rushed up the stairs looking for my keys, ready to run, and passed my father. He asked what had happened. The dim light in the hallway turned bright as a bedroom door opened. My mother emerged, bleary-eyed from sleep.“I heard something. What was that noise?” she asked. I had no words.
From my place at the top of the stairs, I saw the front door standing open. He had tried to pass into the dark unnoticed. Angry, I followed him outside; I cursed him, told him never to come back. As he started the car, the harsh white light from the headlights stunned me momentarily, but I turned away before he pulled out of the driveway.
The front door was still open, wide and careless.
I crossed the threshold into an orange light. Three large shapes stood in front of me, but nothing made sense. Sinking into a chair, I felt the slickness of the leather and my own weight on the cushion. As I looked up at the shapes, I realized they were people-shapes, MY people, my family. Each face looked at me, stricken, shocked, worried, horrified.
“That was it,” I said. The orange light warmed into an apricot glow as the words left my mouth. I was safe in the truth and soundness of those words. The light, sure and right, embraced me, welcoming me home.