“Are you safe?”
The question seemed surreal at 2am in December of 2009. My thoughts barely hugged the sanity rails as the cop’s lips moved slowly. My hands were glued to the steering wheel, clammy and cold. My wrists hurt. I shivered under my pink chenille bathrobe and pajamas. Bright flashlight burned my vision not nearly as much as the flash of blues and whites illuminating the quiet street twinkling with Christmas.
What drew the cruiser’s attention was my boyfriend, highly snockered and staggering in the middle of the street, with me following closely behind trying to get him into the car. He wanted to break into a building and sleep. He wanted to jump off the bridge and die. He was screaming incoherently in the street.
I remember how we fell into each other in 2000. It was such a strange courting. He was my husband’s best friend and my knight in shining armor when we discovered my husband was cheating with a friend. He took me to his bosses’ bar every night to talk. We’d close the bars talking and I’d cry my heart out on his sleeve. Life took its natural course and we started dating not long after.
Maybe I should have run like hell when he left me waiting at our new apartment one night so he could have one last goodbye night with his married Navy wife mistress that I thought was long gone. Or the night he left me to fend for myself when I got home from surgery, so he could go drinking.
Maybe I should have sprouted wings and flown for a safe space when he confessed his first long-term girlfriend was terrified of him because he threw a television at her (but he was drunk and hey, it didn’t hit her, was his arguable defense). But I didn’t run. He was “better than the last one.” An upgrade. A plastic model geek. Slender, pale, weird about getting dirty, and a workaholic.
Still, there was his pissing in the downtown bushes on the way home.. drunk driving from A to B.. but nothing new to a woman who’d been married to a punk lead singer for ten years. I’d grown up around alcoholics, had familial alcoholism, and to me it was just what it was.
The day we found our first house to buy- it was perfect for us, ironically. The tattoo artist who sold it to us had a bang-out party on her last night, and somebody vomited on the roof. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the paint she’d chosen, aptly named Tombstone.
Then the baby making started in a laboratory. Baby girl makes three, plus five in the cryofreezer.
Then we bought an picture framing business. I nursed our baby in the back room, working 6 1/2 days a week, listening with one ear to this plastic man I thought I knew, who seemed to have an opinion for everything – how I could work the shop better, how I wasn’t making enough breast milk, or not quite up to par to his mother’s cooking.
The triple family trauma tsunamied our house. Death, death, and death. His favorite term, all women are money-hungry bitches. Maybe she sensed his hatred for women, because our daughter cried her eyes out whenever he got near her. I co-slept on the couch or recliner with her. She couldn’t breathe flat on her back.
Maybe God was screaming hints in the wind that winter night to get out when our sick little house broke in two. He wouldn’t abandon the house. I wanted to leave. We lived in a broken sick house for six months while it was repaired. The word c-c-c-cold became a frequent new word in our child’s developing vocabulary.
She was bundled in my arms, and he kept blocking my path. Her fever was high and she was barely responsive. I was running to the car from the sick house, to take our child to the emergency room. That’s the first time I remember his hands on me, pushing me back so hard that I almost dropped her. Then another shove, yelling. My feet traveled backward until my heel was against the porch steps. Suddenly I was inside, watching him lock the deadbolt. I remember looking at the wall clock, my hips sinking into the couch as I held onto her feverish body. He looked at me, grunted, and went upstairs.
I have never been able to forgive myself or understand why I couldn’t fight. I argued and reasoned with myself all night long as I fought her fever down, telling myself over and over he was just in a rough patch. A few months later, our child had major surgery from the severe ENT infection.
“I want to rape you.” Those words burned me to numbness that night as he uttered them, thinking it was a turn-on. I relived flashbacks from my childhood for two days. I can’t even remember this incident now. I uncovered it in old emails to our couples counselor and as I read it, fear ate at me. I read my own words, justifying and covering his ass, writing about the flashbacks. But I can’t remember.
I remember the flash of pain and stars, and feeling stupid confusion. I’d just moved in and left him. It was my first night away from him. He made it inside, in my living room drunk pissed, screaming he hated me and demanding glasses of water, and our child seemed to be asleep on the couch. He wanted sex. I said no. He slept in my makeshift bed and I slept on the couch curled around our little girl protectively. He left hours later, slipping out as quiet as a mouse while we slept.
My escape route was gone. He’d taken our cushion and my salary out of the business into a private account. I still remember the day he stormed into work, waving the checkbook in my face. “I’m not gonna pay for your little vacation.” But he had never worked a day in the five years we’d owned it. In fact, he couldn’t even operate the cash register. That didn’t keep him from coming in at his leisure, pushing me into the card racks with his words. And it happened every day. His day job was across the street.
The night was cold and wet. I was locked out of my house, without my child. He told me I couldn’t come home to her until I “took care of the problem”. I had fallen in love with someone. I barely remember the night, or the lies he told me to say, but I did it and fell apart in a mourning on the kitchen floor with my child holding me, and him standing over me sickly pleased. I hadn’t talked to the someone in months.
Three years later, I found out from the medical team my someone had called for help, close to killing himself that night because of what I said. I’ve carried that someone- my Sandman- close to my heart, as he has slowly been drinking himself to death since then, and he is written about often.
He told me to pose, moving my arms over the pillow. My dark hair cascaded starkly against the pale bed pillow. I had just been raped by him, and he was capturing the moment.
I say rape because I only remember bits and pieces… parts that frighten me.. saying no, and then everything went blank.. and then the camera. When I try to remember, the Sandman dream I used to have surfaces of him coming through the bedroom window to rescue me. The photographs I found later, I recall sometimes with crystal clarity. There were six weeks of my life that I have been struggling to remember for three years. But I have no memory of much else except it was before I dramatically transformed into a blonde, wearing different clothing. The time, and the key elements, are locked away in my thinker.
He was hammered at a business Christmas party but I kept passing on the drinks. I just wanted to go. I’d worked a double that day at our business and swing shift at the nursing home. I’d lost so much weight from stress and doubles that my clothes hung from my hip bones. But the nursing home was saving me and I had income he couldn’t touch.
The couch kept calling my name quietly as he talked me past my limits. I was so tired. I tried to get up out of bed but I kept falling back hard without doing anything. I fought harder, pushing to get up, demanding to get up… I flew back several feet. My wrists stung, my arms hurt and my ears were roaring. I wasn’t in the same place I started, not even close.
I remember scrambling onto and curling up in the middle of the bed, having trouble making sense. I watched him. One shoe on, fly open, no coat or teeth, falling down the stairs and out the door he went, screaming loud enough to wake the world.
And here we are talking to the police at 2am. I’m in my jamas, and he’s half dressed and three-quarters off his rocker with no teeth. Perfect. We are just THE perfect couple. They do not know.
I don’t know what safe means, Officer. I really don’t.