Sad Thriller Creative Nonfiction

“Are you coming tonight?”

“Nah dude, fuck that party. You hate him; why would you go?”

“I dunno. It’s not like he’s going to be the only one there. We haven't so much as seen his shadow in months. And I haven’t been spending enough time out with friends. I can’t hide from him forever. We broke up a year ago and he is still controlling my life.”

“This is a stupid idea,” I groaned half under my breath.

She looked at me with her puppy dog eyes. They always work.

“Ugghhh, fine,” I rolled my eyes at her and pried myself off the couch. “Give me twenty minutes to put on my human woman costume.”

“Yessss, thank you!” She clapped and jumped up and down, then promptly went to the liquor cabinet. “Let’s pregame.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes again, but she was starting to convince me it may actually be fun. And I needed the old her back. She needed the old her back.

Dressed in our “going out” clothes, I think we both felt a little powerful. I hadn’t seen her like this in months. And yeah, I would have rather been on the couch. But if I hadn't gone, I’d probably feel even worse than I do now.


He was a monster. At least once a month, usually more. She stayed with him for three years after he started hitting her. She used to show up at my apartment, crying, one eye swollen shut or a bruise in the shape of his hand sitting around her neck like a horrifying choker. I can’t tell you how many times we spent an hour covering bruises with makeup so she could save face in public. It was so many times that I started buying that thick theatre foundation that covers anything, just to have it on hand. So it would seem like she was only black and blue on the inside. But just a hand run down her arm, or another man grabbing the back of her neck to pull her into a kiss, and it was off - her coverup was blown.

The problem with him is he couldn’t let go of her. And he hated me. I can’t tell you how many times I slept on the floor just inside the door to her apartment. Just in case he came. And he came a lot, following us home through dark alleyways and hoping we were drunk enough to let him inside. Sometimes I fought him. Sometimes I fought her. Neither of them truly understood that together, they were an anathema. 

Last summer, it had gotten to the point where I woke up every day wondering if I called her if she’d pick up. If he had finally gone too far and she was unconscious on the floor of her bedroom. If his knuckles were bloody. If he broke in through the window again and if he took too much of his insipid rage out on her. He’s already taken too much out of her. The night of this party was the first time in two-plus years I’d seen her carefree smile.

The first time he shattered the window at 3am to beat the living hell out of her, she didn’t do anything. She made excuses for him and she tried not to cry.

The second time he followed us home and told me to leave - they needed to talk - was the first time he hit me in the face.

The twentieth time he pounded on her door in the dead of night until a neighbor called the police, she finally filed a restraining order. And she got a big dog. And I started spending more nights on her couch than I did at my own apartment.

We were in college. This wasn’t her life. This wasn’t my life. And in the end, restraining orders are just a piece of paper.

They can’t help you.


Walking down the brick road towards The Street of Perpetual House Parties, the light summer breeze and the full moon on the clear sky gave us energy. The night felt new. She told me she felt new. That as long as she had me with her, we’d be okay.

“He hasn’t so much as called me in months. No letters, no texts, no waking up to him sat on my bed in front of a broken window. I think he’s scared of the dog.”

“Good,” I said. “He should be.”

As we walked, we passed all the other houses that were lit, in more ways than one, with friends and other students we didn’t know, dancing, drinking, playing beer pong and making out on front porches. When we reached the right house, immediately recognizing our friends, several girls squealed: the ubiquitous greeting of girls 18 through 22.

Obligatory hugs. The standard How-have-you-beens. Someone we didn’t know shoving Solo cups into our hands. Jungle juice that tasted like bottom shelf everything and Sprite.

We separated and promised each other we wouldn’t move parties without meeting up beforehand. Neither of us were comfortable walking alone at night, even if it had been months since we’d seen even a trace of him.


At the end of the night, walking home together, she was skipping. She felt free now; I could tell. And she told me it was okay if I went back to my place that night. She wasn’t worried; she had the dog. And we hadn’t seen him anywhere, not on the street, not in the houses we’d visited that night, not in the shadows behind us as we walked out of The Street of Perpetual House Parties - an unofficial “district” off the south side of campus. I walked her to her front door, asked-

“Are you sure?”

-and she hugged me and thanked me and told me to go home. So I did. We’d meet up the next morning, hungover in our sunglasses and our makeup from the night before, and we’d walk down the alley to the bar with the best bloody mary’s.

I miss that ritual.


That was the morning she died. The morning he finally won. If he couldn’t have her…. It’s a cliche for a reason.

I knocked on her front door. Once. Thrice. Seven or eight times before my heart dropped. A neighbor from upstairs yelled at me. I tried one more time. Something was wrong.

In what seemed at once like 10 seconds and 10,000 seconds, I called 911, police came, forcefully entered the door, and immediately called an ambulance on their walkies. 

In what seemed at once like 10 seconds and 10,000, I walked into her living room behind the officers. There were puddles of sticky blood all over the floor.

In what seemed at once like unreality and completely viscerally real, I saw her arm on the floor, sticking out from behind her kitchen counter breakfast bar. And in what I still feel every time I close my eyes, I walked around to the edge of the kitchen to see her lying there, in a puddle of her own blood. One arm broken behind her back, both eyes swollen shut, her jaw sat at an unnatural angle, the dog sitting in the red puddle with her, head on her chest, quietly whimpering.

The police told me to get out. I took the dog with me.

There was no viewing at the funeral; she was too disfigured. Her parents blamed him. The law blamed him. But I blamed myself. If I had just stayed with her. If I had even just stayed for a nightcap before I went home. If we had never gone to the party. If she had just moved somewhere he didn’t know. If we had just broken our leases and moved in together. If a protective order was more than just a symbol. But they can’t help you. The police couldn’t help you. The law couldn’t help you. I couldn’t help you.

In the end, nothing can help you.

July 29, 2021 14:01

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