WARNING: domestic abuse theme, and a few cuss words.
If he says he won’t do it again, don’t believe him.
I scroll the letters across the top of the page, biting my fingernail down until the sensitive skin is burning for me to stop. I look down at it and let out an ‘oops’ in surprise. I wipe the small bead of blood on my blue jeans.
My attention moves back to the page, and I realize I haven’t addressed the letter to my future self yet. If I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right, eh?
To My Future Self,
I tap my pencil against the notebook with anticipation. What do I even say to myself? This seems too silly to proceed. My eyes dart around, half because I don’t want anyone to pick up on just how ridiculous I am for writing to myself, and half because I expect him to walk over any time and drag me back.
Those flowers, those gifts, those promises. They weren’t real. It’s called love bombing. You won’t get those moments back without the bad.
I dig what’s left of my nails into my fingertips to stifle the urge to scratch it all out and just throw it away.
That first night he hit you and told you that you were useless. THAT WAS THE REAL HIM. Hold onto that. He’ll always say otherwise.
I gulp down the bad taste in my mouth and continue.
You need to remember what he did to you. Forgetting only helps him. Remember the hours of cooking and cleaning you put in only to be told
it wasn’t good enough. No, you remember the words. They ring in your ears every time you pick up a pot and pan.
“What is this? Are you serious? This is a joke, right? Nel! This is disgusting. What are you feeding me? Trash? You’re a shit cook! This is what I get for working ALL day while you do whatever you want. Fucking garbage?”
Remember the look on his face. Remember his hand closing into fists and the blood rushing to his fingers, reddening his skin as they tighten in anger.
Then he hit you.
No. Remember them moving back just before they connect with your forearm as you cowered in the corner. Your right arm when you make another attempt to disappear into the corner cabinets of your kitchen. The blows that followed.
Remember them, Nel.
I suck in a deep breath to collect myself. The pencil falls to the grass, and I leave it be a moment, reminding myself why I’m doing this. Dr. Bell has your best interests at heart. She knows what you’ve gone through to escape.
She knows what it takes to not go back.
It was hard enough to spill all my dirty secrets to a therapist, but something about writing a note to myself in the future just feels sick. Of course, Dr. Bell didn’t tell me what to say to myself. But I already know what it will take to maintain the courage to move forward and rebuild the mess he manipulated me into being.
I must remind myself of the things he did wrong because he certainly wouldn’t. He will pretend they didn’t happen — at least not as I remember them. After all, my memories are always so foggy. I roll my eyes at the thought and pick up the pencil.
Remember the time you stopped talking to your family because they were the ones that didn’t actually love you.
Remember when he bought you flowers… Just to throw in the trash later that night.
Remember the words, Nel. You know them. They’ve haunted you the last five years. Worthless. Disgusting. Insignificant. Nothing. A nobody.
Remember him at his worst.
Remember why you left.
Remember why you cannot go back.
A lump forms in my throat and I have to stop. I can’t do it anymore. It’s too much, so I revert to a more positive tactic.
Remember your worth, Nel. You have so much talent and ambition. Get back to painting. Add those sunset yellows and blue skies back into your work. You deserve to be happy. Truly happy. And you don’t need anyone else to make it happen.
You know what, add in those grey skies too. They may be a part of you, but they certainly do not define you.
What is it that Christy Ann Martine once said?
My top teeth pull at the corner of my bottom lip, slowly trailing over a healing bruise that signaled the last time.
“I am terribly broken and know darkness well but the light inside me has a story to tell.” Go tell your story Nel.
I kneel over and let it out. Every confusing emotion that fights to be free as I battle the person I’ve become in his presence versus who I am and who I want to be.
I walk up to the top steps of a Domestic Violence Support Group my therapist referred me to and exhale my built-up anxiety and fears.
I squeeze the note in my hand as if I could draw in each letter, each word of warning, each note of encouragement. Draw it out of the lead etched into the paper and manifest it into my very being. I open each folding, counting each time the flap opens to keep myself in this very moment — to keep myself moving forward.
The paper lays crumbled in my hand despite my every attempt to straighten it. The breeze attempts to steal the words I’ve scribbled onto paper just months earlier, but I tighten my grip. It has taken me a while to meet with the group.
I’ve debated it on several occasions, but it wasn’t until this morning that I felt strong enough to tell my story, to listen to others tell their stories.
I move my eyes straight to the very end. The reminder I need most.
MOVE ON. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST DO IT.
And so, with that reminder, I walk into a new future. One where I finally choose myself.