Butterflies by A.L. Freeman
“Hey Babe, wassup.” (It was more of a statement than a question.)
Kevin walks into the room and greets me like nothing ever happened, closing the front door behind him.
“Hey,” I say softly, lowering my head, until he comes over to the couch where I am sitting and takes a kneel, grabs ahold of my chin with his fingertips and lifts it upward gently to meet him face to face. I still couldn’t look at him directly. He might take it as a sign of disrespect and we’ll start the process all over again.
By process, I mean that he’ll challenge me with a trick question. I try to answer it, carefully choosing my words so I don’t get punched, slapped or dragged onto the floor. If I don’t, like one of his soldiers he’ll say, “Don’t you hear me talking to you? You deaf or something?” We’ve done this so many times, I know the script by heart.
“Hey, I got you something.” From the smell that fills the room, I already know he’s gotten me roses. He sweeps the flowers from behind his back and places them front and center under my nose.
“You like roses, don’t you? You know what they say, Babe, stop and smell the roses.” I manage to take a sniff and let out a half smile. I keep my answers short, so as not to anger him.
“What, you don’t like ‘em?” Of course I liked them. I just didn’t like what they stood for. As beautiful as they were, the red reminded me of the blood stain on my lips and the hints of hints of darkness reminded me of the dark bruise that was beginning to form underneath my eye.
I raise my eyelids to look directly at him and plant my swollen lips onto his.
“Oh my God, they’re beautiful!” I say, so I acknowledge the effort he is making to say he’s sorry.
“Hey Babe, you know I’m sorry, right. You know I love you girl.” Oh he’s sorry alright, in more ways than one and so am I if truth be told. How could I let this happen to me? Again.
“And that’s not all. I’m takin’ you out to dinner tonight.” He stands to his feet and extends his hand in true prince fashion, forcing me to stand with him as his queen, and twirls me into a spin.”
“Now, you go clean up your pretty face and get yourself together, a'ight” What you need, ‘bout 45 minutes?
What I needed was to spin and dance the hell outta here. To go AWOL. What the hell was I waiting for?
“Yeah. That'll be enough time.” Anybody in their right mind knows that it takes a woman 30 freakin’ minutes just to decide what to wear and another half an hour to execute her look.
“You know where you wanna go?” he said, as he held me close and continued to dance. Was he really asking my opinion, or was this a trick question? Where did I want to go? Wherever it was, how was I gonna get there? That was the million dollar question I had asked myself a hundred times over the past 5 years. Anywhere safe. Maybe I wanted to go and be a butterfly -- stopping and smelling each and every rose in the garden where those roses had been cut from, in solitude. “It doesn’t matter. Wherever you wanna go.”
“That’s cool. A’right then. We gonna go to the Red Lobsters then. See, that way I know my queen feels like the queen she is. Then, I’ma go out with the boys and send you home in an Uber. You good with that?” Red Lobster? Uber? None of this says queen to me.
The hot steam from the shower streams out over my face soothing my bruises and helping me to escape for a moment into a tropical rainforest with exotic butterflies feasting on black-eyed susans and marigolds. Before I can skip to the next flower, the butterflies in my stomach bring me to fly out of the shower, lock the door and hover over the toilet bowl to vomit.
Before I can rush back to shut the shower off, his wrestling with the knob and forceful knock at the bathroom doors startles me and I make sure he knows I am present and haven’t somehow escaped out of the bathroom window butt naked.
“I'll be right out,“ I say, quickly wrapping myself in a towel and sitting on the toilet and reaching for the knob.
“Why do you have this door locked? Unlock this door!”
“I was on the toilet” I say. “What did you need, sweetheart?” It was always best to play nice.
“Yeah, ok. I want you to wear that black dress I like,” he says, knowing I already have the red one laid out on the bed. I know from his years of military service, that he can never quite give up control.
“Sure,” I say, but before I can get it out, he has already slammed the door behind him.
I flush the toilet and press my palm gently across my stomach knowing that a piece of him must be growing inside of me. I walk to the window and raise it open and breathe in the fresh outside air and look at the green grass on the ground two stories below. I’d never make it. What if I hurt my baby? I close the window and wipe away the fogged up mirror to see the girl staring back at me. When I look at the bruised 38 year old woman looking back at me in the mirror, I ask myself how I had let myself get here. I was that girl. The one’s I had read about who I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t leave. A girl afraid to stay, but too frail to leave. How was I going to do this? I was, as my mother said, stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was reminded of Maya’s words of warning, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” Despite the best advice, and multiple warning signs, I married him anyway. Love had made me as blind as the fog which had formed into the room. I shut off the shower, brush my hair into a quick ponytail, reach for my makeup and begin to cover my scars in a rush to get ready. With butterflies and a knot in my stomach, I step into the bedroom knowing I never want to see that girl again in the mirror.
I slip into the black dress he has swapped out and can barely make it zip.
“You gettin’ a little thick ain’t you. Here, let me get that for you,” he says as I turn around, sucking in my stomach and hoping to God it will go all the way up.
“Turn around and let me see you,” he says, putting both his hands on my hips. “We gonna take care of that when I get home tonight.” Make-up sex wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And while I couldn’t stand him touching me, I would be sure to put on a good show.
“Hurry up. I’ll be waiting in the car.”
“I just need to put on my shoes.” I reach into the closet and slip into my heels and grab an extra pair of flats and shove them into the bottom of my purse. A voice in my head says, “It’s going to be cold tonight,” so I grab a sweater too, knowing I will not be back.
“Freeman, party of 2, follow me please,” the hostess said, leading us to a small booth.
“Here’s your menu. Your waitress will be right with you. Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll have a beer. Miller light.”
“Just water for me, thanks.” I glance over the menu and try and try to pick something that won’t make me gag. Meanwhile, Kevin is staring at me because he already knows what he is going to have, the Chicken Marsala. The same thing he always has. A few minutes pass and our waitress arrives with a giant bowl of salad and a basket of garlic and chive biscuits that do the trick. The smell of the garlic seems to trigger both my stomach and him.
“Hi, I’m Katie. I’ll be serving you tonight. Are you ready to order?”
“Yeah, Im’a have the chicken Muh-sah-la. And what you havin’ babe?”
“I'll have the Meatballs and spaghetti.”
“Great, I’ll have that right out for you.”
Kevin reached for one of the biscuits, popping it into his mouth. “Aren’t you having some?"
“No, I’m good for now. I’ll have some salad though.”
“A’ight then,” he says and begins heaping salad onto my plate. “Bit**, you not gonna waste my money.” I take a sip of water to cool the sting. My name is Angela I want to say. An-ge-la, you asshole. Angela as in Angel. I am a gift-got-damit. You low down piece of sh**, don’t you see that? No, you’re too daam wrapped up in yourself that you can’t see it. And with that, I head for the restroom and prepare to leave not knowing where I was going.
“Baby, I’m not. Do you mind, I’m just going to go to the restroom to wash my hands.”
I begin to scoot out of the booth and reach for my sweater.
“What you need that for?”
“The water made me feel cold,'' I say light-heartedly, draping it over my shoulders. “Ooh,” I say for emphasis to make it seem real.
“Hurry back. I ain’t tryna let the food get cold too."
“Ok,” I say with butterflies in my stomach. And with that, I prepare to take the leap of faith and fly out of the window.
In the bathroom, I take a glimps of the woman looking passing by the mirror and her, "You can do this, Angie. You're worth it."