“Mum,” I paused and checked the time, “Mum?” Another pause, “Listen, I would really love to keep chatting, but I have to go.” The voice on the other end kept going on and on about the weather for the weekend and her garden. “That’s great mum, but I’m going to go now. I love you.” Before she could respond I hung up the phone as the front door swung open.
I quickly dropped the phone face down on the couch and pretended to be focused on the television. A news broadcaster discussed new evidence in a case against a man accused of murdering his pregnant wife and their two small children. I listened to the footsteps behind me as my heart raced, I silently prayed he had missed me place my phone down.
“Who were you talking to?” His voice whispered in my ear making the hair on my arms stand on end. My heart sank as I noticed his hand placed closely next to the phone. It was a simple question that had a simple answer, but in his mind, the simple answer would still be wrong. It didn’t matter who it was, he would turn nothing into something.
“No one.” I quickly replied keeping my eyes on the phone.
Before I could react, he had the phone in his hand and was trying to unlock it. “Don’t lie to me. Tell me your fucking passcode.”
“No.” My voice was quiet as I got to my feet.
“I said, give me your passcode.” He spat keeping the phone in one hand and his other gripped the front of my shirt.
“Give me my phone.” My voice grew louder as I held his gaze. My focus became retrieving the phone and not what could happen in the process.
A devilish grin spread across his face. “Give me the fucking passcode, you whore.”
Forgetting his grip on my shirt, I lunged for the phone. He dodged the movement and in one swift motion shoved me backward and snapped the phone over his knee. I watched as he hurled it onto the tile floor in the kitchen. I stared at the device on the floor unable to move. The screen on one end was black and the other was lit faintly. A sick feeling overcame me, and tears threatened to fall from my eyes. The one piece of freedom I had was broken, and now I would need to come up with an explanation as to why.
He knelt in front of me and whispered in my ear, “Remember this when you want to be a sneaky whore. You think someone will treat you better than me? No one, and I mean no one, will ever love you like me. Remember that.” He stepped over me and made his way into the other room.
The tears streamed down my face as I quickly crawled to the phone. There was no one to call, no one I could tell the truth to. All of me felt broken, too broken to be loved.
The car pulled in; I looked out the window. “Mum?” I watched as he got out of the car, “Yeah, it was great to talk to you, but I will talk to you later.” I said hurriedly.
“Oh, okay sweetheart! I’ll talk to-,”
I cut her off, “I love you too, bye.” I hung up before she could respond and quickly placed the phone on the counter as the door shut behind me. My heart raced as I stared at the phone, “Hi, honey.” I turned slightly and flashed a smile at him. My eyes remained low as he made his way towards where I stood, “Is everything okay?” He asked.
I gestured towards the food cooking on the stove, “I’ve been cooking away. I’m making this Italian chicken pasta dish I found on the internet, and I think it’s going to be amazing. At least I hope.” My mind was racing, I knew he caught me placing the phone down. I waited for the altercation.
He nodded slowly and kissed the back of my head before picking up the phone. “Can we talk about this?” He put it back on the counter.
“What about it?” This was the moment I had been preparing for since the door shut. I kept thinking of all the ways to get the phone closer to me. I started to feel like a cornered animal and my heart began to race.
He sighed and shook his head. “I’m not him.” He paused and pushed the phone closer to me, “All I ask is for honesty. If there is someone else, please tell me. Don’t keep it from me.” I stood dumbfounded as I had expected a fight, to be told I was in the wrong.
All I could say was, “I know.” I paused for a moment, “I know you’re not him, and I’m sorry. I’m still learning.” My voice cracked as I tried to hold back tears.
He pulled me in for a hug. I was engulfed in his warm and loving embrace and could no longer contain my emotions. I sobbed into his chest, soaking his shirt. “You’re a grown woman, you’re allowed to talk to whoever you want to. You don’t need to be afraid that I’m going to catch you, or that I’m going to be mad that you were talking to someone other than me.”
My vision was blurred as I looked up at him, “Thank you. I needed to hear that.” It was the truth. There were many parts of me still broken from the past, and I needed to face them to heal and move forward. I was no longer trapped in a situation of constant pain and suffering. This, the here and now, was what it felt like to be loved how I deserved to be loved.
“We will work on it together.” He smiled at me and wiped my tears. I smiled back and then swatted his hand to keep him from tasting the food on the stove.
“It’s not ready!” I laughed.
I stood by the stove preparing dinner when he walked in. A pile of mail left his hands and landed on the table. “Anything good come in the mail?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Looks like just some bills and you got a piece of mail from some university. Probably a scam.”
I watched as he walked into the bathroom and shut the door. I stood still listening closely for the sound of the shower running, and once I heard it, I rummaged through the mail on the table. The letter he was talking about was at the bottom of the pile. There in the corner of the envelope was the logo for South End University. I tore open the envelope and pulled the letter out. My eyes scanned the page and a smile spread across my face.
“What is it?” His voice startled me. I hadn’t noticed the shower stop or heard the bathroom door open.
“I got in,” I said softly.
“Got in?” He looked confused. He made his way toward me and took the letter out of my hands. I watched as his eyes scanned the letter and a fire was ignited within them. “What the fuck is this?” He met my gaze as I went to grab the letter from him, and he gripped my wrist to stop me.
“I applied to college. I told you that was my plan, remember?” His grip tightened around my wrist, and I winced in pain.
He crumpled the paper and tossed it to the floor. “Oh, you told me. You told me? You don’t get to tell me what it is you’re doing. You ask me. This decision isn’t just about you. Do you even care about me at all?”
“What are you talking about? How does me wanting to better myself make it so I don’t care about you?” I said confused.
He laughed and threw his arms up. “You’re so stupid. This means we will never have anything nice because your dumbass just put us hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. So inconsiderate, and it’s a waste of your time. You don’t need to be busy with school when there is shit to be done around here.”
I pulled my arm away from his grasp. “I don’t need your permission to do anything. I am going back to school, period.” I tried to stand taller to show I wasn’t going to back down to him this time but flinched as soon as he stepped forward.
“We’ll see how long I allow you to take these classes.” He said through clenched teeth. When he walked away, I picked up the crumpled letter on the floor and stuffed it into my purse.
I stared at the typed-up email in front of me, contemplating whether to hit send or not. The longer I thought about it the more I thought about when I had originally applied. All of me wanted to hit send and take the leap to better myself, but his voice played in the back of my mind; This means we will never have anything nice. “Hey, can I talk to you?” I asked.
The television played the basketball finals which were very important to him, and part of me felt horrible for interrupting. Within seconds of me asking he paused the television and turned to me, “You can talk to me about anything.” He said.
I shifted nervously in my seat. The words evaded me. I was embarrassed for even bringing it up, inside I knew he would support me. I still couldn’t help but feel I would be ruining his life if I didn’t talk to him first. I finally broke the silence, “I want to go back to school and finish earning my degree.”
He caressed my hand in his and smiled. “Do it.”
I searched his eyes looking for any sign of doubt, anger, or discontent. It was the answer I was looking for, but I still felt like it wasn’t the answer I was meant to receive. “You don’t think I would be ruining your life by making that big of a decision?”
He stared at me for a moment, knowing the reason behind my question. “You want to know what I think?” I nodded in response. “I think, you should never feel as though you are ruining my life by bettering yourself.” He paused for a moment tracing my hand with his fingers, “I also think, if I ever make you feel as though you’re ruining my life by doing something for yourself then I’m a horrible person.”
“Okay.” I squeezed his hand and pressed send on my email. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he went back to watching the game. I noticed my heart rate slow and felt at ease. He is not him, I thought to myself, he will never be him. I am free to be me.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I can’t believe you chopped all your hair; you look like a completely different person! I love it. It looks so good!” My best friend shrieked in excitement.
“It is a change I’ve been needing. I’m so happy with how it turned out!” I said with a smile.
“Has he seen it yet?” It was a dreaded question that I wasn’t sure how to answer.
“Not yet.” I said, “He’s going to hate it though.”
“What do you mean? You look good, why would he hate it?” She asked. There was a long list of reasons. I hadn’t told him about my hair appointment would be the first, the second would be the length, and the third would be because I was gone all day, and nothing got done in the house before he got home.
“He just doesn’t love short hair on me. That’s all.” I shrugged. My mind wandered as I considered every scenario that could occur once he sees my hair. My best friend's voice started to fade into the background as I became lost in thought.
When I pulled into the driveway his car was already there. I took a deep breath as I slipped my phone into my pocket to keep it as close to me as possible and slid my hood up. The door creaked open, and only one light was on in the corner of the room. He was sitting in front of his computer. His hands were moving erratically as they pressed and pushed buttons on a controller and a headset covered his ears. I crept towards the kitchen watching him waiting to see if he would notice me. When I made it to the kitchen, I let out a sigh of relief and let my hood fall.
“What the hell did you do?” His voice boomed startling me. I spun around to face him.
“You scared me.” I held his gaze and could see he was expecting more of a response. “I got my hair done today,” I said.
“When did you tell me you were getting your hair done?” He questioned.
“I told you a couple of days ago when I made the appointment,” I said as I backed further into the kitchen.
“Oh, you told me. You TOLD me. I forgot we don’t ask about things anymore we just tell.” He looked at me with disgust as he reached out and touched my hair, “What the fuck did you do? Do you like looking like someone took a chainsaw to your hair? That’s what it looks like. You are supposed to ask me before you do anything to your hair, do you understand?” His voice grew louder as he spoke, and I continued to retreat further back into the kitchen.
“I thought it looked nice,” I whispered and bit down on my lip to keep from crying.
“I thought it looked nice,” he mimicked. “It looks awful. Women with short hair are ugly. You are ugly to me now, does that make you happy?” I shook my head still trying to hold back tears and was now trapped between him and the counter. “One day you will listen to me.” He quickly grabbed my hood and yanked it back over my head. He pushed down causing my leg to give out underneath me. I cried out in pain as my knee connected with the tile floor. Without looking back, he went back to his game.
I slowly and quietly crawled into the other room and shut and locked the door. The pain from my knee was radiating down to my ankle. I sobbed and pulled my phone out of my pocket. When the screen lit up my eyes grew wide. I put the phone up to my ear, “Mum?” I said.
“Pack your bags. I’m coming to get you right now.”
The radio played softly in the background, and I fixed my hair in the mirror. “Thank you so much mum, I love it.” I smiled brightly.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Happy Birthday.” We pulled into the driveway of my home and his truck was parked outside. “He’s going to love it. I’m sure he’s even planned the most romantic evening for the two of you.” My mother gushed.
“He always plans the best evenings; I’m not sure he’ll want to go out anywhere with me if he hates my hair though.” My smile slowly faded. I was filled with worry and doubt. It had been years since I had last done anything to my hair, and I could still hear his voice whenever I thought about changing it. You are ugly to me now.
My mother took my hand and squeezed it. “Do you like it?” She asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Then so will he.” She released my hand and looked toward the front door. “That man in there loves you the way you have always deserved to be loved. I thank God every day for that.” Tears were forming in her eyes. She embraced me and rushed me out of the car to keep herself from crying.
I entered the home, and the lights were dimmed, candles were lit, and there was a small gift on the table. He came around the corner and stood in the doorway. “There’s the birthday girl!”
I flipped the switch to the kitchen light and pointed to my hair, “Do you like it?” I asked.
For a moment, he didn’t say anything. The longer he stared at me the more I wished I had on a hoodie to hide in. I started to feel insecure when he finally said, “Is that the color you wanted? It doesn’t look like the picture you showed me.”
I could feel myself going numb, even though the words didn’t come directly from his mouth I knew he hated it. All I could think about was how my hair didn’t resemble the picture and how he must think I’m a liar. My mind began to race, and I felt the urge to run away. “Are you okay?” He asked breaking my train of thought.
“I’m sorry I even dyed it, and it seems like I lied when I showed you the picture. I buy box dye to fix it.” The words fell from my mouth. I wanted to hide but had nowhere to go.
He took my face in his hands and I focused on his deep green eyes, “Listen to me,” he said, “I never said you were a liar, and I don’t care if it doesn’t look like the picture. I don’t even care if you hate it. I think you’re beautiful, no matter what. Do you understand?”
“You are beautiful, and deserving of my love, of all love. I am not him; seeing you happy is what makes me happy. Do you understand?”