TW: domestic abuse, violence
Some nights, like this night, sitting across from my husband at the small pub-style table at the window of our kitchen feels… wrong. Like it’s really familiar, but it’s almost unreal.
Lifting a piece of chicken to my mouth on a fork, I look at him looking at the food. There’s always something wrong with it; there’s always something I mess up. I watch him slowly cut through the chicken and stab the loose piece. Everything he does seems violent, even the smallest of things. Sometimes I feel like I’m always underground - under the dirt that he steps on and the mud he curses for soiling his shoes. Chewing, he looks up at me.
“Decent,” he says.
I let out a sigh of relief and realize I wasn’t breathing until he said that.
“What’s your problem?,” he asks.
Fuck, I breathed wrong. I try really hard to smile and apologize. “Sorry,” I say. “It’s nothing.”
“You know, I’m really tired of all your tension. You act like I’m some kind of monster.”
“No - no, babe. I’m just tired and my anxiety has been a little hard to deal with today. I’m sorry, really. I don’t want to make you feel like that.”
He rolls his eyes and mutters something about me being a stupid bitch. I put my head back down and concentrate on eating. Even the whispering seems violent. Even the eye roll seems violent.
I am on the edge of my seat and the edge of my mind. He’s just on the edge. Perpetually.
Suddenly, “Seriously, what in the actual fuck is your problem today? This attitude is unreal right now. What do you even have an attitude about? You haven’t done shit today - there are dishes in the sink and my shirts aren’t pressed and this dinner is completely half-assed -” he pushes his plate towards me, forcefully. It clashes into mine and both fall into my lap, covering me in chicken and sauce and salad. I do everything in my power not to react. Don’t flinch. Don’t move.
“Now look at the mess you’ve made! I don’t know why you always have to behave this way. Why am I always so angry in my own fucking home? Living with a girl who thinks she should just have everything given to her. Disgusting. Clean this shit up. I’m going to go get some real fucking food.”
I don’t immediately move; I just keep my head down.
“What did I just say?” And then he gets an inch away from my face and screams into my ear. “WHAT. DID. I. JUST. SAY?”
“You told me to clean up the mess.”
“My mess. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-”
“Lift your fucking head up when you’re talking to me. I’m so tired of your little victim routine. This is YOUR fault. LOOK AT ME.”
I’m choking back a scream and choking back tears and praying that my eyes aren’t wet as I lift my head to look at him in the eye. “I’m sorry, babe, really. I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
He looks at me as if he wants to end me. He says nothing, turns towards the front door, grabs his jacket off the wall hook and puts it on as he opens the front door and then slams it behind him. I hear the car start, back up on the road, and then slowly fade as he drives away. I let out a sigh of relief.
I forgot to breathe again. In the underground. In the dirt.
I spend the evening cleaning, doing laundry, pressing his shirts, researching new recipes. Hoping he wouldn’t come back. Knowing I wasn’t allowed to go to bed until he did. Knowing I wouldn’t be allowed to say no when he wanted me later.
And then I hear the car and the window lights up as the car pulls into the driveway. He slams the car door. He stomps up the steps. He opens the front door and he slams that, too. Everything is violent. If he’s not already enraged he will be soon. There’s nothing I can do.
I stand up and muster a big smile. Walking toward him and throwing my arms around his neck, I give him a “Hi, baby, I missed you,” and kiss him.
“What have you been up to all night?” He pushes me away. “Let me see your phone.”
But he sees it sitting on the coffee table and shoves past me to grab it. He unlocks it - I’m not allowed to have a private password - and begins to go through the messages. Any. All. Every social media platform. The routine inspection.
“So you haven’t talked to anyone all night?”
“No, I haven’t had time; I was cleaning and -”
“Oh you were cleaning? Can’t fucking tell.” And he nonchalantly knocks my glass of wine off the coffee table and onto the rug. It breaks - red wine marring the grey carpet. The way blood does. It comes out the same way. Baking soda and cold water.
I bend down and start picking up the pieces of glass.
“What are you doing? What the hell is wrong with you today?”
“Sorry, babe. I don’t understand why you’ve been so mad at me all day. Tell me what I did and how I can fix it. Please.” I just don’t want a repeat of last Wednesday. My eye is still swollen and I’ve not been allowed to acknowledge the broken rib. He told me it never happened. Like it always never does.
“I hate you. You’re pathetic. Do you know how lucky you are I married you? Like anyone else would have? How fucking stupid am I, right?” And he chuckles to himself, standing over me. Everything. Violence.
This can’t be real. This can’t be my life. And then I realize I’m not moving.
“What are you doing? CLEAN THIS UP!” And he winds back and kicks me under the ribs as I’m bent over picking up glass. I let out a short pained sound and try not to throw up.
“GET UP. NOW.”
I slowly bring myself upright and try not to wince while I do it. “I’m going to go get a broom for the glass,” I say.
“No you’re not. You’re going to pick it up with your hands.”
“What?” I look up at him.
“I said- PICK. IT. UP. WITH. YOUR. HANDS - NOW.”
So I start picking the broken pieces of the wine glass out of the carpet. The spilled wine really does look like blood. I suppose it might be.
He notices my hands are full but not all the glass is cleaned up yet. I try to get up to go throw what I have in the trash before picking up more. But I’m not allowed. With fingers dug into my shoulder, he pushes me back to my knees, all the glass still in my hands.
“Finish.” He spits out the word.
So I continue picking up glass. And I grasp it so hard, from the fear - of dropping it, of not being able to get all of it in my hands, of him. He’s standing over me, watching. He’s always standing over me. And my hands start to bleed as jagged edges dig into my skin. Eventually, a few drops of blood run down my wrists and fall to the floor.
Immediately - “What about ‘clean this mess up’ do you not understand?!” And this time he kicks me in the face. I fall to the floor and get cut deeply by several of the shards of glass I tried not to drop when the bottom of his boot hit me in the mouth. I barely have time to look at the glass sticking out of my palms before-
“I AM SO. TIRED. OF YOUR DISRESPECT!” and he pulls back and starts hitting me, kicking me towards the stairs to the basement. I try to curl up and protect my already broken and bruised ribs. And my head.
“STOP COWERING LIKE A VICTIM. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” And he keeps kicking. Keeps hitting. Keeps yelling. His eyes are red and he looks like a yellow cloud of poison and the vein in his forehead is throbbing and my body hurts so fucking much.
“I swear to God, one of these days you’re going to take it too far and you’re going to make me kill you. And when you get to the gates and God judges you, you’re gonna realize how lucky you were to have a husband who let you do frivolous things like go to college and read secular books and watch those ridiculous shows on the TV. God is going to spit on you and send you down to hell where you belong.” His voice got quieter throughout the time he spoke. Which made the air thicker. And made me more afraid. And then he spat on me.
He’s gonna throw me down the stairs again. The basement locks from the outside.
But instead, he stops and says, “Get upstairs. Now.” Quietly. Rage isn’t always loud.
I can’t - what happens next I just can’t. Over the years I’ve learned to say all the things he likes and do all the things he likes, because if I act like I like it and he finishes the way he likes to then sometimes we just go to sleep after, and nothing else bad happens. But there’s still glass in my hands. I’m still bleeding. And when he turns me over on my hands and knees to get at me from behind, the blood on my hands stains the sheets. He saw.
In one swift move he’s outside of me and then all around me and then I’m in the air and then I’m slammed against a wall and slumped on the floor. Naked. Bleeding. Other parts of my body turning blue and black. Other parts of me just dying. Not enough of me has died yet. It won’t ever be enough.
“Change the sheets and then get the fuck out.”
So I do as he says. And when I’m done, I walk downstairs to the living room and pull a blanket over myself. Everything hurts. I’m so tired.
I’m jarred awake moments later by his hand across my face. Standing over me, he says, so horrifyingly quietly, “Why aren’t you in your room? You’ve been absolutely terrible today, do you really think you deserve to sleep up here?”
“I - sorry, I didn’t, I mean, I- “
“Shut the actual fuck up and go downstairs. Right. Now.” He’s so quiet.
So I go. I limp down the basement stairs and gingerly lower my body onto the old army cot we found down here when we bought this house. It didn’t have blood on it then. But then again, it had never seen war. It has blood all over it now.
I am underground. The door at the top of the stairs locks and the creature on the other side calls me a stupid bitch one more time. Through the door, he yells, “Read your fucking Bible and ask God to make you into a decent woman. I swear- “ But then he stops. And eventually I hear him walk back upstairs and to bed.
Everything is blurry and bloody and painful. Always. And then, as if I am a ghost reliving the same moments over and over again, we’re back at the table in the kitchen. Another day. Another night. I’m watching him take a bite of shrimp and pasta. I'm trying to breathe quietly through the pain radiating through my entire body.
“The shrimp is overcooked and the noodles are bland. You are unbelievable!” And then he upends the entire table so that I fall backwards in my stool and the table, the plates and all their contents fall onto me. I accidentally let out a small cry from the pain.