I can only theorize as to how we always manage to get here—how we consistently battle each other. And, we enter these battles willingly. We enter these battles armed and without any reluctance to state the unforgivable. Go ahead; lay down your suppressive fire. I can stand in the rain if you can.
Things get bad. Acidic tears rolled down my face; there was a mixture of mucous and mascara collecting beneath my swollen eyes. It burned and only intensified the crying. I was scrunched up into a sad ball against the bed’s wicker headboard, my knees tight against my shaking chest. My thin shirt felt damp on my skin from cold sweat; the escaping salt scorched the surface flesh and reabsorbed.
Things get worse. He sat on the very edge of the bed as if it was pricking him with hundreds of needles. His hands and face were still and maroon, filled with thick, angry blood. I glanced through the cracks between the fingers belonging to the hands shielding my eyes—my own—but, if you asked me whose hands they were, I’m unsure if I would have been able to tell you. My fingers framed his face. His eyes were steady on me. Unblinking. Unyielding. I pretended not to notice, but I’m not good at pretending.
There is a sheepskin slipper lying upside-down in the doorway, where it landed after he ripped it from my little, blue foot and demanded I was stupid. I was curious how many functioning neurons it took to launch a shoe. It was a modest attempt for a man who generally throws more fits than footballs. It soared several feet past the television; I’ll give it an eight. Matching slipper has yet to be found.
He shot up like a fierce flame and headed towards the door. A whine escaped from my lips, but it was more like a vibration he didn’t feel.
“I’m done,” was all he said, struggling to zip-up his faded cardigan. The door awkwardly shut, like it was resisting. It’s one of those doors that expands in surging humidity, but the only dampness found was streaming from my bright eyes. Sometimes, when we fight and I’m afraid, my mind drifts to things I know—how to draw a non-dimensional house with two crooked windows, the periodic table, and which months have thirty days. Other times, my fear forces me to consider everything that eludes me—the diameter across the sun and quantum mechanics.
My explanation is simple. Every spring, the tulips produce too many quantums which threaten the carrot turnout. The fattest bunnies lie on their backs on cool, wispy grass just eating quantums, all day. The carrots are saved. Equilibrium is restored.
My eye begins to swell. Not because he hit me. Oh, God no. My eyes just do that when I’ve been wailing, sometimes for two days. For two entire days faces are cloudy, depths of near corners and sharp edges are obscured and the world appears dusted with some sickening kind of sugar, at least around the grim edges.
I couldn’t shatter my frozen existence—even to trail the only man capable of bringing me back from the hell he put me in. He’d bring me back on a single shoulder. But, I remained in bed, rigid, unable to lift a limb. The crying clogged my nose with a solution of foul fluids, compacting because I couldn’t reach the tissues. The shallow intake of air through my mouth fought the exhales of agony and more air, desperately trying to make its way to my lungs. The sound was pathetic. If you’ve ever watched a fish die, you’ve imagined the little sounds you can’t hear he must be making. His once graceful, translucent fins are flailing erratically through crystal, chemically-altered water, trying to strike up five more minutes of life. You have then seen me. My arms were at my sides and my feet were still planted on the sheets. In fact, I’d been this way so long it hurt. I tried to remember how I got here.
Two years before, I met him on some grimy steps outside a depressing bar while keeping my chain-smoking friends safe from strangers. This is how one maintains friendships, you know. The sky looked like unimpassioned pavement, the leafless trees were without hope, and the February wind sent crumpled up newspapers, discarded fast food cartons, and the last remains of Newport Lights down a certain path to a storm drain already at capacity. Breathing in the evening air left me feeling coated with expired chicken fat, decayed egg roll, and genuinely rotten lo mein. The dumpster that belonged to the neighboring Chinese place led a double-life as a green, scaly monster who came alive after closing time and spewed bits of noodle and garbage at all the dejected souls taking up space in the parking lot.
I was fanning myself from the cloud of smoke. There was a circle of young men in dark coats and sideburns in need of re-thinking smoking to our left. I felt misplaced at a longshoremen’s convention. I had been kicking my strappy Mary Janes to free them of the ash landing on them. Then he stumbled over in his black coat—drunk as a mother fucker—complete with coarse, black hair, black beady eyes and black, scuffed boots.
Oh, God, this is not happening to me. Yes, it is. And, it did.
Fast-forward two years; I heard the hum of a small car in the drive. The unsatisfactory becomes extraordinary. Somehow, by the determination of all the fibers in me working together, I made it to the screen door, but did not open it. I just stared blankly at the fat raindrops pinging against the metal bird-feeders and the hood of the running car. Leave without me was all I could think. But, from inside, I saw him open the passenger-side door and I watched the empty seat. I thought about the first time I ever hesitated to get in; I was burned badly before and he must have known it. I didn’t know if it was painted on my face, revealed by my unwillingness to hold his hand, or if an acquaintance rambled on one night about my list of priors like an arrest sheet. I used to imagine him sitting at a cruddy bar with an unshaven jackass I once nodded to.
Yeah, I don’t know all the details, but I heard she’s just not all there. Like a basket-case or something. I don’t recall how he finally lured me in. It may have been the warmth in his plea—come on, I waited all week to see you, we have to quit this once a week on Saturday night with your friends kind of thing. Or, it could have been the way I forgot to breathe when his fingers brushed my collarbone. Or, maybe I just put every ounce of my trust in whatever his eyes conveyed.
So, here I am, in my final fit of tears and rage screaming:
You’re worse than me because I only say what I feel and you search for what makes me bleed. Your really search. You search our entire history for the artifact that causes the worst wound. You scan you’re brain for the sharpest blade in your dwindling drawer—dwindling because you’ve already used the best of the worst. But, dwindling, not empty because there’s always one more. Each time you pull one out, you replace it with another piece of astringent critique. Someone please press pause on my insanity.
I said it. I shouted it, really. But, not to him. For some reason, it was enough for me and only me to hear it. The rumbling mayhem in my tired stomach quieted. Instead of fighting to hold in the air, I could let some out. A breath following utter exhaustion is always more appreciated. I pushed past the screen and felt the icy droplets bounce off my forehead, wet my hair, and run inside the coils of my ears. I stepped out into the muddy drive, wiped an eye with one hand and pulled the handle of the door he had left open for me.
His head was heavy on my frail shoulder. Invariably, the weak support the strong. I don’t care about what’s right, as much as I care that he is here next to me. The thunder and lightening in my head clears, my exhaling slows, and a pocket of heat grows between us again.