As I came home from work two weeks later, I was almost hit by a car that didn’t stop at their stop sign. Fortunately, I had the reflexes of a cat and slammed on my brake just as I was turning my wheel into my left turn or that would have been it for me. She was driving so fast, I don’t think she even saw the stop sign and was cursing and waving her arms at me when I slammed on my brake. I wondered if she’d ever see that stop sign in the future and realize it was her own fault and feel badly that she had started such a bad set of events in motion.
I had raced up the stairs in our walkup to our apartment door, fumbling with my keys, still a little shaken by the almost accident. I immediately plugged in the kettle for a cup of chamomile tea to calm my nerves. I was still a little on edge when Kevin came through the door in a bad mood. He slammed his lunchbox on the counter so hard I jumped, then turned and scowled at me, muttering under his breath. He looked malevolently through mail, seeming to get angrier as he went. The phone company must have been particularly bad because he tore the bill to shreds for apparently no reason.
In the two minutes it took for these things to happen I had moved farther into the corner of the couch, thinking to keep my own sensitive mood away from his. In retrospect, that was the wrong thing to do: show weakness. In two of his long strides he was towering over me on the couch screaming at me. I cowered. He looked huge looming over me and his voice was so loud and so much cursing was harsh on my ears. I almost covered my ears, like I would when mom and dad would fight, but some instinct stopped me. Did I flinch though? I’m not sure, but right about then is when he grabbed my arm, yanking me off the couch and into the middle of the living room.
“Let me go!” I said trying for demanding but ending up somewhere closer to plaintively.
“Let you go? Let you go?” he taunted.
His grip on my wrist was like iron. No matter how I tried to twist, it simply wouldn’t twist; I was utterly stuck. I looked up at Kevin to tell him to let me go again when I saw it. The shell of a face looked so like my Kevin. The same nose and contours of his cheekbone and jaw, but not the same. Something harder, the edges sharper. His dark stubble glowed against his darkening skin; angrier than I’d ever seen; and his eyes. None of the sparkle I knew should be there. His normally liquid brown had turned to a hard darkness without depth. No light. And as I stared with my mouth open to say ‘let me go’ again, his eyes sharpened and somehow he looked so evil I immediately abandoned the thought of being equally upset with him. Realizing I was stuck and this was not a man to argue with, I tried to relax and talk him down.
“Sweetie, what’s wrong? What’s got you so upset? I said in the most loving and sweet voice I could muster. I was scared though and it may have trembled a little.
“YOU!” He screamed. “YOU WHORE! Who else did you fuck?”
I was completely caught off guard. What? Where had that come from? Instead of confused, I must have looked guilty because he slapped me and screamed something about me admitting it. Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what he said, because he had slapped so hard with his big hands it caused ringing in my ears and my eyes teared up instinctively. Things got worse, worse than being slapped by my newlywed husband who had never laid a hand on me in the months we’d dated. Never.
My hair was covering my face so I didn’t see the next thing coming. He shoved me and kicked at my thigh to push me out the front door. All the while he was screaming and cursing a wild streak about me having had sex with one of the other truck drivers. It didn’t matter which one he was accusing me of sleeping with because I had done no such thing with any of them!. But saying so seemed to make him angrier. It was chaotic and completely disorienting. I was crying by this time and mixing with the tears, my hair just wouldn’t get out of my eyes, which were blurred anyway.
I didn’t see the stairs. I only felt them as I tumbled down to the landing. I was about to try to get up when I felt pain in my head. It burned and pulled me up in a jerking motion so that my jaw snapped shut, clenching the tip of my tongue in my teeth. He had grabbed a handful of my hair and was pulling me back up the stairs. I don’t know if anyone heard us, how could they not? But no one came out to see if I was okay. He just dragged me toward our door when we got to the top of the stairs, still screaming and calling me horrible names. Snippets of what he’d said that first time come through when I dwell on it, even now, occasionally.
I remember whore, slut, bitch. But he used those for years afterward, so they wouldn’t have been unusual to have been thrown in there. Maybe my memory makes it all up, filling in the enormous blanks that go along with being nobody for years. Having no identity of my own, just “Kev’s lady” or “Kev’s bitch”. I thought when I left my family home, I’d be escaping the name calling and bullying, but I jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire when I married the man of my nightmares.
Turns out, Kevin’s family owned a drug and gun running business. Turns out, Kevin was using his status and runs at Newton Transport to further family profits, reach and interests. When we got married, he had just started to make a name for himself. In that business, you don’t make a name for yourself by writing great letters. Brute force, violence, and fearlessness are the qualities that get you noticed. It’s not as underworld as you might assume.
Pay attention the next time you pull into the parking lot of your suburban convenience store. See that little car parked in the corner of the lot, farthest from the door? Guns.
See the decent kid lounging at the side of the building, seeming to listen to his music in his own little world, slurping a Slushie? Drug dealer.
When I married Kevin, I mixed myself up in a whole new world I could only have imagined. Until that first beating, I had no idea Kevin carried a gun everywhere he went. Was it registered? Probably not. Was he afraid to use it? Definitely not. I watched him shoot a guy in the knee with no warning because he took a leak in the trees behind our house. Of course, that was later. When the power and drugs had gotten to him. Back in our first year, he still used to beg me to forgive him, that he hadn’t meant to hurt me.
When he had finally exhausted his anger on me that first time, he had stormed out the door into the night. I heard his car engine rev and he squealed and kicked debris as he took off. I got into the bathroom and turned on the light. Damn it was bright. When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. I saw my hair twisted into a strange caricature with a small bald patch. Tears filled my eyes, but I wouldn’t let them fall. I calmly told myself that a little styling gel could be a miracle and if not, I had hats.
I had a small bruise on my forehead and another on my cheekbone, probably from banging my head on the stairs, but otherwise my face wasn’t too damaged. A very small cut on my lip and sore tongue where I had bit a piece off in the struggle.
I pulled my shirt off and stood in my bra examining the black and blue spots that were starting to form. One or two appeared to be from the fall, but most were shaped like fingers and were definitely not from the fall. I could see two perfect hands around my upper arms and another around the wrist he had first grabbed.
I started a bath and prayed I still had Epsom salts as I opened the vanity door. In their little bag, the salts called out to me in peace and I sprinkled them into the hot water filling the tub. I sank into the hot water, sore all over despite the limited amount of bruising I had detected. I lay as low in the water as I could and closed my eyes, trying to let the saline water take all of it away.
It would have been easy to fall asleep in that tub, but I did not. Instead, I resolved to make the whole thing up to Kevin with a peace offering. Obviously, he had been angry if he thought I had cheated on him! I would have been too and who knows how I would have reacted to something like that so soon after we had married. I put on fresh, conservative clothes so there would be no hint of sexy that might set him off again.
I got everything ready to make him a nice dinner when he came home. I set the stereo to soft music and lit candles to clear out the smell of stale smoke. I cleaned everything in sight to spotless, It was a small apartment without much to clean so that had taken almost no time at all. Then I sat on the sofa and waited. When I got bored, I grabbed a romance novel and read.
It must have been about 1:30 in the morning when I felt something gently shake me awake. Kevin was grinning stupidly at me with glassy, blood shot eyes and he was swaying a little I noticed as I oriented more. Great, he’d gotten drunk.
“Sorry, babe,” he slurred, “I so sorry” He flopped down beside me on the couch and leaned over, putting his face on my shoulder.
“Ouch” I said when his cheekbone jabbed one of the bruises.
“Sorry, babe,” he said again. He put his arm around me and squeezed. It wasn’t the most heartfelt apology, but for some reason, I accepted it and hugged him back, grateful it was over and I had my Kevin back.
I think that sex after such an emotionally and violently charged event makes it that much sweeter. I discovered this that first night and held onto it for many years afterward, until things got so out of control, I checked out altogether. But for the first few years, I think I almost looked forward to the sex afterward because it was the only good thing that came out of all of that. The other side of ecstasy, I suppose.