We got snow the first day In October of that year. It didn’t last, but we knew it would mean more snow before Hallowe’en. Sure enough, it was one of the coldest days of Autumn. I dressed Chloe in a little fairy costume and took her over to see my mom. Obviously, there would be no trick-or-treating for her this year, but she was so adorable in her first costume I couldn’t resist. Mom took tons of photos with her Polaroid and we watched Carrie on TV.
When I got home, the apartment was dark. I flipped the light switch just inside the door and was startled to see Kevin sitting in the armchair smoking.
“Where were you?” he demanded.
“At my mom’s place,” I said, hanging up my coat then moving to undress the baby. “So many cute little costumes tonight! We watched Carrie,” I shuddered, “I don’t know why I watch that, it creeps me out”
“Mike said he saw you at Finnigan’s chatting up some loser” he said. His voice sounded strange, almost too level.
“I don’t know who Mike saw, but it wasn’t me, hon. I was at mom’s.”
He lurched from his chair and came straight for me with those long arms and longer legs. I had Chloe in my arms and something instinctive made me curl her into my body closer. The light struck his eyes and I could see the darkness there. “uh-oh” I thought in the split second I had. I wasn’t sure whether to back away to protect the baby or stand firm, hoping he would see her in my arms and snap out of whatever had taken over him.
“Liar!” he bellowed. “Fucking cunt liar!” He grabbed my upper arm with enough force to jostle the precious bundle in my arms.
“Let go of me, you’re going to hurt the baby!” I cried.
He grabbed her from my arms, too roughly, and plopped her in her bassinet before turning back on me, my arm still gripped in his meaty paw. The other hand had formed into a fist and was already less than an inch from my eye when I saw it coming. I had never been punched before, let alone in the face and it hurt like hell.
I saw stars and blackness. He must have hit me hard because I think I may even have blacked out. I felt, rather than saw, him land another one, this time my cheek rather than my eye. I could vaguely hear him screaming obscenities at me, saying I was filth, I was a fat whore, a slut, I was useless, that nobody wanted me, that I was lucky to have him.
At some point, I must have fallen because I felt him kick me in the stomach and I couldn’t imagine he had done a karate kick. I could taste copper and bile and salt. I could hear someone crying in the distance but I couldn’t focus. I reached for the bassinet, thinking it must be the baby. Suddenly, I seemed to be moving, but I knew I wasn’t moving myself. It was surreal. I could feel him hitting me and kicking me but somehow I felt as though it wasn’t me he was doing this to. Like I had somehow separated from myself and it was my body, but not me. Time had stopped, or sped up, I’m not sure. It seemed he was beating on me forever, but then it seemed to stop as suddenly as it had begun. When I was more aware again, I realized he had dragged me to the bathroom and kicked open the door.
“You’re fucking disgusting. Clean up this fucking mess!” He screamed. “Useless! You’re fucking useless! No wonder nobody else wanted you.”
He left me on the bathroom floor and stalked away. I don’t know how long it had been, what time it was. I could feel my eye was swelling and I was already having trouble seeing. I hurt so badly in so many places; everywhere, it seemed, like I had been hit by a truck. It was too much effort to pull myself up off the floor and see the damage I had taken this time, but I knew I had to. This time had been worse. I was trembling, though I wasn’t sure if it was from cold or fear, or possibly even loss of blood. If the front of my shirt was any indication, it looked like I had lost a lot.
My mind was racing. What had come over him? What had I done? I couldn’t reconcile it. I simply couldn’t make it fit in my brain. We’d been fine since Christmas. We hadn’t even had a fight since then because I had tried so hard to make him happy. He was fine when he left for work this morning.
Chloe! Oh my god, my little Chloe!
Thinking of Chloe, I found the elusive strength I needed and pulled myself to standing. I swayed a little on my feet and managed to stagger out of the bathroom to the living room where he had put her in her bassinet. The apartment was quiet. She was sound asleep. As I let out the breath I’d been holding and sunk to the couch, I started to cry. My lip was swollen and I could feel drool slipping down the side of my chin and that made me cry harder. I couldn’t stop myself from picking her up from her warm and cozy bed and burying my face in her and continued to let the sobs wrack me as I realized how close she had come to being hurt.
I don’t know why I wasn’t worried about me or why I wasn’t cleaning myself up. I was the bloodied mess sitting there swollen and drooling, aching everywhere with barely enough strength to really hold her. But it was my daughter I cried for. And I sat there rocking her as the sobs quieted and soon became a stream of steady, silent tears sliding down my cheeks.
Kevin didn’t come back that night. I figured he was ashamed and remorseful and didn’t want me to see him beating himself up. Again, he had gotten jealous. Again, he had thought I was cheating on him. Again, he terrorized me as punishment. But I hadn’t done anything. In fact, I hadn’t even looked at another man since Kevin and I had hooked up. Why would I need to when I have the sexiest man alive? And why wouldn’t he believe me?
After a few hours of sitting in the dark on the couch with Chloe, I mustered the strength to reveal my damage. After the darkness for so long, the illumination of the bathroom pierced my eyes, even the swollen one. This time I didn’t spend a lot of energy taking stock of my injuries. I pulled out the peroxide, cotton balls and polysporin. I allowed myself 2 minutes of pity and a few more tears when I did see the damage in the mirror, but shook it off and set to work cleaning myself up. The swelling was bad and my lip had a huge split in it. Between that and the trickle coming down my nose, I figured out where the blood on my clothes had come from.
Gingerly, I undressed and turned on the shower. The water spray felt like needles on my hypersensitive skin, but I endured it and stood under the flow for what seemed like eternity. I cried more in the shower, thinking to hide the tears in the downpour. I wrapped myself in the threadbare towel hanging on the rack when I got out. I let the mirror stay steamed up, trying to avoid catching even a glimpse of myself there. I was ashamed. Seeing the evidence reflected only brought my shame to the forefront of my mind, so I pretended it wasn’t there. I hadn’t looked for bruises this time. Why bother? Long sleeves and pants weren’t going to hide it this time.
Putting all of the cotton balls and my shirt into a garbage bag, I slipped out to the cans in the back of the building and placed my parcel inside. I didn’t want any reminders of the violence my husband was capable of. I spent the night on the couch, with Chloe in her basket on the floor in front of me. I didn’t believe he would hurt our daughter, but thinking back, I wonder if I was acting on some protective instinct for myself: barricading myself on the couch with her as a shield. But I don’t dwell there long for the sense of shame of using my child as a shield is too obscene.