This is what I wrote a few months after we were done:
Year One of Three
You meet them after school. Something about them makes you nervous. Maybe it’s their fake glasses, maybe it’s the bells they wear on their belt loops. You can always hear them coming before you see them. It takes you forever to approach them. You talk about stupid things, like what music you like, school and old cartoons. They say you remind them of their sister. One day, you ask them why they stay at school so late. You have math team practice. They say they just don’t feel like going home. You ask them out on a hill behind the school. You feel tiny when you do it, like you’re doing something important.
They hold your hand between classes, and on the walks you take after school. You talk about stupid things, like why the sky is blue, and cheap fantasy novels with shirtless men on the covers. They tell you about how girls’ pants don’t have real pockets, and their best friend’s weird dad. You call them at night and spend too much time laughing about nothing.
It’s been a week. You take the train to Boston with their friends. Some of them do theater, some of them are in bands. None of them are on math team. You sit quietly while they talk to their friends on the way there. You follow them when they run through the fountain outside the Christian Scientist church. You take off your shoes and socks, but they keep theirs on. You laugh with their friends on the way back. You’re being too loud, and other people on the train glare at you, but you don’t care.
You tell your friends no you don’t spend all your time with them, and no you can’t hang out this weekend.
You go to the aquarium with them and spend forever looking at the eel hiding in the rocks. They’re much better at spotting it than you. You watch divers feed the sea turtles. They take pictures of the lettuce floating at the top of the tank with your phone. It looks like boats, they say, and the turtles look like islands. You nod your head, and don’t say anything back. You have trouble disagreeing with people.
You watch movies together. First you sing along with David Bowie in Labyrinth. Later you cringe as Choi Min-sik removes a man’s teeth with a hammer. They choose both movies. They know better than you.
It’s been a month. You sneak into their house, and kiss on their living room couch. They say not to worry, their mother always works late. You go downstairs, looking for a bathroom, and find a room full of dusty recording equipment. They close the door. They don’t answer your questions at first, they just look at you, eyes hard. You feel like they might tear you in half. They talks about important things, like the lump that wouldn’t stop growing in their father’s brain, and how their family changed when they were eight. You ask them what they mean. They tell you about visiting family in Beijing every summer, and how hard it is not to cry when their grandmother asks why her son hasn’t come with them this time.
At school, you learn the hill where you asked them out is where everyone goes to smoke when they cut class. You sneak into their house again. Their mouth leaves a small bruise on your neck.
You tell your mother about them. They don’t tell their mother about you.
You tell them to meet you by the lake at midnight. They laugh at you a little, say you’re overdramatic, but they smile, too. You throw rocks into the water and look at each other under a streetlamp. The bags under their eyes look larger this way. Maybe it’s just harder for the glasses to hide them. You sit with your toes dangling off the dock. They still have their shoes on. You run out of rocks, so you sit quietly for a while. You ask them what they’re thinking. They talk about how they talk differently around different people. They talk about friends they pretend to have, and a mother who wishes they would just be like their sister. They talk about the recording equipment in their basement. You don’t know what to say.
You eat pizza in some tiny place where everyone speaks Greek. You talk about important things, like what your grandparents smell like and what you think about when you get migraines. They talk about important things, too, like candy with plum pits inside it, and old cartoons. You ask them what their father was like and they get angry. They shout at you and the Greek people all turn. They don’t apologize.
You help them dye their hair black. They don’t like the way you do it. They keep telling you you missed something. Something about the way they say it makes you nervous. When you’re done, your hands are covered in splotches, and you have trouble remembering their head was ever different.
They start calling you things, like fuck-up and whore. At first you laugh because it’s funny, then you laugh because you don’t know what else to do.
You help them with their homework. You’re good at math. It goes alright for a while. Then they start yelling at the paper. You keep going. Then they start yelling at you. You keep going. You feel your mouth go dry as they fill it with trigonometry. It’s pointier than you would have thought. You try to spit it out but they hold your mouth shut. You can’t breath. Eventually they let go, and you can finally cough. You wonder how to fix paper cuts in your mouth. You apologize.
It’s been a year. Sometimes, when you leave their house, they leave small bruises on your neck. Sometimes they leave more.
You don’t tell your mother about them.
In a lot of ways, it’s right, but also it isn’t. It’s so incomplete. It’s missing the times they hit me. It’s missing feeling afraid, it mostly just sounds confused, so small and isolated, and so full of all the wrong details. But also, I wrote it then, so isn’t it the closest I have to what I was really feeling? I never wrote down anything about my feelings about that relationship while I was in it. There aren’t any messages on Skype or Facebook or Google. If there were text messages, they don’t exist anymore, but I don’t think there ever were.
What a princess
You made me what i am -_-
by spoiling me
I tried to balance it out with abuse
Clearly it didn’t work out.
I didn’t use the word abuse until a few years had passed. It didn’t feel right.
When I first started telling people, I would just say I had dated someone who hit me. It was easier to see all the jokes as just jokes.
Have I made this into something bigger than it was by thinking about it since? When I write about it, am I really helping myself heal, or am I just pulling cuts that started out small further and further apart?
I’m in a car with my partner, outside our friend’s house for a party. It’s been two years since I broke up with Caz, or maybe three, I can’t quite remember. My partner and I are laughing and I make a bad joke. They groan and lightly slap the back of their hand into my stomach. I stop laughing. I know that they are saying something but my ears are full of white noise. I stare down at my feet and do my best to count the crosses of my shoelaces.
One, two. I can’t seem to get past two.
They are saying something, they are saying something or they are crying I am not sure.
I am ok I am ok I am ok.
“Give me a minute,” I say.
I realize I haven’t been breathing, or I have been breathing too much. My throat feels tight and it is still so hard to count the shoelaces.
One two, one two, one.
I am slumped in the car seat and my lips are stuck together they are melted like wax. My partner is crying into the house and the car is dark. My whole body is loose, bones hanging in my skin, stretching its edges like an overfilled trash bag.
There it is, the feeling in my stomach again. There it is, again and again and again.
One two. One two.
I look down, and my feet are so far away from my body. It’s hard to believe they could still be mine.
When Caz hit me in the stomach, they didn’t say anything, or even stay to look at me. They walked away while I did my best to stay standing.
There is an ache in your throat and at the top of your lungs after someone hits you hard enough to push your breath out. There is a tightness that fights against your breath for hours after it happens, and a low warm throb in your gut that beats louder than your heart.
I still feel that tightness most days. It comes unexpectedly, a phantom hand around my trachea. I have learned how to breathe with my diaphragm, deep and slow and regular. I have learned to remind my body that nothing is wrong, I can breath, I am ok, but sometimes the air still gets away from me.
They usually hit me in public, in crowds or around friends. It was easy to do.
They weren’t the first. Sometimes people would laugh
“Wow, you’re whipped!”
but usually no one noticed. If they did they didn’t say anything.
For a long time, when I wrote about times they hit me in the face, I would talk about how they chipped one of my front teeth, just a little. A small enough nick to hide, but big enough to cut my tongue on when I was trying to talk. I’m not sure if it was really true. The dentists never mention it when they look inside my mouth.
They made me quieter, which is maybe what I meant, whether the tooth is chipped or not. They had lots of ways of teaching me not to say things they didn’t like, which sometimes meant anything at all.
Caz would dig their nails into my arm when we sat next to each other, leave little crescent moon indents that would still rise the next day. They would twist my fingers until it felt like they would break. I would apologize, and then close my mouth.
Sometimes I would hold their hand just to keep their fingers busy.
Once I kept talking. I don’t know why I kept talking, but I did. They pushed me down and shoved sheet after sheet of paper into my mouth, forcing my head into the cold tile floor. I couldn’t understand the expression on their face and I couldn’t look away.
Their eyes were flat and focused. I don’t think they saw a person.
Hannah saw the whole thing. She cheered them on.
When it was over we all acted like nothing had happened. I licked the blood off the insides of my cheeks the best I could and pretended they didn’t sting when I ate dinner with my family that night.