As my husband brooded silently, ignoring my attempts at conversation save for the occasional icy glare, it occurred to me that this must be how a condemned man feels as he is strapped into the electric chair. Your stomach drops and you start to feel dizzy. Your hands go cold and become slick with sweat. The nubs of your bitten fingernails press into your palms, and your breath becomes more rapid and shallow. It’s no wonder that the dizziness becomes worse to the point that you feel as though your head is floating above your shoulders. A silent, nervous giggle struggles in your throat as you imagine your head as a balloon, rising and floating away. The cold glance of the executioner silences you, and sadly you realize that you could never float away for as light as your head feels, your heart is like lead, keeping you firmly tethered to your fate.
You know it’s coming. You know that at any moment the switch will flip and electricity will rip through your body, your teeth will clench and sparks will explode behind your eyes. It’s coming and there’s no stopping it. Pleading, explaining, cajoling, none of them will save you. The wait become overwhelming, the panic rises like vomit in your throat, the terror shatters your nerves and you finally want to scream, “Just get it the fuck over with!”
I couldn’t figure out why he was so angry with me. We had been having so much fun at the comic convention and I couldn’t understand what had happened. I had been admiring the work of an aspiring comic artist when I felt his fingers dig into the soft flesh of my upper arm and jerk me around. The pain radiated up to my shoulder but what startled me the most was the fury in my husband’s black eyes.
“We are leaving,” he snarled at me.
I felt my head shrinking down, attempting to disappear into my shoulders. “But why? We…we didn’t even finish Artists Alley yet.”
Mark released my arm with a shove. “Fine! Finish!”
I didn’t move.
“Go!” he made a dismissive motion with his hand.
“You don’t want to come, too?” I asked meekly. “You always like to look at the sketches.”
He gave me a disgusted look. “No. I’ll sit here and wait.” Mark dropped onto a bench, crossed his arms over his lean chest and began glaring at the floor.
I didn’t want to go back to Artist Alley anymore, but I knew if I didn’t it would make Mark even angrier. Instead I walked away slowly and kept glancing behind me to see if Mark had changed his mind. When I rounded a corner and was out of Mark’s sight, I pulled my phone out of my bag and began to text my friend, Jerry.
Jerry was a fellow comic nerd and had met us at the convention. He had gone off to do his own thing when Mark and I started in Artist Alley, but I had to let him know that we were leaving.
“Something came up and we gotta go,” I texted him. “Sorry to leave so soon.”
Jerry immediately texted back. “Are you still in Artist Alley? I’m in the next aisle over. Be there in 30 seconds.”
I was in the middle of texting Jerry back when he appeared in front of me.
“Mark’s not feeling so well, so we’re going to head out,” I told him.
“Oh that sucks,” Jerry frowned. “Where is he?”
I gestured around the corner. “Sitting on a bench resting.”
Jerry glanced around the corner. “Oh I see him.” And before I could stop him, Jerry was en route to Mark.
Mark had his elbow resting on the arm of the bench and his head leaning laying on it. He appeared to be sleeping and I was reluctant to wake him.
“He didn’t sleep well last night and he has a headache,” I told Jerry.
Mark opened his eyes at the sound of my voice. I had hoped that the rest had cured him of his anger but his eyes were still hard and cold when they fell on me.
“Jerry wanted to say goodbye,” I mumbled.
“It was nice to meet you,” Jerry smiled warmly and held his hand out to shake Mark’s.
“Yeah. You, too,” Mark grunted. He stood up and dutifully shook Jerry’s hand.
“I guess I’ll see you on the comic forum later, Kate!” he waved at me.
“I’m sure you will!” I replied with false cheer. Mark had already started to stalk away. I threw a quick smile and wave back to Jerry and scurried to catch up.
During the two hour drive from Baltimore back to Philadelphia I did my best to fill the silence with meaningless talk about the comics and vendors we had seen. Mark would occasionally reply with a “yeah” or a nod, but never looked at me.
“Mark,” I finally started quietly, “please tell me what’s wrong.”
He regarded me with the same expression as when he had stepped in a pile of dog crap and then shook his head and turned his attention back to the road.
“I just don’t understand what I did. I’m sorry,” my voice was laced with the hurt I always felt whenever he looked at me like that.
Mark clenched his jaw and shook his head again. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“Not if you don’t tell me,” I said timidly.
He didn’t deem to give me a response and I resigned myself to the frigid silence for the rest of the drive home.
Mark jumped out of the car as soon as we parked in the driveway and stalked up to the front door without waiting for me. I gathered up the few bags from the convention and followed him inside.
“Mark,” I tried again as I followed him to the room that was his bedroom before we were married. He stopped and turned so quickly that I nearly walked into him.
“Just leave me alone right now,” he said jerking the bedroom door open.
I felt my eyes tingle with the threat of tears. “Do…do you…?” My tongue felt too thick to form words.
Mark gave that look again. The same face that had once beamed and promised to love me forever when I accepted his marriage proposal was twisted into a mask of revolution, something that resembled pure hatred burned in his eyes. It was almost a relief when he slammed the bedroom door in my face.
I sniffled hard to try and keep the tears from coming but a few managed to seep from my eyes. I went into the bathroom and reached for the tissues. As I did I noticed the marks on my arm from where Mark had grabbed me. I looked in the huge bathroom mirror that spanned the length of the double sink and lifted the short sleeve of my shirt to examine my arm. There was a row of four black circles like the segmented body of a caterpillar where the tips of Mark’s fingers had dug into my bicep. I pulled my sleeve down and covered the bruises as best I could. My father-in-law was home and I didn’t want him to see.
Mark slept in his old bedroom that night. This was not very unusual because he had taken to sleeping in there more and more over the previous five months as he seemed to become angry with me more and more often. At first I had tried to convince him of the old adage of “never go to bed angry”, but it wasn’t long before I realized that “let sleeping dog lie” applied to him better.
It was early morning when I rolled onto my bruised arm and the resulting stab of pain woke me up. I had worn a long sleeve shirt to sleep and had to roll it up to examine the bruise. As I thought it would do, the bruised tissue had spread through the night. The places where Mark’s fingers had touched remained a black line but now purple fanned out on either side like wings.
“Butterfly,” I mumbled tracing the injured skin.
I heard my dog growl softly in her crate to let me know that she was awake. I hated having my dog sleep in a crate but Mark insisted. I crouched down and opened the latch to open her crate, and was nearly knocked over as my dog bounded out and jumped to lick my face. I kissed the top of her soft, furry head.
“We’re going to get out of here,” I whispered to her. “Mumma just has to get a few more things in order and then we’re never coming back here again.”
And though it took five more months, I did get us out of there. I took one suitcase of clothing and two of my dog’s favorite toys, and left the rest behind. I had wanted to take more so that I didn’t have to completely start over, but when it came down to it, possessions could be replaced, but my life could not.
Okay, so in closing, you may not know this but October is not only Breast Cancer Awareness month, but it's also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Very quickly I'm going to give you the basic three things about domestic abuse to be aware of: 1-If you know someone who is being abused, don't judge them for not leaving immediately. It's not easy on any level including a financial level and an emotional one. 2-If you are being abused, get the fuck away from the asshole! I just admitted that it's not easy, but it's not impossible, and you cannot afford to stay. There is help out there. 3-If you are an abuser, then do not think for a minute that you are safe. You are a fucking bully and you know what they say about bullies--there's always a bigger one around the corner. Prepare to meet yours someday. You won't like it.