The sky is dark and ominous as I pull into my driveway. I got off work late today but maybe that’s not entirely true. Really, I stayed late, took my time shutting down and closing up shop. As I flipped the light switch to off, I looked at everything with tired eyes and tried to memorize where it all was. I drove home slowly, deep in my thoughts. Things have been so terrible, almost extra terrible, if that’s even possible, lately. My children are home and probably asleep. I think it and even say it out loud. I do that most drives. I talk out loud. I want to kiss their sweet faces when I pull in but should not. Waking them would be selfish on my part but I toy with the idea, mostly because everyone else in that house makes me cringe.
It’s July and I’m over all of it, already. Over summer. Over the heat. I can really only handle so much sun. Maybe that’s because I feel like one most days. Shining bright to cheer everyone else up, keep everyone else happy. It’s gawd damn exhausting. The thing is, if you are the sun then there are no rays left for you. I just give them and unabashedly too much. This cancer in my home is caused by me for shining without cessation. For not trying hard enough to dull it. Nobody asked for it but there I am, anyway. He repeatedly tells me not to talk to everyone who initiates conversation. It makes him blind with jealousy and I try not to. I really do. Then suddenly I’m in my driveway so I just sit there a moment. Slowly, but with purpose, I turn the key to cease the motor. I wish I had keys for my mind, too, especially right now because I know what I have to walk in to. That house is dangerous with its perpetual lava floor. There is nowhere safe for me to tiptoe in it.
Earlier, when I was making breakfast, I opened the utensils drawer. Muscle memory knows where the butter knives are to spread jam on my dry morning toast yet my eyes are drawn to the back of the tray. We have lived already in over ten places, dirt-poor gypsies outrunning his lies, and no matter where we have found ourselves, the utensil tray, this exact one, has survived just like me. Always the same, beginning with spoons. First the big spoons and then the teaspoons. Small forks and then dinner forks. Butter knives last and the spot above, laying perpendicular, is always where the steak knives live.
This is where I notice that I’m back to a weird mental spot. I recognize that it manifests first by how anal I get with where things go in the kitchen. Usually I am passive about it all. Not today. I just spent ten minutes rearranging all the canned foods to look like they do in the supermarket and moving the toaster back to the exact spot on the counter where I want to always find it. I get crazy when I feel crazy. I get crazier when I’m feeling defeated. On this particular morning, when waking was hard and showering was dreadful, I noticed that someone placed a slotted spoon in the steak knife tray. The rage beats straight through me and before I can blink, it is in my hand. I’ve seized the spoon but I don’t see it because all I see is red right now. I toss it angrily further back, behind the utensil tray that follows me like a shadow. I want it out of my view to force it out of my thoughts and I’m muttering incessantly about how it isn’t that friggin hard to just put shit where it goes. It isn’t falling on deaf ears but the in-laws ignore me. They don’t care.
All day my mind kept returning to that slotted spoon and I’m too mentally exhausted to think about why. Something else was off but I must have missed it in my anger-fueled moment. I can’t ever let my guard down there, especially right now because things were good for a shorter period this time. The bickering has increased ten-fold and his patience is nonexistent. He keeps trying to force me to take his side over my parents and frankly, I don’t want to. He’s a liar and I’m done having his back because it makes me a liar too, by proxy. Defending him is at the top of his list for how I can show him my love but piss on all that noise. I won’t do it this time.
I take the steps to the front door one at a time to buy me some aversion but there’s only three. That was a waste of energy. I put my key in the door and gingerly turn it, hearing the familiar clicks as I hold my breath. I can’t hear the tv; I make a silent wish that everyone be asleep. The door creeps open and I see the yellow glow of the screen. Damn it all.
“Good evening,” I try to whisper to my mother-in-law. She’s a witch and I physically can’t whisper and so we dance this diddy again where she shooshes me and waves her hand angrily, as if she’s batting my words away. She hates being the designated babysitter and I hate being her verbal punching bag. She responds with a pursed-lip goodnight something-or-other back at me that she probably equally dreaded but I barely hear it. I’m already in the hallway, moving towards the boys’ room. I hear her call out something about it taking forever for the three of them to fall asleep so please don’t undo all my hard work. I don’t acknowledge that she even spoke because I can’t physically choke out any more words to her so I just ninja-creep into their room instead.
They are sleeping pretty deeply, which makes me happy and sad. While I listen to their rhythmic breaths I feel a tinge in my stomach. The thing about gut feelings is that they are there for a reason and I always try to ignore them. Tonight is different, though. There is a weird vibe in the air. I hear the footsteps of the witch in the hallway. Does anyone else call their mother-in-law a witch, I wonder. Her immediate departure from the living room just confirms to me that she only stayed up to notate what time I would walk in at. They’re a team, those two. Her and her son. She reports back dutifully, all the time, on my shortcomings. I turn to the closed bedroom door behind me and mouth, “good NIGHT, bitch!” I extra scrunched my face as I silently said it. It feels good. It feels like it’s against all the rules and rebellious. I needed it, especially right now because I’m in full panic mode and I can’t hug my boys. They always help me stay grounded. They help me stay here. My heart is in my throat and I realize I can’t stay in this room forever. I tiptoe back to the hallway, gently close their door behind me. My mind is against this but my body is spent. I can’t find any more courage in me right now.
I see him on the bed when I walk in. A touch of moonlight is seeping through the blinds and I marvel at the beauty before I turn towards the beast. He’s not happy. I see that immediately, even though he never is. My mouth is somehow conversing with him but I can’t remember what I said. Small-full-of-shit-talk that I forget as soon as they leave my lips. Then I’m brushing my teeth and putting some pajamas on. This is the best bedroom we have had so far, compared to all the others. It is set up pretty efficiently, long as opposed to wide. I tenderly sit on the bed and plug my phone in and while I’m following my nighttime routine, I don’t see him get up and walk to the closet area. Or is it his dresser?
There’s a folder in his hand when I look up. They match, him and the folder. Both plain, boring and deceiving of what is inside. My eyes dart from his hands to his eyes. He is speaking but I’m in a bowl. It’s like the Peanuts cartoon where the teacher is lecturing and nobody understands anything going on. Blah, blah, blah, blah, divorce papers. Blah, blah, blah, blah, I signed them already. Blah, blah, custody. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you won’t win 50/50. Blah, blah, you don’t make enough to support them. Blah, blah, blah, sign them now, blah, blah, or I’ll, blah, blah, blah. I am not listening but I hear it all. This is typical but he’s changed it up a bit. It’s just enough out-of-the-ordinary that I am terrified. The words seeped in like my cell signal was weak and I’m trying hard to fill in the blanks.
I won’t leave without my boys and so he argues with me about it. I go into the hallway after some unpleasant words hurled at me with every intention of walking into their room and packing a bag and walking out. My parent’s house is close. I’ll go there. They’ll take us in, of this I’m certain. But he’s behind me, closer than I anticipated. He pulls me back into the bedroom and shuts the door.
“Sign these right now. I’m not joking or playing around. Sign these or you’ll regret it.”
I’m angry and a smartass so I grab the pen out of his hand and walk over to the dresser where his stupid, plain-face-folder is sitting and I skip straight to the last page and find my name. I sign FUCK YOU, with my back to him. I slam the whole thing shut and I shove it in his chest. He doesn’t open it to check like I expected, just mutters some lame thank you or whatever. I walk around him and exit, turn right in the hallway, away from the kid’s room. The one stupid thing about this duplex is that the hallway is a giant circle, with a bathroom and laundry room in the middle. I turn left now and walk straight out the front door, barefoot with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My heart is literally in my throat because now I’m scared that he’ll see what I signed so beautifully, in perfect cursive. Why didn’t I scribble it, at least? Make it unreadable? I could have put anything and told myself it was fuck you in Klingon. Why didn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I put my sun away for just one minute?
The grass is burnt and hurts my feet with its sharp blades. He stops me halfway through it and asks where I think I’m going. I already signed, albeit it not my name, on his stupid forms and I feel some bravery find its way to my mouth. I say a lot of things I’ve wanted to but I’m careful because I’m not trying to have the whole cul-de-sac see the shit beaten out of me. He’s starting to yell and grabs my arm, gripping tighter and tighter as I instinctively try to free it.
I’m furious. There is a fire growing in the pit of my stomach. This happens every time. I begin to get really angry at how he is treating me and this time, I feel it behind my eyes. I’m so over this. I cannot take one more day of it. I somehow break free of his death grip and run back inside, through the kitchen and to the utensil drawer. I hoped I was fast enough because I know I can’t waste any time looking behind me like this in scary movie. I rip the drawer open and my hand automatically goes to the steak knives. I blindly grab one and in two fell swoops I throw my left arm out and turn it wrist up. I run the knife hard down it, starting at my fleshy, fatty forearm and ending at my bony wrist. I want it to be deep, straight to the bone. Irreparable. Unforgivable. Hard. Quick.
Except, it wasn’t a steak knife. It was a fucking butter knife and now it’s too late because he’s there, wrestling it out of my hands. Tears begin to violently work their way from my toes up. Uncontrollable sobs are escaping my mouth silently and I crumple to the floor. My one chance thwarted, I have no energy to stand. He throws the butter knife in the sink, leans down, and hoists me back up to standing position. Drags me to the bedroom and lovingly places me in the bed we share, all while quietly saying whatever he wants to me.
“You stupid bitch. You thought you would get away that easy? You thought you could pull some shit like that when your kids are less than fifteen feet away? This is why you’ll never have custody of them. Just try to take them from me. I’ll tell any judge about this bullshit stint you just tried to pull. You aren’t safe. You are crazy because only crazy people try to kill themselves. Just remember that when you start to think you can pull some stupid shit again. You idiot,” he menacingly says as he caresses an errant hair from my face. Tender and threatening, gentle yet vile.
I mutely watch him walk over to the folder, remove the ten or so pages from it and rip them into shreds. As he finishes, my heart sinks to my stomach as I acknowledge that he will never lay eyes on my signed masterpiece.
**If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and don’t know where to find help, click any of the following links for help:
Whatcom County Residents: DVSAS
Outside of Whatcom County: National Domestic Violence Hotline and Website