I am frantic now. I want to get down the stairs and away from him. I don’t make it to them before he grabs me again. I don’t turn to him. Instead I gaze down the fourteen cement stairs, wondering where I would have gone even if I had a jump start on him.
Where are you going? To her? And you’re just going to leave your kids here? What kind of mother does that? Oh, I get it. You’re repeating history. Your mom walked out on you so you’re following in her footsteps.
He’s whisper-hissing it to me and I’m scared. He does this. He uses any memory I’ve ever shared with him against me when he wants to cut me down. He knows anything about my childhood or my children will suffice. He likes to boast that his childhood was better because his parents had money and they never divorced; he didn’t grow up in a trailer or at a restaurant booth. His mom always made him school lunch and went to his sports games. This is his go-to every time he wants to make me cry because it is easy and it is efficient.
And then the switch. The one that makes my resolve waiver. It happens suddenly and takes me by surprise.
Let’s go back inside. This got out of hand and you’re shaking. Are you cold? It’s not too cold out here but maybe you are shivering because you are always cold. Here, let me help you get inside so you can get warm. Give me your hand.
I look up, into his eyes. His pupils are relaxing, just like the lines around his eyes. None of tonight is going how I’m used to and this uncharted territory has adrenaline just pumping through my veins. I nod, because I don’t trust my voice. He guides me back inside, gingerly, like maybe I tripped and scraped my knees on accident, by not paying attention to where I was stepping. As we are nearing the front door, I hear the downstairs neighbors on their balcony, chatting quietly. Maybe they heard and they’re contemplating calling the police. I can’t decide if I like that idea or not because thoughts aren’t sticking in my mind right now. It’s unfocused and all over the place and I just want to take a nap. My eyes hurt, my head hurts, my body hurts. Something drips in my eye and I don’t know if it’s blood or sweat or tears. Lord knows I have literally put all three into this marriage. I try to be quiet because I know he is trying to be. He probably heard the neighbors, too.
This moment reminds me of this one time when we had to stay with his sister and her husband in Tijuana. They lived in this small three bedroom condo. The buildings were interesting; two condos per floor. The front doors were close to each other and one night, he and I heard the neighbor on our floor get home. He sounded loud and angry, drunk and wild. He wanted to get in to his home but his wife heard him coming, heard something that told her otherwise and she had dead-bolted her heavy metal screen door. He couldn’t get in. He pounded on it for so long, made enough racket that she finally relented and the moment he got in, he began beating her to a pulp. We could hear it. Could hear each blow landing, things falling around them, her screaming at him to stop. It was harrowing and traumatizing and I implored him to help her. When he did she ran out of there, straight into our open door. Together, her and I hid in the bathroom, where I helped clean up her face with a wet washcloth. Once the police arrived, other neighbors had come out and were standing on their balconies, unsure if they should help or not. I imagine this is my neighbors tonight. Unsure of what to do.
We get inside the apartment and he walks to the bathroom to wet a washcloth for me. A chuckle escapes my lips; now the washcloth is for me. I reach for a hoodie and sit on the couch. It isn’t very comfortable but it’s a lovely shade of eggplant. He comes out and hands me the washcloth and I just set it next to me because I don’t even know what it is for, other than to remind me that I messed up again.
I’m leaving, I croak out. I say it and instantly know this is it. This time I mean it. My voice is hoarse so I decide to repeat myself twice. I’m leaving. I’m leaving, and a large shudder goes through me; I’m uncontrollably sobbing because I’m so scared. He reaches slowly for my hand.
Can we talk about this? I didn’t do anything. Let’s not blow this out of proportion. I didn’t hit you.
You put your hands on me and pushed me with all your might down to the ground. I couldn’t breathe. That is not alright, I respond. I’m leaving. This is it. I’ve been saying enough for ten FUCKING (my voice is elevating now) years and I have to fucking mean it! I am so loud now but I can’t help it.
We sit there, for at least another hour, as he pleads to work on things and I incessantly repeat I’m done and I’m leaving. I stand up numerous times and he keeps pulling me back down and then finally he doesn’t so I head for the door. If you’re going to lord the boys over me and won’t leave yourself, then clearly it has to be me. Please tell them in the morning that I will see them soon and I love them.
He follows me out. Please let me drive you somewhere. Please don’t just walk off into the dark night. Not at this hour. Let me drive you somewhere.
Fine. I agree and he locks up the house with my three babies inside it and we drive away. I’m worried but it should only be for ten minutes. He can drop me and get back to them. There’s almost zero conversation on the drive. I ask him to take me to the Safeway closest to her house and he parks in the garage. He turns the engine off and puts his hand on my thigh.
I’m begging you to rethink this. Don’t get out of this car…, and with that he locks all the doors. I’m still crying because I never really stopped, except they’re silent tears just spilling out like a lazy fountain. Don’t do this. Nobody will ever love you like I do. Think about what you’re doing to this family.
All I do while he’s talking is shake my head and repeat that I’m leaving. I have no other words left except those.
Give me my phone back, then, he angrily says. We’ve been sitting here for half an hour and I just want him to get back to the boys because I can’t anymore. I can get to her house on foot so I slam the phone down in the console. Fine! Take the phone. Take whatever you want. I’m getting out and I’m leaving.
No, okay, you’re right. Keep the phone. Here. Please, take it back. Take it back, he exclaims because I’m saying no as my body continues to shake. You’re such a bitch, he yells at me. Take the fucking phone! I grab it and reach for the door but he starts the car in one fell move and begins reversing. He shifts into drive and begins accelerating and then I have it! I get the lock undone somehow and open the door and before I know what I’m doing, and miraculously before he can reach over and grab me, I friggin jump out of the vehicle. I take off running to the opposite side of the garage, away from him. I cut through some parked cars and across the street in front of me, fast and crouching with my footsteps matching my heartbeat. I keep running up a short hill of an apartment parking complex and duck between two cars. I have no idea if he’s behind me because I didn’t turn around once. I watched too many horror movies to know that wastes your time. I wait a few seconds and peek over the parking wall in front of me towards the store. My heart is pounding so loud; I shake my head because I can’t hear anything except that. Luckily there are no outside lights near me so I’m covered in darkness. I see him exit the parking garage as if he’s leaving and then circle the store and reenter on the opposite side. He does this two more times, driving slowly through it. When he leaves the last time, he drives down the road I had crossed. I can hear the car with its unique rattle, slowly going by and I hold my breath. I’m so scared he will find me. Why didn’t I run further?
I frantically turn my phone off so he can’t track me and just sit between two Lexus sedans, on the ground, in the dark, counting seconds in my head. Every so often I hear a vehicle driving by and I exhale with relief when I realize it isn’t the Jetta. After what feels like at least seven minutes, I peek up over the wall again.
The street is deserted and quiet. I wait some more time, try to relax my breathing, and then walk out from between the cars and back down the little incline toward the store. I barely feel the steps because my body is buzzing with adrenaline. I am vigilant and hyper aware of any vehicle I see but so far, so good. I decide to turn my phone on. Luckily he hasn’t texted yet but he might soon because our apartment is only 10 minutes away by car. I might have already burned that up so I dial Kulia fast. It goes to voicemail so I try again, immediately. Finally, she answers groggily; it’s already 2 am.
Can you pick me up? I ask her. Her next question is crystal clear as she asks if I’m alright. Please come pick me up, I respond, trying not to sob into the phone. My voice is desperation and she hears that. She asks where I’m at and I tell her I’ll be at the intersection by Safeway, right in front of the stop sign. Less than ten minutes later I see her pulling up and I jump in, still shaky but feeling safer. She holds my hand the whole way to her place and we collapse on her bed. I don’t say much and she doesn’t ask. She takes my phone and turns it off because the texts are starting, and we collapse on her bed. As she pulls me in she moves some hair out of my face and then maybe feels something. A knot or a bump on my head. Maybe a couple. Her hand is soft but I still wince because it hurts so bad. I fall asleep in her arms, finally calming my body down.
In the morning, when I finally turn my phone back on, I have 24 missed calls and 57 texts.