--CLOWNS TO THE LEFT OF ME, JOKERS TO THE RIGHT
Last week my husband threw a boot through the kitchen window, shattering glass, shattering a vase of tulips, shattering everything.
This week he slammed his fist into my daughter’s bedroom wall, white plaster bits dusting his face and hair, making him appear mummified, an ancient ghoul.
This morning over a fragile breakfast, when I softly said I was considering therapy, he flung a newspaper across the table, and as I watched the Sports section flap toward me like a pair of dismembered wings, he said I was damaged goods.
I have a sister, two brothers, a mother, kids, but only one friend, and she’s who I call.
“It’s just work has been really stressful for him. His boss is awful.”
“Stop swearing so much.”
“But what’ll I do?”
“And go where?”
“I don’t have a clue where to go.”
“You can stay with me.”
“I have two kids, remember. That’s three of us. You don’t have the room.”
“I’ll make room. Just get out of there.”
The therapist doesn’t seem to want to know about my husband other than his relationship with his parents, and my relationship with mine. I tell them all I know as fast as I can. He makes notes while nodding, his head tipped so that I can see his yarmulke bald spot.
Aside from questions, the only thing he says is at the end of our session. He tells me, “Anger lives in reserves, that it gets stored in emotional pockets, and that it can be triggered by moments reminiscent of the past. He says, “Abuse is often hereditary.
When I say, “But there hasn’t been any abuse,” he smiles at me and says, “Time’s up. How about next Tuesday, 2:00?”
I don’t tell my husband or my friend about the visit. At home, when my husband’s there, I make myself small. I only speak when spoken to. I pretend I am a ghost, only with red hair, green eyes and freckles, a ghost with faintly breathing.
In between the times I see my therapist, things get worse, but my husband is never so angry as to be stupid—the punches are always on the chest or stomach or back or thighs where they can’t be seen when I am clothed. I don’t tell my therapist or friend about any of this.
I replay the moments leading up to each episode, tapering it all down in slow motion to the point where even my husband’s screams sound slurred. I rewind and watch what I’m doing, what I’ve done, what part I’ve played. I can’t find my fault in any of it and, because I can’t, I only feel more stupid, more alone.
The day he hits me in the face my son is there. I’m washing dishes. I let them air-dry. That’s not good enough. That’s what dirty people do, he says. There are germs and airborne diseases.
His fist is open but it’s a thick paddle nonetheless, coming out of nowhere, blink-fast, a stingray burning across my cheek, the heat and soreness lingering through the evening and still throbbing at dawn.
The next day I buy books about the subject. I highlight and dog-ear pages. I am an ardent student.
The abused spouse typically suffers eight to ten episodes before fleeing or seeking genuine help that will keep them out of harm’s way.
I’m on episode one, or there about.
One night after I’ve made dinner, my husband calls and says he’ll be late. He sounds tipsy, which is never a good sign. But I’m relieved to have the extra time to myself.
I sit in the living room studying the furniture, the antique chest and antique grandfather clock, the distressed sofa and distressed leather chairs, all of it damaged goods, all of them being the items I’d picked out.
But the books say this is a trick, too, self-identifying with slander, “irrational rationalization”, and so I try not to believe it this once.
Instead, I call the children from their rooms upstairs. Even after whining, they relent and bound down the steps with their pouts and cranky sighing.
I tell them, “No questions. Not even one.” I tell them, “Get your coats.” I tell them, “We’re going,” and they don’t ask where.
I’d packed some of their things while they were at school. I have the keys in my hand and I jangle them because I want them to know what’s what, or maybe because I’m nervous. The car is loaded and full of gas. It’s sits out there on the curb, twenty feet away, staring at me like a steel dinosaur . I don’t look it in the eyes. Instead I open the door and say, “Let’s go.”