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On The Curb

February 5, 2010

I’ve never been such a nervous wreck in all my life. You, lying there so still. You wouldn’t open your eyes. I kept screaming for you to open them. The ambulance attendant finally put her arms around my shoulders, shushing me to calm down. I did. But my mind kept racing.

I didn’t see it happen. All I heard were the sound of brakes and the scream of Karen, our neighbor. I didn’t even look outside because the intersection has its share of wrecks, the casualties usually being a stray dog or cat. And Karen screams at everything, even trick-or-treaters.
Someone screamed my name.
I knew. I knew it then, and rushed out the door in my bra and panties, robe in hand.
I remember, I do.

The Atlanta November sky is spring blue.  Sunbeams bounce off the empty cans of PBR and High Life in the yard.  I turn my gaze back to the bed, where the same sun pours through the blinds, latticing your body into shadow and light.

The circus. We’re going to go to the circus. Your parents never had the money and you’ve always wanted to go.

I pull the tickets from the top dresser drawer and present them to you. I’ll never forget the smile, the slow smile, then your face looking up into mine—shimmering with delight like a five year-old’s on Christmas morning. You kiss me with the gratitude of a mature human heart.

I feel a sense of relief as I clean up the neighbor’s mess in the yard. The last thing I remember is reaching over to pick up the very last can—the one on the curb.
We’d had an argument that morning, as we did every morning. This time because you wanted to pick up those stupid cans outside from yet another of Jeff’s parties. The one he holds every night with you as the guest of honor. I wanted to leave for brunch before the line got too long at The Flying Biscuit. “You can pick up those cans later,” I said. “You promised we’d go—and go early.” For once you were up before 11 o’clock.
“Just let me do it really quickly. I promise it won’t take long.” Then you smiled that lopsided smile of yours that always halves my anger. I relented and went to take my shower.
The water was still running when I returned from the hospital hours later to pack my bags.

They say the blind see darkness, but all I see is light. Never ending light, so bright only sleep cures my overwhelmed body. An endless technicolor montage plays in my mind. I find comfort there. I don’t want to leave.

Sometimes there’s shouting. Sometimes things break. But I don’t remember what color they are so I ignore them. I glimpse purple skin, puckered. I glimpse spattered red on the bedspread. But these images come tinted gray. They’re always followed by hands. My hands. Your hands. Then your face. All gray, then highlighted in fluorescent yellow like my textbooks from college.

I wake up, afraid I’ve flunked the test.
That night was the worst of my life. I couldn’t quit pacing. Ghosts haunt the hallways. We were here not two weeks ago.
“A boxer’s fracture,” I heard a doctor in the hallway say.
I was scared for you. I was scared for me. Your drinking always got us in trouble. Anger, so much anger.
In my room, by chance next to yours, the doctor asked, “What happened?”
I told the truth. “I got in a fight.”
“Oh?” He looked closer at my face.
I told an untruth. “Oh, just one of those girl fights. You know, over the ex.”
He nodded his head, then stared at me. Hard.
“You’re sure.”
“I’m sure.”
Usually I’m the only patient. I should have waited in the car a little longer.  Thank God I’m not on your insurance policy.
Your hand. It holds mine. I feel it, but I don’t know where I am.  You read to me. You tell me I write poetry. Beautiful poetry. Words that make you cry. You read the last line of your favorite: “Translation from feeling to sight is slight as tricks of the mind go.”

Things fall silent.
Those circus tickets. The ones we never used. A bribe. Yet I was touched. You stroked my hair, careful to avoid my still-bruised cheek.  “I love you baby,” you said with tears in your eyes.  “Please forgive me.”
I always do.
Now you’re the one lying there helpless, one finally put at the mercy of a power stronger than yourself.

I want to leave.

Except—you’re blind. They say you’ll recover physically, but—you’re blind.

I don’t know what to do.
30 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 3:05 pm

    friday flash
    Sorrowful, poignant depiction of a life lived in physical and mental abuse and its consequences.
    And the ending is such a truth.

    • February 5, 2010 8:02 pm

      Re: friday flash
      “And the ending is such a truth.” Isn’t it? Thanks for reading, Marisa. 🙂

  2. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 5:15 pm

    karenfrommentor said
    those half truths…
    they make half lives. So sad. So amazingly vividly told.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 5:35 pm

    This is a very powerful story– I’m not sure what to feel, who to care for. It feels very honest that way. Truth is rarely obvious and easy to sort. Thank you for sharing this.

    • February 5, 2010 8:07 pm

      Thanks! I think you’re right. Truth is rarely obvious or easy to sort out. So true when we deal with people as people and not simply the sum of their actions. Yet those actions matter, too…

  4. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 9:23 pm

    Latticing your body into shadow and light…
    is a wonderful line, poetic. The tragic balance of choosing to love — or leave — an abuser. Powerful stuff… Peace, Linda

    • February 6, 2010 2:23 pm

      Re: Latticing your body into shadow and light…
      Thanks. I like that line myself. 🙂

  5. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:30 pm

    You tell me I write poetry. Beautiful poetry.
    You do. This is beautiful poetry Melissa, so tender. It’s easy to judge situations from the outside but this makes it so real and so difficult. Both are brave and human in different ways. Very well done – this is a really thoughtful piece.

    • February 6, 2010 2:09 pm

      Re: You tell me I write poetry. Beautiful poetry.
      Thank you, Simon. Your words mean a lot to me.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:49 pm

    This is lovely writing.

  7. Anonymous permalink
    February 6, 2010 3:51 am

    Strong writing. Your style suits you for stories like this, deep emotion delivered in spoonfuls of thoughtful elegance.

    • February 6, 2010 2:12 pm

      Re: Beautiful
      Thanks you. I’m glad the style works for these types of emotional complexities. 🙂

  8. Anonymous permalink
    February 6, 2010 6:49 am

    on the curb
    People in abusive relationships are eternal optimists, aren’t they? Always seeing the best in someone else.
    Poignant, haunting, and as the others have said, just some beautiful phrasing in this story.

    • February 6, 2010 2:18 pm

      Re: on the curb
      Yes, I think many are–many times unfortunately until something forces them to see the (whole) truth. It’s such a wonderful impulse–to see the best in others–and it’s hard to see that an equally good impulse is to value oneself enough not only to “protect” oneself, but to put the other in the light of truth (whole truth, which is love (not pity, not just affection, not just empathy), which sees it all, including the violence).

  9. February 6, 2010 2:57 pm

    True to life
    Excellent portrayal of the dilemma many abuse victims feel. I loved the alternating first person accounts. Terrific writing.

    • February 6, 2010 10:54 pm

      Re: True to life
      Thank you! I was hoping the alternation wouldn’t be too confusing. 🙂

  10. Anonymous permalink
    February 6, 2010 3:24 pm

    This is quite a piece. I love the voice of it.. so soft and gentle, which helps with the strong emotions. Very dreamlike-quality.
    CJ Hodges-MacFarlane

    • February 6, 2010 10:56 pm

      Thanks for mentioning the softness/gentleness in relation to the emotion. I didn’t want it to undercut the emotion–sounds like it didn’t. 🙂

  11. Anonymous permalink
    February 8, 2010 8:04 pm

    On The Curb
    Really enjoyed your story.. the flowey softness of it. And yet the terror of what has gone on before and what holds for the future.

    • Anonymous permalink
      February 8, 2010 8:05 pm

      Re: On The Curb
      Oh, sorry.. can’t figure out your messaging! Didn’t mean to be anonymous..
      -Cathy Olliffe.
      (I am technology-challenged)

    • February 11, 2010 12:39 am

      Re: On The Curb
      Thanks! Glad they go together okay!

  12. Anonymous permalink
    February 10, 2010 12:44 pm

    fabulous writing.
    Incredibly strong ending. I like how you left us hanging, but my hunch is she’s going to leave

  13. Anonymous permalink
    February 11, 2010 4:04 pm

    Beautifully told story
    It takes a great deal of talent to alternate tense the way you have, talent you obviously have Melissa.
    Very poignant, well-told story, beautifully written.

    • February 11, 2010 11:16 pm

      Re: Beautifully told story
      Thanks!! I’m glad you noticed the alternating tenses. 🙂

  14. Anonymous permalink
    February 14, 2010 2:58 pm

    Beautifully written. Somehow I missed this last week.

  15. March 14, 2010 4:30 pm

    Very haunting. The abusive/enabler relationship is shown very well here. And now the guilt settles in and two lives are forever entwined, despite her decision to pack her bags.

    • March 17, 2010 12:09 am

      So true–their lives are not going to be easily untangled now, despite her wanting to leave. I’m very interested in the abusive/enabler dynamic in relationships–even in ones not physically abusive. Complex mentalities, emotions, habits, wounds…

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