A.M. Thompson is a wife, mother, blogger, and distance runner. She holds an AA in Liberal Arts and Certificate in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her B.A. in English online. As a freelance writer, she has authored several press releases, travel and tourism articles, nonfiction works and written webcontent for various sites. Her works have appeared in APIARY Online, andiran.tumblr.com and Examiner.com. One of her stories was turned into a short film, which was screened at the International House in Philadelphia in 2011.
“I told your father there are three things I will never tolerate: lying, cheating, or hitting. If you lie to me, I will leave you. If you cheat on me, I will leave you. And if you ever lay your fucking hands on me – if you ever hit me – I will leave you.”
I wonder if that was in my mother’s vows: I, Evelyn, take you, Daniel, to be my wedded husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part (unless, of course, you fucking hit me. Then your ass is out on the curb).
You may now kiss the bride.
My husband and I opted to write our own vows. His included mutant pigs and deformed frogs; mine were sappy and sentimental, like a greeting card dipped in chocolate and rolled in sugar. My teeth hurt while saying them. My wedding took place on October 19, 2007. It was nearly 90 degrees and rained all day, not quite the fall weather we were hoping for. By the time I arrived home from the hair salon, I had to re-curl the free-flowing strands that once framed my face: humidity had caused them to fall flat in less than five minutes. Of course, it didn’t matter in the end, but when you are getting ready to marry the man of your dreams; the smallest things will set you off (like realizing you don’t own a single umbrella that isn’t broken). Two years of planning and $10,000 later and all I remember are the vows, the kielbasa, and the roasted potatoes.
The first time he hit me was over a banana. We were in our one-bedroom, white-walled apartment in suburban Philadelphia, and he had had one too many beers; I hadn’t had a drink all day. We weren’t yet married; engaged, yes, but still – essentially – single. He was a joker and began pulling bananas, one-by-one, off from a bunch on our kitchen counter and then smashing them, Hulk-style, on the floor. We weren’t made of money and while each one cost no more than ten or fifteen cents, I became angry: he was wasting both food and my hard-earned cash (not to mention he was making a slippery-yet-sticky mess). I told him to stop; I told him to clean it up. He grabbed another banana. When I attempted to take the banana from his hand, a struggle began. Not a true struggle; it wasn’t like I was trying to wrestle a gun from his grip, but a drunken tussle. Before I knew it, his right hand had connected with the left side of my face; I couldn’t see it – or the macerated bits of banana and blood on my orange hoodie – until the swelling went down two days later.
I told everyone I was in a car accident. Not a terrible one – there were no broken bones or fractured ribs – just one strong enough to deploy the airbag, shatter my nose, and blacken my eye. It seemed reasonable enough. Truth be told, I would have kept it to myself if I didn’t have to work the next day, but since I did, I stuck by my story. No, I said, the car was okay; a few dents and dings but nothing terrible. It was only body damage.
That’s the thing; you make excuses. You know better than to say you fell down a flight of stairs – it isn’t viable in the movies and certainly your friends and family will see through the lie – but you also can’t bring yourself to say it; your husband-to-be clocked you in your face over a banana. So instead you deny it; you deny it like you denied yourself that spa treatment last weekend, the one in the city with your girlfriends at the W Hotel. You forget it like you forget what you had for dinner last night. It becomes just another story.
You make eggs and bacon for breakfast, sip your coffee, and choke down that burnt bagel you thought you could soften with copious amounts of butter. Sort the laundry. Get dressed. Toss your hair in a ponytail. Whatever you do, avoid the bathroom and the full-length mirror in the hall. And don’t touch your face; it will sting.
The second time it happened was a blur. I woke with bruises on my legs and left arm and the leftover traces of fingertips on my neck. Pictures from the night before proved they were fresh; they also proved we were both wasted. I had walked around town in an oversized Justin Timberlake t-shirt and smiley face thong (these were my more voyeuristic days), and sometime before taking the photo beneath the basketball net (the one with my pierced tongue hanging out) and arriving back home, the bruises formed. His story differed from mine, and in the haze of the hangover that followed I began to believe whatever he said.
You promise yourself this will never happen again. You consider leaving, talk about getting a divorce – you can do it; you don’t need him – decide to go to couples therapy but find yourself going on a dinner date instead. Too many years; too many memories.
You immerse yourself in boxes and bubble wrap. You will be moving next month and need to pack six years and four rooms in just over five weeks. Pack the bookcase first then pictures and DVDs. Move to the closet; toss the t-shirts you haven’t worn since you were seventeen, but keep the twin-sheet sets that no longer fit your queen-sized bed. Leave the kitchen for last. Call the cable company, the gas company, and the electric company and schedule their shut-off dates. Call back and complain when you find yourself without power two days too early. Wish you had a house phone to slam, then throw your cell phone anyway. Contemplate why you are so angry as you slink around the house, shuffling Sharpie-labeled boxes from room-to-room while checking cabinets you already know are empty.
The third time was in Disney World. We did what Walt warned us about and drank around the world. (For those unacquainted with this concept, “drinking around the world” involves consuming an adult beverage from every “country” in Epcot; at last count, there are 11 countries.) We started in Mexico, made our way through Norway and China, and ended up in England where – we thought – success tasted like Smitwick’s and Guinness. Then we realized a fatal error: While we had shopped in Japan, we forgot to buy a beer or plum wine. With minutes to spare, we ran halfway around the globe to order a single cup of sake we never should have been served. Success was creamy, smooth and sweet, until we got onto the Walt Disney World Transportation System, realized we forget to pee prior to our departure from the park, and found ourselves lost and stumbling around the oversized lake at Coronado Springs with urine dripping down our legs. I could see our hacienda in the distance – each section of the Coronado Springs resort bears a different Mexican marker. I turned to my husband, muttered something I thought was clearly “I’ll meet you in the room,” and made a run for it. After a few misguided swipes of the room key, I entered, drew a bath, and jumped in the tub; my toe didn’t even test the water. I took a breath and plunged my face beneath the surface, letting the bath water carry my shoulder-length hair from side-to-side. I stayed under as long as I could; I didn’t even hear him enter. When I opened my eyes I saw his face, red and trembling, inches from mine. He told me that I left him. He told me if I wanted to drown myself I should do it – stop fucking around and just do it – then he held my head and shoulders down. I kicked and flailed, hoping to break the surface and take a breath.
After finally breaking free, things got worst. Closed fists met my arms, my chest, and my face. Everything was in extremes: black or white, hot or cold, dead or alive. I tried to call my friend for help but my phone was waterlogged (having been in my pocket when I took the bathwater plunge). Eventually he passed out, and I lay shivering on the floor. I remember being surprised how comfortable the carpet was. We slept, if one can call it that, until we were picked up and whisked away to Animal Kingdom for the next phase of our fun-filled family vacation.
You try and keep up. The small things are easy. You go to the grocery store, bring in the mail, make sure the milk isn’t spoiled before pouring it in your coffee or over your cereal, but the big things – like that article you were supposed to write ten days ago but haven’t started – fall to the wayside. You fight with the clerk at Stop and Shop: sure they may make minimum wage, but pineapples were advertised as $2.99 each and you don’t want to pay a dollar more. No, I asked for plastic, not paper. You put the food away and drop a carton of raspberries on the kitchen floor. Shit. You attempt to rinse the barely bruised berries and toss the rest. Pay the bills. Hang the Christmas cards. Do the dishes. Curse yourself when a glass cup slips from your hand and shatters. Grab the remains and cut yourself while moving the oversized shards from the sink to the trash. You rinse the blood away – under cold water – cover and bandage. You sit on the couch and take a nap; crawl under the covers and take a nap; take a Tylenol PM and hope you can take a nap.
Your desk is covered with clutter: uncapped pens, receipts you meant to rectify but haven’t had the time to do, and dozens of opened envelopes (just because you bring in the mail doesn’t mean you open it). You start forgetting tasks at work; even the ultra-bright Post-it notes adhered to the side of your monitor fail to remind you to report payroll or oversee the annual company inventory. Just be grateful Paychex calls you if you don’t call them.
It happens again and again: in the living room, in the bedroom, in the kitchen. Every room is tainted by memories only you can see. Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser can’t clean these spots from my eyes, though he can clean blood from the walls. It happened just before my birthday, days before our anniversary, and one week after Christmas. (There’s always a card to mark the occasion: an unintended Hallmark moment.) It happened in Florida, Las Vegas, and Philadelphia—at the Loews Hotel on Market Street, and at the Four Points Sheraton on Race Street.
It was our first trip back to Philadelphia after moving to Brooklyn just three months prior. I was scheduled to run in the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, and since the race began at 8:00am, we decided to get a hotel room in the city the night before. I could carb load on breadsticks and pasta while my husband bonded with friends and beer. We were only supposed to be out for a few hours, only supposed to stop by one restaurant and one bar. But friends kept filtering out, one-by-one, and the hours passed almost as quickly as the shots (and since I was running, all these drinks were passed his way and not mine). By the time we arrived back at the room, it was well after midnight. Four hours, three noise complaints, and two paramedics later he finally passed out. I crawled into bed and cried myself to sleep, my cheeks still damp when the alarm went off two hours later.
You always smile at the desk clerk on the way out, but this time you also thank the bellboy for his help at 4:00am. You call your husband on the way to the race, and tell him if he isn’t at the finish line we are done. You know the ultimatum should be more than a mile long walk and two extra hours of sleep, but you can’t seem to shake the good memories: the late night talks on your mother’s front porch when you were 18, the way he dances with your cats like a proud father at his daughter’s wedding. The key is to forget it; forget it like you forget your toothbrush every time you travel. Forget it like you always forget the milk, bread or toilet paper at the store.
Somewhere between mile one and mile three you consider pressing charges. You consider going to the cops – confessing your husband beats you in your face – but by mile nine you consider running off the Falls Bridge instead. He’s a good man. You don’t want people to think otherwise. Besides, it’s your word versus his, your friends versus his. But you can’t seem to kill yourself either, so keep running, keep crying, and hope something will change when you cross the finish line.
Remember you did nothing when it happened. Sure, you called the cops this time, but you didn’t press charges – just wanted a second opinion, someone else to see if he needed his stomach pumped. Realize you were abused and did nothing. Realize you are abused and still lay side-by-side with the perpetrator.
He waits for you just before mile marker 13. You ask how he feels, even though you don’t care. You go to brunch with friends; he orders water, you order a beer. Smile and nod, appear engaged; don’t talk about the night before. You ride the bus back to New York City in silence. When you arrive home, he goes to bed. Turn on the TV. Search the web. Feed the cats. Pour a cup of water and open the mail you have been putting aside.
One envelope grabs your attention: It carries extra postage and is slightly bigger than a bill, but smaller than a greeting card. You peel back the pearlized paper and pull out a folded-over piece of black cardstock. You read the stamped silver ink, first in your head and then out loud:
He slipped the ring on her finger, a promise made for life…
Join us and share their joy as they become man and wife!
You stare at the response card for what feels like an eternity. Only the sound of a distant snore breaks your concentration. You slip in the bedroom and stare at your husband; he is on his back, legs spread, and sound asleep. You watch his chest rise and fall, fall and rise.
‘till death do us part.
You return to the office and fill in your name — Mr. and Mrs. Thompson — on the line appointed attending. Some things are as simple as selecting chicken or beef for dinner (I am a chicken girl myself), but others, like deciding to end a marriage, are better left unanswered.
You slip the card in the enclosed self-addressed and stamped envelope, seal it, leave the room and turn off the lights because you know the sun will rise in the morning, he will wake headache and hangover free, and you will be lying beside him: silent, drained, strained but still together. You don’t know this will be the last time it happens. You know you are strained, drained, and silent but still hanging on.