She Wants to Live (Trigger Warning Domestic Violence)
The blood zig zags down her thin arm as she brings a cigarette to her quivering lips, dripping round circlets of blood onto the black landline as she dials 911. The same phone they bought together the week before, when life looked better and perhaps by the grace of Creator he could change like he said he would as long as she didn't leave. They both agreed they needed a cool home phone with a speaker and hold button as he held her hand in public and they looked like a loving couple they were...for that day anyway. The good quality, white towel she just bought the week before, was soaked in blood, 3 layers in.
Why she chose to wrap her arm in a new white towel is beyond her. She stares at the red Rorschach shapes expanding on the snow-white towel and then flowing down her forearm in tear shaped rivulets. She is trying to stay coherent, despite the dizziness designed by her human body to protect itself. Normally, she doesn’t smoke inside the house, but this occasion calls for her to throw it all out the window as she puffs hard because she knows when she is in the hospital, she won’t be able to smoke for a long time. Cigarettes are her friend when she is sad, happy, in love and — bleeding.
“911, What’s your emergency?” comes the lady’s, nasally voice over the phone, not making this call any easier. She feels guilty…she plays the scene in her head again and questions her accountability; was this her fault? Maybe she should have just listened to him instead of making him mad. She’s ruined it all, she thinks. It is all her fault?
“Um, um, I-I-I think I need help”, Comes her shaky reply like she was apologizing for something she may have done?
“Can you tell me what’s going on?” The 911 operator spits out with the patience of flagger at a four-way intersection.
“I think I’ve been stabbed, not really stabbed, more like sliced he didn’t mean to do it, he only half swung…”, she mumbles between two cold lips, takes another puff and watches the second-hand cigarette smoke dance in the air as she releases the smoke from her lungs like they teach you in meditation class (only without the smoke and without the violence) Disassociation saves her from screaming frantically as she packs an extra pack of cigarettes in her purse and empties the change dish into her purse for the vending machine or perhaps bus fare or phone calls.
“Is this someone you know? Is he still there?” The operator asks, requesting more information, just in case…
“I might, I think so, maybe, I don’t know. No maybe not, no he’s not here, he left.”, She stutters, losing blood and coherency. She lights another cigarette as the previous one slowly dies out on a saucer. She inhales in and out like the cigarette is her oxygen. It helps, it really does she thinks and packs an extra lighter too. Smokers always have more than one lighter and even shop for ones in their favorite colors; hers was either red or black.
“We have your address on file. Someone should be there shortly, stay on the phone with me”, says the operator probably used to people either screaming or quiet people who may actually die.
Her stomach feels like she has just been on a rickety roller coaster and her empty stomach minus the coffee and smoke churns and wants to dance its way up her esophagus; she swallows it down. She drops the phone, hangs onto the wall, and walks to the balcony where another cigarette is still burning. She sits down in a camping chair and resumes smoking just like any other regular afternoon filling her stomach with coffee; food never quite her addiction and instead punishes herself by not eating.
Her bird like arms and legs covered by baggy clothes to hide the fact that she is underweight for her 5’6’ stature. She’s drinking her lukewarm coffee with her one good hand and exhaling, watching the smoke rise towards the blackening sky. It is beautiful, she thinks to herself as her cigarette smoke mixes with the rain and the cold bites of rain make her feel something—she feels alive and the cold rain, helps her to feel.
Her mind travels to the place she stored his words. A place in her brain that stores all the wrong doings of everything he has ever done or said, like files that can be pulled out when it is safe and when the cortisol course through her veins, just after the adrenalin has petered out from fight, flight, or freeze.
“You are nothing but a bitch! No one will ever want you! You have too many kids!” The memory of his voice assaults her. She has learned to let him yell. Learned to let him hit her. Learned to look at the ground. She has learned to listen and learned to be afraid. And learned to blame herself. She is the perfect student to his insecurities. He makes them hers.
“You want to leave? I know you do! After everything I’ve done for you! You fucking bitch! I’ll kill you!” She looks up to the sky, rain falling evenly and she is safe. She knows how to leave her body, but the words still pierce her spirit and are stored in her body for later reference. Why does she replay them in her head? Why?
She replays the scene in her head looking for her fault in the situation, “I don’t want to leave. I just want to go to work or school”, She says in a quivery voice her mother would not recognize.
“You deserve to die!” He comes at her with a knife. She is outside her body, where it is safe. Puts her arms up like she is shielding herself from the sun and not somebody’s son. She replays their fight over and over in her head. Why? She isn’t sure.
The sort of peace she feels is interrupted by the loud bangs on the door which she recognizes are from police. She lights another smoke knowing she may not be having her nicotine fix for a while. The domestic violence officer knows her. Tears slide down her face soundlessly like her, and she feels both relief and sadness. The officer lets her finish her cigarette. “People who don’t smoke call it cigarette”, she randomly says to the officer like she isn’t losing blood by the second.
“It was him, wasn’t it?” The officer leans against the balcony door. What can she say while tears are streaming down her face? Nothing, so nods her head.
She’s lied so many times that one more lie might be the last lie she ever tells. She takes one last drag before the burn hits the filter of the cigarette. It is nice that the officer lets her finish her cigarette. They both hang out in the rain staring at the sky; no words necessary.
The paramedics arrive a few minutes later and unwrap the towel off her arm and blood starts to rain down onto the balcony in splatters looking like the circles she made in grade one.
When she disassociates, it’s like being in a different time, a different place. She is studying each moment like a child studies their hands and nothing hurts, yet. She has always protected him from the police. And the police have always protected her from him. She is on a gurney on the way to the hospital. She can’t protect him anymore. Especially if she can’t even protect herself. She looks back at the apartment building and knows she has left everything behind. She has left everything behind except my life.
It takes Approximately 10-15 Times to Leave
“Why don’t you just leave?”, came the question out of my friend’s mouth and I did not have an answer for her. “One day he will kill you and you don’t even care. You’re stupid and deserve it if you stay”, came the words out of her mouth, spittle punching the air in front of me. That was the last time I ever contacted her or answered her calls; with already a battered spirit, she let me down with her words. Maybe she truly believed she would make the difference between life and death by stating some sort of 'obvious' from her perspective of inexperience and bias but what this meant for me was one less safe place for me to go if and when I needed help.
The worst things that someone can say or ask a person in an abusive relationship is, “Why don’t you just leave?”, or “I don’t know how you can stay with someone like that”, or “It must not be that bad if you’re staying”, or “Don’t come calling to me after he/she hits you again” and the list goes on. Statements like these can make a person more isolated than they were before. Statements like these make the receiver feel worse, and they already feel bad enough. These kinds of statements are judgements and can push the person further away from you to the point they stop trusting and stop talking to you.
It didn’t start out that way. It never starts out that way but there are red flags along the way. Red flags you don’t even notice because you never saw them before and if you did, maybe it was already normalized behavior from your own upbringing.
Sometimes we can mistake possessiveness for love—Where are you going? Who’s going to be there? How long you going to be? Who was that on the phone? I don’t like your friend; she always has her nose in our business. Who are you looking at? He was flirting with you— It gets worse.
It took me many tries to finally leave after I started to understand what my body was going through. Every time we fought, the adrenalin that would course through my body was a sort of high that we were both addicted to.
As sad as it sounds, we can become addicted to the adrenalin and without it, we can go through withdrawal and mistake that withdrawal for missing the person. The other thing that courses through our bodies is cortisol which is a stress hormone and is released when we are withdrawing from the ‘cycle of abuse’.
I had a very good doctor who explained what was happening to my body and what the chemicals were doing, and he told me if I could stay away for a year, the chemicals in my body would go back to a more normal state.
The doctor told me that when I felt like I missed him I needed to do things like exercise or something fun to get natural levels of adrenalin flowing to give my body the adrenalin it was craving. I am not a doctor, so I am explaining things as I understand them without any medical jargon (Because I don’t know any!). There is a lot of research out there and many good doctors and people who will talk about it with you, you just need to ask.
I stayed away for a year and found that my adrenalin and cortisol levels were almost back to normal and when I did see him again on the street? My body remembered and started shaking and the adrenalin and cortisol that shot through my body was a horrifying feeling. I never went back.
My hope for you if you are in an abusive relationship, is to see how strong you are, how much you can carry, how deserving you are of a good life, and that you can make it out. All I ask is that you never put yourself down, or search for the ways you are at fault…there is no reason a human being should hurt another human being no matter what. There are people who understand and you are not alone.
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