Three years. Three years of hand holding and beer drinking and the best sex I’ve ever had before the blood, the bruises, the beginning of a nightmare.
“I can’t believe we’ve been together this long,” she said to me on the night of our anniversary, one leg curled around my waist and her head pressed against my heartbeat.
“I can.” My lips touched her forehead. “I never had a doubt in my mind that we’d stay together. Not one doubt.”
I fell asleep seconds after that conversation, something that proved impossible unless I had her body coiled around mine. Ever since high school, I had problems falling asleep and staying asleep. And now, with the added pressure of my new twelve-hour night shifts, I was lucky to get two or three hours of sleep per night.
The sleep deprivation hit me hard. It led to sending weird messages to friends that made even less sense than drunk texts. To acting out my dreams by accidentally swatting at my girlfriend in my sleep. And worst of all (or so I thought at the time), to falling asleep on the way home one night and jolting the steering wheel to the side before I smashed into the highway divider.
That night, the night of our anniversary, the night I had been looking forward to for weeks, I had one of my most popular nightmares. The scene would change every time — sometimes I would be on a boat or at a hotel or inside of a supermarket — but the theme stayed the same. Someone tried to take my girlfriend away from me. Kidnap her. Drown her. Stab her. Kill her.
Losing her was the worst thing my brain could conjure up. The worst thing that could possibly happen to me.
So when I dreamt of a man snatching her from me on the beach, placing a rag against her mouth to turn her unconscious, I grabbed him by the collar. I tossed him to the ground. And I started beating the shit out of him.
I brought my arm back and smashed it against his face. Again. Again. Againagainagain.
“Eric! Eric! What the hell are you doing, Eric? Please!” I heard my girlfriend scream from the sidelines, but it only made me fight harder, punch faster. I wouldn’t stop.
I needed to save her. I couldn’t lose her. I couldn’t live without her.
Three years. Three years of forehead kisses and home cooked meals and cuddles on the couch.
The night of our anniversary (three whole years, which I couldn’t believe!), I fell asleep with my body draped across his — and I woke up with his fist slamming into my ribcage.
He had done similar things before. Swatted at me or squeezed me a little too tight in the middle of the night, waking me up. But I would call his name and he would startle, wake up himself, and put an end to it all. It was harmless. I thought it was harmless.
But that night, the night of our anniversary, he stayed asleep. Even as I struggled beneath him. Even as I screamed his name. “Eric! Eric! What the hell are you doing, Eric? Please!”
I rolled to dodge him, but his body rolled along with me, unconsciously following me, still pummeling me, leaving the beginning of bruises against my chest.
Fighting back never crossed my mind. Hurting him never crossed my mind. Just the screaming and the dodging.
With nowhere else to go and still half-asleep myself, I catapulted myself off the bed, but smashed my skull on the end table on my way down.
And the world blinked away.
When my eyes popped open hours later, the dream already faded from my memory, I reached an arm across the bed to feel for her. Nothing. I leaned up. Called her name. Nothing.
When I swung my legs toward the floor, intending to grab the blue box of jewelry I spent two paychecks on as a surprise present, I finally found her. Dark yellow bruises splattered across her chest. Blood emptying out from a gash in her head. Her veins still, her pulse already gone.
At that time, I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t realize how it had happened. All I knew was that I lost her. I lost the only thing that ever mattered to me. The only thing that helped me fall asleep at night.