You walk in at 2:21 a.m.
The dread began to set in the moment he slipped in after you and you heard him slam the door to the Uber.
You busy yourself cleaning up the mess in the kitchen and dining area. The sticky counters, the shot glasses, the ashes, the beer bottles. You think that maybe if you take long enough he’ll pass out.
It’s when he’s this loaded that he likes giving you any attention. You know any kind of regard at any given time comes with a price. His affection is never warmth, but always a deliberation. A means to an end. Tonight you could break having to pay, but you know his charm only turns to cruelty when he doesn’t get what he wants.
You open up and pour out what’s left of the little baggie. You love doing this. The tranquility and the focus that comes with gathering the tiny white mounds. Spreading and flattening them out. Crush, crush, crush, until the powder is finer than sand. Each line as even as can be.
This is what he’s done to you. Broken you up in pieces. Turned those pieces into grains, past the point of recognition. Made you doubt you were ever whole. Rearranged you the way he liked. Made a game out of getting high off your insides.
Your old university student I.D. really came to good use. You wonder what the girl in the picture from 10 years ago would think of the girl sitting here now. You want to tell her you were wrong about a lot of things, but most of all love.
You’re hoping he will take the straw and join you. Hoping that if he has any more of it in his system the blood won’t travel to places needed for him to make his way inside of you. But you’re aware of his virility. You know this is mostly for the effect it will have on you. Tonight, everything you’ve drank hasn’t been enough. You’re hoping this will push you further towards being numb.
When he puts his mouth on you, when his hands run through you, when his breath is on your skin, when he pushes his way in, you don’t want to feel any of it.
You don’t want to feel anything.
He finishes without looking at you. The way he always has. He rolls off of you to clean himself up. In all the years you’ve been together, he’s never once held you after, he’s never once kissed you unless it was a prelude to sex. It used to make you sad, but now all you are is thankful.
You wake up at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday the next morning. You can’t sleep in because he’s laying next to you. You wanted to die last night, feeling the way his semen dripped out of you and down your thighs. You’ve showered twice between then and now with the unsettling feeling that it would never stop.
Does he know last night you fell asleep imagining your hair could strangle him?
Last night you dreamed he left you. You felt a calm you hadn’t felt since before you met him. You opened up the windows, you let the air in, threw out every canvas you ever painted for him, every picture in which he was touching you in. You burned his sheets, each love letter you ever wrote to him, every piece of lingerie that ever made contact with his skin. You laughed and danced around the fire, a true portrait of a mad woman. Mad from freedom. Mad but untroubled. A woman back in her element. A woman you had missed for so long. You spread your arms and stuck out your tongue to welcome every single debris of ash. You swallowed it all.
But you woke up and here you are.
You woke up wanting to die.
Can he hear the treacherous poetry in your breathing when it’s him that’s awake and you that’s asleep? Is he, as always, two steps ahead of you? Does he know you want to leave?
He must, because this morning you woke up pinned under his arm.
How did you get here?
Who was it that taught you that love meant emptying yourself to give someone else everything? Who was it that taught you that love meant doing everything you could to make them happy, even if it came at your sacrifice, even if it cost you who you are, even if it killed you? Because this is death, isn’t it?
Who are you?
You don’t know anymore. Your dreams have escaped you. So has your light. There are only burial grounds where you once had eyes. Your body now only a graveyard for him to come bury his rage in. He splits you apart just to find it again. Your skin now only clay on a pottery wheel, he spins you until he can mold you into his ideal. You spend more time pulling chunks of your heart and lungs off from the walls and ceiling, than you spend time smiling.
When did you become this?
The lamb he stands over while he grows angrier and larger until it shrieks; the same one he guts and demands it apologize for the blood. You handed him each limb, plucked out each rib for him, watched him bite into each and suck it clean.
You figured it was better than standing outside the door like a sick dog in the rain, waiting for him to open the door, waiting to be let back in, even knowing that crawling back into his bed would only make you lose appendages from the frost bite.
You tape yourself together over and over again, only to hand him back the scissors, only to hand him back the knife with the sharp edge on your end.
He only finds you pretty when you crawl to him crying, repenting for his mistakes, your reality skewed, feeling unhinged the new norm.
None of the poets you read ever told you this, and neither did any of the novels – how fiercely you had to hurt in order to love.
You bleed into every page you touch, but there is nothing poetic about this.
You go to bed with him, you wake up in bed with him, and you know there is nothing left. You don’t feel anything these days. Just the flow of the empty moving in and out. No matter how much you stare, no matter what colors you paint the walls, this will never be home, this will never be love.
All the love you felt for him escaped your body the moment he ran out of places to break. It should have been gone the first night he punched a hole through the wall.
You don’t love him anymore, so why are you still here?
You live with a tongue heavy, wrapped around in silence.
He says your name and you cringe. His has become a monster.
Imagine walking out. Imagine leaving this desert.
Imagine his mouth coming into contact with your skin, imagine yours moving to say no.
You lay there with a tiny grin on your face, knowing you don’t have to hide your satisfaction when he’s asleep: there’s no longer just one, but now in this room, there are two cheats. You will think of the night you became one next time he slides out of you, rolls over, just to leave you laying there numb and unfinished.
You do think of it each time.
And you think of it each time he calls you dumb, he calls you crazy, he calls you a whore, he calls you fat and undesirable, he calls you a bitch. It sits there on the tip of your tongue when you discover he’s been unfaithful for the umpteenth time. You play around with the words washing the dishes, folding his laundry, ironing his shirts, mopping the floors, and even singing in the shower: “I fucked someone else. It was him. It was better than I remembered. Thinking of his hands are the only way I can stand to be touched by yours.”
You revel in it. After years of his infidelities, after years of being treated like just another piece of furniture, after years of the gaslighting and the piles of manure he forced down your throat, you savor your rebellious lack of shame. It gives you strength.
Little by little each day, another morsel of strength.
You leave one day. It takes until there is nothing left for him to take. He strikes a match on your best friend one day, throws it at you, and you laugh watching the way there is nothing left to burn.
When you do, there’s nothing left pretty, there’s nothing left shiny, there is nothing left gentle, there is nothing left of you that is clean.
Two years later, and you’re still trying to break every rule he ever taught you. You’re still trying to unlearn every false truth he ever instilled in you. You’re still trying to scrape away at all the dirt and all the mud he left caked into the inner folds of your brain.
You’re left with the trauma of having have loved a man who carried an axe in his right hand, anger tucked inside his mouth, and wore charm for a mask. You’re afraid anyone who comes after will be another one cut from the same cloth.
Here you are. Making love to loneliness because he taught you there is no other way. Screwing yourself sore at night with all your demons. Assuming that anyone who touches you only will do so to leave scars on you. Look at you biting at anyone who comes near. Look at how your mouth has learned to spit out flames.
Look at you doubting something beautiful and real in front of you, look at you sabotaging a good thing just because you don’t want to be hurt again.
Look at you showcasing what he made.