T.W. Emotional and sexual abuse
When it happened for the first time, they had been seeing each other for three months. It was so faint at the beginning that she hardly noticed. It was just a fuzziness—distinctly not a glow. More like smog touching the edges of her features with charcoal gray. Like what London’s sky must have looked like at the height of the Industrial Revolution. She saw it in the mirror—dismissing it as the steam from the shower distorting her image.
It wasn’t until later when she exchanged her towel for clothes that she recognized the lack of definition at the very tips of her fingers. Even then she ruled it as a vision problem. She vowed to call the eye doctor on Monday. It was surely just one of those astigmatisms she had read about. She failed to mark how the alarm clock stood out in sharp relief and how the dresser’s lines were stark despite the fading light. In fact, every object could be seen with her perfect vision. Everything was clear as day—except herself.
There was a knock at the door. “We’re going to be late! You’re the one who wanted to go to this thing and you aren’t even ready.”
“I’m coming!” She hastily put on her dress, one a little more daring than she would usually wear. It was red and the fabric went lower than her bra lining, meaning she had to go without one altogether. If he didn’t focus on her in this, he never would. She went into the other room and saw him sprawled out in her desk chair, tie hanging too loose on his neck, sleeves rolled up, jacket draped on her bed. Slowly he lifted his eyes.
There. That look. Sure, it was focused more on her chest than her delicately crafted winged eyeliner, but he had always been direct in finding what he wanted.
“You wear that to meet my friends?” His voice was low and rough, torn between irritation and desire.
“I’m wearing it for you.” And if it happened to draw a few eyes and entice his jealousy, that wouldn’t be so bad either. It wasn’t like his eyes hadn’t wandered to her friends every once in a while.
For the first few moments of the party, she was in heaven. He was ever attentive, his arm around her waist a constant reminder to the others that she was taken. One by one she met every member of the entire hockey team. They would exchange names and avoid looking too long. He had the team record for time in the penalty box for a reason.
Yet, her joy was short lived. Everyone was careful not to engage her in conversation with him around, but he had no qualms about abandoning her on the couch as he chatted with the guy mixing the drinks. She sat long enough to finish her beer while only taking small sips. Then, in the corner, she saw a familiar face.
She pushed off the worn-out furniture and approached the figure with the paisley tie. The tie confirmed it. This was her friend Jenna’s boyfriend. “Friend” might have been a stretch, but the girl had told her all about her boyfriend and the tie she was getting him for his formal while they edited the layout for the sports section.
“Hey, it’s Eric, right? I work with Jenna at the campus newspaper.” He had looked slightly afraid as she approached, but his eyes lightened and his shoulders dropped back down at the mention of Jenna.
“Yep, that’s me. What brings you to H-house?”
She gestured to her boyfriend, who was lining up a shot during yet another round of beer pong.
“Oh, you guys are dating?”
“For a while now. I’ve got to say it’s been nice to finally see the house, meet the guys, all that.”
“It’s not much to see, but you’re welcome to it.” Eric shrugged, spilling a few drops of jungle juice onto the already stained carpet.
“What do we have here?” He had left the pong table, coming over to them. “Why are you in the corner with my girlfriend?”
She wasted no time intervening. “This is Jenna’s boyfriend. I was just talking to him, calm down.” He still narrowed his eyes at Eric and the empty beer can in his right hand was crushed. His eyes came back to her.
“We should get out of here, you look tired.”
She didn’t want to fight about it, so she allowed him to grab her hand as he chucked the can at Eric’s shoe.
“You should throw that out.” Eric flinched and she grimaced, but she offered no apology. She followed him out into the cold and walked the short distance back to their dorm. He remained silent and his gripped stayed strong.
When she tried to go to her room, he pulled her towards his.
“I’ve got to get a shower. That place smelled like cheap beer.”
“Fine, shower here.”
He was waiting. He heard the click and hush of the shower turning off in the next room, separated from him only by a feeble wall. He checked his cell phone once again in hopes something had miraculously appeared in the last few moments since his last glance. He’d already taken advantage of her absence to scroll through the accounts of some girls he swore he would unfollow. That was ten minutes ago. This was the expectant waiting, like when he ordered a sandwich and waited for it to be delivered to his table. The order had been made and payment was given, now only services needed rendering. It was the waiting he did when he knew with certainty that the transaction would occur, even if he didn’t know the exact time it would take for it to happen. He called out to more readily gain his desire, a subtle signal that it was taking too long.
“Come here, babe. At this rate, I’ll be dead and gone before you get out of there.”
He was sitting on the bed, his hands clenching the linen sheets as if to wring them dry. She had taken too long again, but she still found herself fidgeting. Taking her time brushing every strand of her hair twice, rearranging her array of belongings on the right side of the sink like a child lining up toy soldiers, examining her eyebrows with intent persecution of stray hairs. In the mirror she found that odd lack of definition surrounding her face like a sickly halo. Her feet carried her to him and those clenched hands unfurled.
“There’s my girl.” His right hand pulled the back of her head toward him. Green eyes stared not at her, but rather at the space she occupied. He saw nothing but the air her face was displacing. “My pretty girl, how beautiful you look tonight.” His other hand came to her wrist, dragging her loose fingers down the length of his body.
“I’m so tired.”
“Don’t you love me?”
“Of course I love you.”
“Then why were you with Eric tonight?”
She released a short burst of air. Her eyes moved in a weak arch. “For Christ’s sake, he’s my friend’s boyfriend.”
“You know I don’t like when you talk to other guys, not while you’re wearing what you wore tonight,” he searched her face and then pulled her closer with a smirk. “Are you trying to drive me crazy?”
“Maybe.” Her smile came easy; she was relieved she could diffuse his anger with a little teasing.
“But you love me right?”
She leaned in slow and whispered in his ear, “Yes.”
“Well show me.” That grip got a little tighter and squeezed her tendons into her bones until he could feel the gentle throb as her blood pumped harder to fit through the narrower space. Here was the moment he had waited for so patiently. His breath bolted from his mouth in a sharp pant. He was tired of waiting. She said she was tired? She knew nothing of tired. She said she wanted to drive him crazy? Well, he’d show her crazy. He worked all day, he was ready. Ready to release the day into her body until it was completely spent from him. Every time his professor failed to acknowledge his brilliance, every time his coach overlooked a perfect save, every time a stranger saw past him with indifference rose within him. He needed those eyes to see him, to recognize that he existed. He needed it more than anything.
So, she showed him. She showed him by not flinching when his fingers drew pain instead of pleasure from her body because she wasn’t ready for his touch. By allowing his tongue to thrust into her mouth when it was hot and dry. By working her hands and limbs like a marionette while he grunted his pleasure. She showed him it was alright afterwards by curving her lip upward in an illusion of satisfaction. Because she loved him.
Later that night she drew his outline with her eyes. Even in the darkness his right cheekbone rose off the horizon of the pillow. The short, sharp eyelashes divided his lids with a dramatic flair. His lips were visible in different tones, blending into the oblivion of the cavern of his mouth. She could perceive only a few ridges of his teeth resting like gravestones high on a hill. It was curious then, that she could not make out the shape of her hand as she reached to trace his brow. In her mind she had reached out and her brain told her that her thumb was placed on his forehead. She felt the sensation of texture, but it was slippery. It was as if she was hovering just barely over his skin when she knew she was touching him.
Pulling her hand back, she fought a chill that had huddled in her body. Slowly, she lifted her shirt to examine the skin of her stomach. It was tight and soft, just as it always had been. She tapped it, feeling a peculiar hollowness, like she was hitting a drum, like there was nothing inside. As for appearance, here too was the faintness smudging her curves. The line where her body dissolved into the sheets was too weak to make out. It was as if she was blending into the fabric, sinking into it, becoming it. Scrubbing her skin with the sheet as if to erase the haze, she felt only a slight sting where the rough, old material should have felt more comparable to softened sandpaper.
She bent herself around her stomach and rubbed her shoulders, only to feel a smooth glide when there should have been friction. Closing her eyes, she dreamed of tomorrow when she’d be warmed by the sun and the cold would leak from her skin.
When she awoke, she was certain that what she had felt and seen last night was the mere substance of dreams and that reality would melt away the shadow with the heat of the new sun. Slipping from the covers in the early light, she was pleasantly surprised by the lack of chill. The rough carpet beneath her felt too smooth, but she took it that she was simply numb from the sleep lingering in her bones. She glided on soundless feet as she arrived at the bathroom, careful to shut the door so that the light wouldn’t seep into the bedroom to touch him.
A flick of a switch and a low buzz preceded the bright eye of light opening above her. She allowed her eyes to shift themselves to embrace the whiteness, wincing as her pupils shrunk like sponges deprived of water. When she could see, she was sure something was very wrong with her eyes.
The entire outline of her body no longer existed. She tried to focus on herself, but her eyes kept glancing off. It was like trying to push two negative sides of a magnet together. Dear God, she thought. She’d never been religious, but there are certain moments where even the most devout atheist calls out to a divine power. Hoping with all her being, she touched her skin, only to feel a permeable bend where there should have been solid flesh and bone. She pushed as far as she could into her cheek and was briefly glad there was a place where the skin ceased to bend. Like sand, she was able to push through the top layer, but was stopped by the deeper and more densely packed core. Her shaking hand flashed in the mirror like the blinking of a lighthouse. In her chest, her heart beat against her ribs like a runner’s heels smacking the pavement. Breath came quick yet quiet, as in the perversity of her fear; she still had the notion that she should remain silent to not disturb her lover.
At this thought, a cord felt like it snapped in her chest. She could not prevent a huff of pain from slipping to freedom between the crack in her lips. If she could not see herself, he might not be able to either. What if nobody could? Sight was irrevocably tied to existence. Something wasn’t real if it couldn’t be seen.
An ugly heat invaded her palms and cheeks as she opened the door, no longer concerned with preserving his slumber. He merely turned to face away from the light, sinking back into the valley of the bed.
“Wake up.” She walked over to stand before him, willing him to creak open his eyes. “Wake up, please.” This time she was unable to keep the tremor from the last note, shaking the word like a struck guitar string.
A sigh. A long bend of a body onto the support of an arm. A head rising as if from under the pull of waves in an effort to break the surface. An eye, then another acquainting themselves with the new day.
“What’s the matter?”
His abdomen swelled and swayed in the tide of moving muscles as he sat to face her. She could see that he was trying to focus, trying to get his eyes to focus on her image.
“Can you just tell me already? I’m getting a headache just trying to look at you. Is it that damn bright in here?” His body twisted like the delicate braid of a rope as he turned away to locate the source of his discomfort.
“Can you look at me?”
END PART ONE
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