Looking Back: A Journey Through Domestic Violence

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by Sabrina White

Looking back, I don’t remember exactly when it began. Just the looks of disbelief from my friends at my meager excuses.

“I fell. You know how clumsy I am.”

“I misjudged how fast that door was going to shut. That happens sometimes.”

The most telling excuse was the one I chose to never utter. When I dismissed their questions about a black eye or long sleeves on ninety degree days with a wave of my hand and a tight smile. Those days when I pretended all was well under a façade of otherwise well-manicured nails and perfect hair. I’m allowed to be clumsy, I’d think to myself. But I knew better. Everyone did.

* * *

I remember the first day I met Carl almost three years ago. My son’s rubber ball had hit him on the shoulder, spraying sand all over his light gray business suit as he walked by the park. He brushed off my apologies as easily as the sand and threw the ball with my son for a while. His eyes seemed to laugh. He didn’t even openly flirt with me or anything but he did give me his number.

“Hope you call, Makeda.”

I waited a day or two but I did call. We used to talk for hours on end about everything. His life. My life. Politics. Religion. He had recently started working for the state and was from the area. He graduated from the local university. I was a country girl from right outside Charleston still trying to get through college the best way I could in the big city. I had no home to go back to. When I got pregnant with my son, my mother stopped talking to me.

“You had to go off to school and make me shame!” She had never seen her grandson and probably intended to never see him. I don’t think she cared if I finished school at this point. I was a good girl who was going to be somebody. That’s what she always told everyone. I could do no

wrong. I was better than this, I was better than that. She just couldn’t deal with the fact that I was as human as everyone else. Carl filled the one void that school, friends, or even my son couldn’t fill. My nights were no longer lonely ones. It was easy for me to trust Carl, to love him, to accept him wholeheartedly, flaws and all.

He was ten years older than me but that didn’t seem to matter so much. The first six months were absolute bliss. My mother and I eventually started talking again after I had sent her a picture of Thomas. Her letters had always come back to me time after time emblazoned with glaring red RETURN TO SENDER stamps. She admitted she opened the last one accidentally before realizing who it was from and the picture of Thomas fell out. His two-year old crooked smile was too much even for her and she called me. I had never felt more loved than to have both my mother and Carl in my life at that point. My joy was short lived.

Mama came to visit so she could meet Carl. She was disappointed that I couldn’t be with Thomas’ father but felt this man I gushed on and on about would do. Well that’s what she said. I could tell from the second she met him that she didn’t like him. She scrunched up her nose as though something smelled bad and followed everything he said, no matter how cordial with a disinterested, “Uh, huh.” When he left she didn’t give me a chance to say anything.

“That boy there aint no kind of good!” We argued and argued to no avail. She had convinced herself that he just wasn’t a good man no matter how much I pointed out his good qualities, his education, his job even.

“I don’t care if he works for the president of the United States, no good is no good.”

“Mama, how can you say that? You don’t even know him. He didn’t disrespect you.”

“You aint lived as long as I have. You only twenty-one years old, child. You know as much about men as you do about living, which don’t amount to a hill of beans. You need to get rid of that boy there!”

I gave up trying to reason with her. He was bad news, she had surmised and couldn’t even tell me why. Looking back on it now, I wish I had listened anyway. Instead I stopped talking to her all over again. That was a year ago.

* * *

I stared at the phone in my hand through tear glazed eyes, listening to the sound of my son’s raspy breathing as he slept.

Should I call her? My head throbbed as I gingerly pressed around the bulge that had formed against the side of my face. It wasn’t so bad. The ER doctor said it would be down by the morning. But how was I going to explain the cast? I looked at my immobile right arm and suppressed a sob. I swallowed hard and placed the phone on the nightstand just as a small whimper came from the living room. My two month old daughter Kymari was waking up. I got to her just as she was starting to flail.

“Shh, baby girl it’s alright.” I had gotten somewhat adept at changing her diapers at the hospital with one arm but Kymari hated the process, her lusty cries drowning out what I soon realized was knocking at the door.

Damn. I threw a towel over my arm to cover the drops of blood as I stepped gingerly over the immobile quilt covered mass on the floor and turned out the lights. Kymari’s whimpers filled my ears as a million thoughts zipped through my pounding head.

“Who is it?” I breathed in quickly a few times to quell my nerves. Who could it be at this hour? The digital clock in the corner read a quarter to four. A neighbor maybe?

“It’s the police, ma’am. Open up.” My heart skipped a beat. They knew! Somehow they

knew what I had done! I backed away from the door too fast and nearly fell over the quilt. I crashed into the coffee table, sending its contents rattling to the floor. I quickly pushed the white pills under the couch. Damn.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, is everything alright?” I jumped to my feet, knowing I couldn’t hold off the inevitable. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

“Ma’am, we got a noise complaint from your neighbors downstairs.” The officer began. He brushed away the sandy brown hair that fell into his eyes and regarded me after a moment. “Ma’am, are you alright?” He took in my unkempt hair, swollen face, and busted lip with concern. His gaze stopped at the towel on my arm and I saw him recoil visibly. “We got a potential 10-75 here.” He relayed into his radio. His eyes never left my arm. “Ma’am, what happened to you? Is anyone else in the apartment?” On cue, Kymari let out an angry cry.

“Everything’s fine officer.” My voice sounded deceptively calm. I lifted my left arm and showed him the hospital bracelet tag that still dangled there. “It’s just me and my baby. She’s a little fussy, I’ll try to keep her quiet.” The officer eyed me suspiciously as he lifted his radio again.

“Stand down.” He pulled out his flashlight and shined it into my apartment, the light bouncing off Kymari’s tightly balled fists in the bassinet and the empty walls.

“Who’s that?” I turned and saw Thomas peaking around the arm of the couch.

“That’s just my son. He’s four.”

“I thought you said it was just you and your baby.”

“And my son. He was asleep. Sorry about that officer, the noise must of woke him up.”

“Well is there anyone else asleep in your apartment, Ma’am?”

“No, Officer. No one else.”

“You mind if I come and take a look around?” My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t let him in!

“Officer, that’s not necessary. There’s no one else here.” I swallowed hard as I relayed the lie. He didn’t look like he believed me. His eyes came to rest once again on my covered arm. I let the towel slip a bit so he could see the top of the cast and he seemed to relax.

“Okay, ma’am. Get that little one quiet.” With a curt nod he descended the stairs and I closed the door quickly before he had a change of heart. I shooed Thomas back to bed and gave Kymari a bottle. I regarded the oddly still lump on the floor with contempt as I dialed my mother’s number.

* * *

They found his body weeks later. I watched the news report numbly as Carl’s picture flashed across the screen. I just figured he would be out for a few hours, awaken and be on his way when he saw I wasn’t there. Apparently he had died of asphyxiation…he choked on his own vomit. My landlady found him after coming to check on my absent rent. Slowly the feeling began to creep back into my body.

A forced cry came to my lips as the realization of his death hit me. All this time I never thought he was dead so it was easy to hate him. To relish in my victory, my escape. No more drunken tirades or broken bones. No more black eyes or tired excuses for worried coworkers. I was finally free.

Sitting there waiting for the feeling to finally render my limbs movable, I found I couldn’t hate a dead man. Did I still love him? The euphoric rush that used to fill my head with giddy lightness had all but dissipated years ago, soon after the first punch that had sent me reeling in surprise and pain. The rush returned after every apology and flower bouquet, weaker and weaker until one day, it just wasn’t there any more. Fear filled that void instead. Then anger. I had hated the man that was. Although

relieved I hadn’t killed him, I wasn’t sorry he was dead. My fingers dug into the side of the armchair, and I was holding my breath to my surprise.

Damn girl, he’s dead now. He can’t hurt you any more. I caught myself from spiraling into that familiar vortex of fear and san k back into the cushions trying to calm my ragged nerves.

“Makeda Lorette Brown is wanted for questioning…” I bolted upright at the sound of my name. My driver’s license picture was displayed on the screen along with the number for Crimestoppers. A small almost inaudible cry sounded behind me.

“Makeda, what did you do?”

My mother and I went to the police station in the city the next day. I wasn’t under arrest, much to my surprise. They had determined that he had gotten drunk, taken the pills and passed out, a drunk man’s suicide. His head had hit the side of the table when he fell rendering him unconscious. I stared at the wall as they relayed it to me, remembering what actually happened. The screaming and shouting that had become almost routine. How I slipped the pills into his cognac and how I fended off his unsteady blows with my freshly casted arm. The pills worked quicker than I thought. I remembered thinking what life would be like if he never woke up or better yet, if Thomas’ ball never hit him that day. I checked his breathing. It was shallow but steady. Then I covered him like I always did when he passed out and left him there. While they did hold me at fault for not reporting his condition, they decided against filing charges. My coworkers had come forward with their suspicions of abuse. The many emergency room visits and my still splinted right arm told the tale as well.

I moved back home with my mother to rebuild my life. I never graduated from college or lived up to her many expectations but I did learn to listen and watch. My mother learned that I didn’t need papers and accolades to be considered a success. Success could be garnered through mere survival, and a survivor I was to the end. I see his eyes every time I look in my daughter Kymari’s face, the kind, laughing eyes from the first day we met, and I remember his love. I pray she never knows how much love could hurt.