I want to commit this memory to my own external hard drive before it’s lost in my unreliable mind. Early March, 2014.
The day I left—which dragged on into night—was a study of bad timing.
I had my backpack packed with clothes and essentials, ready to go to my parents’ for a few weeks. It had been a long time coming. It had been coming since before we were married, and I even knew it then. But for some reason I was more afraid of being without him than with him.
“James. I’m leaving. I can’t live with you anymore and I want a divorce.” The red pack gave me a little more weight and confidence. I always feel safe with the hip and chest straps pulled tight.
He stood up, his broad-shouldered 6’6” frame casting my smaller one all in shadow. James had a nice face. I liked it anyways. It was broad with a snub nose and bright blue eyes. He had a beard and soft curly brown hair. He had a scar cutting through his left eyebrow and temple from a fight years ago. He was 32, a heavy smoker since god knows when, so wrinkles were starting to spread latitudes across his forehead. He wasn’t smiling now but he had a winning grin. He was awfully charismatic.
“No you’re not.”
I don’t remember what exactly transpired but the next thing I knew, we were in the bedroom. Maybe we had started there. If so, that was a mistake. I should have known not to corner myself in a room with only one exit. I had my backpack on still, thinking that I was ready, I was ready, I was leaving, I had decided it and no one could stop me. We were in there for hours and it’s all just a jumble.
I made a move for the door, he pulled me down, hard by the handle on my backpack. I landed on my tailbone on the floor. I felt like he was mocking me. I tried again, I tried the windows, I tried to push him out of the way but of course he’s twice my size and so I failed. He picked me up and sat me on the bed, like a toddler in a time-out. He pinned me down with his hands and knees. He smelled like James, which is to say like Marlboro menthols and booze.
I begged, I tried to bargain, “I’ll come back I just need some time!”
I told him that I really did love him, I was just confused or overwhelmed or who knows.
I screamed as loudly as I could for help, hoping someone else in our building would care. No one did. James clapped a fat-knuckled hand over my mouth and squeezed my face until a tear came out of my eye. He smiled. Tears were our currency and in that we were wealthy beyond compare.
He chaperoned me to the bathroom once or twice, returning me again to the bed and blocking the door.
He got a knife and cut his wrist, “Look how this is hurting me!”
He looked at the knife, twisting it to catch the light and said, “Maybe a murder-suicide…”
He was my first love. To this day I don’t know why. My parents love each other and were nice enough to me. I haven’t had another abusive relationship, it’s not a pattern with me. In actual fact, I’ve felt like the one with more power in all of my other relationships. I think I was mentally ill at that age. In fact I’m certain of it.
He didn’t hurt me in any way that left marks. He only cut himself. He only terrified me and made me feel utterly powerless. After hours of bargaining, I think he realized how unsustainable the hostage situation was. Maybe he just wanted beer. But he let me go, with the promise that I would keep open lines of communication and that I would see him again.
I drove, sweaty and shaking, the brief ten minutes to my childhood home. I told some of what had passed to my parents and the older ones of my siblings.
James called and texted me, my mother, and my older sister countless times. I told them not to answer.
He sent me a photo of his sliced-up arm. He said he was going to kill himself. This was not the first time he’d threatened suicide. In fact, he’d been talking about it on and off since we had met two summers before. I used to think it was deep and that he was a troubled romantic. I suppose I still think that. I talk about suicide like it’s something bright gold.
Radio silence happened right around 10pm. It was cold outside, spring comes late in the Midwest. I think it was a new moon.
“What if he did it?” I asked out loud.
No one had an answer.
We talked about our options and decided to call him an ambulance. If he hadn’t bled too much, maybe he had overdosed on a combination of god knows what drugs he kept hidden from me.
An ambulance came and they called me to let them into the apartment. I didn’t expect this, I don’t know what I expected but I had assumed for some reason they’d have a way to open the door. So I had to go back. My mother came and one of my brothers.
I unlocked the front door. It was dark and quiet.
“He’s probably in here.” I pointed to the room with his xbox and bong. And he was there, passed out in a drunken stupor. He moved a little bit and the EMT said they couldn’t really do anything to help him.
“He’s suicidal, look at his arm! Can’t you take him somewhere to be safe for a few days?”
The EMT shined a flashlight and saw the mangled red. He agreed that he could do that.
James saw the light and woke up, confused.
“Hey, we want to help you. You’re not well, will you come with us to the hospital?
James screamed a primal scream of rage, stood up, wobbled, and bolted out the door. He pushed an EMT down on his way out. He ran for a few blocks and they chased him. I didn’t see what happened but the EMT told me later that he’d tried to punch one of them and in return had been sprayed with mace. James fell and lay on the ground, bleeding and crying under the moonless night sky. My mother and I stood silent from a distance as they loaded him into the ambulance. I couldn’t cry anymore.