- This story contains descriptions of relationship violence as well as self-injury. It may be triggering.
- This is a piece I wrote at age eighteen about events that happened mostly in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. While I altered some personally identifying information and while I’m sure my perception was biased, it is an attempt to record the truth of those events as I understood them.
- Given that I’m reworking an old draft, there’s a chance I will go back and edit posts well after they’re published. If there’s interest, I’ll publish a round-up announcement once I’m reasonably sure the story is in its final-ish form.
- This is not the only domestic abuse story that affects my life. But it is the safest one to tell.
“And if I could,” my father wrote to me,
huge as a bear himself, when I was younger,
“I would dower you with experience, without experience.”
and I, in my turn, would pass that on to you.
But we make our own mistakes. We sleep
— Neil Gaiman, Locks
I was seventeen.
I was seventeen, and he was twenty.
Really, I was almost seventeen; it was June, and I turned seventeen in August. And he was almost twenty; he would have turned twenty in September.
We were not quite three years apart. Not quite three years, but a lifetime.
He had the most captivating green eyes. I know everyone says that, and maybe that is because every stereotypical teenager thinks that, but in this case, it was true.
Not because they were sparkling or twinkling or flashing. Not because they were an intense green. They were, in fact, greenish gray and kind of boring, in terms of appearances. But captivating. Not because they seemed to know what I was thinking or seemed to see into my soul, but simply because they were thoughtful. Not knowing the answers, but asking the questions.
That was a rare enough phenomenon in my experience with boys to make me pay attention.
And he did ask the questions, the questions that told me there was a mind working and thoughts forming behind those green eyes of his. When we had class together, he noticed details about the word choice and arrangement in the poems of Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath, and he asked about them:
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.**
And he always listened to — and watched — how people answered.
He noticed that I rarely joined in class discussions and arguments. Rather, I would sit back and watch the words fly across the room, sometimes spitefully, sometimes floating. And hear the tones, the inflections, the omissions, and the silences. I don’t think I would have been able to form an opinion on any poem just then. It was all I could do to take it all in.
He noticed this.
“You didn’t say much in class,” he started remarking on a regular basis. “What did you think?”
I started talking, hesitantly at first.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “Some of the words — battering and scraping — are pretty rough. It’s hard to read them and not think of them hurting.”
“That makes sense. So why aren’t you sure?”
I looked away, not sure if it was a genuine question or if I was being called on my hopeless ineptitude in the class. “They aren’t the only words in the poem,” I replied, flustered.
“So I noticed,” he grinned at me.
I rolled my eyes, relaxing. “What I meant is that some of the other images — like where the child is still clinging to his shirt — make me feel like whatever this person did or didn’t do, it is a person the speaker loves or very much wants to love.”
** Theodore Roethke, “My Papa’s Waltz“