Among the last few continuations of this story. (I’m predicting maybe 13 or 14 parts in total.) Trigger warnings for relationship abuse and self-harm.
It worked — as much as you can call it that — for a while. I had control again, even if he couldn’t see it at first. That control comforted me, even at the cost of tearing my skin and watching blood seep out of me. Which probably doesn’t say good things about my mental health, but it did seem to work.
I want to say I stopped caring about what he did to me, though that isn’t quite true. I still cared, but not in the same way. The comments and the hitting shamed and humiliated me, but I didn’t spend nearly so much of my brain planning them out anymore. I stopped provoking, stopped inciting. I stopped playing by his rules; he stopped being in control.
Of course, this only infuriated him more. What he wanted, what he craved, was that control. Yes, he wanted to see my shame and tears afterward, but he also wanted to see my terror beforehand. When he couldn’t have that anymore, it not only deprived him of power pleasure, but I think it actually made him scared.
“Class is going to be over soon,” I commented dully one evening during our break.
“You think so?” he asked, falsely casual. “We haven’t even discussed half the readings yet. You don’t think it will go the full time?”
“I meant, the final exam is next week.”
He started to massage my shoulders, a gesture that looked caring but that I’d learned could be made painful with relative subtlety. Worst case scenario, if I cried out, he could pretend it was accidental due to unknown muscle tightness. “Good call. Are you saying you want to make a study date? We haven’t had one of those in a while.”
I shrugged my shoulders into his hands. “We can do that if you want.”
“Are you saying that isn’t what you want?” He dug in nails.
It didn’t hurt much, so I didn’t move. “I just wanted to make sure you wanted to spend our last week of class together studying for an exam.”
He bit my neck. It hurt, would bruise, but my hair would hide it. “What do you mean our last week together?”
“Of class, I said.”
Mouth still close to my ear, he whispered, “That’s not all you said. You said last week together. Do you not like me anymore?”
Well, no, I didn’t, not like this. “Class is starting again.” Everyone else had trailed in though the professor hadn’t yet closed the door.
His hand at the back of my skull slammed my head into the corner of the brick wall. My vision whirled and sparkled for a few seconds. Instinctively, I brought one hand to my head and pressed the other into the wall as I stood up.
“I’ll see you Friday at eight if that works for you. In the library.” I stepped into the women’s bathroom and didn’t let the first tear come until the door swung shut behind me.
No one entered for several minutes, well after I’d locked myself inside a stall.
“Are you okay?” I recognized the voice of one of my classmates. “You’ve been gone from class a while.”
I willed my voice calm; I managed exasperated. “Yeah. Genius me just managed to bleed through my pants again.” Which wasn’t true this time but had been before. More importantly, it was an awkward enough explanation as to escape further questioning.
“Do you need anything?”
May as well commit to the lie, I thought. “An extra pad if you have one.”
“I only have tampons,” she said apologetically. “Will those work?”
I brought my fingers down from my head; they were rusty brown with dried blood. “Thanks, but no. I think I’m just going to go home early tonight.” I pulled off my jacket, the one I wore because school’s classrooms were about fifty degrees by evening, and tied it around my waist.
“The last class before the exam? Are you sure?”
I raked my hair forward, hoping it covered whatever mark or mess was visible on my head. “If I have questions, I’ll find the prof during his office hours.” I came out of the stall and rinsed my hands, careful not to look in the mirror or at her. I don’t know what she saw.
“I’ll be fine, really.” I left.