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"What is your problem?!" I scream at the top of my lungs.


He is backed into a corner, arms wrapped around his knees, head tucked between them.


My grip on the bottle is becoming stronger and stronger, and my knuckles are beginning to turn white.


Inside of me a battle is taking place, a war between my dangerous temper and my guilty conscience.


I can see a hesitant tear roll down his cheek as he peers above his knees for one brief moment.


I wait in vain for something, anything. A growl from his throat, telling me to stop this nonsense and to put the bottle away. A soft whimper, and a plea not to hit him.


But always, it's this resigned silence of his, this accepted defeat, that infuriates me.


Why doesn't he stand up for himself, why doesn't he say something?


"You call yourself a man?" I yell, approaching him menacingly. "Stop crying!" I slap what little is exposed of his face, expecting a yelp.


Silence.


Why can't I push away these feelings of disgust, and anger? I am weighed down by guilt, but I cannot stop myself from hurting him.


I hear a sound of mangled emotion escape me, a sound full of misdirected anger and unfulfilled hope. The bottle shatters into a million pieces over his head, as I slam it against the wall.


"Just get out of here!" I say curtly, and I notice that hot tears are now running down my own cheeks. I hang my head in shame.


He gets up hesitantly.


"Go on, hurry up and get out!" I yell again, fists clenched in regret.


"Lyn," he says in a sweet tone. He's finally speaking, but not in anger, and not in
fear. "Please, forgive me. I don't even know that girl's name, you know I-"


"Shut up!" I scream, cutting him off. I am the one sobbing now. I'm the hypocrite.


Why is he being sweet to me? What have I done to deserve it? Why does he stay with me like this?

Why do I direct my anger at him, when the person I hate most in this world is myself? I am a horrible, angry, ugly person.

Now I desperately want to say that I'm sorry, to beg him not to leave me. But my mouth is clamped shut, and he slinks away sadly, with a sigh that nearly breaks my heart.


When he is gone, I collapse on the ground into a thunderstorm of tears.


Will I ever be able to escape the shame?


Will we ever get out of this mess?

###


My legs are fidgety as Ms. Bea hands us the poorly photocopied lesson.
I sit uncomfortably close to my classmates on this sofa, because some psychologist decided that teenagers learn about sex and drugs more effectively when crowded on a couch than when alone in desks.


I don't even look at the handout. Life Skills class doesn't count for a grade, so I'm not particularly interested in another diagram of male anatomy.


"Alright, children," Ms. Bea begins. "Today's topic is going to be domestic violence."


Suddenly the lesson is crushed, as my fist clutches it with urgency, and it makes a loud crumpling sound.


She clears her throat and begins her scripted monologue, which she shamelessly reads off of a department-prepared paper.


"For women between 15 and 24 in the United States," she says, "domestic violence is the number one cause of injury. 25% of American women will experience abuse at some point in their lifetime. More importantly, nearly 75% of Americans know a woman who has suffered abuse in a relationship."


She puts the paper down. I'm starting to feel sick.


"It's important here at Sam Adams High that we create an environment where women are respected and have an opportunity to voice any abuse they might be experiencing," she says.


I wonder how long she practiced this speech.


"Alright, children. We're going to do a quick survey. Everybody, close your eyes and bow your heads. That means you, Jack. Okay. Jean, are you looking? Close your eyes. Good. Okay. Now, if you know a woman who has suffered domestic abuse, be it a friend, family member, or yourself, go ahead and raise your hand."


She didn't say anything about women who perpetrated violence. Were they supposed to raise their hands too?


My hand stays down, and I wait in agonizing silence for the exercise to be over.



The lesson drags on and on, and I do my best to ignore the chaos roaring inside my head. I can barely hear the teacher, and instead stare at the clock.


This is the longest half hour of my life.


There are testimonials. Caroline talks tearfully of her parents. It's well known that Caroline comes from a broken family. It's also well known that Caroline is a convincing liar. She is surrounded by sympathetic comforts and tears; I turn my head away in disgust.


Why is it, I wonder. Why is it that Noel stays so silent? Would nobody believe him? Whoever heard of a man being beaten by a woman instead of the other way around?


I bite my lip.


More importantly, I wonder....why me?


He can just walk out on me. People have told him I'm not suited for him, so why does he bother? Does he feel trapped, like Ms. Bea says abuse victims do?


I clench my fists tightly and stare at my lap.


Does he hate me?


I don't want him to hate me!


He's supposed to be trapped, but I am the one who feels cornered.
I've never hit him physically, and today was the first time I ever attempted to assault him; but the verbal abuse is relentless. I just get so angry with him, and half the time I'm not even sure why. I call him ugly, faggot, worthless, useless. Words I want to call myself.


He's a guy, right? That's always my justification. He can take it like a man, surely such petty words can't hurt him. But I know that's not true.


I look at the handout and squint my eyes at the tiny lettering.


"Verbal abuse is often overlooked as a harmful factor in an abusive relationship. Verbal battering often leads to psychological problems later on in the victim's life, such as low self confidence, feelings of insecurity, and a fear of speaking or socializing with others."


I close my eyes. Every-body's been talking about it lately. How Noel has been losing his edge. He used to be the team hero, and now he is having difficulty forming sentences. His parents are worried. They've tested him for dope, but he came out negative. Nobody knows what's wrong with him.
Nobody that is, except for me. What a terrible secret I bear.


I feel completely separated from everyone here. Nobody understands anything about this topic, nobody understands what it feels like to be Noel.


Nobody understands what it feels like to be me.


"If one of you ever falls into a abusive relationship, know that we're here to support you," Ms. Bea drones. "It's important to remember that no matter how much you think someone loves you, if they abuse you, you must leave them. If they really loved you, they would never hurt you."


I'm shaking by now, and the friend on my left has noticed.


"Lyn?" she asks quietly, and I try to hide behind my bangs.


Suddenly Ms. Bea is off the script and personal opinion is flying through the air.


"Honestly," she says in a condescending tone, "People like that never change. They're violent, they're angry, and they're insecure. Don't let yourself be victim to that..."


"Lyn?" Now it's two, three concerned voices on all sides.


I'm trapped, trapped on this couch...they're crowding me and I can't get away...


"Lyn, what's the matter?"


"Are you okay?"


"They take their own insecurities and anger out on their victims. It doesn't matter if they keep apologizing, they always relapse into violence. They're often..."


"She's crying!"



"Lyn?!"


I can feel the whole room looking at me, and their eyes are like daggers boring into my soul. But that ignorant woman just keeps droning. And talking. And ranting. What does she know?! What do any of them know about anything?!


"SHUT THE HELL UP!" I scream, standing up and exposing my tear streaked face to the universe.


Ms. Bea is startled, but quickly narrows her eyes at me.


"Excuse me, what did you just say to your teacher? Would you like to repeat that for-"


"I would! Shut your ignorant, damn mouth! Stop reading off of a script somebody else wrote for you, and stop inserting your biased opinions! You don't know what the hell you're talking about, so shut up!"


She looks stunned, and doesn't say anything for a moment.

People begin to whisper amongst each other and I can feel the judgment, the condescension. I want to pin Bea against the wall, I want to throw that wench Caroline out the window. It's the same anger I feel with Noel, this anger that causes me to lash out with violent words and empty threats.


Someone says timidly, "Are you a victim, Lyn? Do you have no one you can talk about it with?"


I whip my head around, but am unable to locate the inquirer.



Suddenly the room is holding its breath, waiting for my answer.


That's right, isn't it? I am all alone. There are no foundations to help those people who are the perpetrators, are there? The only place we belong is in jail, because we're despicable, heartless monsters with no feelings.


I stare at my shoes.


Even if there was such a foundation...

If I ever went there, I would be the only woman in the room.


"You could say that," I reply softly. I am a victim. A victim of myself. For me, there will be no help or sympathy.


And if there was, can I really say I would accept it?


I don't wait for every-one's response. I don't wait for Ms. Bea to hand out my after school detention.


I bolt for the door and take my leave.

###


Gripping chain link is always therapeutic for me. I stare out into the vast expanse of white snow that covers the field, as the icy cold seeps through my body. I don' t have a coat on, but I don't really care.


Do I care at all, anymore?


This is where I first saw him.


It was spring, then. The field was alive, vibrant with color and bodies in motion. There is a wall adjacent to the fence I am gripping, and the lacrosse players would often bounce the ball against it and use it to practice their catches whilst shouting to each other in excitement.


That's right. Noel is a lacrosse player. He is a well built, muscular, six foot tall lacrosse player. And myself?


I barely break five feet.


He doesn't have to fear these frail hands of mine, for they have no real power. It is my fiery tongue that wears him down. Yet I remember the look on his face when I swung that broken bottle at him. He could have picked me up and strangled me in self defense, snuffed out my life in an instant.


Everyone would have labeled me the victim if he'd done that, even if I started it, even if he'd only been defending himself. Just because I'm a woman.


But he just looked at me sadly and shook his head. And that one act of subordination was what made me angriest of all. If he'd slapped me across the face or called me an expletive, I would have cried in his arms and begged for forgiveness.


I trace the falling snow with my eyes, all the way back up to clouds. The sky seems so big compared to my tiny little form, and I ask God absent-mindedly if I will ever be able to escape this place I have put myself in. This hellish cycle of love and hate which never seems to end.


"Lyn?"


I jump at the sound of his voice and pick up my head, startled.


"Noel?"


He appears from behind the concrete wall next to the fence, looking very bundled up, and carrying his lacrosse gear.


"Lyn, why are you crying?" he asks. His face is full of concern, and his gloved hand reaches out to me from the other side of the chain link. His stick has been abandoned on the ground, and he clutches his helmet in his other hand. Even after all I've done, he still reaches out to me with that hand, seemingly asking for my acceptance, for reconciliation.

I remember when spring changed to summer, and our relationship grew stronger. Our love had been a whirlwind of happiness at first, and it slowly progressed into fiery passion. And then autumn came, and I began to get worried.

I grew angrier with each day. Things weren't so hot between my parents, and I found myself putting a hole in the drywall one morning. Noel began to practice against the gym wall more and more, although lacrosse season was long over. He always threw the ball around to calm himself.

Now it's winter, and we find ourselves laying in the wake of destruction. Our relationship is in tatters, and I know it's my fault. For him to practice out here in the snow means that his nerves are truly shot. Lacrosse has become his last resort, his desperate attempt to make sense of his world.

"Noel?" I ask softly.

"Yes?"

"...Do you hate me?"

He grips the chain link tightly with his gloved hand. "How can you say that?" he asks.

I look up at the tall fence between us, and I wonder if we'll ever be able to cross it. I've put up this wall of anger and distrust, and now I doubt I'll ever be able to make it to the other side. His eyes, which were once so animated and full of life, are now dull and listless. I've made him this way. I've beaten him down to the point where he can't recover anymore. I know the truth; he thinks that he's worthless, that he's nothing, because I always tell him so. This has to stop. I have to knock down this fence. But for now...

"Noel?"

"Yes?"

"Won't you hold my hand?" I ask.

He removes his glove and tries to stick it through the link, but his hand is too big. He's probably anticipating the anger in my eyes and looks away, softly mumbling, "I'm sorry..."

This time, I don't yell.

It's too late for him to save himself. Only I can reach through this wall I have created. I can only hope he doesn't walk away from me, because if he runs now, the fence will keep me from chasing him, and I'll lose him forever.

My tiny white hand pokes through the fence, and I reach out to him with all my heart. He hesitates at first, as if I am going to slap him with it, and I cringe at his fearful gaze. Will he walk away from me? Will he spurn me and reject this gesture, which has taken all my strength to give? Will he abandon me, the abuser, the person everyone says will never change, the person they say he'd be stupid to stay with?

I close my eyes and wait with bated breath.

When I feel his hand grasp mine, and open my eyes, a small, but warm smile has returned to his lips.


I can only hope that he won't let go, that he won't lose hope, until it is spring again.





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