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I tell them I’m not happy anymore. I say I want to leave him.
My mom says it’s only because the honeymoon phase is over and that this is just the natural progression of relationships, this is just the next step and the true test of our love. She says I should feel lucky that John finally looked at me that way; she says I have to work harder to make him happy.
My best friend says I’m on the rag and need to chill out because we’ve only been living together for three months. She says I’ve spent too long thinking about what things should be like, and it’s my own fault for creating this fairytale, perfect boyfriend in my head, and I should know from seeing her and her fiancé that relationships take work and I’m just being lazy. She says if I don’t stop this s*** now I’m going to get f***ed and chucked.
Louis, who I see on Tuesday mornings while John is at work, says I need to leave immediately because he sees the blue and black tattoos that mark my back when I don’t listen the right way. He says if I loved myself, I would leave John. He says if I loved myself I never would have let this happen.
John says he doesn’t mean it, he says he’s so sorry for hurting me, but he says if he didn’t love me so much he wouldn’t get so angry. He says if I could just listen to him the way he listens to me, he wouldn’t have to touch me. He says he cares about me so much. He says he’s so glad we live together now and he says he loves me more than anything. I drop my hand from my face and put the ice-pack on the counter. “I love you too,” I say as we pull each other close.
I don’t know how we got here. When John and I first started arguing, it was always because I was p*ssed at him. He would say something that really rubbed me the wrong way; maybe a snide comment about a passing stranger, maybe a joke at my expense. Either way, he always said something that he should have known would be annoying. At first we just got in each other’s faces and I would stand on my tip toes with my hands flying with rage around his head and when I finished yelling he would lean down, still towering over me and tell me I was a c*** while he snaked his arms around me. I would thrash but his form enveloped me and held me still. And that’s how our fights went.
One night we went to watch Arsenal play Manchester United downtown at the pub with flat-screens everywhere. We watched in silence, interrupted by the shouts of the table next to us when Arsenal scored and the violent pounding of pint glasses when ManU shot an equalizer. “Talk to meeeeeeeeee,” I pleaded when the game was over. He looked at me and his eyes were different. People say they can see hatred or love or anything ‘flash’ across a person’s eyes, but this was special; instead of a flashed emotion, John’s deep brown eyes glowed red and black. “I’ve had it up to here with you tonight,” he lifted his hand to his, once more, brown eyes and left for a cigarette. He should have known not to say that, I thought, He should have known. I went outside and grabbed the pack out of his hand, lit up, and let the smoke curl around my face while I looked at him, trying to convey how much I hated him in that moment, but John ignored me. “I think you should go away for an hour,” I breathed more nicotine. He only said, “Fine,” and walked down the street, so I finished my cigarette and went inside to buy another pint. The guys from the loud table next to us crowded around me at the bar, “Hey, Sweetheart, where’d your boyfriend go? Can we buy you a drink?” I wasn’t sober enough to say no; We downed four pints before John walked back through the doors. “Let’s go,” he grabbed by wrist but before he could pull me towards the door I ripped my hand from him, “F*** off.” I went back to the table, traded numbers with one of the guys, and walked out of the building without looking at John.
I think back to this night every time it happens now. I don’t know how I didn’t see where our fight was going, but more importantly, I can’t understand why I let myself go back to the apartment. But I did.
John followed me towards the road home. “What the f*** was that?” he shouted at me from across the street, “What the f*** was that? Stop. Now.” He walked across the street and stopped before the curb, I walked to the edge of the pavement but before I could start our fighting ritual and get on my toes, he leaned down and spat in my face, “I’m f***ing sick of this. Shape up or ship out, b****.” My body moved without me making the decision to move; I slapped him and the clap of skin on skin echoed down the street’s windows. John pulled back, surprised for half a second, but the surprise turned to rage almost instantly. I saw the fire in his eyes again in the millisecond before his arms were thrown from his chest and collided with my shoulders. My arms whirled as I tried not to fall, but I toppled backwards into the building behind me. Immediately my hand flew to the back of my head to feel for blood. When I didn’t find any, I just collapsed on the sidewalk in tears with my face in my hands. John came over and cupped the side of my head, “Oh, baby, I didn’t mean-” In one fluid movement I stood up and slapped him even harder than the first time, spinning around towards the street to walk back to the pub. “You c***,” he threatened, “turn around now.” I flicked my hair over my shoulder and walked across the road. “I said stop,” John shouted, running after me. I stopped in front of the cars outside the pub. John stopped behind me and asked, “Is there anything you want to say?”
“F*** you,” I raised my hand again as if to slap him a third time, but before I could he pushed me in to the van parked behind me. I crumpled on to the ground again, encircling my knees with my arms and burying my watery eyes against the sleeves of my jacket. John bent down, out of my arm’s length, and softly touched my hair, “Baby? Are you okay?” I didn’t answer; I only burrowed further into the cave of my body. John sat next to me, still in the road, and instead of running away from him again, I just sat there and let him pull me into his lap. He snuggled his mouth into the curve of my neck and for two hours I felt his hot breath against my skin. I fell asleep in his arms and he carried me home.
I woke up to John pressing his chest against me while he entwined our legs under the duvet. “Baby, I love you so much,” he whispered against my ear, “I love you and I am so sorry I touched you last night, but you were asking for it. I didn’t want to do it, but you just made me so mad, and I love you too much. I’m sorry, Baby,” his lips pressed my cheek.
It didn’t happen for another month, but then one Wednesday, while I was watching television and John was eating something at the table behind me, he started telling me about his supervisor at work being rude or something, I wasn’t really listening, and after five minutes of me grunting during his pauses, John asked, “What did I just say to you?” and I told him, “You were talking about your boss,” and he told me, “No, I was telling you to f***ing listen to me.” I hadn’t heard him walk behind the sofa, but he must have because a second later he was pulling me up by a fistful of hair. “F***ing listen to me,” he shouted in to my face. He pulled me alongside the couch and around the side table until I stood facing him. “Let me go, John,” but when he didn’t, I slapped him and ducked, trying to miss his arms, but I forgot he had my hair still clenched in his fist. John instinctively let go and a small clump of hair fell to the floor. He looked up from the pile and his face fell for a moment as he started to apologize, but I interrupted him with screaming, and he returned to rage. “Just f***ing listen!” he screamed at me, and he pushed me backwards. I fell on to the floor and my back careened into the coffee table. I ran to the bathroom and locked the door, peeling off my shirt to stare in to the mirror. The straightedge of the table was already forming a pruple line across my shoulders.
I guess it was just a coincidence that he called that same night, but the guy I gave my number to the night it first happened asked me to go out with him. I told him I had a boyfriend, and he told me I didn’t have a very good boyfriend if he left me at the pub alone. I told him I had Tuesday mornings off every week, and Louis told me that was perfect. My bruises had already faded, so he came over the next Tuesday and we talked for awhile. We f***ed in the bed I shared with John.
After Louis left I called my Mom. I told her I didn’t think things were going to work with John. She told me to feel lucky that he loved me. Then I called my best friend, because I thought maybe she would understand what I really meant when I said things were bad. She told me to work harder.
John did it again that night. This time he threw me from the bed to the floor and climbed on my back. He punched me four times, and when Louis came over the next Tuesday, the bruises hadn’t faded. He asked what they were; I didn’t tell him. It didn’t happen again with John until the following Friday, but his hand hit my chest so hard, he left a hand print. When Louis came the next time, he knew where I got the bruises. He told me to leave John. I didn’t tell him anything, because I didn’t know what to say.
Last night I told John how much he hurt me. He told me he doesn’t mean to hurt me, and he’s so sorry for ever hurting me in any way. He said if he didn’t love me so much, he wouldn’t get so angry with me. He said he wishes I could just listen to him the way he listens to me. “John, you never listen to me,” I blurt out, cutting off his next sentence, “You don’t listen, don’t pretend you do.” He lifted his hand and at the last second balled it in to a fist as it collided with my eye. I screamed with pain, and he ran to get an icepack. “Baby, don’t interrupt me. Just listen to me the way I listen to you, that’s all you have to do, and then I don’t have to touch you. I care about you so much, and living with you is one of the best things to happen to me. I love you more than anything, Babes, more than anything.”
I dropped my hand from my face and put the ice-pack on the counter. “I love you too,” I said as we pulled each other close.