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Breaking the habit
Breaking the Habit
I’m doing homework with Cara when my phone starts ringing. I’m laughing as I pick it up. “Hello.” I say smiling, not having bothered to see who it was. My smile disappears and the laugh catches in my throat at the sound of his voice.
“Gloria, hi.” My stomach turns as he says my name, he seems surprised that I answered. He has no right to talk to me. Not after he hurt me the way he did.
I can’t stop how my voice quivers, ignoring Cara, I respond, “Ray, I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
He speaks calmly, lovingly when he answers. “Please Gloria,” emotion fills his voice, fills my heart. No. I tell myself. I can’t do this again. “Just listen to me, I’m sorry.” His words bring back memories of warm touches and heated fights.
Cara sees my face and goes to comfort me. I raise my hand in objection, and mutter an apology to her. I have mastered the ‘everything is fine’ smile, it works nicely in times like these. I leave her room, and walk down her stairs, through the empty house. I don’t answer Ray until I’m sitting on the steps that lead up to Cara’s house.
I mentally kick myself as I say, “You have five minutes.” I work hard to keep my voice emotionless.
It's late. Cara’s street is quiet and dark. Cicadas chirp, but that's the only sound. The old street lamps illuminate the night, casting shadows and a hazy glow through the streets. I focus on the light, noticing all the bugs that are attracted to it. I wonder why they keep returning to the light, even after it burns them. Over and over and over again.
Even though it's summer the night air is too cold for me. It dances across my skin and burns my cheeks. I can’t feel my nose. I reach up and touch it, making sure it’s still there.
Ray waits a moment before speaking. “I never wanted to hurt you. Things got out of hand, I got carried away. I’m sorry.”
I realize he’s waiting for me to answer. “I don’t want your apology Ray.”
“Please,” Even now, after all he’s done to me, my heart still breaks when he talks to me this way. “I’m a better person now. I’m better when I’m with you. I love you Gloria. I thought you loved me to…” And just like that, my anger’s gone. Once again, it dissolves.
Maybe he really has changed. Maybe I can help him change. My voice is quiet as I whisper, “I do love you Ray.”
He laughs in relief, the sound dances around me, making me feel lighter. Maybe I could float away. “So do you think you could be with me again? Can we make things work? Can you help me be better?” His words feel so real, so heartfelt.
I think of all he’s been through. I think about the way his parents treat him, the way I've treated him. Maybe I was overreacting, maybe I was wrong. “Ok.” I breathe. “We can try again.”
I can hear the excitement in his voice when he says, “Great! I love you! Great!” He pauses, “I’ll see you tomorrow, at 10:00.” He hangs up, and it’s quiet again.
Tomorrow. I think. He wants to see me tomorrow? I feel nervous as I think about seeing him so soon.
I walk back upstairs, suddenly exhausted. Cara seems nervous when she sees me. “What was that all about?” Her voice is neutral, but her eyes say more. She’s scared for me. And as much as I hate to admit it, I know why.
“It was just Ray.” I say, avoiding her quizzical gaze and sitting back down. I pretend to be focused on my homework but my mind is elsewhere.
“I thought you guys broke up.” She waits a beat before saying, “again”.
I look down at my hands, picking at my nails. “Yeah we did.”
Cara looks slightly irritated now. “So… What happened?”
I let out a long sigh. “We got back together.”
“What?!” Cara throws her hands up in frustration. I finally met her eyes. She’s standing up, practically yelling at me when she says, “Gloria, why would you do that? He treated you like crap! He doesn’t deserve you.”
I stand up, suddenly defensive. “He wants to change. He wants to be better! He told me I make him better!” I walk up to her, pleading now. “I can help him Cara. I can help him change.” Emotion pinched at the back of my eyes. “He wants me to help him change.”
Cara looks down, thinking about how she should respond. “Gloria.” She looks up meeting my eyes. “You don’t have to change him. It shouldn’t be on you to fix him.” She sighs, all her anger gone. “I don’t want to see you keep getting hurt.”
I know she’s trying to help but that doesn’t stop the anger I feel. “So you don’t think I can’t take care of myself?! That I can’t help him?!” I feel hurt. How could she think so little of me?
Cara looks down, shaking her head. “You know that’s not what I mean-”
I interrupt her, “But you do. Don’t you?”
She pauses, opens her mouth.
“Don’t you?” I demand. “You don’t think I can protect myself from him?!” I spit, waiting for an answer.
She lets out a shaky breath. “Yes.” She says ashamed.
I stare at her, broken. My best friend doesn’t think I can stand up for myself. She thinks I’m weak. Tears well up in my eyes, as I grab my backpack and run downstairs.
“Gloria wait!” She calls out to me, leaning over the banister.
I don’t look back. I slam her front door, the tears flowing freely down my cheeks. Yanking open the car door, I jam the keys in ignition. The car doesn’t start right away and I shout angrily, before driving off in frustration.
There are few cars on the road this late. I look at the time on the dashboard: 11:06. Rolling down my windows, I feel the cool air calm my burning temper. I feel so lost, alone. The drive home is over too quickly. I’m not ready to face my thoughts before falling asleep.
Nonetheless I get ready for bed. My parents are asleep. I think about how lucky I am that they trust me. With school, friends, making it home ok.
The house is ghostly quiet. I try to focus on sounds to distract my mind from Cara: The faucet running as I brush my teeth. The brush falling against my long hair. The thud my backpack makes as I throw it in a corner. The way my bed groans under my weight as I fall onto it.
My chest rises and falls as a long sigh escapes my lips. I feel exhausted. Between getting back together with Ray, and Cara thinking I can’t stand up for myself, my brain feels weary.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if Cara was right. Maybe I am too scared to stand up to Ray. Too scared to admit that maybe I deserve someone better. I suddenly feel nauseous. Am I rushing into things again? I know I am, but is it so bad to forgive? Ray says he loves me. Is it bad to want to believe him? To want to be loved?
I feel so alone. I don’t know what to think or who to trust. Should I listen to Cara? Should I walk away again, this time for good? Or should I listen to Ray? Should I help him be better, help him change? That option feels right. Ray wants my help. Who am I to refuse? He trusts me, so shouldn’t I trust him?
Yes. I decide. I’ll give him another chance. Tomorrow is a new day. I need to stop dwelling on the past.
I wake up to the joyous sound of my little sister screaming. She doesn’t want to do her chores, again. I groan as I roll over, checking my clock. It’s already 9:13. I have less than an hour to get ready.
My mind jumps awake as I spring out of bed, sprinting to my closet. I rip open the door. I am greeted by my small collection of coats and dresses. I have nothing to wear.
Seeing my clothes reminds me of all the snide comments Ray has made about me in the past. Maybe we shouldn’t go out to eat as much, he would say, patting my stomach. Your hair looks better when it's down, he would say, yanking the ponytail out of my hair. I shake my head, he said he wanted to change. I told myself I wouldn’t get hung up on the past. I need to forgive.
So I grab shorts, and white t-shirt before rushing into the bathroom. I flip on the light and am greeted by my disheveled face and hair. One side of my face is red and blotchy from sleep, the other pale. My hair is sticking out in all directions, and mascara is smeared under my eyelids. Ugh. I forgot to wash my face before going to bed.
I take a quick shower then brush my teeth and comb my hair. I spend a few minutes doing my makeup before rushing downstairs. I have ten minutes before Ray gets here and it doesn’t feel like enough. I feel equally nervous and excited to see him.
“Hey honey. Did you sleep well?” I’m greeted by my mother’s attempt at small talk. I love my mom, but I don’t have time for this.
“Hi mom. I’m supposed to be picked up by Ray in,” I glance at my watch, grimacing as I notice the time rushing by, “7 minutes. Could I maybe have some breakfast to go?”
My mother looks genuinely startled. “I thought you broke up.”
I groan. Does nobody understand me? “Yes.” I state simply. “But now we’re back together.”
“Oh.” My mother bites her lip like she’s going to say something.
I cut her off. “Thanks mom.” I grab a piece of toast and run back upstairs.
The time passes slowly as I wait for Ray to pick me up. The clock ticks by and eventually time runs out. The doorbell rings. My heart jolts awake. I rush downstairs again, patting my hair down as I go, attempting to calm the mayhem.
I’m already halfway out the door when my mother tries to tell me someone’s here. I’m so eager to see him again that I crash into his chest. He stumbles back laughing. “It’s good to see you too.” That’s when I notice the single rose in his right hand. He sees me watching and hands me the flower. “Like the first time” He whispers in my ear. Chills run down my spine.
The first time Ray ever took me out on a date, he gave me a red rose. Just like this one. “Thank you.” I whisper so he can barely hear me. I can’t understand why I suddenly feel so scared of him. He walks me to his car and we drive off.
We drive in silence. I watch trees and cars blur as we drive past. That’s how we spend most of the day. In the car, driving from one place to another. We go to the mall, to the park, we drive around town together until it starts to get dark. There was something calming about having someone to just be quiet with.
As I watch the world turn orange Ray tells me we should go get dinner. So he takes me to a little diner that we used to go to all the time. Everyone in our school meets here so I feel nervous about seeing someone I know. But Ray walks over to my car door and opens it for me, taking my hand and suddenly I don’t feel as nervous. Ray cares about me so why should I be scared.
We sit down and talk for a long time. Food comes and goes as conversations morph and change. We talk about anything and everything. He tells me how much he missed me, missed us. At one point he reaches out and takes my hand, stroking the back of it with my thumb. The sensation feels familiar, I welcome it.
“I missed you too.” I say truthfully. Even after everything he did, I missed him. I missed this, I missed the way he listens to me, I missed the way he loves me. I look out the window for the first time since we’d arrived and I note it has gotten dark.
Ray saw me look. “Why don’t I take you home?” He smiled softly and I nod.
On the way back Ray tells me how much he loves me, and how thankful he is that I’m letting him try again. I feel better about us this time. He’s different than before.
I hear the road rub against tires as he stops in front of my house. The crickets are chirping again. We’re the only people awake on my street. My stomach turns. Why? Why can’t I shake the uncomfortable feeling of being alone with Ray? He gets out of the car and opens my door for me.
“Why don’t I walk you to the door?” He asks, some weird look in his eyes. I don’t understand it. Something doesn’t feel right.
He takes my hand in his and we walk to the door. The smell of earth and rain is strong in my nose. I feel tired, heavy. My mind slows, I’m ready for bed. It takes too long for me to get to the door. I say goodnight and reach for the doorknob. Ray yanks me back.
“Stay.” His eyes are dark, deep, menacing.
My heartbeat speeds up. I’m scared. Ray doesn’t normally act like this. “Ray I-”
“Stay.” He says again, commanding. Fear crawls up my spine slowly and painfully. He is inches away from my eyes. I watch as his gaze moves slowly from my lips down my body. My stomach curls.
His lips press slowly to the soft skin behind my ear. “Do I make you nervous?” He murmurs into me. I tremble at his touch. “Is that why you cower?”
It would be so easy to freeze. To just stay here motionless. But I can’t do that. So I shake my head. Ray doesn’t make me nervous, he terrifies me.
He laughs darkly against me, places a hand on my chest. “Then why is your heart beating so fast?”
Tears well up in my eyes, hot and painful. My head throbs. “Please, Ray-”
His lips smash against mine. My heart stops beating. Terror wreaks havoc on my body. I’m trembling. But he won’t stop.
I think about what Cara said, You don’t have to change him. It shouldn’t be on you to fix him. She was right, I couldn’t do this, not anymore. Why hadn’t I listened to her? Why hadn’t I listened to anyone? I decide I don’t want to be weak.
“Ray stop,” I push against him. When he doesn’t listen to me I shove, hard. He stumbles back, shocked and angry.
“I thought you loved me.” His words sting.
“Not like this.” I turn to walk inside, he pulls me back.
I barely have a chance to meet his gaze when he hits me. Once. He slaps me hard across my cheek. I’m so shocked it takes me a minute to feel the pain. When it comes my face burns as tears flow trying to calm the fire.
“Screw you Gloria.” He speaks cooly before walking away and driving off.
I sit down and start crying. I gather my knees to my chest and start to shake. I feel so alone, scared. So vulnerable. Sobs rock my body. Why am I so weak, so pathetic? I can never be different than I am. But I want so desperately to change.
I want the habit to be broken.
After crying for a long time, I barely notice as someone stands in front of me.
“Gloria?” I shirk back as someone places a hand on my shoulder.
Horror is plain on her face. “Gloria what happened?” Gently Cara takes my face in her hands, forcing me to look at her.
“Ray.” I whisper, terrified. It doesn’t take long after I speak for Cara to recognize the handprint on my face.
She starts to cry too. “Oh Gloria,” She says, pulling me into a tight embrace I welcome full heartedly. “Don’t you know by now?”
I look up at her, curious what she would say.
She sighs. “People never change.”