Black and Blue Wings

(Trigger warning; verbal and physical abuse.)

There’s a picture, a moment frozen in time that I’ve shared across social media a dozen times. It’s Halloween and I’m smiling. Next to me is the man I was planning to marry in May of the following year. We’re dressed like woodland sprites — elf ears and flowing fabric and boots with tall leather laces; me in big blue wings and him with tiny spiral horns.

We look happy and young and beautiful, as we should have. I was 28. He was 27. It was the one year anniversary of the night we met, in the same place we met a year before. That night our costumes didn’t match because we hadn’t met yet.

I was Little Red Riding Hood. As a joke, I carried a basket with a sign on it. “Wolf Wanted” it read. I thought I’d found him.

We argued, sure, but didn’t everyone? Sometimes he got drunk, really drunk, and he’d pick fights or throw tantrums. But he was a man and that’s what men do right? He was always sorry, and it was never a big deal after all.

Sure, he made me find new homes for some of my pets, made me repaint the bathroom…compromises have to made…right?

I’m smiling wide in that picture. We’d just gotten to the party and I was imagining a romantic night filled with sweet words and dancing. That’s how it was a year ago and it was better now. We were in love. It was going to be magical.

I had glitter in my hair.

Three hours later he was drunk and yelling at a stranger. It wasn’t that fun giggling sort of drunk you get after a few glasses of wine or two martinis. It was the slurring, belligerent drunk of someone who’s drank two or three pitchers of beer and a couple strong scotch and sodas. He wasn’t a happy drunk. He was angry, sad and paranoid. But life was hard after all, so I just took care of him when it happened before. A few times. A lot of times. He never turned his anger on me. What did it matter?

But I was disappointed. I wanted to celebrate. I wanted to remember the sweet night we met. (he was drunk then too but it was a party and he said he needed liquid courage to talk to me) I did my best to try to hide my disappointment, but I wasn’t doing very well. Everyone could tell. Some people gave me that look. I faked a smile and pretended everything was okay.

Eventually he was disruptive, a problem and they wanted him out. I did my best and managed to get him out of the party and back to the hotel room. He was mad at me for making him leave. Those other people were the assholes, not him. They were wrong about everything and clearly they were stupid.

It turned into an argument. I don’t remember what about but probably because I wasn’t smiling and chipper and happy. I didn’t tell him he was right about whatever wild thing he was convinced he was right about. I thought I could talk sense to him. I didn’t want to make it worse.

He said I made it worse.

He was screaming, threatening me. He wavered between trying to leave me and telling me to leave him. Then he knocked me over, pinned me down on the bed, put his big hands around my throat and squeezed.

I could still breathe, but it hurt. I couldn’t swallow. I started to panic. I was already crying.

It was probably only a few heartbeats that he held me down like that but it felt like an eternity.

Look what you made me do?

Eventually he fell asleep, that fitful, noisy sleep of the very drunk. I stared out the window for a very long time. The sky was pitch black and the streetlights were eerie against the blacktop.

In the morning he didn’t remember a thing, except me being sullen. God, why was I always ruining all his fun? We went home and neither of us spoke during the long drive.

That May, I married him anyway.

That was 2004. Had a baby in 2011. He wanted one. It was sure to get better. Fatherhood made men change, didn’t it?

I can’t recall how many times he’s been drunk or hungover since, how many times he called me names stupid, selfish, bitch, cunt, crazy, unstable, broken but I can count the times he put his hands on me. It was only two or three in twelve years.

That’s not really abuse, right?

I still smiled in all the pictures though after a while, it didn’t reach my eyes anymore.

On my forty-first birthday, I took those big blue wings and moved them to a new house without him, talking our daughter with me.

He ended it, though I gave him little choice this time. I told him he had to try to fix things, get therapy or we had to be done.

I’m the crazy one. He doesn’t need therapy. They just try to assign blame. They are the enemy. I was the enemy too.

To this day, he doesn’t remember that night in the hotel room. He thinks I made it up.

For a lot of years, I forgot too. Or I lied to myself at least. I put all those moments out of my head. Maybe I was broken, a bitch, a cunt. He wasn’t the only one to ever say those words to me. Maybe he had a point.

I’ve only cried a few times since we decided not to be married any more. Mostly from relief.

I can’t believe I became that person. I am very good at seeming strong, unemotional. It’s all a lie. I let myself be molded into whatever someone else wanted me to be, but no person can ever meet the expectations of a person like that. Someone who considers killing you, puts their hands on your throat…they can never be satisfied. Maybe not until they’ve followed through.

It’s my fault. I’m such a bitch. It’s why it couldn’t work.

He never abused me. I’m crazy. Unstable. Melodramatic.

He just grabbed my arm. Just screamed in my face while threatening to hit me, telling me I deserved to be hit. But he didn’t hit me. He didn’t leave bruises.

Not until he slapped my hand while carrying firewood so hard it bounced off my leg. That bruise took weeks to heal. But I started it. I’m being dramatic again.

I threw a glass at the floor once; I was 9 weeks pregnant and he threatened to leave me.

I’m the one who’s abusive.

Lies. All of it.

I know that, just like I know I’m not making up what’s hidden behind those frozen smiles in that picture. We looked so beautiful on the outside but on the inside it was already rotten.

I can’t regret because my daughter is amazing. And I can’t drag this all out into the light because it’s not therapists that think you’re a liar. I only called the police once, trying to protect him. Trying to make sure he didn’t follow through on a threat to hurt himself. I never called when he threatened to hurt me or when he did.

I still need to smile, frozen. It’s the best way to protect myself — that and the locked doors of my new house and careful quiet boundaries until I can legally sever myself from him.

Somehow, I need to build myself a new life out of the tattlers of this old one. I’ve heard for so long how I’m broken, it’s really hard to see how I might not be. I’ve heard how terrible I am, how bitchy, just a cunt with a job — how could I subject anyone else to me?

But I keep trying. I keep hoping that eventually the little voice in my head that sounds like my own voice will drown out his. He was loud for a long time.

This is a start. Maybe I can’t tell his mom, or even mine. Maybe I won’t waste my time telling a judge who won’t believe me. But I’ll tell you, whoever you are, someone who saw a flicker of blue wings and wondered. I hope you hear me. Eventually, I hope your hear wingbeats when I learn to fly again.

For now, my wings are really dusty.

Like what you read? Give Tempered Steele a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.