You hear it all the time. “Oh, well,” someone will say. “Things could be worse.” They always mean well.
There’s only one problem. If things could be worse, invariably, they will get worse.
My boyfriend had a car, and hanging out at parks and parking lots or trespassing on private property was preferable to hanging out with either of our families if we wanted any privacy. Obviously, we wanted privacy.
He would pick me up at my house, and we’d drive directly to one of about a dozen different locations, depending upon our moods. There were parks that overlooked the river and parking lots by abandoned train tracks.
We spent time in abandoned amusement parks among rusted and dismantled roller coasters and bumper cars, and we spent time in abandoned shipyards lined on both sides by corroded boats that were deteriorating out of the water.
Some of these places were open to the public, others not so much.
There was one spot that wasn’t exactly a park, although many of our friends hung out there. If you knew where to look, there was an opening between the trees on the side of a main road.
Turning carefully at that spot, you could drive to a secluded area just a stone’s throw from a pond that was teeming with frogs.
When we approached the pond slowly and carefully, the surface stayed still, and the water was clear. As soon as we reached the edge of the pond, one of us would stomp down hard on the ground, and hundreds or thousands of frogs would explode from their hiding spots along the edges and fill the water with churning movement.
After visiting the frogs, we’d usually go back to the car and talk for hours. Sometimes, we’d do more than talk.
One time, his car wouldn’t start after we were finished talking, but we were lucky enough to spot one of my boyfriend’s friends in the woods. He and his friend pulled the battery from his car, replaced it with his friend’s battery, started the car and then replaced the batteries back in their respective locations.
Another time, my boyfriend lay sleeping in the reclined driver’s seat while I scraped beneath my fingernails with a large knife. I remember a man coming to my window, and starting a conversation with me before spotting the knife and my dirty, long-haired boyfriend.
I can’t imagine what went through his head, but he quickly made an excuse and left. We laughed about it afterward, imagining different scenarios that the man might have thought he’d stumbled upon.
We could have been runaways or fugitives, but we were just two kids in love who thought they were cool.
One afternoon, we were parked as close to the pond as we could get when we had an argument. I don’t remember why we fought, but it couldn’t have been over anything important. Life was simple then. We just didn’t know it yet.
With him, the problem wasn’t so much the reason why we fought as what the fights escalated into. He had already pushed me and kicked me on several occasions, but it wasn’t yet the everyday occurrence it would become during our marriage.
It was a verbal altercation. We both raised our voices, but he was the only one who said unkind things. He called me a slut and a whore, insulted me, shouted until spittle flew from his lips.
I was playing defense, as usual, and doing a lousy job of it.
When I’d had enough, and there was no sign that the argument was slowing down, I decided to grab my bag and leave. I didn’t care if I had to walk home, but it was more likely that I would just walk to the nearest phone booth and call my mother to come pick me up. I wasn’t that far from home.
I exited the car with a dramatic flourish, slammed the door shut and started walking toward the road. When the sound of my boyfriend’s car roaring into life erupted behind me, I didn’t turn around. I kept walking.
Within seconds, he was driving toward me. The car struck my hip through the large tote bag that I had slung over one shoulder, and I was knocked several feet before crumpling to the ground.
Fortunately, he didn’t hit me with enough speed or force to cause any significant injuries.
My clothes were streaked with mud from landing on the hardpacked dirt, and my leg felt oddly numb, but that was it. Despite being hit on purpose by my boyfriend driving a muscle car, I was unhurt.
He rolled down his window. “Get back in the car,” he commanded. “Are you okay?” he asked. It seemed like nothing more than a formality, something you have to do when you hit someone with a car. He looked unconcerned.
“No.” I shook my head. “How could I be okay? You hit me with your car.” My eyes filled with tears.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?” He didn’t even look at me as he asked the question. “Is anything broken?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head again. “I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t think anything’s broken, but my leg hurts.”
“If you don’t want to go to the hospital, then it can’t be that bad. Stop complaining. It could have been worse.” He eased the car off the dirt and back onto the main road.
Following our argument, he drove to the grocery store where we both worked. We had met there in the coatroom a year earlier as I was departing from work and he was arriving. I’d complimented the pin he wore on his denim jacket, and he removed it from his jacket and pressed it into my palm. “It’s yours,” he said.
I still have that pin.
“Wait in the car,” he said. When he returned, he was carrying a bouquet of flowers from the produce department. “Here,” he said, thrusting them at me through my open window.
“Thanks,” I said. It was the first and last time he ever gave me flowers. I held the bouquet of flowers in my lap. They’d clearly been soaking in water because the stems dripped and drained onto my skirt, but I didn’t complain. Like he said, it could have been worse.
Things did get worse. They got much worse, in fact. Despite early warning signs that this young man would not make a good husband, I married him. After nearly five years of mental, physical, and emotional abuse, we divorced.
All that remains is the lesson I learned. If you find comfort in the thought that things could be worse, things will, indeed, get worse. Often sooner than you expect.