Exhausted to the point of death, I lie in the deep sway of a musty green canvas army cot in my living room, alone. My boombox radio sits on the corner of the beat-up old dark mahogany bookshelf, timidly playing subdued instrumental music. Curled in a tight fetal position, I wear my old greying sweats, swaddled in a scratchy wool blanket pulled over my head. My knees are tucked under my chin.
Afraid to wear my long hair down to my waist, I wear it in a braid put up in a rigid bun at the back of my skull.
Recently, I snuck out for a couple hours to check out a support meeting in the basement of a brick church the color of dried blood. I bravely told the women there that I had an irrational fear that my husband would cut off my hair, my ‘crown of glory,’ as I slept. A woman followed me into the unlit parking lot later to tell me mine was not an irrational fear. She told me, whispering fast in the dark, telling me in a trauma trance singsong voice that, years ago, her now-ex-husband had cut off HALF of her hair as she slept. I asked her what happened to the rest of her hair: Did she go to a salon where they would ask what happened? Did a friend cut off the rest for her – if she had had any friends left? Or had she had to cut off the rest of her hair herself to make herself look more normal? I leaned back against the driver’s door of my yellow beater stationwagon and lost my breathe when she told me in a flat voice “I do not remember what happened next….”
Tonight, my breath is shallow and hot under my blanket. I have the phone receiver flat against my ear. I lie still on my cot which stands on the bare subflooring that my husband calls shitboard. My friend Maryann is on the other end of the phone, 30 miles away down the freeway. For a half an hour we both listen quietly to the sounds in my home. It is an expensive, long distance phone call, one I will be in trouble for when he sees the itemized phone bill. Maryann and I say nothing. We hear almost nothing. The music breathes softly from the radio, alongside the tick-tick-tick of the wedding gift clock.
I lie stiff with bound up muscles, mesmerized by my racebrain thoughts:
“SHITBOARD ( noun \ˈshit-ˌbȯrd\ syn: chipboard, particleboard) is made of waste material such as planer shavings offcuts or sawdust hammer-milled into chips bound together with a phenolic resin hammer-milling involves smashing SHITBOARD material into smaller and smaller pieces until they pass out through a screen with the release of formaldehyde in 1984 concerns about the initial indoor level of formaldehyde led the United States Department of SHITBOARD Housing and Urban Development to set standards for construction of SHITBOARD homes this however was not solely because of the large amounts of SHITBOARD that manufactured homes contain but also because of other building materials such as Urea-formaldehyde foam insulation formaldehyde is classified by the WHO as a known human carcinogen SHITBOARD is very prone to expansion and discoloration due to moisture particularly when it is not covered with paint or another sealer SHITBOARD……………” 2
The smell of Death approaching pukes in the air alongside the smells of old dried cat feces coming up through the holes in the moist shitboard floors that are no longer covered by ratty carpet the same color as the dirt below the holes in the shitboard shitboard floors…. Holes the cats escape through are not large enough for me and my children to follow the cats to safety…. shitboard. shitboard. shitboard…. I must be crazy because I do not think I will ever escape this hell of my husband’s choosing. shitboard.
His love for me slowly – very, very slowly - turned into paranoid raging hate years ago. He refuses help, refuses healing, and he will not let me go. Shitboard.
The children are hostages always held over me without their knowledge. They are asleep in the back of the house where there is no exit. Shitboard. Shitboard.
Once I finally moved out of the bedroom he and I had shared, into the living room, to sleep on the old cot, I felt the clock of death start ticking crazyfast. Shitboard. Shitboard. ….Shitboard.
My thought race and race in insane fragmented phrases. My tear ducts are dry, swollen and scratchy. My eyes sting. I am afraid to move. shitboard.
Maryann begins to whisper to me again through my lifeline phoneline, gentle sounds to distract me from my terror. She mentions God, I think, but I am not sure what else she says... shhhh...
My late grandmother’s black onyx prayer beads are wrapped tightly around my small hand. The rise and fall of Maryann’s faraway voice calms me as I feel my grandmother’s prayers wrap tightly around me. I begin to relax and hope I can sleep for a few hours before the children wake up.
A soft shuffling comes down the long hallway toward me. His oversized moc slippers slide, slide, slide in a shuffling muffled sound coming closer in the dark.
The hall light snaps on with a sharpness that hurts my eyes as I lift an edge of my blanket to peer out.
“………he’s…. coming…… in….. here….. maryann…………….” I breathe into the phone.
More slide, slide, slide as he tries to keep his huge feet inside his too-large mocs.
I fear the simplest thing: He might see the extra-long phone cord snake under my blanket. He might then yank the phone cord out of the wall, ripping this cord in half, just like he did the last time he caught me on the phone. I see in my head the picture of the last phone cord he ripped out of the wall: a flash of memory of beautiful copper wires broken, with the grimy, used-to-be-beige-now-grey rubber sheath ripped from the beautiful copper wires. My phone cord lifeline….
I now see his huge hands in my mind. He has red rough hands the size of a side of ham, calloused so thickly he cannot feel through them anymore…. Hands he says broke the necks of a couple Dobermans more than thirty years ago.
He has never used those hands directly against me…. yet…. He prefers to never leave hand marks on my body. Instead ….so far…. he has only slammed his hamfist through the hallway wall where my head had just been when I had asked for two dollars for gas. He prefers to use his hamfists to rip off a kitchen cabinet door when I begged for food to put in the cabinets.
I know what those hands can do.
So far….. The marks his hands make on me only put scars on my eternal soul, scars which are hidden on my invisible secret self.
The shuffling stops.
His six foot four inch frame is a silhouette in the doorway.
“K…E….L……….L……………..Yyyyyyyyy………….” I hear a zombie voice from an ancient black and white B movie.
“K…E….L……….L……………..Yyyyyyyyy………….” No, it sounds more like a demon from hell.
“Who the hell is THAT? Is that HIM sounding like that?” I hear Maryann whisper franticly into my ear.
I shrink into my cot. I wait for it to rip open, to dump me through one of the holes in the shitboard floor, to dump me into the dirt underbelly of the house crawlspace. I watch through one eye uncovered under my blanket and hold my breath as long as I can, and I pray for the cot to rip open, pray for the shitboard to open, pray for the earth’s belly to open, saving me.
He turns toward me and slides forward into the room. He moves closer with his weird shuffle glide shuffle. His pasty white skin is covered in red bugbites and he wears his dingy ripped whiter shorts. He is blind because he is not wearing his thick glasses. Impossibly, he then sits on the edge of my cot as my body shrivels up into the tiniest ball possible.
“K…E….L……….L……………..Yyyyyyyyy………………………..D….O…N...T …….L….E…..A…..V……E……………U….S….” he drones.
“ W…..E…………….L…O….V….E……..Y…O….U………..” he drones on and on and on.
Maryann’s voice shifted from soft reassuring tones to frantic whispers, and I suddenly hear her terrified words, “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! HE SOUNDS LIKE THE KILLER IN A KNIFE PSYCHO MOVIE! GET OUT RIGHT NOW!”
He KNOWS I am going to try to leave. He EXPECTS to keep the children.
I listen to both voices, his and Maryann’s. I listen to my own voice inside of my panic and fear. I hear myself say deep inside of my petrified heart, as I pretend to be asleep, “I will escape with my children. I will become happy again. I will live.”.
All three voices – his, Maryann’s and my inner voice - continue all night, for hours and eternal hours of shitboard terror as he calmly strokes the top of my head.
+ + +
The hours pass and light slowly fills the living room as I realize he has gone to work and I have been asleep. A cat is curled up against me, purring in her sleep. She sleeps where he sat.
I sit up on my cot and listen to hear my children if they begin to wake up in the back of the house. It will soon be time to get them up, feed them, and begin our homeschooling in the living room, so I will have to fold up my cot in a few minutes. The radio quietly broadcasts the local weather, forecasting more autumn sun. My hand still holds the phone receiver hard against my ear, even though I am now sitting up, and I hear Maryann breathe in her sleep on the other end. My grandmother’s beautiful rosary has made deep marks on my hand. All of our prayers have made deep marks on my soul.
The window of escape slowly begins to open as quickly as it closed last night:
I will leave next week. My children and I will move into the tiny clean house I found last week, as soon as I get my first paycheck in 14 years. After years of arguing with my husband, I had finally been able to convince him to get Social Security numbers for each of our children. Then I hid away the new Social Security cards as well as all of the birth certificates for me and my children. My family lives three thousand miles and a world of understanding away – who could ever understand this insane Prisoner Of War concentration camp of a home – and my family told me they will pay for a divorce attorney when it is time. As I think over my plans that I have been putting in place for the past year, I reach over to the bookshelf and grab my pink hairbrush.
I loosen my hair and let it fall to my waist. I brush the wirey tangles out of my hair, letting the long coppery red waves flow a waterfall down my back. I braid it again neatly and twist it up tight behind my head. I poke a long, sharp chopstick through the bun to hold it up until it is safe to let my hair down again.
I will live.
+ + +
The Day of the Fall
© kelly fitzpatrick, 3
Once i made my mind up
there was no turning back.
oh, i could if i wanted to continue to die
until HE did it to me
robbing our children
who were invisible to the outside world
i remember looking into the bathroom mirror
on my birthday a few years before
feeling sorry for myself
a target turned victim
i was the only one
seeing the woman who only i saw
i cried, “i am going to continue to be invisible,
and no one will see my beauty grow old.”
and i cried, “no one will rescue the children but me.”
everywhere i looked
HE blocked our leaving
silently silently planning
while squeezing my tiny world
smaller and smaller
as my breath became shallow
in my buried spirit
as i decided
to save the children.
The day i left
i called for help
after a year of secret planning
but the world broke into pieces
of police yelling orders
back and forth
back and forth
by police command
from Willys jeep wagon
to junked stationwagon
and back again
and other papers served
on my windshield
me silent amid the noise
except my ‘yes sirs’s to uniforms
spirit of confusion ruled
taking us all up to the edge of
and there was HIM bellowing tall over all
running like a furied demon
with the wild crazy raging eyes
from insanity beyond
as evil tried to win
But the cop with the gun held at my head helped send my children back into hell
as he told me;
“I don’t believe you.”
1 painting by Gustav Klimpt, 1907
2 amended feom Wikipedia
3 my poem:
“We Will Survive. I Will Survive.”