This story is by Jessica Deen and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Every time it happened, I felt stupider. I knew better, but I wondered if it was as bad as I thought. Maybe all relationships were like this. And everyone else thought he was wonderful.
First, the signs were small. Ditching me for friends, not calling me when he said he would or teasing me relentlessly in front of others to the point I would laugh for fear of crying. I thought I was being too sensitive, but as time went on, each act felt more calculated and malicious. Soon, I couldn’t go anywhere without Curtis. Even going to work required regular updates on every detail of my day. If I didn’t text him on my way home, I’d be berated about it later and I learned that it was much easier to just abide by his twisted set of rules.
It was more than just rules, though. I couldn’t even have a private thought. Whenever I seemed quiet, he accused me of fantasizing about someone else. He acted hurt and I’d deny it, but he was so sure that I began to question whether or not he was right. My mind raced, searching for the reason he was angry with me, searching for proof I was the despicable person he said I was.
He spent most nights at my house even though I never asked him to stay, and most days he was waiting in front of my apartment when I arrived home. I had become so careful about how I spoke to avoid conflict that nothing I said had any substance. I wasn’t telling the truth though I had nothing to lie about, but I just didn’t want to fight.
One night I arrived home, with him leaning against the glass wall outside my building, smiling in my direction. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I suddenly felt cold. With this, I realized he hardly ever smiled at me.
When we got into the apartment, he slouched into the chair and said, “Wanna watch a movie tonight?” His head casually leaning back, he looked relaxed and happy and I felt like a teenager excited for her first date. The thought of cuddling on the couch, enjoying the evening together had me feeling giddy.
Curtis shut the lights out and sat on the couch with a blanket, beckoning me over. I walked over to his open arms and settled myself, between his legs with my back to him. He wrapped the blanket around the front of me and said, “Let’s watch something scary.”
“No,” I laughed. “I hate scary movies. Don’t you know that about me by now?”
When he didn’t answer, I looked back, his grin was sinister and my stomach roiled in recognition. He grabbed the remote before I could reach it and I watched the cursor scroll down to the one movie he knew gave me nightmares. As he hovered over it, he watched me, waiting for my reaction. I felt my body begin to betray me, shaking with nerves. I turned and said, “I don’t want to watch that. I won’t sleep.” Sensing my flight response, his legs gripped tighter around me and he pulled the blanket closer, to hold me to him.
“Don’t be such a wimp.” His words offered no empathy, only disgust in my weakness. My shakiness forced me out of my seat as I tried to stand. He was ready for this and in one second, his legs were over mine, pinning me to the couch while he used the blanket as a straight jacket, pulling it so tight around my front that I couldn’t move.
I was vibrating with anxiety that I couldn’t hold any longer. “I said I don’t want to watch this,” I screamed, flailing under the blanket like a toddler throwing a tantrum. “Pick something else! Seriously, why are you doing this?” His laugh at my panic sent ice through my veins and he pulled harder as I struggled against him for endless minutes.
Spent, and knowing I couldn’t win, I sank back and closed my eyes, trying to shut it all out. He described everything in horrifying detail by whispering in my ear if I refused to look. My body ached with tension and I longed for it to end.
When the movie was finally over, he kissed me on the forehead and told me he was proud of me – like he hadn’t held me there against my will, as if I had a choice. I said nothing and stayed on the couch as he crawled into my bed for the night and I prayed he wouldn’t wake up.
I lied to everyone about our relationship and struggled to appear happy. My friend Ryan knew it was a front. I had never told him any details, but he would back out of any conversation that involved Curtis and I was ashamed that I was so transparent.
Ryan had a party a few weeks after the movie incident and Curtis wouldn’t allow me to go alone. I mingled with friends, but noticed Curtis uncomfortably close to one of the other women there. I flew toward him, adrenaline pumping and anger bubbling up. I refused to be embarrassed by him anymore. I boiled over when I approached and instead of discreetly urging him away, I shoved him and asked him what the hell he was doing.
With a furious stare, he turned to walk out and muttered, “You’re a crazy bitch.”
I couldn’t stop myself from chasing him outside where he spun around and slapped me hard across the face. I stood frozen while he took off in his car and left me there without a second thought.
Ryan found me outside on the curb and sank down beside me, hip to hip. He waited for minutes like that and eventually said, “I know I probably shouldn’t say this, but why are you with him? You’re perfect. Do you know that?”
I looked up to find him staring at me. My belly felt warm and a smile almost touched my lips, but I couldn’t speak. I didn’t feel like I had to. I looked down and slowly lowered my head to rest on his shoulder. It felt like an admission, like a relief and for the first time, I thought maybe I deserved better.
The next day, Curtis was back to demanding my obedience and I was dancing around his mood trying my best not to provoke him. My face burned with shame to realize how he had bled himself into every aspect of my life. Every action I took was laced with him. Unconsciously, I thought of how he’d react to every situation, but I never guessed right.
I knew when he struck me that the torment wasn’t my imagination and I needed to be rid of him. It was cowardly, but I was growing desperate and I thought I could get him to leave me first by making him realize he wasn’t happy with me.
We entered my apartment that night and I put on the best show I could. I cried like I was heartbroken and professed he deserved to be happy and I couldn’t do that for him. Instead of agreeing with me, he walked over, wrapped his arms around me in mock comfort and snatched a handful of my hair yanking my head back. With my tender neck exposed like predator with it’s prey, he breathed through clenched teeth and yanked harder bringing me to my knees. I whimpered and he brought his leg back swiftly and kicked me in my stomach. While I gasped for air, he dragged me back up with his hands on my biceps and punched me in the face. Twice.
I don’t know what came over me then, but I channeled the last few months of building rage and though I was much smaller than him, I cocked my arm back and drove him right between the eyes. I felt a crunch and instantly saw red. He reached for his face in shock and I knew my window of time was limited. I ducked to the side and managed to get through the door and into the hallway. To my surprise, he didn’t follow and I’m still not sure why.
I stayed up all night reliving the moment when I struck him back. When the morning came I looked hard in the mirror. I looked at my black eye and swollen jaw and somehow my shoulders seemed broader, my back a little straighter.
I walked out of my apartment building with my hood up because of the morning rain. I looked both ways and when I didn’t see him waiting there, I instinctively lifted my chin as I pulled back my hood with a “take that” attitude. I wore by bruises proudly and smiled honestly for the first time since I’d met him, facing the new day with a confidence I’d never felt.