Sometimes the bruises don’t show.
Year One: his anger seemingly came from nowhere.
The shower was her refuge; she cried silently, sobbing heaves shaking her body. Water draining over her chafed nipples and tired puckered belly. Down into the cracked tiles, mould filled her lungs and the walls around her. The peeling grout soured to brown, covered with duct tape.
Year Two: “How dare you shame me like that in front of my friends, talking of old boyfriends, guys you fucked.”
She cowered against the headboard, uncomprehending. Shaking, with spit collecting in the corners of his mouth, he raged on, immune to her tears. She rocked against the wall, rocking, rocking. Just leave, just leave. Get up and leave. Fear. She smelled fear. It was coming from her.
Year Three: she held the baby in her arms and tried to veer around his mass.
He would not budge. Somewhere she heard the sound of a baby crying but it seemed far away in her head. From above, she looked down on their house, like an angel floating on the trees. Was that her down there, shrinking to the size of a pea?
“Out of my way!” as she shoved past him.
Her jaw snapped back and her head found the wall. She stumbled and careened like a drunken sailor, the baby’s weight in her arms catching her off balance. The baby, the baby, it was her baby down there. She ran to the bedroom. No lock on the door. No damn lock.
“You’ll never leave this.”
His eyes scanned the garden where she had spent her days yanking weeds and finding the real flowers beneath. Hands embedded in soil at a house on Westmore Street. She had loved that street: the trees, the old homes, and dreamed of coming home with him. Family was so close and their friends lived down the street. Barbecues and weekly dinner parties, fires by the river and camping trips. Sailing on weekends.
It’s a dream to her now—all of it gone. She left it all.
The words again. The bad words again—an echo in her brain. His blind rage.
Her head snapping back, his fist spinning her head and she’s falling against the counter, to the floor. He’s on top of her now, knees in her chest, pushing. The weight of him makes her helpless beneath it all. There’s no breath; the ceiling is spinning above him. The eyes, blue and crinkled under heavy brows, seem dead now. Dead eyes. Just dead.
Abuse begins in small patterns that no one can see unless they’re looking for it.
Sprinkled in the love are small methods of control.
It can start with something as innocuous as orange juice (you bought the wrong kind), and can grow to a calculated isolation from friends and family. Events like birthdays and Christmas become tarnished with depression while you’re protecting the family from his sadness. Eventually the anger creeps in and words are spoken that cannot be undone: “bitch,” “cunt,” “whore,” “stupid,” “selfish.”
This leads to the “eggshell effect”—skirting around him like a scared dog.
Scenes like this are happening all around us: young, old, educated, working class, rich. It can happen to anyone. It’s harder to recognize when it’s emotional abuse. Experience tells us it won’t stop there. Because not all sociopaths are found in prison.
The experts say emotional trauma can lead to anxiety disorders exhibiting symptoms like headaches, gastrointestinal issues, abdominal pain, tremors and nausea.
Every day, people walking their dogs saw their lives and envied them.
From the outside, they had it all. But what really lay behind it all was a rotting mess. Poke it and the truth would ooze out: a rotten fruit, ripe and sickly sweet.
He was an empty shell.
Wishing that he would love her, she cried alone most nights and found ways to hide her anger and disappointment. She didn’t sail anymore. She didn’t run. She didn’t see her friends. They weren’t really welcome there. The house on Westmore Street, her living tomb.
“You’ll never leave this,” he had said. And he was right—
—Until she did.
Her dreams continued intermittently. There was no way to predict them as they pelted her brain with long forgotten images. He would be talking to her, gently holding her hand and in the moment, it was all that she had longed for. Waking brought familiar sadness, a cloud of reality seeping into her brain. Like a scab from an ancient fall, she was still reminded of the past; it never quite went away.
“Try to find something good to focus on” people told her. Every day, find something small and insignificant, and focus on the goodness. It could be the sun, it could be a dog you see on the street. Your morning coffee. The moment you kiss your child good night. Find the goodness.
The new life she had now slowly grew to bring in laughter and friendship. Time will heal they all said.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman