I got to her house around seven. I’d come straight from work and was still in my slacks and loafers. Not those nice heavy loafers you get in the military. But the thin, soft leather loafers that feel so good on your feet. She’d called me at five or so, I guess it was, saying he was there. He had come to get his stuff. After a week’s delay he’d finally arrived to collect. I said so what. “Aren’t you glad he’s there?” She’d broken up with him the Friday before, and told him to come get his shit out. He got back from Houston today and seemingly made it top priority. So all should have been well. She said no though. She wasn’t happy he was there. Oh, he’d gotten his stuff all right. But he’d left her some things too. Some bruises.
So now I was on my way. Five o’clock I got the call, five-fifteen I ended the call, and five-seventeen I was tearing up Central Expressway like a burning chariot. There’d be no patient idling this time. She’d dumped him before and I’d stood there on her patio smoking a cigarette, watching them through the sliding door as I leaned against the rail. I’d worn my shades so he couldn’t see the true thoughts in my eyes. She had told me to stand by and make sure he didn’t hit her. I had wondered why this was even a logical threat. But I’d been there for her. And every second it took him to collect his things and throw them in the long red duffel was a second I grew less patient. I could feel anger burning my veins as it pumped through them in place of my already boiled blood.
At seven, after an hour and a half of the worst traffic I’d seen in months, I pulled into her parking lot in a fevered tremble, hot and angry, Static-X still banging in my ear drums. I slammed the door to my pickup and dashed up the stairs. I didn’t even bother to knock. She was lying in the dark on the cool leather couch, her arm slung across an icepack that lay on her eyes. There even in the dark I could see a hard black bruise on her wrist. “Beth,” I called as I approached her. “Are you hurt or injured?”
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. She was trying to suck it up. Trying to be a big girl. You weren’t supposed to be so fragile when you were hit, otherwise you’d break. Men who hit women expected the battered women to take it like men. Suck it up, bitch. Quit being a damn crybaby.
She lifted her arm and removed the icepack so I could assess the situation. Both eyes were swollen and blackened, and the right was full of red where there should have been white. I nodded, and knelt beside her, pulling her close. She put her head on my shoulder and wept, wetting my shirt. She’d been a big girl, and no doubt embarrassed to show me her bruises – they would vanish soon enough and she’d be ready for the next round. But now in the comfort of a someone passive, she could cry a little. She could ease up just a tiny bit.
“Beth, I think you need to see a doctor. You may lose your vision,” I said, with all the calm I could muster.
“If it’s going to happen it’s too late to stop it now anyway.”
“Your English degree makes you no more a doctor than does mine.” I shouldn’t talk to my sister like that. She wasn’t born my sister, but extreme situations and careful tenure realizes a closeness between individuals that even brotherhood can’t comprehend. But sometimes it took harsher words to penetrate the thickness of her skull. And sometimes, obviously, fists.
I helped her up and called Kimbre, a mutual friend of ours. I asked her to come take Beth to the urgent care clinic on the other side of town. Beth looked me in the eyes, her pitiful countenance glaring pain and fear right through me. She asked me not to hurt him. “It was my fault, I called him an asshole.”
Maybe she was right. Maybe I’d long overlooked some backroom method of communicating with women that was a great deal more effective than just conversation and inquiry. Perhaps I’d been naive about aggression. Maybe there were some women with whom you just couldn’t reach effective resolution without a few flung fists. I nodded slightly, trying desperately to understand the confused thoughts of a battered woman, who under so much pressure still saw the good in the man who had brought her to this state. I squinted the anger and tears away and looked at her with the idea of comprehension. Why did she want to protect him just so he could do it all again? Because he’s a caring and thoughtful person who just sometimes has to persuade her, that’s why. Maybe she was right.
And maybe I’d be growing a set of tits so I could go along on the next ride.
I breathed in and sighed heavily, letting the anger slip away on my breath. “Okay, Beth. Here’s how it works: if you expect me to sit back and let him walk away unharmed, you’re asking me to condone it. If you’re asking me to forget it happened, you’re asking me to pretend like it won’t happen again. And if you ask me to believe that you deserved to be hit, you’re asking me to become what he is.”
She stared frozen into my eyes for a moment longer, and I could see her true fear. It wasn’t that I’d ruin this guy, it was that I wouldn’t and he would come again. And I wouldn’t be able to protect her. She was afraid for her life. I smiled at her – one of those brotherly smiles that says I’ll be here for you and I love you. Her eyes opened wide and she swallowed hard, a tear streaking down her cheek. I wiped it away with my thumb and stood up to unlock the door. Kimbre came in and took over, wrapping her arms around Beth and talking to her the way only another woman can, with that comforting coo that calms the craziness.
And I went to work.
Kevin lived on the other side of the loop, in a cramped little one-room efficiency that cost less than my truck payment. I had only been there once and that was to help him move up a futon. A futon Beth had bought him for being such a good boyfriend. I scarcely remembered the apartment number, but I knew its position and a few landmarks. I’d find it all right. I only hoped he wasn’t expecting me.
I’m not a fighter. I never have been. This is not to say I couldn’t be. I trained in tactical combat in the military and I am somewhat familiar with hostile encounters. But I’m not violent. I strongly dislike confrontation and avoid it as often as possible. I only hope to be able to protect my family if ever the need shall arise. But certain extreme situations call for an answer. And I had this guy’s number.
I knocked on the door. Weakly. It took most of my control to avoid pounding it in with fists of steel in an iron rage. Somehow I maintained. And when the door opened, he was smirking, with a bowlful of soup in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I think in the three hours he’d had to prepare, he’d considered the probability of a response absolutely zero. I came over him like a black cloud and rained on his soup-eating parade.
I knocked the bowl up into his face, and as he wailed he staggered back into the room, and I followed, shutting the door behind me with a heel. He tripped on the coffee table and slammed down onto a stack of Easy Rider magazines, dropping his cigarette somewhere in the fray. His friend made no move to defend from his idle position on the futon. Hey, nice couch. He stared wide-eyed at the surprise visitor. Kevin’s face was shiny wet with hot soup and red with embarrassment, surprise and probably a little anger.
“Who is Beth Carden?” I said loudly.
“what the hell are you talking about?” he said, trying to sit up and gather himself. I could hardly hear over the wailing laughter on the television so I reached over behind me and yanked it forward off the cabinet. It popped on the floor two feet below uneventfully.
“Who is she.” I said. I didn’t ask.
He was shaking his head furiously, and now standing up. He was pissed off now, and was about to kick my ass. So I shoved him square in the chest and he toppled back over the table again, cracking his head on the metal bar of the futon behind him.
“She’s a stupid cunt who deserves what she gets. You need to mind your own effing business!” he shouted.
I walked around the table and squatted by Kevin, then picked up a fat marble ashtray off the table. He saw me do this and thus kept still. “I want you to forget that name. Scratch it from your memory like a bad dream. You don’t know her anymore.”
He snorted. “what the hell ever. She’ll get hers.”
“You’re damn right she will.” I cracked him on the top of the head with the flat side of the ashtray and he screamed like a little girl. Cigarette butts and dirty ash covered his upper body. Blood was quickly evident.
“If you ever come near her again, I’ll drive this whole ashtray through your skull.” I sat staring at him for a moment, wondering what was running through his mind. Had I done enough? Had I made my point? Certainly I had. I just didn’t know if he agreed with it or not. Not yet. There’s a certain amount of torture a man can take before he begins to see things your way. They teach that in SERE. Had I reached that point yet? He had a defiant frown on his face as he rubbed a dirty hand on the tower that stood atop his head. I had to make sure he would never come after her again, because I didn’t want him to hurt her. There’s no telling how far he’d go. I had to make sure he had caught my point, and would forget she existed. “Are we understood?”
“Go screw yourself.”
I don’t know how many teeth I smashed out with the ashtray, but it seemed to have wedged into his mouth a good inch and a half, and it was a big honker of a dish. It was probably eight inches across and two inches thick. I know it wasn’t far enough to stay wedged in when I let go, but no less effective it was. His eyes had closed and he’d immediately started coughing and gagging, spitting out blood and chunks of enamel.
“Okay, okay, okay, Dammit! Please just stop!” he cried. “I’ll leave her alone.”
“You’ll forget her.”
“I’ll forget her you sadistic asshole!” I closed the door on my way out, feeling like a man walking out of another world. A world where I was not myself, but an actor in some screwed up revenge movie. Mr. Tough Guy who smashes TVs and skulls in the same sitting. I would probably be sick later on – just from the anxiety of playing a part I was neither comfortable or familiar with. Fighting in war and bullying in peace were too far separated. I couldn’t accept one and play the other. I had to keep reminding myself that if I hadn’t done it, Beth might not make it out of the hospital next time.
I breathed deeply as I tried to walk calmly down the stairs to my truck. I was trembling like an electrified goldfish, and thought that no – I probably wouldn’t be sick tonight. It would happen in the next few seconds. It did. It happened in the parking lot by the curb, and all over my slacks. I spat out the taste and breathed in deeply, reeling. Okay. I’ll get over it. I had to go tend to Beth now. She needed me.