The most dangerous thing I could do...
One night in early December I had an oral presentation on the WISC intelligence test to give in my graduate counseling class. I got back to the apartment after my talk, and as soon as I walked in Jack’s head spun toward me, and I could see his clenched jaw. A knot formed in my chest.
“Where the hell were you?”
“At my testing class, you know that.” I wished I hadn’t sounded like I was fourteen.
He looked at his watch. He was holding a roll of papers he’d probably been correcting. “Did you go some-p-l-a-c-e afterwards,” he said, enunciating theatrically as he inched towards me.
“Of course not. He always lets us out at the last minute, 9:30. What’s wrong?”
“Why the hell are you walking in here at eleven o’clock?”
“It’s not even quarter of eleven, Jack, and it takes me forty minutes to drive home. Plus, I had my chart to schlep—Oh, why do I have to go through this!”
His voice notched up several decibels. “Because, I didn’t know what the hell my wife was doing and why she wasn’t here where she belonged.” He took a heavy breath.
Belonged? The word landed hard on me but I let him go on, “ . . . and I need help with a formal complaint I’m writing up about this shitty...”My mind wandered. I could see the rest of the evening play out before my eyes— listening to the Problem of the Day. I could forget about sitting down with my feet up and watching Johnny Carson to decompress. What the hell can I say that won’t blow this up?
“Oh, please, Jack. Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” he said as if he didn’t understand the word. “Tomorrow? So your school’s more important than me.” He moved even closer. “I could be dying here and you wouldn’t even notice.”
“That’s ridiculous, Jack. I had this big report to give that’s half my grade and I’m . . .” I tried to back up, but I was pressed against the sofa.
“Your grades, your courses. That’s the only thing you care about.”
“Come on. That’s not fair,” I said as I registered a flash of white in front of me and a stinging sensation across my face.
“OW!” I screamed. “Don’t hit me with your papers. They cut me.” I covered my eye that was starting to tear. “I’m not going to help you if you do stuff like that to me.”
“You’re not going to help me?” He was screaming now, so close to my face I felt the hot blast of his breath. “What the fuck is this all about? ‘You’re not going to help me.” He stomped his foot on mine and pressed hard.
I whizzed through my options like an animal caught in a trap. Fear was somewhere, but cunning was what I needed. I could think of only one thing to get me out.
“All right, all right, Jack. I just want to go to bed soon,” and, as if I were waving a white flag in the air, I asked, “what is this thing you’re working on?” A cold stone formed in my heart. I couldn’t believe how I was caving in. But are there really women out there who would have said, “If you ever fucking hit me again, you’ll be sorry, 'cause I’m outta here for good”? I couldn’t have said that then. It would have felt suicidal.
I was learning what to do to survive. Hold back. Tamp down what was going on inside me. Don’t dare challenge him or tell him what he’s doing is wrong or that he is scaring me. It only made his anger grow. The sad truth is the most dangerous thing I could do was stick up for myself.