March 31, 2017
The smell of Subway bathrooms makes me sick. Whenever I am forced to use one, instantly I am transported to North Philadelphia, four and a half years ago, inside an identical sub shop bathroom. Like a ghost, I watch the girl of eighteen wait for a man of twenty-six to tie her arm off and check his syringe for bubbles before gently pushing its tip upstream in her veins. I know that they’ve been to see “Jay,” and I know that he’s used her money to buy a bundle. I know where they will go after they are done here- a rent by the hour motel with Hustler for free on the television, 24/7. I know that the girl has bought a room for the week.
“Ladies first,” he says, ever the gentleman.
Looking down at her inner arm, she watches the syringe deliver its promise and her eyes close. As soon as his finger pushes the plunger down, her chest tightens and blood is rushing in her ears, numbing the chaos of the world. Exhaling in ecstasy, I see her beaten body relax and fall backwards against the tank of the toilet.
February 20, 2013
When I changed my mind about you, your hands were around my throat. The way you looked into my eyes with such an inhuman rage made me resigned to die that day. At last, you released your grip with your right hand-I gasped for air and found none, I gulped and choked while you pinned me back over the side of our bed and wrung the life from me like a dirty dishtowel.
My relief was short lived, however, because when I looked defiantly into those winter sky eyes I saw nothing but electric madness behind them. You, faster than anything and with your trademark smirk, drew your elbow back past your shoulder and slammed your knuckles straight down below you, a perfect ninety-degree angle. My eye socket crushed like an ice cube under a steel toed boot and the skin on my brow bone was splintered and split instantly. Blood spewed out of my face and smacked you like a wall- my body’s physiologic revolt against the abuse it was enduring.
Vision already gone, I shrieked in terror and regained my strength, adrenaline pushing me past your monstrous form and into the bathroom to inspect the tenderized pulp of my eye. You chased after me and sunk your fingers into my scapulae like a lion would an antelope. No antelope, I whirled around ferociously, brandishing my teeth, to show you what you’d done to me- a black eye already swollen shut and five times its normal size, leaking and caked with drying blood. It pulsed and ached with my racking sobs and seemed to echo them as it wept and stung, and my rage returned with vigor when it once again dawned on me that I had moved us both into this apartment, five hundred miles from anyone we’d consider family. I was stuck with you in these four rooms.
“Fuck you,” I spat to myself. Fuck me.
Stunned by the damage you’d done, you immediately buckled to the floor at my feet. I thought I would vomit right on top of your head, revulsion hard to swallow. I scooted your crumpled body to the edge of the tile and shut the door. Sliding down the art deco frame, I realized that surely I had nowhere to go but up. Looking back, it’s one of the many occasions that makes me glad I’ve never been a gun owner.
I hear you crying like a toddler, full of self-pity, and a new wave of disgust hits me like a hot flash. Leaning over the toilet, I’m almost expecting to actually project the foulness of your pathetic, simpering personage from my body like bile. Sitting there on the floor of the bathroom for what was surely eons, I listened to you stumble and whine about your father as you fell asleep on my Persian rug. Slowly, slowly, I rise up and take a closer look at my eye. It’s the worst injury I’ve ever had.
Post Script- I would remain in that relationship for another year.
April 21, 2013
The nurse wakes me up at four thirty for vitals. She helps me sit up from my slumber and in my dreamlike state, I think she must be God. She is a black woman with the touch of a mother, and she is the only light in the psychiatric ward this early in the morning. She deftly slides the blood pressure cuff off of my bruised arm and cradles the back of my head until I’m safely back on my thin, clinical pillow.
Eight o’clock. This time, the harsh lights of the room awaken me and my nurse is replaced by a social worker. She silently hands me two small cups; one with water, one with a pill. After I take the pill, I stick out my tongue and show her my gums. Satisfied, she tells me that breakfast is in twenty minutes and walks out the door. I check the lacerations on my thigh and realize with no particular feeling that they are healing.
At breakfast, we walk single-file to the first set of mechanized doors that lead to the outside world and our minder pushes the buzzer. We walk around the corner down the crooked hospital hallways, crisp and white. As I walk, my foot slips out of my shoe, unbound by its laces. Upon my “check-in,” they’d been removed and put into a plastic bag along with my sweatpants drawstrings.
The food at the cafeteria was worse than at the juvenile detention center outside of Philly. A slop of meat, a slop of grain, a slop of vegetable. At least in junior jail the meals had names. Wordlessly, I selected two packs of Zest crackers and apple juice for my breakfast and carried it back through the hall toward the crazies’ dining area. The blood rushing to my legs seems to push up the healing cuts on my thigh and they throb with pain. I wish that they would break free like a dam and that bloodletting actually had merit.
Because it is Sunday, I’m allowed to go back to sleep after breakfast. Visitation doesn’t start until eleven, but I’m not expecting anyone anyway.
Noon. The orderly knocks on my door and He comes in.
I physically recoil and my hand flies reflexively to my throat, covering thumbprint bruises that could be mistaken for hickeys. He is all smiles and nonchalance, strutting over and sitting on my cot-size bed. He thanks the orderly and waves him out the door. Speechless, I recede into myself, pretending to be present. We are alone for the first time in days since the most recent fight.
“Something happened and I just had to tell you,” he says, looking at me like a little boy would his mother, expectantly awaiting her approval.
I say nothing and wait for him to continue.
“Well, last night, I got on craigslist and met these two guys, right? Well, the one is a hairdresser, and the other is some kind of artist, and they’re a couple, so…”
My heart stops and my blood runs cold.
“….They invited me over to their place, and we, you know, all got high and one thing led to another, and--”
“Shut the fuck up.” I can’t hear another word. “Shut the fuck up and don’t tell me another fucking thing.” I’d come to expect nearly anything over the course of our year together, but cheating on me with two men after beating me and forcing me into a psychiatric hospital?
“I thought you’d be happy for me,” he said, with a look of genuine heartbreak on his face. “It was a super positive experience, I thought you’d be glad that I took this step for myself.”
“How dare you play the victim in this situation? Do you fucking see where I am? Look at me. Look at me! I hate you.”
He is disgusted by my outburst, above it. He has no need to answer to me. Smirking superiorly, satisfied with the wreckage, He walks out the door.
Click. I am alone.
No sooner do I realize this than I am screaming hollow sobs into the vacuum, tearless and broken.
April 25, 2017
The screen on my electric tether illuminates and without an evaluative thought, I reach for it, giddy at the prospect of validation through the opinions of strangers. This time of year, the comparison game is a large part of my routine. Instead, I catch my breath and read a direct message from “MiseryCompany215” that reads, “It seems like you’re well. I’m very happy for you. You deserve it.”
I read the message to Nathan and delete it after taking a screen shot.
In two weeks it will have been three years since I last had any interaction with you whatsoever. Three years since the last time we went to Philly, since you almost let me die in the Doylestown Motel bathroom. Since I found out you fucked those girls. Since the last time you put your hands on me. Three years since I started to live my life again, at last freed from the self-imposed torment of your abuse.
I realize that maybe I will never completely close this chapter- no matter how many times I tell the harrowing story, no matter how much gritty detail I am sure to include, there will never be an ending. I cannot alter the course of the war regardless of how well the reenactment is performed. Though I reach for clarification and peace through detailed examination, I know in my heart of hearts that I will always have these bruises under my skin.
Annalise Sheppard is a student, journal writer and abuse survivor. Since leaving her abusive relationship, she has rebuilt herself and her relationships with others and is happier than ever living in Wilmington, North Carolina with her fiance and pets. She enjoys writing through trauma and lending an ear to others.