After months of loving me fully, ridiculously, like a fairy tale prince, you began to point out my failings. I would be almost acceptable-looking if I wasn’t fat, so you started weighing me once a week and writing the number on a piece of paper next to the bed. If I lost two pounds over the course of the week, you would take me on a date. That didn’t happen often, and I was lucky you were with me anyway. It certainly wasn’t because of my looks, but you were glad I was relatively smart. Unfortunately, I was lazy and never followed through, which basically canceled out the intelligence. I drank too much—but it was the only time people liked me, and you needed people to like me. It was good for your brand, so I shouldn’t stop, but I also should control it better. I was a disappointment sexually, so you sent me a spreadsheet detailing what you required, organized by theme over four pages. You had unusual and demanding tastes, but I wasn’t allowed to balk. When I moved in with you, I’d made an unspoken agreement to fulfill your needs, and surely I didn’t mean to make you feel like a burden, did I? Many of the things you wanted made me uncomfortable, nauseous sometimes, but I forced myself to do most of them at least once. You could see I wasn’t even making an effort, and then you did the forcing. I believed you when you told me I was selfish and should try harder. You said I had to fix what was wrong with me, so I went to therapy and started antidepressants, until you made me stop. The meds affected my sex drive; the therapist made me look at you differently. Then I discovered another flaw in myself before you could even mention it: I could HATE—I could feel fury and terror at the same time. I could not be sure if you were lying or I was, but the stories didn’t add up. You would tell me I had done things I knew I hadn’t done or tell me you hadn’t done things I’d watched you do with my own unblindfolded eyes. I would sob sometimes, unable to decide if I believed you, who seemed so convincing, or me, who at times admittedly sounded a bit hysterical. I jumped out of your car late one night and ran until my face was covered in snot and tears—that was not the mark of a sane woman. I imagined killing myself or driving away forever. Everyone would be better off without me; I was either a horrible person or insane. I hated myself with a passion I’d never felt for anything. You held up a distorted mirror and offered me both the agony of torture and the knowledge that you were there with me anyway, despite my many failings. I would never survive without you to prop me up, to hide my deficiencies from others. Sometimes I couldn’t take any more, my angry words like flames lashing out to burn you, but you were an icy sculpture only thawing to scream at me, eyebrows together, German accent stronger than ever. You never hit me, so I couldn’t complain. I slapped you once, after you loomed over me as I huddled on the bottom step, crying, while you screamed, “You are a lazy cunt” over and over. I had Lyme disease. I was on my third month of burning fevers, pain in every joint, thinking I would die and leave my son—with you??— and I had not mopped the floor to your satisfaction. After minutes (years? decades?) I stood and slapped you hard across the face. Hated myself for it immediately. Every single time I tried to defend myself I went about it the wrong way. But you looked so excited! “You’re insane!” you yelled. “I should call the police!” I sobbed harder, thinking you could just kill me; death would be better. I knew this was a story you would tell your next girlfriend. Like you told me about your ex, your crazy ex, throwing frames down these same stairs, or breaking the closet doors, or running from your car. Why had I not listened more closely to those stories? You had not even bothered to find a new nickname for me; she and I were both “bumblebee.” I begged you to forgive me for the slap, to tell no one. You told me you would need to think about it, and you would give me your decision in a few days. You liked to do that when I made mistakes. Days with me tiptoeing even more deftly than usual seemed to fill you with joy, or the closest thing you got to it. God, I hated myself for that slap, for stepping on the scale, for the times I’d begged you, sobbing, not to make me do something from your spreadsheet, for the beers I drank to help me overlook the fact that you’d answered my tears with an ultimatum: if I didn’t do it—NOW—my son and I would be homeless. I had gotten so good at walking on eggshells, I’d forgotten I’d ever had a floor not littered with them.
Melanie and her son live with their cats in a peaceful home in South Carolina, where there are no eggshells on the floor. She’s working on a psychology degree and plans on becoming a therapist specializing in trauma and abuse recovery.