Content Warning: Domestic Abuse


Graphic by Charlene Wu

You knew you would never be able to go back to the way it was before. You knew from the day the side comments started: “I think you’d look better in this shirt instead.” You knew when he suggested you stay quiet at family dinners. You knew when all the property went under his name. The feeling was suffocating. His calloused hands were constantly gripping your throat and pushing you against the hard beige wall. He would cover the hole in the wall with an oil painting you knew you couldn’t afford. And yet, you dusted the frame every Sunday for the guests to marvel at.

 You were dying, for your soul was crushed by his solid boots into fine dust. The atoms of your being could not be reconstructed back into who you both once were- oh, for certain, you knew.


Before, you both dreamed. Two young souls unable to be contained by pragmatic small town living, bursting out the seams with ambition. You dreamed to be seen. You remembered it was intoxicating, to be seen.

“When we graduate, you’ll go to Columbia, I’ll go to Julliard. We’ll have a studio apartment in Chelsea and- we’ll have those stubby British dogs you’ve always wanted,” he smiled. His voice always made you feel like you were laying in a field of wildflowers, with honey yellow rays emitting from his halo hair. The words dripped of sweet nectar, to be sacred and worshiped.

“One Pembroke and one Welsh corgi. You’ll be a hotshot actor on all the headlines, and I’ll be your not-so-secret lover.” You both grin at each other with your bubblegum dreams. Walking down the same pavement every afternoon, you had only light in your eyes.

The lightbulb went out again. You sigh and shuffle around trying to find a spare bulb in the closet- he doesn’t like the dark. The garage door starts rattling at a startlingly earlier hour.  Damn box won’t open. Your hand keeps shaking. You have to stop shaking to open the box of bulbs.

The front door slamming open, you know this was not a good bulb. The dark will just have to do and he’ll hopefully be tired anyway. Stop shaking. Put the box down.

“Get me a drink.” His face flushes from contained anger. You shuffle out of his way. “Goddammit, do you think you have all the time in the world? Do you not sit around every day at home twiddling your thumbs enough? Gotta do it when I actually need you to be of use?” You quickly rush to the kitchen, wiping your hands on your skirt, for clammy hands do not make adequate drinks.

“What happened this time?” Your unsure voice calls out with your face hidden inside the freezer door. You stir the whiskey with just enough ice cubes to keep it cool.

“Said I was too old.” He puffs a new cigar. Coughing at the thick black smoke, you open a window after handing him the drink with careful hands. You must not hold the glass for too long, or else it’ll warm the drink, and he hates warm whiskey. He takes a long sip, making a loud slurping sound.

“Those producer crones have eye bags the size of Birkins and have the audacity to call me old. I still gotta six-pack even though I’m thirty. Screw them.” 

His beer belly has grown probably three inches since his last rejection. The image of him with pig ears pops into your head. You hide a smirk, turning away in your tangled hair. Shoot. His eye caught yours too quick.

The sharp slap at your left cheek burns with familiarity. While you’ve gotten used to the sensation, the same shock comes every time. 

“Dumb good-for-nothing. Don’t think you’re better than me. As if you make any money for this household. All you can do is sit around waiting for me to come with cash.” Black spit lands on your cheek, slathering your cut from his fools-gold signet ring. “You’re too lucky to have me.”

His worn sofa chair plunges from the weight of his seat. The leather cracks reminded you of a veteran’s wrinkled skin, where age gave not wisdom- but pain. The television cracks to life with late night news, the updates on the job market not enough to cover the pounding in your ears. It takes all the strength to calmly walk outside to “check the mail,” and not race out, with bitter bile burning up your throat.

It was not a cleaver he had used, for he had not slashed your heart clean in half. But rather a scalpel, picking through, carving out pieces for himself to hoard. Until from your soul the sweet nectar poured out and out and out, until he drowned in it, and until you laid there, emptied and floating away.

It will work. You cannot fail. You place your hand on your belly, the small heartbeat in line with yours. Pum pum pum. Your footsteps are unsteady when you walk into the living room but you’re able to keep your mind anchored to the beat. Pum pum pum. The TV is still on, he’s completely still. The drink you had made lays on the side table, now with only a few ice cubes remaining in the glass. You place your pointer finger sideways under his nose to check for breath- clear. Now is the time.

The small cookie jar behind the pantry wall has all of your savings. Packing a few clothes and a toothbrush, you pace briskly outside onto the pavement. The night sky feels crisper and the stars shine brighter than you remembered. The walk to the train station was different from your usual walks outside. It was exhilarating, with each pavement square and tree passed marking your distance, you were finally moving forward.

It all moves past in a slow montage. The small beige houses of your tired neighbors, the neon script of the ABC store, the flickering fluorescent lights of Price Chopper. You won’t ever have to go in there again, you reassure yourself, you won’t ever have to see those people again. You can see the “Schenectady Station” sign so close, it is so close.

Heart pounding, you enter the great entrance to the bustling train station. The platform concrete feels solid under your heels. The speed of the train makes your hair warp around your face. Temporarily, your vision is obscured completely. Just darkness and whorling sound. But then the train comes to a screeching stop, and all is still again. The noise of the doors opening are the loudest metal grinding you have ever heard in your life, but the heartbeat in your stomach beats louder. Pum pum pum.

A dream for a dream. A heartbeat for a heartbeat. For your soul was not crushed to oblivion by him, but broke anew into something stronger. The nectar had changed into a hard amber, stiffened with age and pain. The doors are closing.

Next express stop: Grand Central Terminal.

You don’t look back. But you know as the sun rises, there is only the amber sky.