“Why don’t you shut your stupid fucking mouth?”
When I first hear him say it, I think I misheard him. My ears fail me these days & all I did was ask Mike to get up and help Rowan get dressed. He couldn’t have responded with what I think he just said to me. But as I look at his angry face, stunned, I realize that that’s exactly what he said to me..in front of our children. For a brief blinking of a moment, I picture my hand contracting into a knuckley stone…I picture myself striding over to him, crossing the room in 3 steps, and coldcocking him a good one…Instead, feeling lashed by his words, I retreat to the bathroom before the kids can see the searing tears already starting to show up to the frontlines for duty.
Once hunkered in the bathroom, I am pissed. I am pissed that he said that to me. I am pissed that my kids heard him say it to me. I am pissed at myself for being carpet yet again. I am so fucking sick of being the hackeysack getting kicked around from one asshole to another. I think of all those times that Alex would scream at me in front of other people in public and I would just take it. I just put my hands out to collect his caustic words, offered myself up as vessel…because…my self-esteem is 6 feet under.
I am kicked back to a memory of Alex raging at me in the car that time. We were gridlocked into a parking lot during the shopping rush before the holidays. God looking down at his handiwork would have seen a swarm of multicolored ants crawling to the exit, surrounded by dunes of white. I was too mousely-timid to cut another vehicle off to get out of our row and Alex was angry with the queasy, bone-pain agony of dopesickness and taking it out on me. I was paralytic with anxiety and he just kept screaming at me, at how stupid I was. I tried to apologize and explain I was scared of getting in an accident, that it would be my fault for cutting someone off. The words kept gobbing up in my mouth, a gummy mess of consonants and vowels I couldn’t spit out. He punched the dashboard with his meaty hand and screamed, “Goddammit, Roxy, when I tell you to do something, you do it.” I flinched, and thought, “For the first time, I actually really hate you.”
I kept inching the nose of the car out into the intersection—only to lose my confidence. Alex’s frustration with me boiling over in the seat next to me. I remember silently crying & facing out the windshield, afraid to even look at the face of the person I loved, afraid I would commit his rabid snarl to memory and be able to see ONLY that. He began yelling that out of all the cars here, he is unlucky enough to be “stuck in the one with a fucking baby” and began berating me for crying. Finally, I just began to openly weep, covering my face. I was just about to open my door to get out, just walk away from my vehicle, from him, my life….when a guy in a truck finally saw what was happening. He took pity on me, and waved us out in front of him. He flipped Alex off. Alex rolled his window down and barked obscenities out the window like a deranged, rabid dog. I didn’t dare try to shush him. I just stared ahead, pretending this wasn’t my life.
Oddly, the saddest part of that day was after I dropped Alex off at home. I went to make Christmas cookies at my mom’s house. I just remember feeling so completely ashamed by what had happened, knowing she would see it as weakness that I let a man talk to me like that. I joked and pretended everything was fine, drawing Cheshire Cat smiles with frosting on gingerbread men under their unseeing raisin eyes…I talked about my life like everything was great, even though all I wanted was someone to know what was happening to me…a common theme between my mom and me anyway. We’ve already been there & nothing ever gets resolved, no knots get untied. At the end of the night, I took my share of the cookies and went home to a dark apartment, to Alex in a dope nod on the bed, & jazz blaring from the bedroom. I slid down the front door onto the floor, bags of cheerful cookie men smirking on the hardwood beside me. I mashed their ugly faces to sugary antimatter with my knuckles & wept.
After thinking about that memory, I start crying harder in the downstairs bathroom, putting my hand over my mouth to keep quiet, occasionally swiping at the tears on my cheeks. While Alex was godawful to me a lot at the end, at least there weren’t kids around to witness it. As I’m mid-emotional breakdown, Bridget bursts through the door to brush her little crookedy teeth. She sees me crying & I immediately feel her emotions stirring up into a star-strewn tempest. She starts crying and hugs me, “Mom, I love you. It upsets me when you cry.” I whisper in her little, pink ear, “I love you more than anything, Bridgey-girl. It’s ok.” “No, mom, it’s NOT. Why did Dad talk to you like that? Why would he say that? It’s so mean. I’m telling Mimi on him!” I tell her it is an adult issue that Mom and Dad have to work out and for her not to worry. The words taste like a crumbling Styrofoam cup as they leave my mouth…brittle…empty…sawdusty…trash. Because what I really wanted to say was, “Don’t ever let a man talk to you like your father talks to me. If they do, you fucking take them out, like I’m not brave enough to do. You deserve better, you little jewel of the Nile, you magnum opus, you darling pièce de résistance.” She continues to cry & goes out in the kitchen, back up & hissing like a black cat, ready to scratch. She confronts Mike, “Why did you say that to my mom? You made her sad. You shouldn’t have said that to her! Why would you talk to her like that?” My girl. My fierce little girl stood up for me when I didn’t. I am somehow both massively shoulder-hunched ashamed and chest-puffed proud in that moment.
He doesn’t tell her to shut her fucking stupid mouth. But he doesn’t answer her either. That feels crueler somehow.
I grab her and Rowan and usher them out the door to go pick apples with my mom. In the car, I try to act silly & play songs they love, but they are quiet in the backseat. When my mom shows up, I anxiously wait for Bridget to tell her what her father said to me. But when my mom asks her how she is, she smiles and says, “Great!”…despite the fact, that an hour earlier, she was crying like her heart was torn to confetti…despite the fact, that an hour earlier, she realized that someone she loved had the power to massively disappoint her with their baser side. She could have cried and told my mom, but, instead, she pretended like everything was fine.
I guess she learned something from me after all. I just wish it had been a different lesson that would have served her better. The reckoning: it starts so small, it starts so young…