My hands were washed. The taps were turned off. And my eyes remained lowered as I stood at the sink. It was 4am. I could hear my boyfriend snoring, like he had been for hours. The hours since that fight (if you could call it a fight, I think I’m flattering myself by doing so).
I took a deep breath and looked up into the mirror. And I stared. My skin was pale. My face was swollen. My hair was limp. And my eye was black.
I had been crying for days. I had been crying for weeks. I had been crying for almost a year. But, as I met the eyes of the pathetic reflection in the mirror, I was not crying at all.
His voice rang in my ears.
“Our problems begin and end with you, and only you.”
I felt my heart tighten.
“This is completely your fault, you made me do it.”
“No I didn’t.” My heart answered meekly.
“You don’t listen any other way.” His voice in my head continued.
“I don’t have to fucking listen.” My heart stirred in my chest.
I was gazing right into my frozen reflection, but what I saw were my thoughts whirling in my head so fast, I could barely catch them. More so than thoughts, I guess they were memories.
My mother’s beautiful long fingers as she sewed and sewed long into the night and then her easy, perfect smile when people fussed over my formal dress, asking where it was from.
My father jesting as we unlocked the bank in the evening so that we could empty the bins and vacuum the floors, making it nothing but a game for 12 year old me, even hiding the notes from the branch manager talking to him like he was her personal servant so I wouldn’t feel disheartened. I knew he was tired because he had barely rested since leaving the house at 7am to go to his other work, but you never would have guessed from his constant chatter and daggy jokes.
Taking the day off school when my mother’s arthritis was particularly bad and pretending I was going to watch Foxtel until my mother’s employer left the house, then her and I would play music loudly and finish the housework with hours to spare and gossip. My mother was regal and intelligent; and she cleaned other people’s homes for her family. And she was proud of it.
My first deep and real love, stepping in between me and another girl who wanted to start a fight with me over him. “You have nothing to say to her.” He told her, and then promptly dragged me away because I would have mindlessly murdered another woman for him, and he knew that.
My eldest sister, looking dead into the eyes of the middle aged jerk that was crudely goggling, slack jawed, at her and her girlfriend kissing, trying to shame her. In my memory, he physically shrivelled in her icey stare.
My middle sister crying. Crying like there was no tomorrow, because her fearless heart had loved some guy that wasn’t worth it…and she would again. Because she was a warrior and she could handle the pain, for she believed in powerful love.
Myself. Voted “princess” of my year twelve class. Listening to the rowdy group of girls yelling “you’re a slut!” as I was forced to walk up to the stage. Myself turning around to curtsy with a sweet smile on my face and the plastic crown on my head.
Myself. Awake all night in a hotel room that felt like a prison. “What the fuck am I doing?“, I asked out loud while my vision refocused onto my own stare.
There had been a whisper over the past few weeks, ever since he had cruelly labeled me a “baby”. “Who are you, Pamela?” It asked. “Can you do this for the rest of your life?”
That whisper was demanding answers now.
Who am I? I had thought I was weak, defeated, horrible to be with, crazy, mediocre and ugly. He told me I was.
I had forgotten that most of my life I had been a free spirit, a daughter of strength and part of a sisterhood of individuality. I was the kind of woman who openly worshipped the ground that the man she loved walked on, because I once loved such a worthy man, and doing so made me feel liberated. I took pleasure in challenging the status quo and doing what nobody expected me to do. I didn’t fuck with anyone, and certainly did not let anyone fuck with me. Until now.
Could I do this for the rest of my life?
I looked at my bruised face again. Coldly. I knew the bruise was but a tiny manifestation of the harm he had perpetrated towards me. The constant pushing and standing over me when I fell with a smirk on his face, making sure I didn’t dare get up again or else he would push me again. The humiliating treatment and the rewards after I had endured it, like the affection I was starved for, lavished upon me when I conceded during a needless battle of wills. The control, the weight on my soul when he punished me for not doing as I was told and my horrible betrayal to myself when I started to comply. His hateful words that seeked to define my identity in my own eyes, over and over and over again.
Fuck that. Nothing can be worse than this. Nothing. I want to be alone. I want to be free.
The eyes in the reflection were intense. “Do it!”, they demanded, “reach out to them!”.
I silently entered the bedroom and picked up my phone from the night stand. He continued to snore.
I went back to the bathroom and took a photo of my face and sent it to my sister with the caption, “Fuck this cunt. Please tell dad.”
“WTF?! Just get back to Australia and we will protect you hermanita, I love you.”
“I’m coming home, I’m really coming home. I can’t wait to be with you all, I love you.” Now I was crying.
“We love you. You can do this. Your family is waiting.”
I went back to bed and I slept. I slept deep. I slept like a woman whose freedom was so close, she could taste it. And you know what? I’m still licking the sweetness off my lips.