The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Reflections: A Reading of Memoir Vignettes. Please enjoy.
Him: five foot nine. Twenty-nine. Maybe one hundred sixty pounds.
Me: three feet and a little. Four. Maybe thirty pounds.
Mom and me sit in the back of the car. She’s pregnant with my little brother. He’s in the driver’s seat. We’re parked on the side of a long, empty road, somewhere in Oklahoma. We don’t have money for a motel, so we’re going to sleep in the car.
Mom screams, You don’t even know where you’re going!
I cry because it’s so loud in the car.
He whirls around and punches Mom in the mouth. She chokes out blood and catches her front teeth in her palm.
Shut up! he yells. He lunges at me but I’m too small, his arms not long enough. He punches the seat next to him instead. BAM. Stop crying! BAM. BAM. BAM.
Him: Still five foot nine. Now thirty-five. Maybe one hundred seventy-five pounds.
Me: Now four foot six. Ten. Seventy-five pounds.
Mom disappeared two days ago with my little brother. She called and left a message: she’s not coming back. He hands me a black address book. He says, Call Eileen and ask if your mother’s there. I climb onto the seat of a chair to reach the phone hanging on the wall.
I call Eileen. Mom’s not there. He punches the wall.
I call Amy. Mom’s not there. He punches me.
I call Tammy. Mom’s not there. He takes a clothes hanger and whacks my back five times.
I call Jessica. Please say my mommy’s there, please say she’s there or my daddy will hit me again!
He slams down the phone and picks up the cheerleader’s baton I dug up at the toy drive last week. The baton flies back and forth in the air so fast I don’t even see it go. But I feel it. I fall off the chair and land on the floor.
He leans over me, breathless with exertion. If you do that again, I’ll use a hammer.
Him: Five foot nine. Forty-three. One hundred eighty pounds.
Me: Five foot three. Eighteen. One hundred fifteen pounds.
I’m taking time off from college because I attempted suicide, and failed. After staying in the hospital for a week, I had nowhere to go but home.
He calls me into his bedroom. I find him sitting on his bed, looking at something on the floor. How could you do something so stupid? he says.
I have nothing to say.
If you ever do that again, I won’t even care, he says. If they give me your dead body to take home, I’ll just throw it out on the highway.
I have nothing to say.
Do you hear me? he yells. He lunges at me.
I don’t flinch. Maybe I’m too tired this time, I don’t know. But I don’t feel a thing. I stand beside my body and watch his fists slam it to the ground. My body gets up, again and again. But the longer I remain indifferent, the harder he hits me.
My eyes finally cry a tear so he will stop.
You: tall and skinny boy in jeans at Starbucks.
Me: short and average law student with arms full of casebooks.
The casebooks slip and I try to catch them, and spill my coffee all over you in the process. I’m so sorry, I say.
It’s okay, you say.
I rush out the door.
You show up again at the same Starbucks the next morning, and the morning after, always waving hi to me with a smile. The third day I run into you a block away from Starbucks, and you say, Can I buy you a coffee sometime?
I sit down with you for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. You ask me what I do. Law school, I say. Do you like it? you ask. I shrug. It’s hard, I say. I never know anything. I’m not as smart as everyone else. I should just quit.
Don’t quit, you say. Just tell yourself—you’re a shark. You’re a big, scary shark who will shred your professors and classmates to pieces.
I laugh. A shark? But I don’t want to be a shark.
Okay, you say, grinning. Not a shark then. A lion?
Okay, I say. I’ll be a lion.
Roar, you say.
Him: six foot two. Maybe thirty-two? Definitely over two hundred pounds.
Me: five foot three. Dreading thirty. One fifteen.
I’m not supposed to be here with him. I have a safe, boring desk job in a corporate law firm. I never go to court. But a friend asked me for help a month ago—Can you help me take on a case pro bono? I said, Sure.
Then I met my client. She is small and skinny and sits very still. I asked questions to get her history. Was this the first time he hit you? No. How many times before? I don’t know. How often? Every other day. Do you have children together? Yes, a boy, two years old. Was your child there when your husband hit you? Yes. Was he around on other occasions when your husband hit you? Yes.
I talked with her about divorce. And child custody. And orders of protection.
Now her husband is in this courthouse. And so am I. And my client is upstairs in a safe place, where he cannot enter. I will call her when the judge is ready to hear this case.
He starts cursing even before I fully step out of the elevator. Cunt, he says. Witch, he says. He stalks toward me, his stomping feet straddling the entire hallway.
I have nothing to say to him. I try walking past.
BITCH! he yells, and slams his fist against the wall right by me. BAM. I jump a little and squeeze my eyes shut. BAM. BAM. BAM.
I am afraid.
But I am not four. And this man is not my father. And we are not in a car on an empty road in Oklahoma.
This is a courthouse in New York. There are security guards running down the hall toward us.
He is just a coward who used his fists against my client.
And I am her lawyer.
Roar, I think.
No. That’s not right.