*Friendly advisory: domestic abuse*
I’m an assistant manager working the graveyard shift. Every night I organize the aisles, count the cigarettes, stock the cooler. They hired Gary to help me out; to take care of customers and clean the store while I make orders and reconcile the register. An assistant for the assistant. Gary is an old Harley guy who will smile when I ask him to make the coffee and call me a bitch once I’ve turned my back. He is a man who whose ego is easily bruised, so I humor him the way all women have learned to humor men. I play distraught by tasks so that he can think he is saving me rather than taking orders from me. If he can portray not just daddy, but sexy, virulent daddy, he is temporarily soothed, and I can get my work done. If he catches any whiff of actual competence from me, it’s back to calling me bitch.
We are in the middle of this humiliating dance when a neighbor calls to say she saw my Ex climbing into the bedroom window of my apartment. I cradle the phone with my shoulder, watching Gary’s face grow red as he takes apart the nacho cheese dispenser, angry at doing women’s work, I suppose. His fingers leave cheese prints all over the steel counter, the nacho trays, the backroom sink. Like a little boy waging petty revenge against his mother.
I thank my neighbor and hang up. I’m sure my own face is raging red now, thinking of my ex, sitting in my apartment. Waiting. Maybe with the T.V. on. Maybe smoking my pot. The fucker.
“Gary, I have to run to my house,” I say. “You are gonna have to do the rest of this yourself.”
Bitch, I’m sure I hear as the glass doors swoosh shut behind me.
How could I have fucked this guy, this asshole. Sitting on my couch. Watching my T.V. Smoking my pot. How could I have let him move in with me. What was I thinking? Things are going well, so let’s throw a bomb into the mix. And he is a bomb; a dirty bomb ready to spray chunks of metal and hatred onto anyone standing in the path of his kamikaze suicide. And here I chose to be the one standing in the blast range.
There are half-eaten nachos on his lap. Nachos from my store. A greasy drop of cheese hangs from an arrogant grin. He knows. He knows he’s pushed me too far, and he likes the feeling. I reach for the tray; I want to spill that shit all over his weasel dick. But he is faster than me, up and over the coffee table; shoving me against the wall before I can even begin my tirade. He’s been ready, waiting for this moment, who knows for how long. Maybe forever.
I fight back at first. I bite his arm when he throws me to the carpet. He grinds my face so far into the beige shag that I can taste the litter my cat trails into every room. I struggle, but he isn’t just angry, he’s crying, wailing, waging war against demons much bigger, much older than our measly affair.
I go as slack as I can; I will wait him out. I will let him call me dyke and bitch and cunt and whore. I will stay as silent as can be. His hands wrap around my throat, holding on for dear life, repeating like a prayer: “I hope I gave you AIDS.” We are frozen in our embrace until the cops come banging on the door.
Only drunks get put in holding cells. The rest of us sit on the kind of plastic seats that plague DMV’s or waiting rooms. A sort of purgatory where time is suspended, and you are left with only your dark thoughts and your stupidity to keep you company. The walls are white, and there are no clocks. There are no windows, and there are no friends. We wait. For our mug shots. For our fingerprints. For our onesies the color of processed cheese.
The cop that arrested me was apologetic. The domestic violence laws in Colorado, he tsked. When I gave him the weed from my back pocket, he seemed to care for me a little less. When I said I lived alone, paid my own rent, and the fucker over there broke in, his face grew stoic. When I admitted those were my teeth marks on that asshole’s arm—but I was defending myself!—he took my tears as supreme female manipulation. In the eyes of the police officer, we are both culpable. He will let the system sort it out.
It’s not my first time in this place. It’s not my last. There will be many more times than this one where I will undress in front of someone I’d rather not. I’ll try to look tough. Unaffected by my circumstance. Too far removed to really be touched. Chin up, as they say.
If you’re quiet and follow their direction, chances are good they won’t pick you out. Don’t bother with logic or question their motives. It’s safer to shuffle along; keep your wrists slack so the cuffs won’t bite. They will be unimpressed by your story or your narrative or your traumatic history that led you here. They’ve heard it all before. You’re not new or unique. You’re just another woman in jail.