“I’ll kill you,” was the last thing our father said to us.
After two straight days of binge working to make an early flight, Maria woke up eager for a day of listening to music on an empty Thursday morning flight. As she waited in her apartment’s parking lot for her ride, she wavered between excitement and anxiety. By the end of the day, she would be reuniting with loved ones she left in Indiana, but that required a month away from Ashur and Jason. The last time I’d spent this long a time away from Jason, he broke up with me. His mother drove me to the airport, and she turned out to be much more pleasant than Jason had warned.
Maria was months deep in hosting weekly Thursday night parties, so first thing after landing she arrived at her party. The first few days were filled with friends eager to catch up. After a night of insomnia from homesickness, she asked our mother to pick up sleeping pills. The first weekend let everyone off work and thus let Maria spend every waking hour going out with friends. Saturday night she went out with her sister to buy Jason a present for his birthday Wednesday. As she selected a blanket for him, he sent her a text expressing unease with their relationship but chalked it up to a manic episode on his part.
Monday sent most of our friends back to work. Our sister Bella took Maria thrift shopping on her lunch break. As promised, Maria sent Jason photos from the dressing room. He expressed contempt for her being attracted to him. When she got home, our father asked about her love life. She focused on suppressing the ongoing turmoil, leaving her blindsided by his homophobic reaction. Tuesday, Jason told her the reading glasses she impulse bought were cute. Wednesday, he broke up with her.
After diplomatically negotiating the breakup, Maria narrowed her focus to maximizing enjoyment of her visit. Her time for loneliness was consumed by setting up her new goals for the coming year. Some she could start right then, like fixing her vision. I doubt the authenticity of her diplomacy; I think every goal was designed to attract Jason. She discovered the glasses made her bad eye dominant, and that she had two mostly independent streams of thoughts and emotions accessible by switching eyes. They made her vision worse up close, so she took them off a lot. Stuck with some time in her distressed side, she started taking sleeping pills to keep her anxiety down. The pills made her numb but kept her up all night, so she took to hanging out in the garage to listen to music and smoke. Our father had offered her some weed for her stay, smiling at the chance to share the activity of his youth with his daughter. Seeing the size of his sale supply, Maria shamelessly indulged. She didn’t understand the immorality of his business yet, but looking back I only wish she’d taken more to save a few teenagers from being recruited to sell at the local high school.
Saturday came with a string of rejected invitations and with each one Maria snuck into the bathroom to pop her pain away. She got both eyes working at once. The two sides she found before felt euphorically unified. It took a lot of focus, but she figured she had focus to spare on vacation. That night all she ended up too exhausted to do anything but lie on the couch. Stuck awake again, she spent the night replaying her relationship with Jason, combing for her errors, seeking an interpretation of events that could make things okay. Despite knowing better, she read through their old text messages to fill the holes in her memory. She stopped at a selfie he had sent during their first relationship.
As she stared into his eyes’ pixels, everything felt so unified, including the girl who abused me a year before and the guy who just left her. The most powerful brain zap we can remember sent her body into a seizure as her mind lost connection with the outer world. Finding herself paralyzed in our inner world, she could only watch as the giant face of her two exes blurred together into one. It sunk in for the first time that the two in fact were the same person. Maria must not have been there for the first relationship, and his change in appearance, behavior, and gender made it easy for the two to stay separate in our minds. The storm inside was accompanied by an incredibly painful flash of lightning with each step of the realization. The stress broke her, sending me to the front, where I made a connection: In 2017 I walked into a known rapist’s house and got my turn. In 2018 I walked into my own abuser’s heart for another turn.
I spent most of the next week alone in a dark room to cry. First I tried to assuage the pain by planning my suicide. I had to figure out whether it would hurt my mother less if I did it visiting her or after I got home. Thoughts about Jason kept intruding upon my planning. Life wasn’t pointless enough to kill myself anymore, because I had a purpose: to please my owner. I sent him a text and then layed with my face buried in his hoodie letting every sense but smell disconnect from the outer world. Inside, his avatar had become a god. Following my Christian understanding of worship, I contemplated the hell he could put me through and my deservingness thereof.
I made it to my mother’s brother’s house for Christmas. Since I had been crying since fronting, I described my life as Maria’s plans. After a day of that, I started seeing her future of independence as possible for me. I stayed up late that night talking with my father about my plans. By the 26th, a week after the breakup, I was doing better. Reading a book with a refreshing take on philosophy soothed my soul enough to start making bigger, better plans for the new year. Feeling now compelled by having lost a week to crying to make the most of my time, I began spending every minute I could with friends. Meanwhile, my diet reduced to what I had when I went out. I stopped sleeping entirely as I never felt tired. When everyone else went to bed, I went to satisfy my introverted and nerdy needs. Sometimes when I went to the garage to enjoy some music and smoke, my father would be around. He was recovering from a nearly fatal heart attack, so he was ordered to remain sober. Combined with the humility he found when facing Death, he was acting well enough for Skye and I to spend time playing games with him. Being around someone hostile to my having been in the ended relationship proved to be an effective refuge from the urge to talk about it.
I wasn’t willing to deal with another round of invitation rejections from faded friends, so I re-devoted my time to Skye, Simon, Bella, and our parents. Bella eagerly joined me with any company. Skye’s shy, but she compromised to join the group sometimes since my time was so scarce. My father couldn’t leave the house much, but he welcomed us to visit him. With reignited roots, I burned ever more brightly. I ran out of sleeping pills, but I was anxiety-free anyway. By Sunday, the thirtieth, I was able to rally my friends to another friend’s going away party at a cheap karaoke bar the next town over. The euphoria from being surrounded by friends had me undeniably manic when I sang my heart out on stage. Yet even then, I couldn’t help but feel Victoria prodding me to take advantage of my talent. I pushed my phone off on Skye every time I went up to sing. My ex had a thing for Gerard Way’s aesthetic. When I met his mother, her first comment in private to him was that he has a type, G Way lookalikes. Well, maybe the voice and the looks together would draw him back, I figured. Burning brightly through the night and into the next day, I tried to bring more people out for a NYE karaoke celebration. Nobody else wanted to party through a Monday night, but Skye took pity and danced in my parents’ basement with me. Contented, I fell asleep that morning for a few hours.
Our mother’s parents visited on New Year’s Day. My newfound calm energy enabled me to connect with them better than ever. Having entered the month of my return home, my thought could not avoid the shadow of impending doom. After my grandparents left, I arranged social plans for my last five days. Jason sent me a text, so I excused myself to the garage. We were having a normal conversation about politics, and I burst into dance. My father teetered in while I was taking a break and set a mostly-empty bottle of wine on the workbench. “Are you drinking?” I asked.
“I just had a little wine to get some work done,” he said. “It makes the fentanyl work better.”
“You just had a heart attack and you’re mixing opiods and alcohol?”
“Hey, you wanna come out back and smoke a joint with me?”
“You go ahead, I have a song I want to hear,” I lied. Still, I put on what had by then evolved into my trip playlist and resumed being happy. I sang along, attending to the meaning of each line to understand them in my voice, “Lost between nightmares and dreams, you decimate this home.”
Our father returned, freshly baked. “Why do you listen to such negative music?” he asked.
“I don’t think it’s negative. The songs are about triumphing over adversity.”
“It sounds like a bunch of depressed shit to me. Why are you into that?”
“Like I just said, they’re more about overcoming depressed shit than embracing it.”
He grumbled and stepped closer to me. Suddenly changing his tone, he said, “Hey, do you know what to do if someone attacks you?”
“What are you talking about? Yeah, you made that incredibly clear the entire time I was growing up.” I started to turn away, and he swung his fist at me. Blocking as a reflex saved me from his first swing, but then he surprised me with a shove. I flinched through my back slamming into the concrete and my head sliding slightly under his truck. I opened my eyes and found my body paralyzed under his. Unable to move and with no escape route to move to, I stiffened my arms to resist his attempt to pin me down. Starved of food and sleep, my muscles posed little resistance. With a sudden jerk he crushed my arm into and slammed my head against the ground. I lost all sensory contact with the outer world for a moment as I fell to the back of our mind.
In the moment I lost contact, Jeanine seized control. When I looked out into the world to face my doom, instead I saw her punch our father in the face, sending his punch for our face off course. He pulled his arm back to try again, so she took the opening to rip his ear. Finding pain ineffective to stop an assailant on so many drugs, she thrust her palm into his chest. Not having quite enough lift in her starved arms to launch a man twice her size off of her, she kicked both feet into his ribcage. She rolled out from under the truck and stood up so quickly I didn’t even see. Suddenly, I was watching her standing feet away from him.
Jeanine stood tall over the hunched and bloodied disposed patriarch. “You will never lay another finger on my mother or my sister. Understood?”
“I’ll kill you,” he said.
She shook her head and walked out. As she got closer to the house, I got closer to the front. When our legs came into my command, I exploded into a sprint with my arms flailing. I slammed the house door open and screamed, “Call the fucking police.”
Our mother came running to the mudroom. “What happened?”
“Paul just tried to kill me.” I could barely finish my sentence as I broke down to sobbing. Hearing the garage door open, I locked the door behind me and found a seat in the kitchen by the glass door with a clear view of the path from the garage to the house. Between bouts of hyperventilation, I told her what just happened. When she asked why he would do such a thing, I said I didn’t know, but I did reveal his history of physically and sexually abusing me. She left me in Bella’s arms when he entered the house so she could corral him immediately to his bedroom. I sent Jason a text about what just happened. He told me not to talk to him about it. Bella and I started talking about how to respond to the assault, and our mother ruled out our plan to call the authorities. He looked worse than I did, and we both already knew his law enforcement connections made him unarrestable. I didn’t have another place to stay, but I didn’t want to sleep in his house and make it easy for him to finish making me the latest addition to his list of kills. So I took Bella and Simon to the karaoke bar.