content warning: domestic violence
It was Valentines’ Day. I hadn’t slept properly in at least a week. Only the few people closest to me had any idea what was going on, and I had my class to teach. A few of my students had significant others with them and I felt really honored to be part of their celebrations. I also felt really alienated from these people I love who had no idea that my life was falling apart, that I was sick with dread over returning home. I think I read them my favorite passage from C.S. Lewis.
After they’d all gone I stopped at Whole Foods. I probably got myself some sort of treat, but I can’t remember that. What I can remember very clearly is my concern for my spouse. I got him a frozen pizza (which I don’t like, but he does), his favorite chocolate bar, and a modest bouquet to put on the kitchen table. I thought having those things would be comforting. Pulling up to the house, I half hoped he wouldn’t be there at all and my heart sank when I saw his Jeep in the driveway. I went to the kitchen, put out the flowers and fed my cat, then I could hear music begin to play upstairs. I went to the stairs and asked if he’d like me to heat up the pizza for him. No. I sat on the kitchen floor and held Kira and cried, then it occurred to me what the music was; the playlist from our wedding night. I felt my eyes widen as I sobbed into my hands, not sure whether he was doing this to torture me or himself or both of us. I could hear the music grow louder, footsteps on the stairs–I wiped my face and stood up, tense, heart pounding. My husband, a recovered alcoholic, stalked past me, went to the liquor cabinet, selected a bottle of whiskey and walked away.
Oh my god. That’s really bad. I’ve just broken up with him. I can’t engage with him over his choices. I stand in the kitchen, my chest tight, swimming in grief and agony. It’s Valentines’ Day. There is nobody I can call, nobody I can talk to, nothing I can do to salvage this until tomorrow. I have to get through the night, then I can get out of the house again.
I collect my cat, go upstairs and close us in my tiny office, lay on the bed I got used from a friend over ten years earlier. It’s familiar but painful to sleep on. Bryan has back problems, so I’ve relinquished the bed we bought together for him. The door opens and Bryan teeters in the door frame, visibly inebriated. He holds the bottle, sits on the floor and reminds me between long drinks how we used to be happy together. Pontificates about how everyone always leaves. I cry. I think he cries. What I most remember is my uneasiness about what might happen when he’s drunk, how this little room is the only retreat I have and how he’s occupying my space when I am suffering, demanding that I attend to his suffering.
This Valentines’ Day my compassion has been properly redirected; I attend with ferocity to treating myself with great love and tenderness. I’ve gotten flowers for the bedroom where I sleep, flowers for my car, a nice bottle of Montepulciano, a chocolate dessert, my favorite cheese. I went to PT in the late morning; I’m finally clear to run. In a few hours I’ll be heading to the trail to give myself exactly what I want: a (short) trail run and a picnic in the woods, complete with candles and wine.
I try not to give a shit that there’s no man to do these things with me, that I’ve exhibited a stunning proclivity to attract men who are either abusive or unavailable. I don’t believe I know what the love of a good man feels like, I might never know. I’m bitter about it. And I can make do–I know what I want, and I can give it to myself. Who would want to spend Valentines’ Day outside, eating on the ground? Who would be patient enough to be with me for the emotional challenge of a first run after the most significant injury of my life? Who would love me now? I will; I will do the best I can.