I get a square receipt by text message. From my abuser’s account. For parking. Just down the street from where I teach.
The dread sinks into my gut, a deep pit of fear and horror, like being punched very hard in very slow motion. It lodges there terrible and intractable, anchoring my diaphragm so I cannot have a full breath. I draw my knees to my chest and sit, breathless, alone, and increasingly angry.
Hours later I lay in bed restless, exhausted. As I wait for sleep I imagine myself swinging a baseball bat into his torso as he shoots me. I dream that I am wearing my engagement ring and its prongs wrap themselves around my finger, metal tentacles clutching me persistently; I cannot remove it.
In the morning, I startle out of a dead sleep and feel immediate dread. I arm myself before leaving with a pair of scissors. He has guns, I have scissors. Still, I hold them inverted, poised like a dagger, livid as I stalk across the parking lot. I cry most of the way to the studio. I greet my first student surreptitiously clutching my scissors-dagger under the desk. After class I buy a hefty metal bat for $7 at a used sporting goods store. I feel relieved to have something more menacing than scissors, should I need it. Walking to the car, I swing my bat merrily. Come at me motherfucker, I think, I’ll break both your legs.
The next morning I’m not in such good spirits. I attempt to meditate and break down sobbing, overwhelmed by the futility of my plight. When I go to the parking lot I scan back and forth, surveying all the movement, bat hanging at my side.
“Hey, he won’t hurt you.”
My neighbors, walking their dog, look concerned. I can feel the deep furrow in my brow, the tension behind my mouth, my chest collapsed. They think I’m afraid of them.
“I know this guy,” I call out, “I got to pet him the other day.”
The man invites me to pet the dog again. I scan the parking lot one more time as I walk to them; clear. I drop my purse on the grass, hold out my free hand for the dog to sniff, and squat in front of him when he appears satisfied. I prop the bat against my thigh to scratch both his floppy ears.
“Who’s a good puppy?” I coo, “Who’s my buddy?”
I look back up at my neighbors, whose names I’ve forgotten. She supports a pregnant belly. His dreadlocks swing a little.
“You play softball?” he asks.
“No, I…” I look away and grimace. “I need a restraining order.”
“Oh, yeah. Girl, you do what you’ve gotta do.”
I cry over that conversation on the drive then wait for my students sitting behind the desk. The bat is propped against my leg. When I hear footsteps in the hall I grip it surreptitiously in my right hand, lifting it slightly from the floor, wary. Kim appears in the doorway. I feel relieved, and she comes to stand at my side. I tuck the bat away and her eyes meet mine.
“You don’t have to teach today if you don’t want to,” she tells me. But I do want to teach; I want to do it without needing to carry a bat.