content warning: domestic violence, weapons
I’m charging down the American Tobacco Trail when the apprehension hits. My mind is swirling with the stories of women I’ve seen posted to social media as a rash of abortion bans has inflamed the nation. A procession of small children approaches on the trail. I move around them into the gravel. As I run by, a tiny girl looks right at me and calls out “I like your hair!”
I grin, taking in her sweet face and bobbing cornrows. “Thank you! I like yours too!” She smiles and I keep running.
There’s a blood pressure cuff around my left arm. Veins pop from my forearm. I struggle to breathe.
No, I think. I’m not doing this. I’m running on the trail.
I hold a swollen hand in both of mine. Carefully, I use nail polish remover to wipe stripes of pink, white and baby blue from acrylic nails. Gently, tenderly, I support fingers with knuckles raw and bloody from punching the gun safe again.
Those aren’t even the same memory; they happened years apart. I lift my left hand to glance at my Garmin. Still keeping pace.
There’s a dull hum as the doctor holds the instrument. Tears pour down my cheeks and I tremble, hands over my belly.
No, I am running. I feel my feet striking the ground. I am surrounded by green. I remind myself to focus on what’s happening.
His face is merciless as he pushes paperwork in front of me. I’m lying in bed weeping and he insists I sign the lease right now. I’m in pain, exhausted and anguished. He pushes a pen into my hand, scowling angrily. I scribble an L and release the pen, turn away and cry. The front door slams shut a minute later.
The watch beeps; a little too slow. I pick up the pace, relieved to be pulled from the carousel of painful memories. I remind myself how I’ll see my therapist today and will have help processing what’s coming up.
I’m lying in bed. There’s a handgun beneath my hand on my abdomen. I’m trembling, trying to decide what to do with the loaded weapon he’s just handed me and told me I should shoot him with. He begins to snore.
No, I’m running. I look at my watch again. I begin to panic at my inability to stop the torrent of nightmarish memories. I feel a strong urge to flee into the woods and hide beneath a tree. I remember how I’ve done that when I couldn’t bear the panic attacks.
Please stop, I silently implore the flood of my memories. Look, I’m not trapped–I’m running. I can get away. I speed up a little to make my point.
I remember how I didn’t know, in any of those memories, how scared I was. I know I’m looking at more unresolved trauma that’s been stirred up by the news cycle with its attacks on reproductive rights and on trans people. I want to fight these injustices that have plunged me into the past–into my wounded places where the undertones of fear, anger and helplessness are the same. In order to fight injustice, I have to face the darkness within me first.
I notice how steady I am now, running tall and strong with my fear and darkness. I emerge from the woods and a car slows to let me across the roadway. I smile and wave while a blast of heat hits me. I remember the crowds in Newton before me, screaming.
Pendulation, I note. My nervous system is working to heal the trauma and restore equilibrium.
“Your eyes were closed,” Anna tells me during a Somatic Touch session, “But you were smiling then frowning, smiling then frowning. You were working through something.”
Three minutes. I run faster.
I sit crying in the passenger seat of the Jeep. His patrol cap is on the dashboard ahead of me. He pulls into the parking lot, silent. There are protestors. A man steps out of line toward my side of the vehicle. Bryan draws his handgun, holds it out pointedly against the dash and looks icily at the interloper, who recedes.
I feel all the fear I didn’t feel then but I look at my hands as I consult my watch again. Steady.
I’ve got you, I tell myself. You are strong enough, keep going–and I keep going. It’s an effort to withstand this much emotional charge and an effort to keep the pace, but I am doing it. I breathe furiously and pull with my arms. When the watch sounds I slow down and continue running. I remember how dealing with my depression and anxiety used to feel futile, like trying to change the course of a giant ocean liner. So much has shifted.
I pass a clearing in the woods where a child on a tricycle watches me from behind a chain link fence. Black ringlets frame his face as he lifts his tiny hand from the toy to wave at me. “Hi!” he chirps, and I greet him in turn grinning. I feel the pang of longing that is my frustrated desire for motherhood.
I remember a friend’s email, frantic with fear over her abuser taking her back to court. Could he really be suing for custody when they already had an agreement?
I remember a woman at a survivors’ group talking about how hard she was working to preserve the appearance of successfully co-parenting with a narcissist. She looked exhausted.
I remember feeling horror as my friend on the phone screamed at her little daughter in the background. My friend raises her incarcerated abuser’s child alone. My friend can’t afford therapy.
I grieve, as I have so many times before, the loss of my child who was never born. I barely understood at the time why I felt so certain I couldn’t have the child I wanted so badly with my spouse deploying–but my intuition was strong. I knew only that I was not capable of carrying and birthing a baby without a partner–I would understand later. I try to console myself that my child won’t be abused. My child can’t be used to control me. My child isn’t growing up frightened and confused while I fight desperately for their protection. Some bit of rhetoric occurs to me with a hollow insinuation that I am a murderer, but I know what I have done. I mourn for the child I spared in the only manner available to me–my single decision as a mother.
Garmin makes the workout complete sound and I begin to walk.
I see him standing before me, eyebrows plucked to thin slivers, shirtless in ratty Army sweatpants, curly long hair pulled back by a headband, face full of anger. My last warning hangs in the air; I am trapped in the bedroom. I feel a vibration in my hands.
I feel the moment I pulled my punch–which landed as a warning shot to the shoulder. I shake my head, restless and agitated–then I throw a combination without thinking. 5. 6. 1, 1 2. The jabs are fast and direct, and then my hands return to my sides. I imagine my abuser with a bloody nose, backing away.
I imagine ordering my abuser from the house, calling my friends, getting help–Christian and Chris, Allan and me carrying that gun safe out the very same night. I imagine myself clearing both magazine and chamber of that ever-present pistol, smashing it beneath a brick over and over again. In my spontaneous imagining, I act powerfully and with help for my self-preservation.
I catch sight of a tree on my right that I am suddenly compelled to touch. I don’t understand it, but the impulse is strong so I walk over and do what I feel moved to. I hold both my hands against the tree and close my eyes. I’m astonished to feel a strong, completely unsubtle flow of energy burst from me. It’s the kind of sense I used to get doing Reiki on clients before my nervous system was completely hijacked. I see a vision, like wet sand pouring relentlessly from me through the space between my hands. I am quiet and still. A single tear rolls down my cheek as something black pours from me. I wait until it feels complete and then take my hands from the tree leaving wet handprints. I back away and continue to walk.
I remember someone calling out during the marathon; “Keep going! You’re almost home!” And I hope so. I hope I am almost home.
I’ll get you there, I tell myself, I promise.