It must have been an unbearable time for him, playing the loving boyfriend for so long as his true abusive nature lay in waiting. To suppress the swinging motion of his hand that somehow landed so perfectly across my face; it was clear it wasn’t his first time. To smile as he so often did, having the uncanny ability to make me smile and feel hopefully when I wasn’t close to that mind frame all the while having a hidden rage, a burning anger, a desire to express his dismay through violence underneath it all, and me none the wiser.
As I looked in the mirror, touched my bruised cheek, and squinted my swollen eye, I couldn’t help but wonder how I could have been fooled for so long. I wasn’t the type to miss details in a person’s behavior. While I never use my psychology degree, opting to remain working at the newspaper’s distribution warehouse as a supervisor instead, I always keep those skills near and dear to me. It was how I decided on prospective applicants as well as my prospective relationships. It hadn’t failed me before but Claude was different.
Like so many times before, I couldn’t understand what set him off this evening. I’d only been a few minutes late from work. Typically I had dinner ready by seven, but a delay with my drivers pushed my departure from work back an hour. I’d made an attempt to reach out to Claude earlier, but all I was able to do was leave a voicemail and hope it was enough. Still, I arrived home and immediately began preparing chicken I had marinating all day in the refrigerator. I knew it wouldn’t be finished by the time Claude returned home, but with my message and my hustle in the kitchen, I felt I was in the clear from any ill-will or hostility.
It wasn’t clear to me that Claude had a bad day. In the beginning, he would return home, rushing over to kiss me before changing out of his suit from work. Good or bad day, he never let it show in his demeanor, a trait I’d admired in him from the moment we became serious. Moving in was his idea, hoping it would make our relationship stronger, and progressing to the logical next step after almost two years of dating. I was able to see firsthand his daily habits, from his morning push-ups and sit up routine I never understood since I laid out his clothes in the evening so he could go to the gym in the afternoons. He was very organized but not in a serial killer kind of way. In retrospect, maybe the serial killer side of him was laying dormant. I had to wonder what it was about me and our relationship that woke him up.
Claude made his way to the kitchen just when I was steaming the vegetables to accompany the sesame chicken that was almost done baking. He placed his briefcase on the counter and his suit jacket across the back of the bar chair.
“Evening honey,” I greeted. “Dinner is almost ready. I hope you got my message, work was very crazy and I ended up leaving later than usually. How was your day?” I asked, continuing to prepare dinner and set the table at the same time to minimize any further delay.
Claude came over to me without a word. He face was expressionless from what I could read from the glance I’d made walking from the stove to the dinner table. It was all I could read as I kept my head low and my actions the way I thought I could avoid complications. He moved in slow, with even steps and a steady pace. I’d put the last of the silverware on the table, and turned to check on the vegetables. Claude was always specific in wanting his vegetables very al dente to retain as much of the nutrients as possible. As I turned to return to the stove, Claude was directly in front of me, blocking my way to the door as well. I looked up still seeing an emotionless Claude and preparing for the worse.
He raised his hand to my face, causing me to brace myself. He touched my chin ever so softly, caressing my face like before love-making. He lifted my chin; bring his face closer to mine, and expecting something different, I was surprised with a gentle kiss, deep and passionate on my lips. I was able to exhale and relax with the moistness of his lips reminding me of the romance I’d once received. It was almost overwhelming at times, the large amounts of flowers sent both to my home and office, the surprise offers of lunch when I was left with the impression that he was too busy, and I could never forget the candlelit dinners I knew were catered, seeing as Claude wasn’t the best cook. I didn’t mind. It was all a part of the romantic package I’d received by inviting Claude into my life.
Claude pulled back from the kiss, leaving me reaching my lips out for more. I’d lost all interest in dinner, hoping we would retire to the bedroom, or even throw the dishes on the floor and use the kitchen table for all it was worth. After hitting the floor, I realized the kiss was only a way to soften me up. Claude knew I was expecting a slap for the late dinner. He saw me tense up as he approached and didn’t want me to brace myself and lessen the effects of his heavy hand. He accomplished his mission, as I saw stars on the floor, shocked he could be so devious, typically opting for a more straightforward and direct approach.
“I’m not sure if you do it on purpose, or like the elaborate stories you tell you friends, but you know what time dinner is.”
“Yes, but I called.” I reminded him.
He picked me up; angry I interrupted or was it that I had the nerve to inform him of my attempt to explain the delay. Either way, I was soon back on my feet, not exactly sturdy but nonetheless in perfect range for the close handed fist to my left eye socket.
“Dinner is at seven. It always has been and always will be.” He explained as I remained on the floor, holding back the sounds of my crying, knowing it would only anger him more. The automatic tears that poured from my face were out of my control.
“Since you have ruined my evening yet again, I’m going for a beer. Put that food up in the refrigerator so I can have it for lunch tomorrow, and clean up your face.” He demanded.
He wasted no time leaving the kitchen for the front door. All he left with was his suit jacket and his keys he‘d grabbed out of his briefcase. Knowing he was gone and down the hall, I let out my cries, as he couldn’t hear them and I could no longer keep them bottled inside. The pain was all over, localized in on my face but traveling to my stomach, passing my heart that was already numb to it.
The routine was so familiar to me as I picked myself up from the floor. I might have wanted to ice my face immediately, but I didn’t want to run the risk of focusing on me and have Claude return with the food not packed up as he commanded. Once in the refrigerator, I grabbed one of my ready-made ice packed and retired to our room. All I could think of was not recycling a previous cover story for tomorrow. It was well-known I was into climbing the rock wall at our gym, as well as hiking, biking, and kickboxing. Even though I was taught, I was powerless in the presence of my own boyfriend.
Now there I sat, again in the mirror; again with this face. I was ashamed and lived my life ashamed every moment of the day. You hear the stories, watch the Lifetime movies of the week, and never think it could ever be you. Why weren’t they strong enough to leave? How could anyone take that abuse from any man with the millions of good ones out there waiting? I asked myself those questions and even now in the situation myself, I have no answer.
Claude was successful but not rich. He was attractive but not Denzel or Brad Pitt. The beginning reasons I fell in love with him, charm, intelligence, and romance, no longer held up, as all I received these days were mundane conversations, direct orders, and the all too frequent slam to the face. If he were to become enraged again anytime soon, he would opt for body shots, realizing long ago he couldn’t leave too much evidence out there of his true nature. I had no idea why I stayed in this relationship but here I still was.
I didn’t hear the front door open, but I did hear his keys on the stand by the door. I’d lost track of time, recalling the good times in our relationship, and now the bad times that overshadowed. Claude had returned, almost as quickly as he had left. I couldn’t help but jump even though I knew I wasn’t in for another beating tonight. Claude never doubled up, and I knew I followed his directions before he left so there was no reason to take out any further aggression on me.
I left the chair from the desk I’d placed in front of the mirror, to slide into bed and pretend to be sleep. I wanted this day behind us. I wanted to start fresh in the morning, go to work, and maybe have a refreshing moment to overshadow the memory of this evening.
I turned the light out and was under the blankets before Claude had entered the room. I heard him move throughout the room, putting his jacket on the sofa against the wall, his watch and rings on the dresser, and a rustling noise that was more familiar to me than my name.
“David baby, are you sleeping?” He asked, knowing how hard it was for me to sleep with a swollen face. “Baby wake up. I’ve got something for you.” He informed me, like reading from a script from the same movie of our lives.
I turned over, again playing a role in this all too typical scene. “Aw, Claude, roses for me,” I remarked, beaming with joy so not so seem ungrateful. I had come to hate roses, no longer being the symbol of love and romance, but the symbol for fake gestures and suffering.
“David I’m sorry. It was a bad day today, but I never meant to hurt you. I never mean to any time that I do but I just sometimes find myself needing to vent and well, I promise it wouldn’t happen again. I just need you to play your role and do as I ask so I don’t feel the need to take my bad day out on you.” He slightly explained and apologized. It was all I ever was going to get.
I just smiled with acceptance. I couldn’t comment the way I really wanted to. In that moment, Claude smiled. It wasn’t a perfect smile, slightly crooked and much more of a smirk than anything, but it had an appeal to me. It had gotten in, just like his walk, his voice, and the kiss on the forehead he was giving me as I knew I was going to forgive him again.
There was no clear reason why I stayed. I was a strong man, fit, intelligent, and proud by all people’s accounts; but with Claude, I was nothing more than his boyfriend. To answer the questions asked earlier, it’s love. It’s not true love or a great love, but it is love. I did have love in my life, and isn’t that what we all were searching for? I had someone who loved me…to death.