I stand at the bathroom counter and watch blood fall into the white porcelain sink. I look up at the mirror. My eyes are red and puffy; the top of my lip is swollen and slightly bruised. From the tip of my nose falls drop after drop of blood. I stare into the eyes of the woman looking back from the mirror, and I wonder who she is. Slowly, I look down again and watch the sink gradually turn red as my blood continues to drip and spread. Something within me shifts, and I consciously disconnect.

~~~

It had been a long day. The drive home from his mother’s took eight hours in a van without air conditioning in the middle of a heat wave. Her husband dealt with the heat by drinking a few beers during the trip, though he still insisted on driving. He had no regard for laws against drinking and driving despite prior convictions. His own comfort and wellbeing was the most important thing. The motto he lived by, and spoke aloud often, was “If I’m not happy, then nobody’s happy.” She wanted him to be happy.

Their two preschool children amused themselves during the drive with an assortment of books and toys purchased just for the journey. For them, it was a grand adventure.

Everyone was glad to be home by the time they pulled into the driveway.  He got out immediately, pulling out the house keys and mumbling something about needing to use the bathroom. The kids, anxious to get to their rooms and the toys they had missed, jumped out through his open door and ran toward the house.

As she climbed down out of the old green van, she noticed that the back of her shirt was wet from sweat. The outside air hitting that dampness provided a brief respite from the stifling heat. She stood and stretched for a moment, enjoying the change in temperature. Glancing at the lawn chairs under the shade of the weeping willow, she thought how nice it would be to grab a book and a glass of iced tea and spend some time there.  But there were things to do first.

She gathered the books and toys the kids had left in the van and put them into a bag. Toy bag over one shoulder and purse over the other, she walked toward the house, mentally planning the next few hours. First, she would get the kids settled in a bath, where they would happily spend a half hour or so playing and cooling down. Then she would unpack and start thinking about cooking something for dinner. Perhaps later, once everyone was bathed and fed, she could enjoy some weeping willow time.

By the time she got into the house, her husband had already opened a beer and was sitting on the sofa looking through the newspapers. The kids were upstairs in their room. The thermostat registered over eighty degrees, and the house was stuffy from having been closed up all weekend. The swamp cooler, on its wheeled cart, was turned on and pointed toward the sofa.

He looked up as she walked past. “Get back out to the car and bring the suitcases in.”

Irritated, she spoke sharply. “No, I’m going to get the kids bathed.”

Before she realized what was happening, he was off the sofa and across the room.  His fist slammed into her face. Her head snapped back from the force, and she heard the cartilage in her nose crunch.

“I told you to bring the stuff in,” he yelled. Pushing her fiercely, he grabbed her hair and began repeatedly banging her head against the wall. He was much stronger than her, and his unexplained rage made him even more so.

She began to cry, not so much from the violence, but from her feelings of powerlessness and shame.

“Lazy bitch,” he muttered with one final, dismissive shove.

The white noise of the swamp cooler fan prevented the children from hearing anything out of the ordinary while they played upstairs. If they noticed later that her face looked different, or her mood seemed subdued, they would not ask why. She would never speak to them about this episode, or any other, preferring to believe that she could shield them from the dysfunction.

~~~

On the morning after the first time it happened, I still was in a state of shock when I told him, “I don’t think that things can ever be the same again between us.” He told me I was overreacting, and I allowed myself to believe him.

That was my first and most costly mistake.

Believing that lie would cost years of my life and rob my children of the life that I had wanted for them.

More than a decade after that horrible afternoon when I watched my own blood turn our bathroom sink red, I finally began my journey of escape. It would be years, though, before I believed I was strong enough and worthy enough to live a different life. By that time, I had become a master at disconnecting and shutting down my emotions.

In the same way that it took years to perfect the art of disconnecting, it would take many more years to begin to reconnect to life. I’m still learning.