It’s Friday, around five thirty p.m., and I’ve just left the office and returned to the small apartment I share with my boyfriend, Art. Art doesn’t know it yet, but I’m about to kick him out. All his crap has been transferred from my dressers and closets into boxes stacked in the middle of the living room. My little Ford Escort is parked at the back entrance, keys in the ignition, doors and hatchback open, waiting to be loaded.
Art and I have been living together for nine months. I never asked him to move in; he did it by degrees. First a toothbrush, a shirt and tie. Then more clothes and toiletries. A dresser I told him not to get. A mirror for the dresser I didn’t want. A table to match the mirror and dresser, and so forth. After that, he insisted on driving me to and from work. When he wasn’t physically with me, he was calling me, all in the name of keeping me faithful. Now he’s even been snooping through my diary. Next to a passage describing my disgust with one of his typical rages, he has felt it necessary to comment, Good one, in the margin.
I had tried to kick him out twelve weeks after we started going out and I almost went through with it. But he pushed me down and sat on my chest until I agreed to take it back. That was the last time I was myself for the next six months. I abandoned myself. Where I went, I don’t know, but what remained was a spiritless automaton that only looked like me.
But today taking my life back. No matter what happens, I’m dumping his ass for good.
When Art enters the apartment, he looks at the stack of boxes filled with his things and says, “What’s this?”
“You’re moving,” I tell him.
He gives a shallow laugh and shakes his head. “Is this about last night? Oh, Theresa, you’re so silly.” He reaches for me over the boxes but I back away.
Art folds his arms over his chest, cocks his head and regards me as if I’m a fascinating but obviously deranged mental patient. “I think you’re blowing this out of proportion,” he says.
“No, I’m not,” I tell him. “I want you out of here.”
When Art realizes I’m serious, his face turns crimson. “You’re nothing but a stupid whore!” he yells.
He calls me this so often, it’s become a cliché. “Slut” runs a close second. I just block out the words when he says them because they’re so untrue, they’re meaningless. And really, what defense do I have? You’re a whore. No, I’m not. Yes, you are. No, I’m not. Fighting with him gets me nowhere.
So I will never be able to explain why this time the word makes me lunge at him, swinging so wildly that my fist seems to pull me through the air. Art flinches and turns his head, so I only graze his lips and chin. Still, my knuckles leave blotchy pink marks. From the look on his face, I can’t tell whether he’s shocked or pleased.
“Don’t worry,” he smirks. “I won’t hit you back.”
I start bawling. I’m so disappointed that I didn’t break his nose or at least knock out a tooth. “You’re goddam right you won’t!” My voice breaks. “I’m not taking any more shit from you. Now get out!”
For the next five hours, we argue and scream. Do I really need to tell you what we said? Watch a few episodes of Cops and you’ll get the general idea.
When Art shows no signs of budging, I begin to hate him so much that I can think of nothing else but how much I want to kill him. I’ve had dreams about hurting him, disturbing dreams in which I strangle him with a belt. I twist and twist the belt so tight, his neck is reduced to the size of a straw and his head flops to one side. But he still won’t die, so I have to shove his head in the toilet and drown him.
Now my desire to strangle him is so overpowering, I watch my hands—my real hands—reach for his throat. Do it, a voice inside whispers. I know with absolute clarity that once I start choking him, I’ll never be able to stop. But then I have a vision of his lifeless body slumped onto my floor and I think, What am I doing? The thing is, I want the pleasure of killing him, but I don’t necessarily want him dead.
This is insane. He’s infected me with his violence and now I’m turning into him. The realization is so revolting that I want to shriek and tear off my own skin.
I take my hands from Art’s throat, grab the bedroom doorway and beat my head against it as hard as I can.
Art loves it; he starts laughing and does several “instant replays” of me banging my head. Doesn’t he care that I almost tried to kill him? Then I start laughing too, and we’re both bent over, holding our stomachs and pointing to each other as we giggle and howl. My bones feel all rubbery and my breath comes in sobs.
Panting, I sit down on the bed. Art relaxes against the doorway. “You don’t really want me to move out,” he says when he’s caught his breath.
“Yes, I do,” I say. I don’t care if he’s nice to me. I don’t care if he gets the counseling I’ve been asking him to for months. I’m sick of this whole thing and I just want it to be over.
Art can’t believe it. His eyes dart around the room. I see a muscle twitching in his cheek, and I can practically hear the wheels turning in his head. “You wouldn’t do that to me.”
“You did this to yourself,” I tell him.
The way his eyes go dark and the color drains from his face is frightening. He charges at me, fist raised. I lean back on the bed and he stops, struggling either to keep himself from hitting me, or to decide where he wants to most. In the end, he strikes me, open-handed, on the thigh. Almost immediately, a red imprint of his hand wells up on my skin.
I look at my leg, look back at him. Whatever fear I had of him is gone. All that’s left is contempt.
Art falls to his knees, sobbing into his hands. “Oh, God, this is bad. This is really bad!” He crawls over and gingerly touches my leg. “I’m sorry! Please—don’t look at me like that! Why are you looking at me like that?”
The answer is obvious. He gets up, walks forlornly to the bed. In a small voice, he says, “I’ll rent a truck tomorrow.”
He lies down on the mattress, curls up on his side and doesn’t move again. Exhausted, I lie down next to him and lose myself to unconsciousness. While the two of us sleep, my car waits outside, doors flung open, ready to go at a moment’s notice.