by Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter
A. The restraining order must have hurt him. I can’t say that he never hit her, because only
the two of them will ever really know, but I want to believe he didn’t. The man I know
would throw words when angry at a woman, not his fists. The man I know, the dog
lover, was trained better than that. I think she made it all up.
1. I remember sitting at the bar, alone with him, right after things ended between
them. He was in an achy state of shock, the kind that you notice first in
someone’s shoulders, and then in their limbs, the way they drag behind, like
an afterthought. He was never a happy man, not in the seven or so years I’d
known him, yet he’d never looked so fragile and wounded. He’d made plans,
but they weren’t hers.
2. She’d confided in me, a few months earlier, over cheap tequila shots, that she
was going to leave him. He wasn’t going anywhere, said the petite blonde
with the underside of her hair dyed black. Her two-toned coiffe always
brought about images in my head of a young Cruella de Vil. He was rotting
in this small town, she thought. She glanced at him from across the bar, and
he half-smiled at us, naively, not knowing her plot. She wanted something
more, she claimed. I was unaware at that moment that something more meant
a wealthy man twice her age.
3. For a while, after it ended, we could all still be in the same room, both
emotionally and legally. Then she told her bosses at the bar that he beat her.
Once you tell a lie like that there is no un-telling it. I can picture the look in
his eyes when we left his house one night to go to the bar he wasn’t allowed
at, to see a girl he wasn’t allowed to be near. It was the same look Gunner,
his dog, gives when someone left the house. His large, glossy, brown eyes
held more sadness than usual. They looked heavy, droopy, as if the pupils
alone might weigh enough to sink him. I’ve always been drawn to men with
sad eyes, and I think that may have been the moment, after seven years of
friendship, in which I first noticed him.
B. I can remember being four years old at my aunt’s house one Saturday morning. My
cousin Matt, who was only a few months younger, and I were playing videogames on the
TV in the living room, lying on our stomachs across the matted, brown, shag carpeting in
which potato chip crumbs loved to hide. My former uncle, my aunt’s ex-husband, was
screaming, as was usual on these Saturday visits to their house. She’d overcooked his
bacon, or a similar complaint. I watched as he grabbed her by the throat, his thumb and
pointer finger resting on opposite sides beneath the angles of her lower jaw, and pushed
her up against the wall. Matt closed his eyes, and his unusually long eyelashes fluttered
as though he were the one who was being choked. It took almost ten years before I
told anyone about what I saw that day. It was impossible not to notice the bruises, the
turtlenecks, and the sunglasses my aunt wore, but everyone pretended, so I pretended too.
4. That was a different story. That was a different man. I tell myself he’s not
the battering kind. I’ve seen his head split open, his eyes blackened from bar
fights, but that is different too. I’ve talked him out of skirmishes with other
men, the testosterone in him bubbling, like heated molecules moving quicker
and quicker, needing space to expand, ready to pop. I step between him and
these men, because he wouldn’t hit me, I tell myself.
C. At four years old, on the set of a commercial for a drugstore chain that I was cast to
act in, I learned from a woman doing my makeup the best ways to cover up a black eye.
I’d fallen out of a friend’s wagon a few days before, outside of my aunt’s house, while
she was supposed to be watching me. She spent a lot of time in bed crying when she
was supposed to be watching me. On set, the director asked a lot of questions, trying to
ensure that I hadn’t been abused.
5. A couple weeks ago he, along with two mutual friends, spent the night at my
apartment. One friend passed out on the still-folded-up futon, the other fell
asleep sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of rum in his hands, and this
man, the one of whom I’ve been speaking, slept in my bed, clothed only in
boxer briefs and a T-shirt. As we listened to our friends snore loudly and in
unmistakable harmony from the next room, drunkenly giggling, he gently
draped his arms and legs over me. I could feel, up against my pajama covered
behind, the distinctive shape, occasionally throbbing, of what lie beneath
the cotton and elastic of his underwear. That night, as I lay in his foreign
embrace, I entertained fantasies of this man grabbing my wrists, forcing them
above my head or behind my back, and roughly having his way with me. I
wanted to be thrown to the ground, violently, yet passionately pushed and
squeezed in the heat of the moment. But that didn’t happen. He just held
me, perhaps scared once again to be sharing a bed with a woman. I’d always
assumed, correctly, that his bark was bigger than his bite, yet I wanted nothing
more than to be bitten.
About Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter
Caitlynn Martinez-McWhorter, a native of the Chicago suburbs, is an MFA candidate in Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago where she also teaches First Year Writing. Her essays have appeared in Sugar Mule Literary Magazine and The North Branch. She can do a one-handed pushup, has potty trained a wombat, and owns over 200 pairs of shoes.