My first ‘love’ was like when the teacher said, ‘Let’s pretend we’re bears,’ so, I climbed under the mundane table draped with only a black cloth to make a make-believe cave.
On our first date, the magic was already present. I could show so much of my personality to him. We were in our own world; our conversation went on for hours and didn’t ever lose momentum. He had inviting, understanding eyes and lingered on every word I said. We went on a second date, then a third, then a fourth. Before I knew it, he was my boyfriend.
Every time I was with him, my eyes and ears went black. My new best friend, my first real love, had arrived! We were suddenly so close, shoulder to shoulder. How did I get so lucky to find him here, of all places? A red carpet unfolded down a million steps in my chest, and they led to the most brilliant blue sky you can imagine. There was light enough with his breathing an inch away. There was light enough hearing his smile. Our mouths opened, swallowing the darkness. Something exquisite squeezed out of our giggles.
The clammy block of rock beneath pushed against my aching marrow, but our elbows bumped and the hard floor turned to cradling flesh. A string dipped between our brains and my chest no longer clicked with a shaky, ticking time-bomb.
There were early signs of anger in him. But, in my mind, our time together completely overshadowed the stories about his violent behaviour in the past. Take this as a warning: there are always signs of intense rage in these people. Eventually, they will come out, and you should listen to your intuition. I looked past the punched holes in the walls of his house. I looked past his snarl and wide eyes in arguments. I looked past his quickness to question where I was and his demands that I see him. I thought it was normal. This is how people act when they don’t want to lose someone they love.
BUT THEN, one day: sharp little daggers sunk into my soft back! Everything was black. Spinning in darkness! A frenzy of bells rang in my ears! The truth of the betrayal was trying to crawl out of my esophagus. An injured animal cry ran out of my mouth and my friend, Liv, flocked to me and was pulling on my arms and yelling, ‘GET OUT FROM UNDER THE TABLE!’
He had thrown a chair at me. It wasn’t even the chair that hurt. It felt like a bite to my psyche.
‘He’s sinking his teeth into me! What is he doing!’ I screamed. I scrambled away.
Liv pulled me out and I only saw brown pine-needle-like fur peeking out from under the table and then, there I spotted it: the black claw I dodged.
My bones were jelly. Only my face tensed, trying to squeeze out the unbearable truth: he’s horrible and dangerous. But tears were blurring my brain. I sunk underground. Each thought was pure torture, so slow that it turned into a stalactite piercing through me. I hoped my hot molten lava tears would burn my eyes so I couldn’t see the claw. Better yet, I wanted my own claws so I could rip away my skin sitting in the pain from his teeth. A throbbing heartache was trapped in me and this painful, bewildering pressure was my only companion. I didn’t want to discuss it; I was embarrassed that I still somehow loved him after he had hurt me. I felt like a weak woman.
‘I worry about you,’ Liv said, ‘I just want you to know I will never accept him after what he’s done to you. I’m not telling you to break up with him because that is your choice. But you should know I will never accept him. He scares me.’
I nodded and understood. I knew she was right.
But, one day, wow, he appeared and there was no fur in sight. I still felt confused and sad, but, look, here was no fur! The delight I felt was like a winking sun beckoning me out of the gloom. It felt like there never were any claws, any fangs, any fur. Was it a bad dream? His eyes were just so glossy, innocent and sorry, and warm. His familiar cradle burned like a hot iron because I needed it so badly, though I knew I shouldn’t open my arms to him.
Crawling into the cozy cave-home with him seemed to heal the wound. My heart opened to a place of forgiveness and let me see the blue sky. I imagined the breeze in my heart and let the neon green liquid of pain and resentment ooze out.
But no. I still saw the scar. I kept looking at it. I suddenly longed for the opening in the cave. I told him that I still saw the mark, still felt it, in fact – the raw red button on my back. How could he guarantee it wouldn’t happen again?
‘It wasn’t as big a deal as you’re making it out to be,’ he said.
This scar was from him, it was a big deal. It still tingled with sharp metal needles pricking, pricking, pricking away. I told him I’d try to ignore it, but it kept pricking and prickling.
He begged me to block it out. ‘Why bring this up now? You’ve made me feel horrible, too, you know!’
I was shocked with a sudden rage from within my ribs that slithered up my chest, through my throat, and I said, ‘It will never go away. I can’t forget it.’
So, he bit me again. I flinched, and alarm bells rang through my body! An injured animal moan fled my mouth!
Then I was on the floor again, dragging myself out of the cave. He was stalking me, pulling me back with his gaze, but I dragged myself onwards. Nobody was around to help me this time; so, I used my own arms to get out. I slid through my own hot, salty tears on the floor.
I was doing this on my own. I was out.
I no longer saw through a stain because there was a long-awaited rain and all the sludge was swirling towards a drain. The mud was cleared away.
I looked up and saw the sky, the real light of the sky, for the first time in a long time. Who knew the sunset could feel like a steam of blue, gold and pink flooding into me all at once? It was always here. I was on my own, and he was gone, and this was perfectly fine. It was just me and the sky that was always mine.
Katie H. is an emerging writer and editor originally from the U.S. but now based in Melbourne. She’s studying a MA of Publishing and Communications, and hopes to publish others’ stories and continue to write her own.