He storms out the door and I know he is going to the corner store to buy beer. Less than ten minutes later he returns, having chugged half a six pack and I am standing in the street trying to get him to come inside and talk to me.
The loud yelling has ceased, but my fear has not quieted. I am terrified.
That he will wake the neighbors.
That he will hurt himself.
That he will hurt me.
The alcohol soothes his rage, but now he is senseless, unreachable, unpredictable. I am holding a bomb in my hands, and I don't know when or if it is going to explode.
"If you leave me, I will kill myself," he tells me.
With those words and his maniacal stare, I am trapped. All I can do is keep my finger where the safety pin once was and hope I can hold this thing together.
I have spent years blaming myself for staying with him after this episode. Hating myself for spending the following twelve months of my life in a battle zone, dodging bullets and dancing around landmines, still carefully clutching the grenade he threw at me that summer night.
I knew better. I know better. I saw the red flags raised, flapping in the wind, clearly warning me of the danger ahead. And yet, I stayed.
I'm smarter than that, I think. More well-educated. Well-adjusted. Why did I wait?
Logically, I see it is not my fault. I was manipulated in the most evil sense of the word, tricked into feelings of trust and affection for someone who treated me as a prisoner of war. It is the purest form of torture to be filled with such intense love and hate at the same time.
The wounds I sustained are deep, they feel permanent, though I remind myself the bleeding has stopped. What's left are scars, and those are only reminders of the past, not indicators of the present.
But I still struggle to forgive myself. To love the part of me that just wanted to feel love and belonging so she put up with terror, trading it for moments of being seen. I knew he had issues early on, but who doesn't? We all bring our own baggage to relationships; some of it heavier than others. His weighed me down, until it became my own.
I am finally starting to unpack it now. Slowly, curiously, I examine each piece. I record the details carefully, making observations and drawing conclusions about the lessons learned. I cautiously pick up each item; some of them weapons, still sharp. One at a time I lay them down gently, spreading them out in front of me. After cataloging the remnants I am ready to let them go, piece by piece.
The scars are healing with time and there are bits of shrapnel still inside me, but I have no need to protect myself from the threat of attack. The armor I have been wearing no longer serves me, so I remove it.