I can feel the contusion forming beneath my skin: the broken blood vessels swelling, spreading outwards, hardening. My pale skin is marbled with purple, with green, with yellow. I’m a kaleidoscope documenting the stages of damage and healing; a map detailing the disintegration of a relationship.
The bruises are easy to hide. They always are. Just as they are easy to explain or to excuse on the rare occasions when a trouser leg rides up above a sock, revealing the imperfection on my body, symbolic of the imperfection of our marriage. Appearances can be deceptive: the perfect presentation conceals a bitter and painful reality. But you know, people can be so inconsiderate on the tube. Supermarket trolleys can be so unwieldy.
There’s never an intention to argue, to inflict pain. It’s mostly about misunderstanding, misinterpretation; a statement or a question can be misconstrued. Then there’ll be an accusation, possibly that I’m too prying, sometimes that I don’t trust enough, occasionally that I’m too controlling, just now it was that I’m too weak. Any attempt to defend or to justify myself will have me labelled as defensive, argumentative, spoiling for a fight. Ignore it and I’ll still be wrong. Apathetic this time, perhaps. Or maybe inconsiderate. How about uncommunicative? Whichever course I choose to navigate, I’ll be wrong. Wrong results in recriminations. Physical ones.
A slap, a kick, a blow to the abdomen or chest, a bite: these are the weapons in the arsenal. I never know which it’ll be or when it’ll stop. Sometimes it will be a single ground-shaking crunch that shreds our dignity that little bit more. Other times a hail of blows will rain down on me, each one sending me that little further into blackness, into confusion. I just have to go with it and let it happen. Soon, I tell myself. Soon it will stop.
That’s the hope that I cling to. That’s why I don’t leave. It didn’t start this way, so there’s a possibility it won’t end this way. The first time it happened, the shock was electrifying; every nerve tingled with the disbelief that the person I love had raised a hand to me. I was stunned to silence. The physical pain was a pin-prick compared to the emotional dislocation. Just as the blood vessels beneath my skin had broken, something in my understanding of love, of relationships, of the rotation of the earth, had broken. But love endures, and the earth still spins, so there must be hope.
There were tears, there were apologies, there were promises it’d never happen again. I believed them. I still want to believe them. With each forced collision of flesh against flesh I remind myself that it will be over soon, and that it won’t happen again. The promise will hold good this time. Next time I won’t say the wrong thing. We can repair the damage.
Hope isn't my only reason for staying, though. There's fear, too. Hope galvanises and gives reason to believe, but fear paralyses and degrades. I fear that walking away will be an admission of failure: that I neglected to uphold the promises I’d made when we’d married. I’d be perceived as weak: someone incapable of taking the rough with the smooth, the kinks and the undulations that marriage throws at you. I’m stronger than that. So I stay.