Tin Can

Domestic Violence (novel)

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What should have been a beautiful Fall day in Boston, MA had turned into one of the darkest days of my life.  November 12, 1978 is a date of seared torture carved indelibly in my brain. It’s stenciled forever in the dark pupils of my eyes where it repeats itself in detailed nightmares even when I’m wide awake.

“I HATE YOU, YOU BLACK BASTARD!  I HATE YOU!  I HATE YOU!”  Pounding my fist on the glass pane, I wished I could have grown arms long enough to reach James and his whore in that car.  I’d show them what hurt really feels like. 

Through a painfully closing eye I peered out of the window into the overcast evening.  The tires screeched as that mad dog, James, floored the gas pedal. He was speeding to get away from me.  He had to hate me more than anything in the world to do what he did to me.  I felt the same way about him. I didn’t know whether to be happy that he was finally gone or sad at the decline of a doomed-from-the-start marriage. I’d sacrificed the best years of my life along with my self-respect, all to save something that never should have been, something that just wasn’t meant to be. I strongly despised James.  I hated him more at that moment than I’d ever detested anyone in the 27 years of my life. Trying to close my eyes tight, I whispered, “Car, turn over, let that son of a bitch lose control. Slam!  Slam into anything and burn--let him and that home wrecker crash and die.  Because they want to be together so bad let them both go to hell right now.”




“Sharon, things are going to be different around here baby, you just wait.  You see how great things have been between us?  Well, that’s the way it’s going to be from now on.  Just like Al Green says, ‘Love and Happiness,’ that’s what I’m talking about.  I’m going to get a job and we’re going to live a better life.”  We were in the honemoon stage of the abusive cycle.  I thought at last my man had changed.  But soul singer Marvin Gaye was his man.  No matter how many tapes James had he still played Marvin Gaye, both day and night, night and day!  The sound of Distant Lover flowed from the car window.  “Be back after while baby!”

I watched the blue Buick pull away from its park in front of our apartment.  I’d saved a little money and finally bought myself a car.  Maybe that’s why James was in such a good mood.  He was able to drive when he got ready, even if I did have to buy the gas.  I knew he’d been riding around other women too.  I found hair pins, cigarette butts with cherry lipstick on the tips, and even found a pair of red see-through panties.  I never said a word.  It was a thing of holding my peace to keep the peace.

The niceness in his voice should have set off warning bells, foghorns or something.  Even the song title should have told me something—hell I wasn’t distant, I was right there.  He was never that nice and never did he talk about a better life, much less getting a job.  However, it stirred hope in me and I thought to myself, hmm, perhaps.  Just a glimmer of last minute belief made me think maybe; maybe this time he means what he says. I hugged myself, twirling and dipping, even humming a little bit of Betcha my Golly Wow, which began to play in my head.

“We’re going to make it, I just feel it.”

That was all good until he walked through the door.  That’s when it all came crashing down around me. My glimmer of hope, that one ray of light that for a brief moment began to brighten, had turned into a falling chandelier and I was standing right beneath it.   I remembered Big Mama’s warnings.  She said, “ A man that gives playful taps, most likely turns into hurtful slaps—mark my words little girl.”  I now wish a million times that I had listened.

Man, somebody should have explained hindsight 20-20 to me long ago. Perchance I would have seen the devastating turn of events my life was about to take. I was so love-blind I couldn’t see or understand anything but James. He was my world. Now, I think perhaps Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and the Three Blind Mice could’ve seen better than I did. However, I did sense something was wrong, sort of a foreboding dark cloud that kept nudging my restlessness. That man could flip like the US flag in Chicago on a very windy day.

I’d luckily landed a job working for a large legal firm called Morgan and Goldman in downtown Boston.  I’d gained my secretarial skills from high school at home and sharpened my skills in a small business college in Roxbury. It was hard going to work after a fight while trying to maintain my composure and professional appearance.  It was even harder when all I could think of was how that crazy man had beat me down like I was a misbehaved dog.  That’s what he thought of me.  There were times when I just wanted to keep driving and not look back, but fear would grip me and I’d visualize him finding me and squashing me like a bug in the mud.  When I think of the many times I lied to cover up my abuse, it just makes me sick.

 Once we were having breakfast just before I was to go to work and he decided he didn’t like my makeup. He also decided to rearrange it—James style. He took the plate of pancakes he was eating and smashed it in my face, saying,

“Now you look better.”

He was a cruel bastard.  When I started to cry it was the fuel he needed. I ended up in the emergency room, jaw fractured and with a head concussion. I lied of course, not out of loyalty, but out of fear. His response was,

“If you ever turn on me, I’ll kill you.”

On one occasion he broke two of my ribs because the bus was late getting me home from work. Again, there I was, in the ER. Just as I was about to tell the police what happened, he walked in. He should have gotten a civilian Oscar that night because he put on the performance of his life.

“Oh, my precious wife!  Baby, what happened? Did you fall down the stairs?”

What stairs? We didn’t have any stairs. What a crock of shit!

The policeman, believing this innocent act said,

 “Excuse me Ma’am, I’ll give you and your husband a minute, then, I’ll come back.  You can tell me what happened to you then.”

As soon as the coast was clear, James walked over to the cot I lay on.  

“What were you about to tell him Sharon?  Were you going to tell him we had a fight?  Shhh!  I know you weren’t, you don’t even have to tell me.  You know I love you baby.  You know I would never hurt you intentionally.  Right?”

Pretending he was going to caress and kiss me; he grabbed me by my hair.  Yanking my head back, he bit down so hard on my tongue I thought for sure he’d severed it. The tears silently rolled down my face, fear made me swallow the scream and the blood.

Frowning he said, “Maybe now you’ll keep your flap shut, and if you even think of saying anything, remember, you’ve got to come home—sooner or later.”

However, this was the final straw.  I shook my head to clear away the bad thoughts and visions of the past, focusing on what James said before he left.

“Sharon, if I’m a little late honey, don’t wait up for me. I want to slide in behind you while you’re asleep, you know, and take sweet advantage of you. You know I know how to please you girl.”

I lifted my face to him and he planted the sweetest, phoniest kiss imaginable on my lips. Such as it was, I preferred to believe the kiss was sincere against my better judgment so I said sweetly,

  “I’ll be waiting baby. You hurry on home to me now”

It had been too long since we had a night of love that meant anything.  I so desired to feel like a wanted woman again. I took a long shower, rubbed some opium oil into my skin, on my nipples, and in the private folds of my delight.  I squirmed, remembering hot sexcapades we’d had.  Closing my eyes and smiling to myself, I squeezed my legs together so much I almost felt like climaxing.  I was excited.  I crawled into bed to wait for my husband. Sometime during the night I fell asleep or should I say, half asleep somehow still hoping for the best. My night of anticipated passion turned into restless abandon.  I listened for the car to pull up, jumping and running to the window or sitting up each time a car light came close or passed by.  I’d sit up catching my breath as I thought I’d heard the front door open or footsteps in the hall. It was all my imagination—an imagination brought on by hope and anticipation. 

I was half expecting he’d come home and be in a loving mood as he’d promised, especially since I’d had a rough day at work and just needed some special attention or just the warm arms of a loved one to nurture and hold me. Plus, I so wanted to believe that things were going to get better, that once again we could recapture the love we use to have. Fool that I was I was totally disillusioned. Then again, I was hoping that if it were to be a night of fighting he would just stay wherever he’d made himself comfortable.  

After hours of in vain expectation my night turned to nervous fidgeting. At long last sleep overtook my tired body and I dozed off.  My eyelids barely rested on my face when I heard the front door slam shut. I jumped out of bed.  Scrambling to get my slippers on I ran to meet James at the door only to be taken aback by the glare of disgust in his eyes. 

It didn’t bother me that James didn’t come home like he promised, I was accustomed to his lies, but I was not prepared for the bombshell he dropped when he arrived.

As it was, I was not at my best whimper of, “Ok James.  I’m sorry honey.  Don’t be mad, ok baby?”  And to top it off I didn’t have his breakfast ready either. That was more than enough ammunition to cause him to explode.

He walked in with a scowl on his face. His thick lips were set in a straight line.  I knew trouble was on the horizon.  He smelled like someone had emptied a can of spoiled sardines on him. His clothes were disheveled and there was white blanket fuzz in his hair.

James wore his feelings on his sleeves. I could tell when he’d had something on his mind. I could always feel a storm brewing.  He’d begin to look for anything to fuss about, anything that would tick him off. I could also tell when one of his women had made him mad or some man had challenged his toughness and got the best of him.  It was always an uproar when he couldn’t get his way about one thing or another. Always he’d come and wipe his feet and his fist off on me. He had to kick me around to get his confidence back—to remind him that he was big and bad.

He took one hard look at me and said,

 “You worthless piece of messed up trash, what you looking at me for, staring at me like you stupid, I just ought to slap you down, maybe stomp some sense in your  fucking head. I am sick of you!” 

My eyes began to fill with water, as his words cut into me like a razor sharp blade. I dared not say anything of what I thought because his mood was as foul as his stench. He started to walk toward me and I began to walk backward, trying to keep an eye on him and also looking for a way to get out of his path. It was too late; I was backed into a corner. I began to draw back as I could feel the licks before they came. There were times that I was so disturbed by his actions, so depressed by his cruelty and degradation of me as well as from his cursing and bashing that I wished I would die.

 “What the hell did I ever see in you?” he asked.  “Look at you, always crying, always got your old ugly trembling lip stuck out.”

The tears begin to roll.  “Please James, please don’t hit me.”

“Don’t start begging Sharon.  I hate it when you beg—it just makes me madder.  It makes me crazy when you whine and beg. You, you make me sick girl.  No, you know what?  Just keep begging.  Keep on.  I’m about to give you something to cry about.”

The flat of his palm quickly found its mark.   He slapped me so hard my body flew back and hit the wall. I felt something hard and sharp pierce my upper lip. I could tell he had cracked a tooth as the blood gushed from my mouth and flooded my bottom lip. He hit me again in the face, branding me with a gash from the metal ring of our solemn vows. My eye started to swell. He decided to end it with a swift kick to the middle of my stomach. I lay in a heap, sobbing on the floor.  Smirking, as he looked down at me.

“You’re a coward, a sniveling weakling —a stupid one with no class.  DAMN! I can’t believe I wasted my strength and time on you.  I can’t stand a weak old whimpering woman. You know what else I’m sick of? I’m sick and tired of looking at you Sharon, so you won’t have to be scared of me no more. You’re a stupid, beat up old hag. I never loved you anyway. I got myself a new woman. I been had another woman, and you, you were always a has-been in my book. Yep. You hear me girl? Did you hear me!  Let me scream it out!  I said I got me a new woman. Somebody I can be proud of, that look good, smell good, give me what I want and how I want it. She doesn’t look beat up like you do. You’re nothing but a used up has-been bitch. Like I said, I don’t know what I saw in you in the first place. I’m leaving, I’m going to pack up my things because you ain’t worthy of me. My new baby’s waiting on me in the car, the same car you bought and paid for. I got what I wanted from you. Now I’m leaving you so somebody else can get some good out of you, if you got any left. Trifling slut!”

While he spoke, or yelled as it was, I cowered on the floor, shielding my face just in case another lick or kick was to follow. I hated him, and I hated the fear that was in me that would not let me kill him, or let me hurt him the way he had hurt me. Grabbing me by the arm, he dragged me to the door calling out to the home wrecker he’d left in the car.

“Hey Mildred, come here baby, come on in here let me show this insignificant slut what a real woman looks like.”