It’s hot in the car. I roll the windows down and hope for a breeze to stir the air. The trees beside the field spread a generous expanse of shade that doesn’t touch me where I sit within the suffocating embrace of a black metal box heated by a relentless sun. I shouldn’t complain, perhaps. Preferable to roll a window down and yet melt than to huddle in coat and gloves against an equally inescapable cold. It seems only yesterday that the field was layered with snow, the drifts from the plows blocking out entire swaths of parking spots and a slushy ice-salt mix coating the asphalt where the most frequent traffic had passed.
How many hours had I spent in that parking lot, in that car?
It takes a certain power to make someone wait for you. It’s a symbol of status, having someone wait on you, wait for you, wait upon you. Whatever else it is, it’s a clear indicator of his power over me that I have spent—will spend—so long doing nothing else but waiting.
Sitting in that car, waiting in the place and after the fashion he allowed me, I don’t always have anything with which to occupy myself. It’s not that I’ve nothing I need to get done, nothing I want to do—no, not that. Instead, I am a constant aching ball of nerves as I agonize over all the many demands upon my time which are on hold as I sit and sit; wait and wait. Chores at home, errands to run, tasks set both by basic daily living needs and by even his demands upon me all await me. The stress of feeling my responsibilities adding up even as I’m kept from fulfilling them is compounded by the frustration of having so much else I’d simply like to do which is barred me, though I’ve nothing else on which I’m spending my time (save waiting, hours on end, just waiting).
Antsy in my inactivity, I suddenly thrust the car door open and step almost gingerly out into the comparable coolness of the still, open air. Feeling as though I’m tempting fate even in this small defiance, I walk around the car in careful circles—stretching my legs, pretending at exercise, feeling ridiculous, anxiously watching with every turn towards the building from which he will be exiting when it’s time for him to return to me. My mind skitters across the glossy surface of a fear I refuse to name. He can’t see me from the windows of his classroom, can he? Surely not. Even if he can, how could even he care about me just taking a turn about the car? It’s not like I’m going anywhere, speaking with anyone, doing anything objectionable…Surely not even he would object. Besides, surely he can’t see.
I make certain I’m back in the car well before he’s scheduled to get back, just to be safe.
It’s easier to be brave, to speak my mind, to muster the audacity to voice the disagreement and dissatisfaction that simmer within, when I’m alone in the car and he’s just a voice on the phone. Unimportant, really, whatever sparked this particular argument—all that matters is that I’m angry and he’s angry and I’m yelling and I hang up on him and . . . he’s angry. Such a relief, to be disconnected for once, for just a moment, yet . . . he’s angry . . . too dangerous. Call back, pretend it wasn’t purposeful--of course I didn’t hang up on you! Of course you’re right!—go through the day pretending like I believe that he believes the paper-thin lie.
He’d gotten worse. Something about me working, perhaps; something to do with my spending so much of my time literally beyond his physical grasp. He didn’t like me interacting with others, demonstrating an ability to be capable and independent and me (just me).
Whenever I go out, I must keep him constantly on the phone. Connected from the moment I step foot beyond the front door, talking to him as I drive to work, knowing that (muted) he’s listening (perhaps, if he cares to) as I walk into work, as I teach my classes. Obligated, at lunch and during my prep period, to talk to him (and only him).
Each morning, starting with a fully-charged battery that will slowly, inevitably, drain from the force of sustaining an endless call. My very own pocket-portable Orwellian nightmare.
The argument resumed at lunch. I don’t know quite what possessed me that day, but I hung up on him and spent the rest of my work day flinging myself desperately into my work—all my focus on students, on grading, on pinning up projects to the walls, on not thinking about him.
I knew what awaited me. Knew I had to avoid it at all costs. I had the carefully-planned attempt in mind, already, by the end of the day. I told him I only noticed that the call disconnected as I was going to connect my headphones to speak with him on my drive home. I apologized. I was indignant at his disbelief. I tried to convince myself that it was true, the better to convince him. I couldn’t afford to have actually hung up on him—the consequences of such an offense were far too severe.
Perhaps I succeeded in convincing him. I utterly failed, however, at convincing myself. I was close—so close—to getting home when the part of me that was still fighting once again burst free (what had gotten into me?) and I hung up on him, yanked my headphones free. Pulled over into the park as though on autopilot, not quite believing what I was doing.
It wasn’t the first time I’d found myself there, sitting in the park scarce minutes from home, hesitating and catching each possible moment I could before I had to get home or risk his knowing of my deliberate delay. He always suspected something, whether or not there was ever anything to suspect. Giving him cause to suspect only made every moment worse as he felt more justified.
I couldn’t go home. He was angry. I couldn’t pretend everything was okay. Couldn’t bring myself—not this time, anyway—to walk that gangplank to the inevitable plummet that awaited. He would beat me. There wasn’t any avoiding it. I knew it. Yet, there I was, safe beyond his reach. I had a car, a phone, a purse. I had distance. I didn’t have to face him, did I?
He kept calling, kept texting, kept leaving voicemail after voicemail. My phone, already running low on power from its usual day of sustaining an hours-long call, reminded me that it was dying. The only charger I had for my phone was one that plugged directly into the car and nowhere else. The only way to keep my battery alive was to keep driving.
This was a fickle charger. Power trickled reluctantly into the phone, at best. More usually, the slightest shift in position was enough to prevent charging altogether. I couldn’t stay put. I’d been found at the park before; it was just down the street from that place I couldn’t quite call home. Shaking, sick with unspent adrenaline and already woozy with tears, I drove.
It would have been easy—so easy—to drive myself somewhere safe. I could have gone straight to the welcoming arms of my parents, not quite so much as an hour’s drive away. Yet, something held me back. Something caught at me and tugged me and had me constantly going back to read those messages from him, to listen to each and every incessant voicemail. Threatening, desperate, vulnerable, angry, sad, confused. His show of emotion weighed and tugged at me constantly. No going back—no, it was too much; it was too late; it was too dangerous. No going forward—what would that even look like; how would I manage; it was too late for that, too. Trapped by nothing but myself; not quite going to either place I may have considered home.
It was winter, and it was cold. I huddled in my coat and struggled to see past tears to keep driving, everywhere and nowhere. Constantly fighting a losing battle with the phone and that damn charger. Don’t check it. A constant refrain. I won’t check it. A promise to myself broken as often as it was repeated.
It was dark—first the dark of the dusk that comes too early in winter, then a deeper, colder darkness as the evening stretched into night. I drove strange circles around those places familiar to me. Parked in mall parking lots after-hours, weeping quietly with doors locked and shoulders hunched, driven away by fear that someone would somehow find me there. Parked behind churches, in busy lots bustling with late evening crowds, in quiet streets. Afraid to stay too long in one spot—the constant refrain of the dying battery driving me on, besides. Crossing north and south between each possible home; a strange erratic pendulum. At one end, desperate not to be found. At the other, almost wishing that I would be.
An object in motion tends to stay in motion, but eventually with enough resistance against it, that energy will peter out and that object will come to a halt.
This time was not the time I finally stayed away. I didn’t even try to speak to the family I drove quietly past in the darkness. I went back to him. Pretended that I believed his words of apology, that I somehow was foolish enough to think things wouldn’t only be much, much worse for my brief spark of courage, quenched so utterly by my own fears.
Didn’t I deserve it, though? I’d promised him, after all.
Adjust the cord. Try to find at least some feeble trickle of energy. Sapped, desperately signaling a critical lack of power. Growing gradually closer to being fully drained.