His fist meets my face with strangely silent force. There is a pause between the impact of his hand in my face and the impact of my body against the wall behind me, and another pause, it seems, before I hear the sound of my body hitting that wall: the pause between lightning and thunder, the seconds you count as a child. How bad is the storm, mother, how far?
There is no pause between the crash of the wall and the shattering of my glass, in the other room I must have followed him what did I do, his forehead is bleeding now did I do that, I did that, I threw that glass at him, that is blood not wine that is blood. My body and my hands have moved before my brain: the lightning of rage before the lumbering sound waves of logic. I am crying, I think, hysterically now, and his boyfriend is shouting what the fuck you hit her you never hit a girl you little shit what is wrong with you and he is screaming get out, get out, fuck you, get out, but my mind is elsewhere, calmly studying something from anatomy class in high school, neat labels and arrows, words of undetermined relevance but definitively Latin or Greek origin, hovering over a cutaway drawing of the skin and muscles: contusion, periorbital hematoma, sphenoid bone. An explanation, a science. A logic for what has just occurred.
It is his twenty-second birthday, late in September, my last year of college, and he arrives at my house in his pickup truck just before sunset. I am wearing a green floral dress. He is blasting a Breeders EP, the good one, the one before Tanya what’s-her-face left for Throwing Muses. The air is cool but the ground holds the residual heat of day.
Half an hour later we sit on the bank of the river in a park near an old house, on an old picnic bench, smoking Nat Shermans, the pink and red ones, in silence, something I have always appreciated about him, the comfort with silence. There is a barge on the water, and he tells me about a French movie with a man who works on a barge. The light is soft and yellow and the air hums with cicadas.
When we met three years before, he and I were in love right away. We’ll get married, we promised each other, and I could date girls and he could date boys. We’ll never have to come out to our parents, and we will always have each other, forever and ever in sickness and in health. We are smart in the same way: quick-smart, word-smart, we read each other’s minds. At the time we are exactly the same height and weight. We wear each other’s clothes, eat off each other’s plates. The word is “codependency” but it still feels like a good thing.
My brother, my twin brother, my other half, my rock, my soil, my roots, my blood. We were fierce about each other: we were violent in each other’s defense, until we were violent about each other. I almost called him Judas here but that would have been too obvious. Besides, who does that make me? Mary Magdalene? Hooker with a heart of gold, at best.
There are other moments, too: Satie on the piano in the heat of summer, a dusty orange triangle of sunlight on the floor and me in a faded blue linen dress. Night on the balcony of the apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, the grid of the fire escapes and the shadows on the white-painted brick. The garden with the purple flowers where I photographed him in a purple shirt.
There was a time when I told him, with the covers over our heads and our bodies curled in towards each other, that he shouldn’t care about me so much because I couldn’t bear to betray him. He whispered: You’re assuming I believe in betrayal.
I am sitting on the bottom step now, outside his apartment. In my skull is there is a dull bulb of pain, a growing one, blossoming now, the confusion coagulating into calm rage, into understanding his betrayal, the eye of the storm: he hit me.
For some reason I go back upstairs and knock timidly. Can I have an ice pack, I say. I think I am trying to make him feel bad, or maybe I want him to hit me again. He is in another room, so his boyfriend wordlessly puts ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, wraps it in paper towels. We are both crying, silently.
Still shaking, I hail a cab. The driver sees my ice pack and asks: What happened? I got hit, I say. By a man? he asks, and I nod. Boyfriend? No, no, just a friend, and I start crying and the cabbie slams his fist into the steering wheel. Why did you not call the police?! he shouts. Call the cops. The way I was raised men who hit women are the scum of the earth. No, please, I am whispering. Just take me home. I will go back there and kill him myself, he is saying. With only my hands. There is no excuse for that. No excuse. I will kill this man for you.