(slight trigger warning for descriptions of aggressive behaviour)
“I can’t believe he hasn’t left yet.” Her voice was soft, with a sort of apology in it. The way she was curled around the pillow at the end of the worn grey couch meant I could barely hear her. It wasn’t the first thing that I had to get her to repeat today, but this one had taken the most repetitions to be coherent. It wasn’t the volume, it was the content that my ears wouldn’t wrap around.
“Cara, I don’t want to tell you what to do…Wait, no.” I took a breath, I wanted to get this just right. “I do want to tell you what to do. You need to kick him out.”
“I’m not kicking him out. I love him! He loves me.” She was looking up at me now, the mascara smeared under her eyes made her look like a football player. “We’re just having a bit of a bad patch. I just need to try a little harder. If I could just stay on top of things, we would be fine..”
I bit the end of my tongue to keep my first words in.
“You don’t understand, Diane. He works so hard, all he wants when he comes home is some peace and quiet. And maybe to have his supper ready at a decent time. That’s not a big deal, I should be able to do that. Why can’t I just do that?” She drew in one of those ragged breaths that we all do when we want to stop crying. “He’s not asking much.”
If it was just supper and some quiet, I could maybe see some room for compromise between her and Dean, but I knew that it didn’t end there. The house was spotless because of the cleaning schedule she was supposed to keep. His shirts had to be ironed and hung a specific way or they’d be torn down and thrown in a pile to be re-ironed. Her outfits were closely inspected to ensure that she was ‘decent’ before she could go out.
It was a dangerous road she was on. So far he hadn’t hit her, he was apparently wearing her spirit down first. I felt it was coming though and this might be her last easy chance to get out. She could probably feel the danger, too, but once you get stuck trying to please a person like that, you lose all perspective. There are so many details to manage that you forget how to move your mental camera back and get a better view.
“You’re right, Cara, either of those isn’t asking too much, but you work, too. When’s the last time he made supper?”
Before she answered, I realized that I had asked the wrong question.
“Hang on. First, tell me when you get off work.”
“Six o’clock, but I don’t get home until about twenty after.” Her eyebrows were practically meeting as she tried to figure out why I was asking.
“What time does Dean finish?”
“Four-thirty. He’s home around 4:45.”
“And he doesn’t make supper because?”
“Well, he needs to relax a bit after work, take some downtime. He works so hard.”
“What time does he like to eat supper?”
“Well, we’ve compromised. He’d prefer to eat at six, but if I make sure to take out something the night before I can usually have something ready by 6:45 or
7:00. I couldn’t manage tonight though, work ran late and there was an accident on the crosstown so I was caught in traffic.”
“So, he gets almost two hours to relax after work and you get to rush in, whip supper together and get it on the table? And tonight he got super mad because he
had three hours after work to relax but you were being too chatty while preparing his supper a little later than usual?” I deliberately kept my tone neutral, just presenting the facts as I heard them.
I practically heard the switch as she pulled the camera back and got the wide view.
“Yes. That’s exactly right.” She let go of the pillow and sat up, swinging her legs down off the couch to put her feet flat on the floor. “And there was a pile of shirts on the closet floor for me to re-iron after supper, too.”
I smiled at her realization. “So, tell me Cara, when is your time to relax after work?”
She smiled back. “I guess that would be now, Diane.” She took the crumpled tissue from her fist and wiped the mascara from under her eyes. “Can you maybe pour us a glass of wine?”
When I came back in with the wine, she looked like herself again, leaning back on the couch, her feet on the coffee table. Dean hated when people did that, but it was her table, in the house that she had bought long before he was in the picture, and she was obviously remembering everything she owned. I handed her the wine and we raised our glasses and nodded to each other before taking a sip.
“I can’t believe he hasn’t left…yet.” Her eyes held a dare this time and she was grinning. “I wonder what else I need to do to get him to go?”
(60 minutes total – writing and editing)