A couple of weeks ago I brought you an excerpt from The Ghosts of Shelby Fierce that explored Shelby’s ghost, Louis. Today I bring you the hot-headed Douglas.
All at once I’m transported back to a drab bedroom. White walls. Worn beige carpet. Cheap brass colored plastic fixtures, remnants of the 80s.
Suffocation. I know I must leave him. Yet I’m trapped. He has helped me build walls around myself. In Douglas I found the match to spark the flames fueled by depression, longing to fit in – distorted self-image created through the lens of other people’s eyes. Daughter of a day laborer and a caretaker. Poor kid in the rich kid’s school. Marked with the scarlet letter. I wore those things like the Emperor’s new clothes – presenting greatness that covered a destiny filled with mundane work in a cold gray town. Just like my father said.
But for now, I am still. My mind knows where my body is, yet I’m still somehow trapped in that bedroom in a parallel universe a decade wide. I hear him stirring. The thought of him touching me brings waves of nausea that rock my core. Flashes of the night before spark through my brain. Drinking. Fighting. Screaming. Douglas screams in that way that spittle collects in the corner of the lips. I throw my drink in his face, plastic ice cubes and drops of dark rum bounce off his nose and land in heaps on the floor. He slams a plastic cup into my thigh. I feel it now. Large mass swollen in an ugly blue pool. This is it. After twelve years of screaming hateful sentiments, it is time to go. But how? I know I can’t make it on my own. I would be delighted to find evidence of unfaithfulness so I can go.
Douglas has his back to me as he murmurs something about his mismatched socks. I happily retrieve a fresh pair from the laundry as he is packing his suitcase for week-long work trip far far away on the west coast. “Anything else I can help you with?” I say trying to mask my excitement as sheer helpfulness. I think he knows something is up. Douglas drops the tweed suitcase by the door and grasps both my hands, “Listen, as soon I get back we will go to the marriage counselor you’ve been talking about.”
I try to conceal the hatred that feels as though it is pouring from my eyes. Fuck you. I have asked for this for four years. I look at him blankly unable to speak. His blue eyes peer back at me. I see a lifetime of angry reflexes that have slowly marred his body. He is starting to gain weight. I think he looks more and more like his aggressive, newly saved father and his pothead uncle. I look back at this man before me, the man I promised to love ‘til death do us part, all I think about all the years he has put me down. All the years he has maneuvered to put me in my place – stomping on my self-worth with his jokes and his demeaning comments. It wasn’t always this way, was it?
I was enamored with Douglas when we first met. He had a good job, a car. He was older, and it made me feel sexy to have his attention when he came around my college apartment. He was funny and handsome – always the center of attention. But hints of his anger were there swelling under a neatly tucked surface. We were cute together but not good together. He was short like me, and we did those childish things that young couples do, dressing alike and spending all our money binge drinking and bar hopping.
When we signed the lease for our first apartment in Michigan, the first thing the agent said was not to punch holes in the walls. Could she smell his modus operandi? Douglas didn’t punch walls.
Instead, he slammed his keys into the living room wall and slammed his fist into the closet doors. He threw things on the floor so the neighbors could hear. He learned how to patch holes, I learned how to make excuses. Douglas was the first, and hopefully the last person I laid hands on with intent to hurt. I slapped his face one night when he called me a bitch. I immediately felt terrible, cried and begged for forgiveness. That first apartment was also the site of Douglas’s proposal. It was a surprise. We were sitting on the balcony after dinner, and he was acting strangely. He got down on one knee, and I said yes. We were young. I thought he would change, and he did.
When Douglas and I got engaged, I was working as an aide in a small hospital. It was not a great job, but it paid the bills. Most of my work was with patients that had dementia, and it was stressful. I managed to score a rare Saturday off, and we planned a Friday night engagement party with our friends. I was so excited to have friends around, especially one special guest, Ann that I had not seen in three years. However, the night quickly turned from happiness to rage when Douglas started yelling because some friends wanted to go to a bar and come back. I ended up sobbing in the guest bedroom with Ann. She left that night to drive an hour back home. Ann never spoke to me again, citing through a mutual friend that she did not want that type of drama in her life. It crushed me.
The next night Douglas went to a concert with his uncle. I was not crazy about the idea because his uncle was known to smoking pot and drink while driving.
Four hours before I had to get up for my shift I got the call from the county jail. Anger overcame my body. I could feel shock waves from my toes to the roots of my hair. How many times had I told him not to drive in that condition? I screamed and cried – how could you do this to us – we can’t afford this. I refused to pick him up from jail. But I spent the next few weeks driving him to the attorney’s office and to work.
Time marched on. Our sentiment for each other turned to pools of venom cloaked in bitter jokes. I joked about how much I hate him. He loved to point out my stupidity or my weight to our friends; friends I could never draw close to. Self-induced depression is a bitch. I had zero self-worth enveloped in a belief in those statements offered about me in hushed tones.
These thoughts transport me back to the bathroom at our first house in Florida. The tile is cold against my skin. I see burgundy bleed through the shityy white paint job of the cheap owners before us. There is mold permanently etched in the grout. I wonder how long it has been there and why I even bother to clean it. I have taken cover in the usual shelter of the bathroom to escape the way Douglas follows me around spewing hate in hot breath on the back of my head.
Bang! Bang! Bang! I jump remembering the door rattling violently in the frame. I am sobbing and pleading with him not to punch the doors of our home. The home we can barely afford but we so desperately wanted. He is screaming so loudly it is reverberating in the cold bathroom. Please stop! I sob hysterically. My co-workers live next door. From a small crack in the low hung window that never closes or opens, I can see them sitting at the dining room table just a few yards away. I know they hear everything. I am ashamed. Embarrassed. I am mad as hell. We are so far from the place we met.
Our expensive home was purchased on more than just credit. It was bought on the promise of keeping up, of fitting in, or cementing our commitment just as people think having babies does – and with nearly the same effect. Loss and total devastation both financially, and emotionally. This ghost surrounds me for a multitude of years. It stomps me into submission. It causes me to conform and then it seduces me into staying in a life that is in no way sustainable. I am angry. My anger beats me down like those fists beating holes in the drywall. Beating me until I am nothing but patches.
My secret wounds to be covered in layers of drywall and paint, like makeup smeared on in hurried angst. There is a point in the story of Douglas when I finally get the courage to ask for a separation. Not because I believe we can work it out, but because I do not know if I can make it on my own. I know deep down I want a divorce, but I am not ready to speak those words that are written across my heart. I have a good job and a temporary place to stay. I pack my things and move.
The whistling of the hot water on the cooktop in the next room breaks my trip down memory lane. I eye the worn corner of a cardboard box peeking out of the closet in front of me. I think about how much baggage still remains.
Thank you for reading an excerpt from my work, The Ghosts of Shelby Fierce! I would love to hear your reaction and feedback.
Brandi L. Holder