“He really is trying to find a job.” They were words she had spoken countless times before. Her fiancé, was on parole and had to get a job to avoid going back to prison. She wasn’t lying, not when she had pleaded with his parole officer, or his family, or even his friends to have a little more faith in him. He really was trying to find a job. Every evening, he came back into the house, exhausted and frustrated, and scared that he would be sent back to prison after hours of pleading and begging with businessmen to give him a job, any job.
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do.” He hung his head as the words flowed through the stiff stale air in the one bedroom apartment they shared to find the ears of his fiancé, as she reviewed notes for an upcoming test. She looked up at him to gauge the amount of support he needed, set her work aside and opened her arms. She was always setting things aside for him.
“Everybody wants me to go back to prison but me and you,” he growled, still angry, nestled in her skin.
“I won’t let them take you from me again, okay? I’ll do something.” It was an empty promise, but sometimes it settled his anger and switched it over into love for her.
One night, he came home later than usual and she was already sleeping. Before he knew he had made a decision to, his hands had balled into fists which struck the soft skin on her thighs and back. As the skin bounced back, he smiled. She woke up confused. He explained that he was sorry, maybe her having been asleep and not calming him down had left him too frustrated. As always, she was understanding, holding him close to her chest and humming, ignoring the bruises forming on her thighs.
Somehow, it slowly morphed into a game, a secret game between the two of them. Catching the other asleep was license to hit them until they woke up. Mornings she would look down at the man she loved and worked so hard for and scrape the skin off his back with her misshapen nails. She used to keep them manicured. Now she couldn’t afford it and school and him so her appearance had taken a backseat.
Neither told anyone else about their game. They reasoned there was something innocent in their violence; they didn’t feel any anger towards each other. They were waging their wars on each other’s skin, the battles they couldn’t win, couldn’t even fight, they could win on each other’s’ bodies.
He was dealing again and she knew. He had given up. Some nights, she fed him dinner lined with sleeping pills and she beat him hard. She would stay up all night, punching, scratching and slapping him, watching the damage bleed, bruise, rise and scar.