By Sharon Goldberg
The bridesmaid’s dress from your best friend Nina’s wedding, three months before your own, baby’s breath blue, strapless, tea length; it swirled when you danced with him. Nina had pre-wedding jitters. You had none. You thought you’d found the perfect man. So thoughtful. So kind. So attentive. He said you were the love of his life, his jewel. He bought you flowers for no reason at all. When you caught Nina’s bouquet, he cheered.
The ski parka, plum with real fur trim. You never enjoyed skiing. It was his sport, not yours. Once, he led you down a steep, bumpy slope and you were afraid you’d fall and break an arm, a leg, your neck. “Turn, turn, turn!” he yelled, impatient you couldn’t keep up with him. “Jesus Christ! I don’t know why I waste all this money on you.” You didn’t know either. He apologized afterward. Said he was sorry he was so hard on you. He bought you a pair of après ski boots.
The coral Nike hoodie you wore the first time he slapped you. Hard. Across the face. For coming home late from the gym. You gasped. Shocked. Stunned. Speechless. He said he was so, so sorry, swore he’d never hurt you again, showered you with kisses. The next day he sent roses to your office.
The one-shouldered, cobalt cocktail dress you wore to your sister’s bachelorette party. He didn’t want you to go, but you went anyway. When you got home, he was waiting, sitting on the couch, cool as a menthol cigarette. He’d trashed the living room—plants, paintings, pottery smashed all over the floor. “How was the party?” he said. “Did you stick your whore hand in some stripper’s pants?” He’d been drinking, you could tell, stirring up his venom. You ran into the bathroom and locked the door and he pounded on it. “Stop it,” you yelled. “You’ll wake the baby.” Eventually, he calmed down or passed out. In the morning, he apologized. “I can’t stand the thought of you with other men,” he said. “I’d never,” you said. There was no one but him. He cried and buried his head in your breasts like a sick child.
The red wool sweater with scattered snowflakes you wore in the Christmas card photo eight years ago, his hand resting on your arm, Jenny missing two baby teeth, Ethan on your lap, just turned three. Four smiling faces. The card was signed “Peace and Love.” A cozy Christmas. A merry Christmas. You were hopeful again.
The red wool sweater with jingle bells you wore in the Christmas card photo two years later. All of you in Santa hats. His arm around your shoulder, too tight. You looked gaunt; your eyes haunted like a prisoner in Schindler’s List. It was hard to smile. He’d punched you in the face three days before, split your lip, bruised your jaw. “You stupid, worthless bitch,” he said. “Can’t you do anything right?” Something about overcooking the burgers. “What about Mad Cow Disease?” you said. “Don’t contradict me,” he said, smacking you again. After the fight, Jenny pulled out her eyelashes. Ethan started hitting kids at school. You stopped playing tennis and flute.
The iridescent, sea green sheath you wore the night he was honored by the Boys and Girls Club. So generous. Raised so much money. Such a philanthropist. “You must be very proud,” people said. You hung by his side, the devoted little wife, nodding, grinning, agreeing. “Marnie is very supportive,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without her.” The board president gazed at you, slim in the sheath, the green matching your eyes, and patted him on the back. “You’re a lucky man,” he said. You laughed politely. When you got home, he backed you against a wall, his bourbon breath in your face, and accused you of flirting with the board president. He shook you until your ears rang, kicked you to the ground. “You whore,” he said. “You piece of shit whore.”
The navy fleece robe he slowly untied the night the power went out, the winds raging seventy miles per hour. You tucked the kids in bed, wrapped in extra blankets, and he made a fire in the fireplace. You huddled together in the dark, candles on the mantle, he in his matching robe, monogrammed like yours. He made slow, silvery love to you, sheltering you with his strong body, your toes toasting in the warmth of the tickling flames.
The Princeton sweatshirt, black with an orange tiger’s head, that he bought for you at his class reunion before things got really, really bad. You met the friends he’d talked about, his fraternity brothers with their funny stories. You were careful to chat alone only with the wives. He said you were prettier than all of them.
The cream silk shirt, gently draped at the neck, a faded stain on one long sleeve, that you wore the night he cracked your head with a crystal vase, an heirloom from your grandmother, and you bled and bled and bled and he took you to the ER and wouldn’t leave your side and you told the nurse you’d tripped on a throw rug and collided with the coffee table. When you got home, he lay in bed next to you, held an ice pack to your wounds, and said he was so very sorry. Sometimes you just made him crazy.
The Hermés scarf he gave you for your thirty-sixth birthday, turquoise silk with a chain design. You wore it to Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ house to cover up the bruises on your neck where he’d squeezed until you’d passed out. His mother admired the scarf. “He has such good taste,” she said. “Always knows just what to buy.” Mommy has purple marks on her neck,” Ethan said. “Pass the gravy,” his mother said.
The black and blue striped knit dress: he said you looked fat in it. The flowered peasant dress: he said you looked ugly in it. The soft, black leather skirt, a zipper down the back: he said you looked slutty in it. The wide, brown, beaded belt he hit you with. Again. And again. You covered your face with your arms, but that’s all you could protect. When you miscarried you were glad.
The plaid Burberry raincoat on sale at Nordstrom. You yanked it out of the closet when you left him the first time. He’d bought a gun. For protection, he said, robberies in the neighborhood. He pointed it at you and said “bang.” Laughed. Fear shivered through you. When he was in the shower, you grabbed the kids and drove to Nina’s. He called, sobbing. Promised never to scare you again. “Don’t go back,” Nina begged. But the children missed him. He was a good father. You would leave when they were older. A week later, while you watched “CSI,” he polished the gun. “I don’t want you hanging out with Nina anymore,” he said. “She puts ideas in your head.”
When you left the third time, wearing the same raincoat, he said he’d go to anger management classes. He was nice when you went back, and you were extra careful not to upset him. Then he slammed you against the wall for no reason you could figure and you said you were going to divorce him and he said go ahead, just try, I’ll fix it so you never see your children again. He loomed over you like a monolith. “Don’t you understand?” he said. “I’m important. I know people. Police. Lawyers. Judges. You’re nothing. No one will believe you.” You believed him. You turned numb. You couldn’t remember the woman you were before.
The nightgown dotted with little yellow daisies that ripped when he dragged you from bed by your hair and locked you out of the house, barefoot, bloody, at 2:00 a.m., the snow six inches deep, the temperature near zero, the kids cowering inside. You crawled to a neighbor’s house and rang the bell and she let you in. Alarmed. Outraged. Sympathetic. Full of pity. And something else. Disdain? You were so ashamed; she’d asked about your bruises before. This time you let her call the police.
Your favorite suit, periwinkle crepe, a shawl-collared jacket paired with a pencil skirt. You wore it often when you met with clients, before he said he didn’t want you to work anymore so you’d be home with the kids, be home whenever he was. So you wouldn’t have your own money, you soon realized, your own checking account. So you’d be dependent on him for every little thing. He’d made it impossible to get anything done at the office anyway, constantly calling to check up on you.
But you wore the suit again, finally, the day you went to court, the day you testified against him, the day you looked at your lawyer, never at him, and told the whole truth out loud in public, the day the judge sentenced him to five years in prison. As you walked past him, out of the courtroom, he sneered. “I’ll always be watching you,” he said. “You’re a dead woman.” You stopped. You turned. No, you thought. Not anymore.
You decide to keep the suit.
Copyright 2015 Goldberg