Afterwards, people will ask if you saw it coming.
No, you will say. No. How could I?
But some will look at you as if you were the problem, not him.
It’s true that you couldn’t settle that day, though. You remember the overcast skies, the humidity in the air; the sense that something was about to splinter and crack.
You couldn’t decide what to wear that day, that grey Sunday in the middle of May; you tried and discarded six different outfits before settling on jeans and a white shirt. You remember the buses being full, and not stopping; you remember texting your friend to say that you were running late, a dribble of sweat slowly spiralling down your back. You remember catching sight of your reflection in a shop window, and wondering if the red lipstick was a mistake.
A Surry Hills pub for Candice’s post-marathon drinks; another, three streets away, for Jules’ birthday. “I can’t stay long,” you say. “I’ve got to be at XX’s for dinner tonight.” But you stay long enough to drink another glass of sparkling wine, and another one, and another one; and it’s not until you glance at your phone and register the five missed calls that you realise you’re an hour late.
You barely say goodbye as you grab your bag and run outside to hail a cab. “I’m so sorry,” you say breathlessly when you call him en route, trying to cover up how drunk you are. “We got carried away; all the football boys were there and they insisted on birthday Sambucas, and I hadn’t seen Nicole for ages so we were chatting and…”
“It’s fine,” he says.
It’s not fine, you think.
He told you once that he hated how much you talked. You thought he was joking, of course, in the same way that you refused to take him seriously when he told you off for peeling eggs incorrectly, or turning the taps off too tightly, or drinking water too loudly.
But occasionally you would glance up mid-conversation and catch him looking at you – not with hatred, but something close.
You can’t stop talking when you get there, words tumbling nervously over each other as you apologise and explain and ask him how his day’s been.
“Fine,” he says.
The tension makes your skin itch.
He’s cooked your favourite meal: sausages and sweet potato mash.
“This is delicious,” you enthuse.
“You’re so drunk you probably can’t even taste it,” he replies.
You don’t see it coming, when it happens. When he finally loses his temper and throws you off the couch, when he drags you along the floor by your neck, when he bangs your head into his bookcase. When he finally dumps you like rubbish by his front door, curled up into a small ball in case he kicks you.
Later, you will quickly tire of explaining why you don’t leave his house immediately. How to explain that when you have loved someone, when you know their past as intimately as you know your own, it’s their wellbeing you put first, not yours. That there’s no blueprint to follow when something like this happens, when you are shocked and scared and disorientated; that no one has the right to judge because they are not you and they were not there.
Instead, you pick yourself up and slowly work your way round your body, noting your injuries: the cuts to your hands and arms and head, the bruises on your neck, the long weeping carpet burn down the right side of your back. You don’t know it yet, but though tomorrow you will go to the hospital and a nurse will properly clean and dress the burn, it will leave a faint scar the size of an apple just to the right of your shoulder blade; a constant reminder of something you’d rather forget.
You knock on his bedroom door and ask him if he’s okay. “Get out of my house,” he shouts, “or I’ll call the police.” And suddenly it hits you what’s happened and you sense danger, that he’s much larger than you, and violent, so you turn and run.
Later, you can’t sleep; it is too warm, and your back is painful to lie on.
The next day the police come; they take your statement and photograph your injuries and discuss whether you should press charges.
“You’ll have to give evidence,” they say, and you think about standing opposite a man you have loved, giving evidence that may condemn him to an assault conviction, explaining to strangers that you were late, and drunk.
You don’t press charges, and you don’t hear from him ever again.
“Good riddance,” a friend says.
Yes, you say. Yes.
But how often is someone close to you torn from your life so viciously, with so little warning? It is a loss like any other, and so you grieve, silently, privately, for fear of more judgment.
You cry for three days, and then you go back to work. “Just a bad cold,” you tell colleagues. “I’m feeling much better now.”
You tell very few people; your housemate, your brothers, your best friends in the UK. And then you stop talking about it; partly because it’s time to move on, partly because you are tired of explaining, again and again, that there are mental health issues and past suicide attempts and residual affection and loyalty; you are tired of justifying your actions to people who are not you and who were not there.
Five months pass.
“How are you feeling about it now?” your housemate asks you as you sit together and watch the sun go down over a heat-seared long weekend that has been full of sunshine and laughter and sparkling wine and ocean swims.
Well, you think. You are still very faintly scarred, there on your back, just to the right of your shoulder blade. Your stomach still occasionally pinches with disgust if someone mentions his name, and it has taken you a long time to start dating people again.
But mostly you are fine, and stronger than before.