After I look out the bedroom window for her black Lexus, I run downstairs and pull all of the blinds shut. She can’t see in. But she can still get in through the garage. The combination is my birthday and I should change that but I don’t remember how. I gotta figure that out.
I check the door that leads to the garage. We’ve taped the lock so that the kids won’t accidentally turn the lock and now I gotta tear the tape off as fast as I can and I’m fumbling with the tape and it won’t move and if she opened the door right now I couldn’t stop her. Wait. Slow down, I whisper. Go slow, methodical, and find an edge. I feel beneath the knob and pull at a shred of the thick, clear tape and I feel the fear pressing in as fast as I can push it away but no, I whisper, just pull it slow.
And I do. I rip off a shred and then more tape, until I can turn the handle from vertical to horizontal. It’s locked. I’m safe for the moment. Yet I am the hunted, not the hunter.
Once the doors are secured, I tiptoe upstairs, locking the bedroom door behind me. If she wanted to get it, she could. Anyone can open the bedroom door with a sharp edge, like a credit card or a quarter, but I need the extra fake security that the cruddy lock gives me. I need it even though I know it’s not real security. What’s real anyway? My fear is real.
I take the hottest shower I can take. That’s what I did as a teenager. I locked that bathroom door and turned the water as hot as it would get and I hid behind the shower curtain for as long as the hot water stayed hot enough to shield me from the coldness that only fear brings.
I dry off and before I grab my keys, I peer into the cabinet at the Hershey’s chocolate. I think about eating the chocolate. I don’t deserve it. Maybe I should take them anyway, for later. So I grab two little bars and pack them in the car with me, to eat later. Maybe then I will feel safer.
I start up the crossover at the exact moment I hit the garage door opener. I don’t want to chance it. What if she’s parked right in front of the door? What if she brought a gun? And what if the garage door got stuck before it opens more than an inch or so, enough to ventilate the garage . . . what if I die from carbon monoxide poisoning? In the second it takes the garage door to engage and rise, I calculate my odds of surviving the carbon monoxide and I know, I really know, that’s paranoid. Maybe less than one percent, I muse, checking the rear view mirror before I reverse out of the driveway.
I drive familiar streets that look and feel unfamiliar. I’m not sure where I am but I know I should know where I’m going. And then I taste a bit of chocolate and remember that I’m on my way to my therapist’s office.
A little later, I’m sitting on her sofa and I tell her about the chocolate. “I know it’s crazy, but I didn’t feel like I deserved it, you know?”
She nods and thinks. “I bet you feel like you don’t deserve to ask him for help, do you?”
I laugh and shake my head. “No. I don’t deserve that.”
“Or to ask the principal for help.”
I laugh and shake my head.
She nods again. “That’s the point we need to get you to—where you deserve to eat the chocolate. You deserve to feel pleasure. You deserve to feel safe.”
I look down at my knee, which clicks every time I straighten my leg. “That’s another problem with the chocolate. It reminds me of the good times, when we ate chocolate together. I got that from her. We both like chocolate, you know?”
She nods again, and I pause and gather myself. “And then the image rolls, like in a movie, image after image, and another image comes. Then he’s shoving the chocolate down my throat, and choking me, and I can’t breathe, and no one is helping me. She doesn’t stop him. And all I was trying to do was have a piece of chocolate.”
Her gaze shifts as I’m talking. She hides her shock; she brings her professional reserve into the room but I saw the momentary hurt, and it does hurt. I know it hurts because as I’m talking I can almost taste the chocolate.
“All I wanted was to taste the chocolate—to feel safe enough to taste the chocolate.”
She folds her hands together. “What if, for thirty seconds, you felt safe enough to taste the chocolate?”
“Thirty seconds?” I grinned. “Baby steps?”
Her eyes crinkle up. “Baby steps. Let’s start with thirty seconds.”
Baby steps. I can do that. I can keep going, one foot after another, until it gets easier. Because I know there’s light. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.