She came to my attention in September, 2009.
It was amusing, funny in a sad sort of way, and so I made fun of her a little. Mostly gentle humor, I like to think, but I laughed at her.
She’d been drunk. Riding a bicycle through one of our small towns, calling loudly for her boyfriend. I’d been afraid she was going to get run over by one of the semis thundering through on the state highway that sliced the village in half.
She’d been sheathed in a mostly see-through shirt and she’d kept her cell phone in her bra. When she figured out that, instead of calling for her lover, she could actually call her lover, she yanked her shirt up and her bra down to get at her cell phone, and let the glory of the twins hang out.
I came across her again a few weeks ago.
Wasn’t as funny this time.
My partner and I got called to a domestic early in our shift. Call it 6:15 or 6:30. When I arrived, I realized I’d been to this ramshackle disaster of a house a few times before, serving papers and checking welfare.
The windows were covered in broken panes of glass and plastic sheeting, the side door was hidden deep inside an alcove open to the outside. The alcove had a desk stacked with mail, bras hanging from a line of Christmas lights strung from corner to corner, and a door to the house that wasn’t quite paper-mache, but close.
I knocked, hard, and got no answer. So I opened the door.
She sat at the table, staring at us, her eyes streaked with mascara and tears, and wearing a tight, mostly see through shirt.
I recognized her immediately.
But I also recognized something else: her posture. It was straight and harsh, uncomfortable. And her eyes keep shooting from us to a doorway to our left. I put my hand on my gun and asked if I could come in.
She said yes and I moved quickly. Her posture was so strange, and her expression so discomfited, I had no idea if the other half of this call was still around, maybe with knives, maybe with guns.
But she was alone. The guy who’d beaten her had left.
Her posture was odd because since the last time I’d seen her, just about a year ago, she’d had a couple of back surgeries.
We talked to her for a while and got the standard story. She moved in with him so they could take care of each other; two people who’d been beaten up by life and who’d met at a bar while too deeply into their cups. They argued constantly, but then believed what passed for making amends was love.
To me, it seemed less like love than desperation and a twisted kind of co-dependence.
I try not to judge because relationships can never be understood by those outside of them, but I just wanted to get in her face and yell, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Get out of this nightmare. Get away from this son of a bitch before he kills you!”
She wasn’t quite incapacitated; she could move, albeit slowly and with great effort. Even sitting at the table and talking to us seemed to be difficult. And this guy – this Brent – had been beating on her because he’d been drunk and swacked on coke and mad she couldn’t get on her knees and blow him.
While we were there, Brent called. I answered the phone and invited him to come talk to me. He declined my request and immediately started crying. He loved her and was sorry.
“For?” I asked, hoping I could get an admission.
“For not being a good person.”
But try as I might, I couldn’t get him to cough up that he’d beaten on her. He wouldn’t tell me where he was and eventually, he hung up.
She had no marks at all, and the house was a disaster above and beyond anything that might have happened as the result of a fight. Beer cans were strewn everywhere but they were in the yard, too. Empty vodka bottles were piled on every surface but none were broken. The fast food wrappers seemed to be a decorating choice, as did the piles of clothes and mish-mash of toiletries.
It was chaotic, but that seemed a natural state.
In other words, I had zero physical evidence of anything other than a nightmarish, alcohol-driven living situation.
I believe he beats on her. I believe she beats on him. I believe that together, they hurt each other frequently, violently, and nearly endlessly. Who knows how many black eyes and scratches there have been? Who knows how many minor trips to the hospital? Who knows how many cuts from broken booze bottles?
But there was nothing criminal I could prove that day. And after nearly a half hour of talking, she changed her story and said he hadn’t hit her and anyway, she didn’t want him arrested.
He was the only one who worked, she said.
And he loves me, she said.
So finally we left. There was nothing we could do.
I half expected the sound of a semi to pound down on us as we left, blasting through on the state highway, but none came. The air was dead silent.
And I realized that maybe my concerns for her getting run over by a truck when she’d been drunk were misplaced.
Maybe, just maybe, the truck is their relationship.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s barreling down on them, full speed with no brakes.
We’ll be back…and it will be bloody and ugly and we’ll be lucky if only one of them is dead.