It’s (Not) Your Fault

Don’t be ashamed of your story, it will inspire others. Now…I wish I knew who authored that quote because I would happily credit them. Unfortunately, I don’t know who said this or wrote it.

It may have given me some strength earlier on, I could have been closer to the end of a healing process that I didn’t even realize I needed until That Night. 

*          *          *          *

 “I think it’s time we went home.” I say to Sam, having interrupted the two new dance partners and leaning in to be heard.

Sam huffs, looking to me in irritation, “Why? Don’t be such a buzzkill, we’re having a good time.”

My hand tightens around my drink, eyes flickering across to the partner-less new friend who was obviously waiting for our conversation to finish. “We? As in me and you, or you and your new friend?”

Sam merely provides me with an eye roll, “Oh come off it. We were just dancing.”

I lower my gaze to the red cup, thumbnail scratching at the surface.

“Ash, seriously, why have you got to ruin my night?” Sam asks, tone suddenly harsh, “If you’re going to be like this just piss off and go home. It’s so hard to love you when you do this to me.”

Hesitating, I glance back up and see Sam taking steps backward toward the dance partner. “I’m sorry,” I answer with a small smile, “I thought we were goin’ have a night together s’all.”

Sam shrugs, not caring, “Yeah well, it’s not always about you, Ash.”

I remain silent, a knot forming in my stomach as I watch Sam turn and wander back into the heavy mob of dancers.

David and Marie join me, and I notice their eyes on Sam who’s back dancing again as they head over. Marie’s nose wrinkles and David snorts, shaking his head. They share a look between themselves, and Marie rolls her eyes with a shrug before sending David a pointed look my way.

David throws an arm over my shoulders, eyebrow raised as he looks down on me, “You alrigh’? That looked…intense.”

I can only offer my best attempt of a nonchalant shrug, “It’s nothing. My fault anyways, I shouldn’t’ve said anythin’.”

David raises an eyebrow, and he and Marie glance to one another again. In the silence, I shrug again and take mindless sips of my drink from time to time. My thumbnail still scratches at the surface of the red cup.

I can’t forget the roaming hands and grinding hips. They were so close together, so intimate. My heart sinks with every echo of the memory, my stomach twisting each time I hear laughter come from the two new partners.

Things aren’t looking up by the time I manage to get Sam home. We are crashing at my place, since my parents aren’t home and Sam’s parents don’t care about us sharing a bed.

Sam stumbles into the taxi, laughter and slurred words occupy the space and keep any silence from occurring. I smile at the alcohol-induced state. It isn’t too bad at that point. The taxi driver, the poor guy, is bombarded by questions and I can only cringe every so often. I try and rein Sam back under control, to save the driver from any further personal questions, but that just earns me a glare in return.

If it wasn’t for Sam, it would be silent on my street. There isn’t even a breeze to create a soft whistle in one’s ear like it might usually do at night. Streetlamps provide pools of bright yellow light, despite the lines of the circles they create being fuzzy. The moon, however, could only counter with pathetic faint silver-white slithers. The weak slithers were no match for the harshness of the lamps, just as I can be no match for Sam’s turn of temper. Sam and I zig-zag onto the grass of my front garden a few times as we make our way to the front door, dew has already formed on the grass stems, but now it soaks into our shoes and jeans.

By the time we get inside and into my room, Sam is complaining, “Get my bloody shoes off, they’re killin’ me.” Sam groans, sat on my bed and having given up trying to take off said shoes.

Sighing, I shrug off my own jacket, placing it on the back of my desk chair and kick off my own shoes. All of this must have been too slow for Sam, and I’m rewarded with a growl of annoyance, “Hurry up, Ash.”

I do what I’m told, bending slightly to pull off the shoes and place them near my bedroom door, “I’ll get you a glass of water, how ‘bout you get into bed?” I ask, turning back around to face Sam and lean against the wall by the door.

“How about you get into bed.” Sam mutters back, shifting around to sit up against the pillows, “I don’t want any damn water. I’m fine.”

“You’re obviously not fine, Sam.” I murmur back, looking over my partner and frown lightly, “I’ll get you water-”

“I don’t want any fucking water, Ash!”

My palms grow clammy yet my blood runs cold, leaving me with a shortness of breath and a tightening chest. I pause, hovering next to the door, “Sam, come on, I’m just tryin’-“

I watch as Sam clambers out of bed, slightly unsteady on foot, and sways a little. The moonlight spills into my room, surrounding the space around my partner, but never seeming to touch, as if it too were nervous about aggravating the situation further.

“You’re just tryin’ to be a pain in the ass, Ash. I told you to calm down when I was dancin’ but I could still feel you watching me. I told you to get me another drink and you try and give me water at the party. Now you wanna get me water again when I told you that I don’t. Want. Any. Damn. Water!”

I raise both my hands in a surrendering motion, offering a small smile to try and soothe the mood, “Alright, alright. I won’t get you any water. Just get back into bed.”

Sam raises a hand, pointing at me with narrowed eyes, “See! You’re laughin’ at me now! Why are you laughin’ at me? You were laughin’ in the taxi too!”

I feel my eyes widen and I shake my head, “I’m not laughin’ at you, I’m smilin’. I’m trying to reassure you-“

“Why don’t you just piss off and let me deal with things myself sometimes?” Sam demands.

I lower my hands, clearing my throat and remain pressed against the wall, “If that’s what you want, then I’ll try and back off. You know I don’t wanna upset you, Sammy. ”

Sam’s pointed finger and hand curl into a tight fist, slowly lowering back down, “Well you do upset me. You piss me off all the time, Ash and you don’t even realize it.”

I hesitantly begin walking over, brow furrowed lightly, “What do I do? Sam, tell me. Talk to me.”

“You’re so…selfish!”

“Selfish?”

“Yeah! Selfish. With all your bloody trophies and certificates and…and…” Sam turns around at this, eyes locked onto the next target which would be said achievements on the bookshelf above my desk.

I suck in a deep breath, realizing what is about to happen, “Sammy…”

“Stop calling me that ridiculous name!”

A hand wraps around a Player of the Season 2014/15 trophy, and I have one last chance to see it in its whole form. Before it’s smashing against my bedroom wall.

“Sam, stop!”

Another trophy goes flying. And then a framed certificate. I think one even goes out the window.

I stay still, unable to move from my spot beside the door as I watch Sam go on a wrecking spree. Once the majority of the trophies have seen out their destruction, Sam turns on me.

And I just let it happen.

I allow the screams to echo around my head. A fist connects with my cheekbone and an open palm against my temple. Pulling at my shirt and hands shake my shoulders as if trying to get me to see sense or wake me up.

“See? See! This is what you make me do!” Sam eventually accuses, still slapping at my arms and chest and face.

I remain with my arms up, allowing the blows to fall. My body bends over slightly, my heart pounding hard within my chest and hands forming fists over my eyes so they remain undamaged.

Sam abruptly pulls away to settle back on the bed, “I hate it when you make me react like this, Ash. I hate it when I have to do this to you.”

I remain stood up, lowering my tense arms from my face to watch cautiously. My eye throbs in time to my heart beat. There are three, angry red lines along my forearm too from where it was scratched during the assault.

Slowly, I finally move to sit at my desk chair, keeping an eye on the figure on my bed. Sam seems okay now, maybe it won’t happen again, and that this is the last time…

“Sorry…” I eventually mumble, pressing the palms of my hands hard into my thighs so they wouldn’t tremble. “I was just tryin’ to look out for you.”

Sam stares out the window, arms folded and a scowl set in place. Eventually, a huff is extracted and I’m provided attention, eyes coming back on to me. “I know you are, Ash. Damn it. You make it so hard for me. I love you so much but you make it so bloody difficult at times.”

I maintain eye contact for as long as possible, but I have to glance away every so often, unable to hold it.

“See what I mean? You go and make me feel guilty when it’s not even my fault.” Sam carries on, standing up and coming over to me.

My body stiffens, mind reeling back to the previous moments. But this time, when Sam touches me, it’s gentle and sincere. Fingers caress the area around my still throbbing eye, as if trying to apologize through touch alone, and lips press lightly to mine.

“But I have no choice. You just seem to give me no other option.” Sam’s breath tickles against my ear as my hands are then taken with the intention and purpose of leading me back over, and into, bed.

The weekend goes by as if nothing even happened. Sam wakes up the next morning after That Night and showers me with kisses, tangling us both up together and we have a lazy day in bed. I turn my head to look at the long mirror next to my desk, to see a darkening mark around my eye. But I can’t push Sam away, instead I pull us closer together and look away from the mirror to squeeze my eyes tightly shut.

This has to be the last of it. It won’t happen again. Things are different. Sam and I love each other. I do provoke it a lot of the time…I just need to back off and learn when to leave things alone.

When it comes to going back to school on Monday though, I can’t ignore the bruise. I stare at it long and hard, trying to figure out how to pass it off. Friends will want to know. As will my parents. So I have to lie. They can’t know that Sam is the reason behind it, I will be a joke if they know it was Sam. My parents, well, they’d try and have us break up. But it isn’t that simple. I love Sam, things can’t end over That Night.

“Shit, Ash. What the hell happened?”

I lounge back against the common room sofa, gingerly touching the spot my mates are focused on. “Nothing, don’t really even know myself. Though I do remember walking into something when I went for a piss in the middle of the night.” I laugh, trying to play it off.

I notice the looks they share, but they don’t question me so I don’t try and add more to the explanation.

The teachers aren’t so easy to dissuade.

“Ashley, could you stay behind after class please?”

“S’alrigh’ guys, you go on. I’ll see you at training later tonight.” I call to David and Marie, waving them on with a grin. Inside though, I’m trying to remain calm as Ms. Fredericks has me wait. My palms immediately become clammy and warm, leading me to wipe them against the legs of my jeans.

Once the class has exited the room, Ms. Fredericks closes the door and comes to lean against the chair in front of the desk I’m sat at. Her gaze wanders over my face for a moment, settling briefly on the bruise, before returning to meet my gaze.

“Ashley, is everything alright?”

I blink, feigning ignorance, and tilt my head, “Ms. Fredericks?”

She smiles slightly, clasping her hands together and laying them to rest on her thighs. “I only ask because, well, your friends seem a little concerned about you. Especially about you and…Sam Wilkins. Obviously it’s only what I’ve picked up on in-class chatter, but what I’ve heard and now that you’ve come in with this…mark…”

“They have no right to be saying anything about me and Sam.” I mutter, arms folding across my chest, “If they have any issues they should be coming to me instead of whispering behind my back.”

Ms. Fredericks pauses, obviously considering the best diplomatic way to approach the situation. “Perhaps that is a discussion you can have with them at a later date. For now, how about we focus on this one?”

“No. What’ve they been sayin’? I deserve to know! They should mind their own bloody business. What happens between me and Sam is between me and Sam.” I retort, hands clenching into fists on my lap now. “They’ve nothin’ to worry about. I’m fine. Sam’s fine. Everythin’ is fine.”

My teacher remains calm, waiting for me to finish my rant and she clears her throat. “Ash…forget about that for now, alright? How about you just talk to me about what I’m thinking and saying?”

I settle back into my seat, sniffing once and bring my bag up onto my lap, pressing it into my chest. “Alright…guess I can do that.” She continues to look at me, expectantly. “Everything’s fine with me and Sam.”

Ms. Fredericks seems hesitant to believe so, eyes briefly moving to the classroom door and then back to me. “Ashley, whatever you tell me will remain confidential unless you want it to go elsewhere. I’m not going to go telling your school peers anything you tell me today.”

It’s the look Ms. Fredericks gives me that is killing me. A small smile created from a cocktail of hope and ambition to help a student in need. She probably already knows what goes on between me and Sam. But it’s just…difficult to say it out loud.

“I guess…Sam can be a little hard to handle at times.”

She nods, keeping her eyes on me as she takes the chair from behind her and turns it around, so it’s facing me, and sits. “Alright, in what way?”

My hands fidget together under the seat and I clear my throat, feeling myself growing warmer. “I mean, like, we’ll argue and fight. All the usual stuff. Sam might break a few things…like this weekend…”

Ms. Fredericks motions for me to continue, her reassuring smile ever present. “Go on, Ashley, please.”

I clench and un-clench my fists, looking to the door before glancing back to my teacher, “This weekend Sam trashed my room. Broke trophies and certificates. I had to clean things up before my parents got back the next day. Said I wanted more space in my room so I put them all up in the attic.”

Ms. Fredericks’ smile flickers, it’s brief, but I see it. “And how long has this been going on?”

“Dunno,” I shrug, looking down at my hands, “Maybe a few months after we got together? Sam never used to be physically violent. It’s only lately after a few drinks.”

“And has Sam ever hit you before?”

“Once or twice before this weekend. But they weren’t ever hard enough to leave marks. This is the first.” I respond, although that was a lie. There had been once or twice where she had thrown a book, or something else heavy at me, which hit me where clothes would cover. Then when changing after a game or training, I could play it off as a sporting bruise.

Ms. Fredericks stays silent for a moment longer, eyes scrutinizing me for any little hint that I may have lied – like I have done – but at least for now seemed satisfied. She stood and moved to her desk, rummaging around for something in a drawer. Frowning, I try to peer over the top to see what she was doing.

“Now, this is supposed to be for a talk the school is holding a few weeks’ time, but I think you could possibly do with it now.” She explains, coming back around with a few flyers.

She hands them to me, waiting for my reaction.

Are You Always Walking On Eggshells?

No Excuse For Abuse

I glance back up to her, my stomach twisting furiously as I try to make sense of it all.

“You shouldn’t have to be dealing with this, Ashley, especially not by yourself. From what I’m guessing from what you’ve told me, your parents don’t know. You also haven’t reached out to your friends. But I’m glad you’ve made the decision to talk to me about this.” Ms. Fredericks starts, “This sort of behaviour from Sam isn’t healthy, and I know you’re in love so it’s a lot more difficult. But…I recommend you talk to someone else about this, someone that you’re close to and trust.”

I look back down to the leaflets, cheeks growing warmer the longer my eyes remain on them. Faint laughter rings in my ears. The laughter of Marie. Of David. Of Jessica and Mike. My throat closes up and I take a long, hard draw of breath.

Ms. Fredericks sighs softly at my reaction, seeming like she wants to reach out to me, “They’ll be more supportive than you realize, Ashley. They’re your friends. They’ll be there for you. You’re not a coward. You’ve been dealing with it so bravely on your own, but now’s the time to…lean on someone else for support. You’ll crack one day, and I’d hate for a strong person like you to do so.”

I reckon I could burn holes into the leaflets in my hands as I made my decision, my stomach seeming to knot so tight that it was causing me pain. My hands so damp that I’m surprised they aren’t staining the glossy sheets providing information on…domestic abuse.

“Thanks Miss.” I offer a hesitant smile, standing from my seat and moving my rucksack around to shove the papers inside.

I leave Ms. Fredericks room, heading toward the common room to pull out my phone. I don’t know where they are, but I can still ring David, I know Marie will be with him. I wouldn’t hide this time.

“Hey, David? Yeah I’m alrigh’ thanks mate. Look…I need to talk to you about…Samantha.” I take a deep breath, “I think I’m a victim of domestic abuse and…I need your help.”

Men can be victims too.

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