Afterglow: a Short Story

Warning: This short story is an abstract expression of what it feels like to survive domestic violence. If you find this subject matter potentially triggering, please do not continue reading.

Fingertips against cheekbones. The result? A bruise or a caress. Her flinch is noticeable but only if you look for it. A stained-glass heart shatters, and it could create a mosaic. A human heart breaks, and it could create lace of invisible scars.

Abused Woman

The door slams, and she trembles like a leaf before its descent to the ground. It’s the aftermath you expected but did not deserve. She tried to warn you that beauty like hers is a fragile kind. You did not listen. The words fell on empty ears. She may as well have been speaking into a conch.

Tell her she’s beautiful.

Woman With Red Bruise

Hold her close like a glass angel.

Whisper you love her just the way she is.

Will she ever learn that your love has no bounds, that bruises fade?

The scars are just as fabled as the laugh lines. This is all history, and you’re determined to turn the page.

“I’m scared,” she whispers, clinging to you in the dead of the night. You reach a hand up to stroke her hair, but she shudders as though she was left out in the cold.

Keep watch for progress.

Hope things will be different.

An entire year passes, and she still wears these scars as though announcing her surrender.

You beg that one day she will be strong enough to move on.

Her eyes widen like saucers and shimmer like broken glass.

“Do you remember what love really feels like,” you ask, but before the words are gutted from your lips, her chin trembles and tears trail down her cheeks.

You don’t expect her to reply, but she does. “Patching craters in the wall his fist made. The cracked dessert plates that only needed to be washed. Blood is red, violet is a bruise, I get the love I choose. Love is whispering and pleading, the tears no one saw.”

“You experienced love before him,” you insist.

Memory is a distortion. We exaggerate and undermine, even destroy events. Like the dodge-and-burn technique you learned in a high school darkroom years prior.

The stretch and pull makes memories as pliable as saltwater taffy.

Woman in White Crew Neck Shirt Saying No To Violence

“I once wore a hibiscus bloom in my hair. I felt like a flamenco dancer. He said the color made him sick. I think it was my happiness that revolted him.” She never speaks his name.

Not in all the time you two have been dating does she say his name aloud. Not in therapy. Certainly not to you. It creates a myth out of a coward. A villain worth noting, but not naming.

“Saying his name is like crunching through lightbulbs,” she admits, “fractured filaments split between my teeth.”

One morning, you notice the tissue-paper thin petals of a hot pink hibiscus on the dark hardwood.

Red Hibiscus in Bloom

You hear her humming her favorite song in the bathroom, her feet bare on the tile floor (not fearing shards of glass from a time past).

When you go to snake an arm around her waist, her skin feels warm. Inviting. In the past, your presence was an intrusion. You were as wanted as a closet monster. The hibiscus in her brown curls casts a rosy glow on her cheeks, and her eyes sparkle as though they were made of diamonds or stars.

Your insides feel as though they are fizzing over, effervescent like champagne bubbles.

This is what love feels like.

Although her heart is in repair, the pieces create a mosaic of beauty. Though the pieces are bright and glimmering, they are still broken. Still they have jagged edges. Yet you see the beauty in each individual piece.

Brown Low-top Sneakers

Repair this broken heart.

Mend these wounds.

Do not despair.

There is hope.

There is beauty in the afterglow.

If you or a loved one is in danger or is in an abusive relationship, there are resources. Please call the national domestic violence hotline at 800-799-7233. You are not alone. Please do everything you can to insure your or your loved one’s safety. You are stronger than you know. There is hope.

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