Anywhere But Here: Part 3
The glaze finish stuck to her fingers as she pressed her third donut into her mouth. She licked the sugar off her hands as she drove past familiar streets and buildings, edging reluctantly towards home. Her phone had started buzzing in five-minute increments with messages from her mother since she had gotten back in the car, and it was only a matter of time before the calls became completely incessant. Maxi knew she couldn't avoid facing the family forces at home for much longer, but the solitude of her car and the intoxicating feeling of freedom she got while she was on top of the wheels was addicting. The final trembles of the cold adrenaline that had fueled her trip home were fading, and she was afraid of what emotions were waiting for her underneath them.
At a red light, she glanced at her cracked phone screen to see how many texts she had waiting from her mom. Her stomach lurched as she realized the most recent text was from someone else. A prickling formed on her neck, and she looked around to see if he was watching her on instinct. Nauseating sweat began to sprinkle her skin the longer she stared at the notification. Her fingers shook as she opened the text, as she attempted to jump out of her own memory. Hearing from him seemed like some sick karmic message punishing her for wanting to talk to him earlier in the night. Message received.
I miss you. Her heart pattered loudly in her chest as she read the succinct message. She glanced at the time and back down at the text. He’d waited three hours since he’d gotten home to text her. She could see him walking around the apartment, shrugging his shoulders as he opened a beer, thinking she’d just driven to a friends house for the night like the last four times. He wouldn’t have even become annoyed when he saw that her side of the closet was empty when he took off his tie. He was that sure she’d be back by the morning, that nothing he did would make her leave him. The text was just his insurance that she would be in a better mood when she came back, like laying an empty needle out in front of a junkie as a welcome home gift when they came back from a stint in rehab. She absently registered he hadn’t bothered to say sorry.
Angry tears spilled out of the corners of her eyes, and a broken sob echoed out of her body. She inhaled sharply as she realized her fury pointed so forcefully inward. Shame continued to fill her veins as she relived the months that led to now. Every insult, pinch, slap, shove, and punch blurred together into a sear of humiliation. How could I have let him do this to me? She could already hear social workers and therapists and her mother telling her it wasn't her fault, that she couldn't have made anyone do this, that she had felt trapped as anyone would have. But was it her fault? Some twisted voice in her head was telling her that it was. No real feminist would have allowed this behavior to fester. You knew what to do to get out of it, but you didn’t. Her tears fell faster as she berated her own stupidity and lack of action. She felt like she robbed herself of the right to be truly angry at him because she’d let him do it.
Her fingers wrapped around her bruised ribcage as she wailed in the dark car. The sounds coming out of her were feral, frenzied. The more she told herself to calm down, the more upset she got. She couldn’t catch her breath because of a combination of tears and the pain in her side. A car started honking behind her and then her stomach churned aggressively from the commotion and she’d barely opened the door in time for her vomit to land on the ground instead of her steering wheel. She was sick until her stomach was empty; the donut purchase wasted on an ill prepared stomach. Cars passed her with annoyed faces and unfortunate hand gestures. Her gasps slowed as her stomach settled, and she woozily pulled her body back into the car and shut the door. She shakily wiped her mouth with a receipt and swished warm water in her mouth to make the vile taste fade. The back of her hand cleared tears and sweat from her face, and she managed to take deep breaths through her nose.
Maxi’s thoughts felt sharper now that she had expelled the panic from her body. She hastily pulled over to the side of the road, clearing the road and giving herself time to settle down. The combination of her empty stomach and puffy eyes woke her from her anxious revere, and the lack of direction she’d been feeling all evening vanished. She stuffed her ruined receipt and empty water bottle into the donut box. She grabbed her phone and deleted his text, feeling an immediate calm fill her body, and then smoothed her hair in the rearview mirror and wiped stray mascara away from under her eyes. The pain in her side was still biting. Maxi glanced in the mirror one more time, nodded at her reflection, and drove on.