Bruised and Broken

| The First Signs of Trouble | October 11th, 2015 |

As my relationship with Tina was rapidly progressing, my ex wife began hassling me incessantly about moving my remaining possessions out of the house that had once been “ours.”

I had been staying with my mother, and I wasn’t keen on moving a large volume of my possessions into her home, even if there had been space to spare – and there wasn’t.

I’d been planning to lease a storage locker, rent a moving truck and recruit a few friends to help me move everything, but with everyone’s busy lives, that required some advance planning. Jessica was calling daily to demand I immediately remove my possessions from her house. I reached a point of frustration and against my better judgement, I arrived at the house to begin loading things into my van by myself.

Years prior, I had severely injured my back from repetitive lifting, bending and twisting at work. I had managed to herniate two lumbar discs and completely blow another one open. I was in daily pain and couldn’t stand up straight for months. It wasn’t something I wanted to repeat.

I was healed and feeling perfectly normal by the time I was divorced, but I knew to be cautious with my back. I threw that caution to the wind to assuage Jessica’s impatience and I suffered mightily for it.

In the course of moving a lot of heavy boxes and objects by myself, I re-injured my back and the debilitation and agony that ensued was even worse than the first time.

I was out of commission for weeks. Some days I couldn’t walk more than a few steps before I’d collapse. I had taken to sleeping on the floor, because my soft bed created instant agony, any way I positioned myself on it. On good days, I could only drive short distances and could only tolerate that by covering the seat cushion with a wooden board to sit on.

These circumstances were not ideal for my new relationship. Tina’s apartment in Buffalo was a 50-minute drive. When she was at Scott’s down in Farmington, that was a 40-minute drive. Either way, it was too far for me to manage most days. I had to break plans with Tina a couple times and was reluctant to make new ones. She seemed very patient and understanding. We kept in contact almost daily but I was desperate to get back to her presence.

I felt especially bad when Tina took the initiative to plan an event for us and I had to bow out. She’d surprised me and obtained tickets to Oktoberfest then sold them to her brother when I couldn’t go.

Her mom had taken Tina down to Scott’s the following week and I’d made tentative plans to pick her up from there on a Friday night, but when I’d tried to drive to the corner store that day, I found it unbearable and with tremendous regret, had to cancel again. Tina seemed completely forgiving and understanding. “We’ll get together soon, when you’re feeling better,” she assured me with all her love.

Tina invited me out bowling with everyone down in Farmington on Saturday. I tried some pain pills, hopeful I’d be able to get off the floor, but eventually told Tina I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to make it.

“As much as it pains me to say it, don’t come,” she told me. “Take some more pain pills and some whiskey if it will help. It pains me to know you’re in pain.”

Later that night, she sent such a sweet text. “I miss you more than stars miss the night sky when daylight dawns… You are my new day. I love you.”

Sunday, I was still not in driving condition. Tina texted, “Love you more than bats love the night-bugs. Can’t wait to wrap myself around you.”

I suggested that maybe her mom could swing her by to see me in Minneapolis on their way home to Buffalo, but Tina replied, “My mother invited her parents over tonight, so I’ll be in Farmington for another night. Miss you. Need to kiss you… My phone is outta juice.”

The next time I heard from her was late Monday night. Near midnight, she sent me a text message with a picture of her bare thighs. Each was marred with several dark, mostly oval-shaped bruises from mid-thigh right up to the hem of her bikini-style animal-print panties.

“I can’t call you tonight. I can’t leave,” her message began, “I can’t talk with or disown my mother, but I think it’s finally time for the two of us to separate. I don’t want you to be in pain in order to get to me, but once I get to you I don’t want to leave. I know I’m totally fucked-up and ‘tarded, but I know I’m better than this… I’m sorry for the way I am. I would do anything to be better for you.”

I was still awake, trying to lie on my bed with moderate pain when the message came through. I sat upright. The pain was forgotten, replaced by alarm, and nothing in the text exchange that ensued did anything to relieve my anxiety.

“What happened? Why can’t you leave? Are you OK?” I wrote back immediately.

“I’m fine. Just peachy. More emotionally bruised than anything… If only I had my own set of wheels, I’d be better as of yesterday. Stuck. Stuck and sad. I can’t hurt myself, though. That’s a real good thing! I tried – can’t. Yay for personal growth. I also can’t just get ‘wasted,’ unfortunately. Just crying myself to sleep again.”

I couldn’t make much sense of all that, but all of the words in that salad seemed dire. “Where did those bruises from from? Why are you ‘stuck?’ Do you need me to come and get you? I can. I will.” With adrenaline now coursing, my back didn’t feel like an obstacle.

“Keep all of this between you and me. I want you to come and get me, but it can’t be until they both go to work tomorrow morning. I’ll explain it when I see you… Is your Doctor appointment today or tomorrow? No way I’ll interfere with that!”

“My appointment is Wednesday. I’m very worried. You’re an adult. Unless you are being kept against your will, you can leave.”

“I have a bed to sleep in and a mother to NOT worry… I am not in danger, just poked to the limit. If you can get me tomorrow, I’d be so grateful. I just want to get back to Buffalo. I’m done with this shit.”

“Of course I will, if that’s what you want and you’re absolutely certain about waiting until tomorrow.”

“I’ll call you when I ‘wake up,’ probably around 8:00. Love you even more than I’m sorry, which is a LOT.”

I was missing a lot of information. Sorry for what? I was struggling not to jump to conclusions. I don’t think I slept. Barely, if I did. Tina texted again at 7:30 in the morning to tell me her mom took the day off work and was going to drive her home, so I needn’t pick her up at Scott’s.

I was worried about Tina’s physical and mental state and had a head full of questions with a body abuzz with anxiety. I determined that I needed to see her as soon as possible. I asked if I could meet her out at the apartment and she agreed.

I gave Tina and her mom plenty time to travel and get settled back in Buffalo and drove out to meet them that afternoon. With the plank under me, I managed fairly well on the almost hour-long drive. I had to stop a couple times to get out of the car and stretch, when the sciatic pain in my right leg got too severe, but I made it there and then somehow managed to shuffle up the stairs to the third floor of the Buffalo Hotel.

Tina let me in to the small apartment, but didn’t greet me with her usual kiss. Her mom was sitting on the futon. We all exchanged pleasantries and chatted a bit. The conversation was shallow and Tina looked uncomfortable when I tried to steer it to the events of the night before and to the explanations Tina had promised me. I suggested she and I take a walk so we could talk privately.

“If it’s not going to be too hard with your back,” Tina said.

“Don’t worry. walking feels good right now. Sometimes it’s helpful,” I assured her.

It was sunny, but the fall chill was in the air as we walked down the block from the Buffalo Hotel. We turned towards the lake. Tina chattered idly. After a while, I said, “so, are you going to tell me what happened last night?”

Her eyes welled up and she shook her head.

I gently tried a couple other tacks, but the only answer Tina would provide beyond tears was “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

This was interminably frustrating and heightened my unease. I’d expected she’d talk to me once we were away from her mother. We had a Total Honesty policy, after all, “even if it’s bad.”

Tina was full of other trivial subjects and petty complaints to discuss as we walked. Realizing I wasn’t going to get anything of consequence from her and feeling chilled, I suggested we go back in.

We made our way back from the lake, coming up the opposite side of the Buffalo Hotel. Tina seemed in better spirits. “I’m just so glad you’re here,” she said, looping her arm in mine.

We went back into the apartment, where Maura was watching TV and the three of us ended up relaxing on the futon, watching a movie. No one was talking much, but at one point, I heard Maura say, quietly to Tina, “Well it got him here, didn’t it?”

Tina responded with a scowl and a brief shake of her head.

My weary brain started work on computing the meaning of all that. It had been an exhausting and confusing day already.

Tina had a wobbly ottoman next to the window that served as the smoking section. She moved over there to have a cigarette, but didn’t finish it. Half-way through, she stamped it out in the ashtray, closed the window, stood abruptly, unbuckled her belt and yanked her pants off. She faced Maura and I in her underwear, revealing the dark marks that peppered her upper thighs.

“Mom, you have to talk to Scott about this,” she said. “You have to tell him to leave me alone!”

Maura seemed only a little surprised by the sudden theatrics. I was stunned and all my computational power was immediately redirected.

“Okay,” Maura said slowly, seeming to wait for more information or comprehension to come.

“We were out in the barn,” Tina began,” and Scott said he was worried that he was losing his grip strength, so he wanted to test his grip strength and I was sitting there and all the sudden, he just grabbed both of my legs, and, uhhhh!” she acted out Scott leaning forward and squeezing with both hands.

“Okay…” Maura said, again.

“I need you to talk to him about this. This isn’t OK,” Tina said, emphatically. “Look what he did!” she swept her long arms in front of her bare and bruised thighs.

“OK, Tina,” Maura said, calmly. “OK, Tina, I will.”

“Thank you!” Tina concluded her presentation. She went to the bedroom and came back out wearing pajama pants.

Theatrics such as those are often associated with histrionic personality disorder, a close cousin to narcissism. That was the end of the show and we watched the TV together without much further conversation. The apartment only had one bedroom, plus Candace, the futon in the living room. Maura offered the bedroom to Tina and I while she spent the night with Candace.

Once we were alone in the bedroom, Some fresh triangulation began. Tina told me that she’d been observed talking in her sleep over the weekend. “No. Dan. I love Dan,” Scott told her she had murmured. “You don’t love Dan,” he added. “I saw you flirting with Doug by the pool table last night.”

I felt uncomfortable as Tina related this, but didn’t really know what to think. Tina was weaving a web of confusion and nothing was clear.

Tina assured me that Scott had it wrong and she hadn’t been flirting with Doug – just being ‘silly’ while they shot a game of 8-ball.

“I love you so much,” she concluded. “Now that I have you back, I’m never letting you go again.” She wrapped herself around me tightly.

I was more moved by the emotions Tina conveyed than by any of her confusing clusters of words.

We went from tender hugging and kissing to arousal, but when Tina’s pants came off, I couldn’t help but look closer at the marks on her thighs. They appeared even more pronounced and certainly looked more like bites or hickeys than fingerprints.

“Stop looking at my bruises,” Tina admonished. She turned off the light.

We made love and Tina fell asleep, but sleep didn’t come easily to me that night. I’d begun to drift off comfortably next to her, but my subconscious hadn’t ever stopped it’s computations and it suddenly began sounding alarms. My body physically jolted as the conclusion came. Tina was certainly lying. I kicked my leg involuntarily, then laid there stiffly, jaw clenched. It was all pretty obvious, but almost too appalling to believe. Tina had sex with another man and then had the gall to send me a picture of the marks he’d left.

I got up and went into the bathroom where I attempted to reproduce on myself, the bruising on Tina’s thighs, by the means she described it. I dug my fingers into my pale flesh, squeezing as hard as I possibly could, I pulled and thrashed, for good measure. I squeezed and pressed and pinched and pulled, trying to match the position of the bruises with my fingers. For all my effort, I couldn’t produce a mark that looked remotely like the dark ovals on Tina’s upper thighs. Nor could I match the placement of marks by spreading my fingers. She’d have had to been manhandled pretty roughly for those to be caused by fingertips and a couple were in a decidedly “personal” zone.

I’d hoped to find Tina’s explanation plausible, but could not.

Maura was asleep on the futon, right next to the bathroom door. I made my way out and around the apartment as quietly as I could, gathering my things. I didn’t fully understand her game, but I was certain that everything I’d seen and heard that night had been a production meant to confuse and confound me – to pull the wool over my eyes. I felt insulted and indignant. After I had my bag packed, my wallet, keys and cell phone in my pockets, coat and shoes on, I hesitated. Something about slipping out, without a word, in the middle of the night, after making love, seemed wrong. I decided I owed Tina an explanation. I went into the dark bedroom and felt around until I found her shoulder and jostled her gently. “Tina. Tina. I’m leaving,” I said as she roused.

She was groggy. At first she just said, “Um… OK,” but as her consciousness returned, she stopped me. “Wait, what? Why?

“Because I don’t feel like you’ve been honest with me,” I replied.

Now, she was fully alert and she seemed terrified. She begged me not to leave.”If you were anyone else, I’d have just said, OK, bye! But it’s you. I love you so much, I don’t ever want to lose you. Please take your coat off and stay. Don’t go. Don’t go. Please! Just come back to bed.”

She began talking fast, stringing a series of emotionally loaded words together in an almost random fashion. Between her salad of charged words, assurances of her honesty, promises of later explanations for her odd behavior and repeated professions of profound and unprecedented love, she wore down my resolve and I stayed. I didn’t feel at ease, but Tina had planted doubt and left me unsure about what happened. She might have cheated – maybe she’d come clean and we’d work it out. Maybe something had happened against her will. Maybe it was even as she described it, as ludicrous as it seemed. What did that say about Scott? All I could firmly latch on to in that moment was that Tina loved me and needed me. I must have already been half-hooked by her love bombing. She had been slathering the affection on really thick from the beginning and it soothed me everywhere I felt rough.

“Promise me you’ll never leave me like that. No matter, what, tell me what’s going on, OK? Don’t ever just disappear. I don’t know what I’d do.”

I promised.

I undressed and crawled back under the covers with her, my arm draped over her warm body, our legs entwined, and slept.

I often considered that night a turning point. Besides tainting my view of Scott, his farm and his son, Doug, It colored the next three years of my on-again, off-again relationship with Tina.

It had been my best, most obvious chance to escape and failing to do so entangled me with Tina’s illness in a way that will undoubtedly affect me to some degree for the rest of my life. It was a pivotal moment and I allowed myself to be sucked in to a mad, imaginary world. It’s a decision I may regret forever. I could have been free.

It didn’t help matters when, months later, Tina offered an alternate explanation out of the blue, saying that Scott had caused those bruises by repeatedly poking her. By then, it was too late for me. I was in deep.

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