In the Five
by K Chiucarello
CW: Domestic violence
My lawyer asks if I’m ready to listen to all five of our 911 tapes.
She hands me a box of tissues and says we can stop whenever I need.
This month you have introduced the new person in your life, hot gluing her all over social media, on average once a day, love-bombs for verification. You box her in neat; affection stitched into grids on the screen, tied up nice with all the exits barred off. I subscribe to watching another be groomed in real time, a slow-burning home with everything of value trapped inside.
The first tape is of you calling for the ambulance. Your voice dances tightropes between towers. The tone is precise and soft to the touch, delicately clothed over complete backgrounds of silence. The operator asks for the emergency and you reply that your girlfriend is having a psychotic breakdown. When you say the word “girlfriend” I am smitten. The operator asks another question and you insert a very cute stutter into your answer. I have heard you rehearse this stutter before when you are feigning horror or hurt. While listening to the operator prompt you for more severe circumstances, I start cataloging times you told me about your brother shaming you or your ex-husband breaking your nose, all those notches of belt writhed compact with each telling, tighter and tighter, suffocating the truth. You are in the hotel tub clinging to my soap-ridden legs, this stutter wedging between us, screaming that if only I would fuck you then all of our problems would resolve itself. This archiving of incidents is broken by the sound of your voice going up in flames, hot with the operator to get someone over here quick. Hearing your voice for the first time in three months closes at my throat, my mouth a cave trapped with boiled air, nowhere for the children to go. I practice breathing exercises my therapist taught me so that my lawyer does not witness the nerves. Last time I worked this exercise I folded myself into an envelope, sealed white under my bed at 3 am, screaming to no one in the dark, wishing the rain would stop hitting at the window. My body has been a prison lately; it refuses to forget. There is still glass circulating on my bedroom wall, remnants of your temper gone mad on your last night here. Some parts of the house I just cannot bring myself to clean. This first call was when you realized you could get through to 911 and dial me still in my place.
I smile at my lawyer.
She blinks back.
Your new girlfriend is extremely attractive. Certainly more attractive than me. I know that your partner before me thought through this same process. Only because I asked her when we were comparing our own restraining orders.
The second tape also begins with you, but this time calling for the police and we are in the cabin upstate. You are calm with the operator until I break through with screaming. Your voice rubs thick against mine until you finally drown me down. Again you say that I am having a psychotic breakdown. Admittedly, I was. This was long after you had spit in my face but shortly after you told me to walk three hours back to town if I wanted to catch the bus home. The operator, utterly baffled, says she will get someone over there as soon as possible. It takes at least 15 minutes to get up your road, which doesn’t actually help de-escalate any real emergency. I also have no idea where you keep the guns.
I instantly know that she is from the same background as me and wonder if you have a thing for poor, white, American women that have large circles of friends you can barricade them from. Later when she and I meet in person we’re in agreeance; our thing perhaps is charming genderless addicts who take all the golden treasure down with them as the boat barrels to the bottom of the ocean. She clocks in at restraining order number three.
The third tape finally stars me. The operator picks up and there is no silence. The heat of my tears slams through the speaker. I cycle through hysteria: out of breath, wailing into the phone, stringing for words. I say my partner is trying to kill me. The operator asks my address and after I announce it she asks if a previous call was made to the police. I do not reply to the question. You can hear footsteps over leaves followed by more crying. After a four-second lull, I suddenly whisper into the receiver to please help me. The operator says to stay on the line with her. Back in my lawyer’s office, I gaze at the tissue box trying not to vomit on breath I am shoving down the back of my throat. Panic always starts at the neck. A rash begins to speckle my chest. A fever breaks out under my sweater. I comb at my hair, rub my eyes to pound back liquid that is about to surge out of them, I ring around my collar like I have an imaginary tie that needs loosening. I look at the floor, I look to the left of that floor, I look to the ceiling, I look at the medical records sitting in my lap. There are no windows in this office. It is just you and I, tape to tape, a year in reverse, splinters of bat broken in a bludgeoning I never wanted to remember. I count seconds backwards in the present time. At second number seven, in another reality, I begin to repeat please over and over and over and over again into the receiver. The underlayer to this bleating is more footsteps in the background and your voice screaming out my name.
I tell my lawyer,
An officer once told me it takes an average ten marks of brutality to actualize the situation.
I wish I had had a mirror to take to myself in the moment I buckled into the passenger seat of the cop car. I could have rehearsed the ambivalence in my eyes for years to come. He told me he never had a domestic incident with two women. I asked him why he thought I would accept any semblance of advice from a white, rural man regarding this relationship. We rambled over the Red Country dirt, 24 miles forth in silence without the sirens on, until he dropped me at the bus stop. After I purchased my ticket at the station, I walked to the creek where I tried to rinse the piss from my jeans, a stained reaction from you choking me out. But it turns out he was right;
it took ten marks exact.