Keys

By Dennis Fehr



1

It started just how they said on Oprah. You were always sorry after. And I always came back.


2

You called me a lousy lay because we weren’t conceiving. You told Denise and Lisa that it was my fault, so I got checked. Dr. Armistead said I was fine. I knew you would be afraid that it was your fault, so I quickly said it was nobody’s fault. You cracked your boom box across my forehead anyway. Just in case.


We’re the same height and you don’t outweigh me by much, but twenty years of training about ‘proper’ behavior kept me from striking back. Pressing my sleeve against my head to keep the blood out of my eyes, I ran from the house and drove the car across the front lawn, away from you.

3

That taught you to take away my keys. I would rather you hit me with the boom box. We lived thirty miles from town, thirty-four from my job. No house key, no work key, no car key, not even the key to my bicycle lock. If I left on foot, you locked me out. I was to stay put until I learned my lesson.


Sometimes I still left. The first time, you forgot to lock the garage, so I slept in the car. After that, I slept on the ground behind the hedge so neighbors couldn’t see me. I slept by the front door in case you changed your mind. Fat chance.

4

I had my keys with me the time in the front hall when you broke the saucer over my head. I drove to work and slept on that old sofa in my office. Security woke me at around three. I told them I had to meet a deadline, that I was grabbing forty winks. Okay, they said, we just don’t want anyone thinking they can live here. We chuckled together. That morning I washed my hair with soap from a chrome dispenser in a restroom at Burger King.


5

Do you remember the night our marriage ended? The night when you said you wished my two children from my first marriage were dead and buried in our back yard? I was sitting at the kitchen table. You leaned on me and put your face an inch from mine. I could see the inside of your mouth


saw pieces of food in your teeth

felt your hot breath

smelled tuna fish


Your pupils were pinpoints. You reached for the counter and grabbed the gallon jug of blue dye that you used for your fiber art poured it over my head, into my face, my eyes, my hair, my clothes.


I ran into the shower with my clothes on and scrubbed. The bathroom door opened and closed. I pulled the curtain back. You had taken the towels. You were always good with details.


I knelt in the tub with the shower running, with my blue hair, my blue face, my blue shoes. I wrapped my arms around myself and conquered those twenty years of proper behavior.

When I came out, you and my keys were gone. I cleaned up the kitchen except for the blue stains in the tabletop. They wouldn’t come out.

5

In our early months together, when the attacks started, I would stand there with my arms limp at my side and take it, shocked that this was happening, that it was an option. I watched you get worse and realized that you would never stop.


Then came the night with the blue dye. By the time you got back, I had a plan, didn’t I?


6

I told you I would smash the TV if you didn’t give me my keys. You didn’t. I went into the garage, got the axe, and buried the head and half the handle in the middle of the picture tube. You handed me my keys when I went for the beveled mirror above the dresser. Then I shoved you into the refrigerator, grabbed a water glass, and broke it over your head. I spat into your ear that you would never hurt me again. This time we both were shocked.


7

Numb, I went into the living room and sat on the sofa. As if from a distance I heard you say the words, “My husband tried to kill me.” Then you gave our address. You had called the police.


8

I walked out to our driveway and waited. They arrived quickly to their credit, and as they emerged from their car, I could not blame them for pulling out their guns and pointing them at me. Another big night for us, hey?


They questioned us separately, eyed the TV, and said we’re both violent, which had become true. You moved into a shelter, telling everyone who would listen what an abused spouse you were, having literally survived attempted murder.

9

I went to the Elder of our Apostolic Christian church for guidance. When I told him I was a battered spouse. he glanced at me with a flicker of disbelief and chuckled. He said that was unusual. He said usually the wife was the abused one, not the abuser.


For the rest of our meeting I sat very still, quietly answering his questions, giving all the correct answers. When we were done, he told me to pray harder, and everything would be fine. He patted me on the back as I left.

10

It didn’t quite end how they said on Oprah. You came back and, sobbing, said you were sorry. But when I told you I was going to divorce you, you rushed to an attorney and filed so that you could say you divorced me. You were always good with details.


Meanwhile, with the Apostolic Christians, the people of my childhood, things were not fine. They excommunicated me from the Body of Christ. Those Apostolic Christians simply won’t stand for divorce.

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THANKS TO JUSTIN BOWEN PHOTOGRAPHY and KYLE BOBERG MEDIA

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