May 18th, 2013 - Kris V. Bernard
There are no pictures of the year 2013 that I can look back on. None I can use as reference to a moment or event during that time. This is because I trashed all the photos, as if absence would create an erasure in time where none of the pain I experienced ever took place.
Though there’s one photograph I’ve never forgotten where I’m standing to the side while holding on to the waist of a man I’ve been dating for six months yet take years to recover from. I’m so thin, wrapped in a peach-colored mini dress with a black lace collar around my neck, my curls styled according to a YouTube video I came upon in search of a seemingly effortless updo. Mid-May, months into a relationship with a man who loathes my independence, who resents my time without him, maybe because he has no control over me when we aren’t together. We are dressed up for his friend’s wedding ceremony, staying at what may be the largest hotel in Riverside, California. I couldn’t afford the plane ticket now that the company I work for is imposing pay cuts on everyone’s salaries. So, in exchange for buying the ticket, I agreed to pack two new dresses, complete with matching shoes; the best arm candy I can be.
We met through a dating app, one I paid for monthly with a profile I spent hours per day filling out to be matched with those I was most compatible. I went on two dates with other people before he and I met, and none afterwards. He wooed my lonely heart with kind words and dad jokes, the same ones that will make me cringe to hear once they no longer obscure his cruel character. That he’s disabled makes me empathize with what he goes through every day, being stared at as he drags his legs forward, most of the weight placed on the tips of his feet causing trauma to his toes from all the pressure. This is despite the cane he leans on so hard, the wood bows from the strain. I think what he endures makes him humble, generous with his time and the effort he puts into making dates fun and romantic assures me he’s authentic. I feel safe when we’re together, albeit a bit pressured to commit fully to him, which means giving up my apartment and moving into his large two bedroom in the sky above downtown San Francisco. But I love my cozy studio in Noe Valley, a suburb south of The Castro and at the bottom of a grassy hill where locals and tourists alike hang a swing on the tallest eucalyptus tree, so that people can sway above the city while posing for Instagram worthy photos. I’m not willing to leave it behind, not after a few months in a relationship.
The more I resist, the more forceful he becomes. Until several glasses of wine are what it takes to smile over dinner even when it hurts, and the memories of the night before are becoming more difficult to forget.
Looking back, I feel like Miss Argentina in the film “Beetlejuice” when she says, “If I knew then what I know now, maybe I wouldn’t have had my little accident.” My accident was falling into the snares of a very sticky web where nothing I did was good enough to satisfy someone who wanted a submissive partner who worshipped his fragile ego, even while his legs continued to falter in holding him up.
Later I’ll be laid off by my job as an Executive Assistant at a concierge company downtown where people with money to burn and elite credit card statuses turn to when they want some item they saw somewhere, which is sold out everywhere else. Both laid off and offered a spot in an MFA program I ache to attend; I see it as a sign to accept the offer from San Francisco State University and do what I’d set out to do when I moved across the country from everything and everyone I knew just three years ago. It also means leaving him, a man who wants me all to himself, who speaks ill of my friends and anyone that keeps me away from him, who almost succeeds in grooming me and exorcising all of me he doesn’t care for. So, I let him end things. Give him control to the bitter end because I feel too guilty to walk away, too aware of how it would look, and that so few would believe me if I told them I was abused by this man sporting a fancy cane, armed with a crooked smile and so many dad jokes. I let him end things and then I walk towards my future, where nothing and no one has the right to decide who I will become.
The version of me in the photo I mentioned is so lovely, preserved in my mind as a lonely spirit, smiling into the camera and hoping for the best. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have refrained from dating for years and chosen to foster, then adopt an old and frail little chihuahua who will always be, long after he’s passed away, the love of my life. I name him Captain, and he will be named an honorary graduate with me when I receive my diploma. Accident or not, I remain grateful for past mistakes.
Kris V. Bernard is a Puerto Rican-American writer from New York City. More of her work can be found around the internet.
Kris would like you to learn more about Harbin SHS Animal Rescue, a charity which saves animals from the meat trade in China.