I’d like to tell you that August went on like that. A nice quiet month in a nice quiet Paris. Easy mornings at the cooking school making yummy treats. Filling my little pastry shell with chef’s sweet cream every few days while doing time sharing in the walk-in with the other tasty morsels who joined our class. Playing light tunes on the piano for Chantal’s customers and then working up major orchestral movements with her in bed when the coast was clear. Sid tending to his own business, being nice to me, screwing me properly when it suited him, drinking vermouths and eating olives and steak sandwiches together in the evenings. I’d like to tell you that, really I would. But that’s not how August went. Not for long, anyway.
It all went south one night a couple weeks in. We had been sent off to fill intern spots at various restaurants as part of our training, something I really looked forward to. That’s what I was coming back from on the Metro, once more minding my own stupid little business, which never seems to matter. I don’t think it was my fault, but some guy followed me through a turnstile and the next thing I knew my wallet was lifted out of my backpack. By the time I figured out what had gone down the guy, some swarthy a-hole or some the fuck thing, had disappeared into the crowds changing trains at the same stop I was.
Of course it’s not something to be happy about, but it shouldn’t have been such a big deal. That’s not how Sid saw it.
“You careless little cunt. What the fuck were you thinking?”
“I wasn’t thinking anything, Sid. I was tired and on my way home and wasn’t expecting some scumbag to pick my pack.”
“You should have been expecting it. What have I always taught you? You always have to be on your guard. Always. You know you’re in Paris and there are riffraff all over the damned place ready to take whatever they can from you.”
“Well, I wasn’t. What can I say?”
“Now your real ID is out there, and what do we do now, go to the police? Real good situation you’ve put us in.”
“Well, I’m very fucking sorry, Sid. At least he didn’t get my passport. You might show a little compassion. It was my wallet that got lifted.”
Sid had been doing coke and drinking all day. I could see that on his face and in the wild look of his eyes, and the bottles carelessly tossed around. I knew there was no reasoning with him when he got like this, so this couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. I still wasn’t prepared for what came next.
“Compassion? Is that what you want? Well here’s some fucking compassion for you.”
With that Sid hauled back and punched me full force with a round-house right in the face. It was too late to duck by the time I saw it coming, and I took his fist right across the left cheek, it skidded across the bone, kept going, and smashed straight into the side of my nose. It just about set me down on my ass on the floor and it would have if I didn’t tumble backward against one of the dining room chairs, catching myself and breaking my fall. I knew instantly he broke my nose. I could feel it, and blood ran down my face and out of my nose and into my mouth and onto my blouse. I probably would have cried if I wasn’t so shocked and so pissed and so hurt and didn’t want to give Sid the satisfaction. If all the humiliation of the beatings and the psychological torture and the other things Sid did to me over the years didn’t culminate in that one punch.
What do you say when your boyfriend punches you in the face and breaks your nose? Right. That’s what I said. That’s all I could think to say. Nothing. There were no words that could express my feelings at that moment. I just felt my busted nose and rubbed my face, trying to massage out the pain, seeing stars, and that’s no joke, not even looking at the bastard, and then I went into the bedroom and started packing a bag.
I was too out of my mind to figure what to pack, so I just started throwing things in that damned carry-on we got in Amsterdam. It wouldn’t have won any points on Travel Adviser or some damn thing like that, but all I knew was it was check-out time. My face, and mostly my nose, hurt like a motherfucker. Even worse than my face, my pride, or what was left of it, was flat-out devastated. Without really thinking about it I realized I’d reached a breaking point and I just wanted out, wherever and whatever out was. It could have been death, I don’t think I would even have cared if at that moment Sid put his hands around my neck and strangled the life out of me. He could do it, too, and it would have been kinder and easier than going on as we were. At least this protracted insanity would be over.
This wasn’t the first event that happened in August, even if I was determined it would be the last. Sid has never done well staying in one place. It must be a nomad side to him, but he gets bored, restless, edgy. And his sadistic side comes out big time. So there was the hair pulling, the beatings, the rapes. They just slowly escalated during those first weeks of August. And now the face punch and the broken nose.
I took all the rest, like a bad family secret. The kind of secret your parents tell you is to stay inside the house, not to be divulged to the neighbors or strangers. But now there was no way this could stay secret, not when my swollen nose and the bruise on my cheek went public. My one rule in Paris was not on my face, Sid. Don’t mark my face. Whatever else you do. And now he broke the rule, that one single rule, along with my nose.
He broke more than the rule and my nose, too. With that punch, his way of showing his so-called fucking compassion, he broke what was left of my heart. My heart, the stump of it, that had been melting steadily like candle wax down the side of a drained wine bottle, now evaporated in one single motion, one punch, one busted nose.
I had to explain those marks to Chantal, more than once. And to chef. And to some of Chantal’s more observant customers who noticed them as they sat beside me on the plush crimson bench in the subdued light. I’m pretty inventive when I need to be, and I needed to be, since how do you say you walked into a door when the stripes are across your back or your thighs, when your breasts have big blue blossoms on them, blossoms opened by the knuckles of a fist? Some door that must have been.
I didn’t know what I threw in that bag, but it was full of whatever. Clothes, shoes, shampoo, toiletries. My toothbrush. Whatever I could grab and throw in. Sid stayed out of the bedroom the whole time, maybe feeling what passed for remorse for him, though I doubt it. It didn’t matter any more, anyway. And he didn’t say anything as I strode across the dining room, where he was back cutting his lines and didn’t look up as I went by, as I stomped across the salon, my bag in hand, my violated backpack over my shoulder, and went out the door. I didn’t have to, but I slammed the door as I left, a statement to Sid and a reminder to myself of what I was doing. Probably a statement to the neighbors, too, though they were last on my mind.
Now I’m out on the frigging street and I’m still wearing what I was wearing when I got home, the plain sensible clothes I wore back from the restaurant, only now with splotches of blood on them, and I’ve got my carry-on and whatever I threw into it, and my pack. And I realize I don’t have a goddamned sou to my name, whatever money I had taken with my wallet. Fucking prick.
I sit my ass on the crappy concrete next to my bag and now it’s time to figure out what the fuck I’m going to do. Speaking of adventures, this is certainly one I’ve gotten myself into.
Oddly, or so it seems to me, I still don’t have the urge to cry. I wouldn’t give Sid that satisfaction, and I’m not giving it to me, either. Somehow I managed to staunch the flow of blood from my nose, though it still hurts like a sonuvabitch, and I figure I look enough like shit without adding to it with a bunch of tears and puffy eyes. Judging by the looks I’m getting from people walking by, right next to me on the trottoir, the last thing I need is to look even more pathetic than I do. What the fuck, people, you never saw a girl beaten-up by her so-called boyfriend and sitting out on the street not having a clue what her next move is? Guess not. Well, now you have.
At this moment there’s really only one thing to do – you can see that, can’t you? – and I do it. I start laughing. It begins with some barely suppressed chortles, escalates into full-blown belly laughs, and the next thing I know I’m howling with laughter, my head raised up and looking at the sky, barely discernible as it’s blocked by the streetlights that have come on in the growing darkness, and pretty soon I’m like a crazed coyote howling at the moon. And in between the howls, screams. I don’t think coyotes scream, but I am. Exasperated screams. In between the howls and the laughs. If only I could see the moon.
If there is any thought in the minds of the passers-by that I might be some lost girl who needs their help, my howling and crazed laughter and all the rest dispels that, and there isn’t a trace of doubt but that I’m a crazy person to avoid at all costs, so they stride by more quickly, acting like I’m not even there, not even a troublesome dog peeing on the sidewalk.
I can’t blame them, really I can’t. I’d probably do the same. Besides, I’m not looking for attention. I don’t need some stranger being solicitous over me, asking me if I’m okay, young lady, do you need some help? That’s one thing I don’t need. Help. And I don’t need anyone to care. Even I don’t care any more, so why should anyone else? What I need is to be left the hell alone and to work this one out for myself. And my howling just about guarantees that no one is going to stop or offer help or care.
Like a wild coyote out on some barren butte and not a lost girl on a Paris sidewalk I laugh and howl and scream at a moon I can’t even see.