Chapter 3: The past and all its scars
Alex sat in the silent interrogation room. It was mostly used to ask men who were at a bar picking fights how many drinks they had, or possible suspects for someone who stole something from a local convenient store. Usually it was Otto who sat in the chair. And anyone who knew him could tell because it reeked of car oil, cigarettes, and alcohol.
While sitting in the empty room, he imagined what was going through Maria’s mind. Although he didn’t have much luck, for he didn’t have any idea because he had never had to endure the things Maria did. Alex’s hazel eyes stared at the chair in front of him, thinking about every person who had sat there before. They were always similar. There were a few people who he only saw once, and few who he had seen more times than he would have liked. But out of all the different people Alex had faced in that chair, there was no one quite like Maria.
He waited a little longer till Armstrong came back with a woman who Alex saw downstairs. If he knew, or recognized, that it was her, he would have said something. But she had so much makeup covering her face and huge sunglasses that you couldn’t even tell it was her.
Shutting the door behind them, Armstrong pulled the chair out for her while he sat on the edge of the table. “You can take a seat, dear. And you can take your sunglasses off. You don’t need to be afraid. You’re safe here.”
Maria walked over and slowly sat down wincing. Her ribs hurt, even at the slightest movement.
“He’s right. You don’t have to worry about that anymore,” Alex chimed in, getting a piece of paper from the small file that had a few pages that consisted of Maria’s personal information, such as her date of birth, sex, age, etc. As well as something about how she used to be a language arts teacher at Gardner middle school. Alex thought back to when Elena was in middle school and tried to remember if the name Mrs. Parks had ever come up. But as he looked back down at the page again, he read that she resigned from her position a few years ago. To Alex, who had the ability to pick up on small things like that, had his ideas as to why. Even though the reason was pretty obvious.
“Okay Maria, we are going to ask you a few questions, just answer them the best you can, and we can stop at any time if you feel uncomfortable. But we do want you to give us as much detail as possible, so don’t leave anything out.”
Her bottom lip quivered a little to an unsteady beat as she agreed. She took her sunglasses off, and her face looked a lot better than it did yesterday, but only because of all the makeup she was wearing. Even with the makeup, you could still see the hues of what her skin looked liked.
Maria then took her jacket off, revealing the same bruises Alex had seen before. That it didn’t make it any easier though. He shifted in his seat uncomfortably and stared at Maria’s body, studying her scars and bruises, as if everyone of them had a different story to tell.
Pulling him from his thoughts was Armstrong’s bold voice yet again. “Rivers, control yourself. Stop staring.”
Alex immediately looked down at the file again, feeling his cheeks redden. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “So we’ll start easy. How long were you and...” He stopped midsentence once he realized he had forgotten Matthew’s name.
“Matthew. His name was Matthew.”
Alex could feel the tension radiating off of her. “Right. Matthew. How long were you two together?”
“I think,” she began, “its been nine years. After seven we got married.”
“So you only knew each other two years before you got married?”
She sat there as still as a statue, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “That’s correct.”
“When you were first with him, what were your thoughts?” He asked her, barley letting the brunette finish her sentence. The truth was he didn’t have any interest in him except finding him so he could be locked up for the rest of his life and rot in jail. The whole situation made him feel like something was in the back of his throat. “Did you even think he would be the type to hurt you?”
The brunette shook her head from side to side. “No. Definitely not. I loved him, as he did me.”
“Loved,” Alex muttered under his breath louder than he excepted.
“Loved. That’s past tense. So does that mean you don’t love him anymore?”
She sat there stunned by Alex’s remark, and opened her mouth to speak, but it took a few seconds for any words to come out of her stitched lip. “I-I... uh, I don’t...” Her voice drifted off as her eyes drifted around the room, twitching back and fourth between Armstrong and Alex.
Armstrong, his blond hair slicked back, looked at Alex with his harsh eyes. One of his Alex and Enrique’s nicknames for him was medusa because if you looked at him directly in the eyes he could turn you into stone out of fear. “Rivers,” he pressed, leaning forward ever so slightly.
“No, no it’s okay,” Maria defended before turning back to Alex. “About a year before I had my daughter he got worse.”
Alex knitted his brows together, paying very close attention to what Maria was saying. “So, you don’t love him then.”
She hesitated for a moment before answering. “Well I do but-”
“But what? Its either a yes or a no. You either love him or you don’t.”
“Actually, its not that simple.”
Armstrong shifted in his position, casually catching Alex and Maria’s attention. “How about we move on?”
“Okay I get it,” Alex said, ignoring Armstrong. “Sometimes you love him, sometimes you don’t. He is a hard person to love. But looking back on what you said before, if you had a choice...would you let him touch you.”
Maria fixed herself exactly how she was, and gulped down hard. Alex waited patiently for her to answer, and Armstrong sat there confused as to where he was getting at. It took some time before she could do it, but eventually Maria shook her head from side to side again.
“So let’s say he wanted to...” He thought for a moment, trying to figure exactly how he wanted to word a touchy subject like this. “Wanted to have sex. Just as an example,” Alex paused when Armstrong’s eyes grew wider with anger. However, Alex continued. “If you had a choice, what would you do?”
To no one’s surprise, Maria couldn’t answer at first. Maybe she was collecting her thoughts, or maybe she was too afraid to say. But whatever the reason, Alex figured it was because she had spent so long having to think every word through because one wrong one could end up with a bruise.
“No, I wouldn’t let him.”
Alex nodded, then turned to Armstrong. “Sir, can I talk with you for a second outside?”
Armstrong pursed his lips, his eyes harsh and cold as he accepted. “I was just about to ask the same thing,” he growled, standing up abruptly. Alex followed behind him, and waited till the click of the door to speak.
“She was raped,” he said suddenly.
“Well that was certainly not what I was going to say. And, Rivers, you are just looking for reasons for the lad’s sentencing to increase,” Armstrong argued, getting more annoyed with every word that escaped his lips.
“No I’m not!” He waved his hands through the air, exasperated that he was having to have this conversation. Elena, who had always been very vocal about her views and knowledge on rights, had started rubbing off on Alex. Now, after he learned almost everything about these topics, he understood right from wrong, and what specific things actually meant. “You heard her,” he continued, not about to give up on something like this. For Elena, and Maria. “She didn’t want to have sex with him, but he did it anyway. As far as I am concerned, that’s rape. She did not give her consent.”
“True. But did she specifically tell him no?”
“She couldn’t have! Do you know what he could have done to her?”
Armstrong asked again, this time more harshly. “Did she tell him no?
Alex rolled his eyes. “No.”
“Then we can’t call it rape. She didn’t tell him no, she didn’t tell him stop, she didn’t tell him anything. Now, I do agree that it isn’t normal sexual interaction, but the judge won’t convict him of it. There is no case of sexual assault. Especially since they are married.”
His jaw clenched, he turned to go back inside the interrogation room, his chest tight. He sat down across from Maria again, trying his best not give Armstrong the evil eye. Leaning forward, Alex crossed his hands and proceeded with his questions.
“Alright, my next question for you is when did he start being... violent?” He didn’t know why it was so hard to talk about. The words felt like sharp knives running across his lips when he spoke. But at the same time, he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. He saw what she looked like, and he could see the abuse happening in his mind. Yet somehow it wasn’t happening at all. Maybe it hadn’t hit him yet, maybe it didn’t hit her either. And that was what was he worried about.
Maria’s focused on Alex, which, once again, made Alex shift in his seat. Suddenly her eyes went cold, soulless, like the life had been stripped out of them. She was death. And perhaps death didn’t just mean actually dying, but a feeling.
“It was gradual. No one starts beating someone to death in one day, Detective,” she said, her voice flat. “But I remember when I noticed it. It was six years ago, and we were in the bedroom. I was on the phone talking to a fellow teacher about lesson planning. It was man, and Matthew saw. He started screaming and yelling at me. It got worse and worse after that. I did the same thing a few months later and threw me against the wall. There is still a dent there.” She muttered the last sentence.
Alex swallowed hard, and nodded in response. He was at a loss of words. He knew that deep down part of her had to still love him. Despite all the horrible things he did to her. That was how love worked. He could admit it too. He felt the same way even after his wife, Lillian, left when Elena was just a few months old. She left him devastated. But he still loved her, and would continue to.
Now that he had enough of asking her questions about Matthew, he switched to something he was looking forward to even less. Her daughter.
“Tell me about your daughter.”
Maria smiled, her perfectly white teeth glistening in the light. But her eyes burned as a film of glass overcame them. Alex watched as her emotion changed so quickly. It was like she was seeing everything that was swirling in her mind so vividly. “She’s perfect. She has the biggest brown eyes, and her smile could brighten the worst days.”
“How old is she?”
“Four.” Maria bit down on her dusty pink lip hard and looked down, not letting anyone see her face. She let out a shuttered breath, but quickly recovered acting as if nothing was wrong. But Alex could see it on her face that she was falling apart on the inside. It pained him seeing her sit there so broken.
“Maria, we can stop if you want,” Armstrong said, his body stiff.
Maria wiped her face, her hand trembling. “No, no, that won’t be necessary.” She ran her fingers through her short dark hair, trying to compose herself and focus on something other than the fact that she had lost everything she cared about.
Alex folded his hands on the table. “So on that note, has Matthew ever hurt or threatened her?”
This time, her answer came quickly. “No, never. He would never lay a finger on her.”
Her eyes darkened as she looked at the table.
“But he had other intentions for you?” Alex asked, ready for this questioning to be over so Maria could forget about all this for a just a little while. But he waited patiently every time for her to answer, knowing that what she had gone through and how she deserved everything in the entire world. Even if it was just his attention.
Maria’s voice was muted “Apparently.”
“Now, if you don’t mind me asking, because I know you didn’t want to yesterday, can you tell me about what he did or has done to you?”
Everyone noticed the immediate change in the atmosphere, especially Alex. Specifically, when Maria looked up at him, her eyes black as night, terror swirling within them, yearning to say everything her mouth couldn’t.
“N-no,” she said simply. And although she said it with force, it also came with fear. Perhaps of what the consequence for saying no would be. “Not right now. I can’t believe you would ask me to do such a thing. Again.”
“What?” Alex leaned back in his chair, surprised at Maria’s answer because off how she agreed every to answer every other question. She had already told him about her sex life, but couldn’t tell him about how he hit her? There was something off about that, and Alex knew he would probably never find out.
“How could you ask these questions so carelessly? Do you think it's easy for me to sit here with you two invading all of of my privacy? Detective Rivers, I have had my fair share of people like you. You are one of those people who think they know everything about someone, and think they can help. But in reality, you are only going to make things worse for those like me. For those who have nothing left. Tell me, Detective Rivers, what have you lost? A girlfriend? Some cash? Car keys? Yeah, we all lose those things. But let me ask you this. Have you lost a child? No. Have you lost the love of your life? No. Have you lost you child to the love of your life? I bet not. I have lost absolutely everything that I care about.” Her full, bottom lip trembled, as did her hands. “So, take it from me, that it is not okay to speak of lost things without any empathy. Maybe instead of getting all excited over a case file you could learn how to ask your stupid little questions appropriately.” She turned to Armstrong. “I’m sorry, but I can’t sit here any longer. I am not some case file you can read, Detective Rivers. I am human being. A broken and lost human being. So please, do not pretend to understand me.” With that she stood up, wincing yet again at the stabbing pain, and walked out of the room, leaving Alex and Armstrong to look back and forth at each other in a state of shock.
Once the state had past, Armstrong looked over at Alex, and snarled, “Apologize.”
Alex gulped as he stood up and practically ran out of the room. He found Maria waiting for the elevator, her nose tinted red and streams of tears rolling down her face, the bruises starting to show through as the makeup faded.
“Maria!” He called out, his heavy belt bouncing up and down with every step.
She wiped underneath her eyes with her hands as she turned around. “I thought I told you to leave me alone, Detective Rivers.”
“No, you just told me to stop being insensitive and to not ask questions that make it seem like I don’t care.” He adjusted his belt then let his hands hang by his sides. The brunette scoffed, her gaze turning back to the unopened elevator door. Despite this, Alex continued. “I wanted to let you know that I do care. And I’m sorry if it didn’t seem like it before. I guess being a cop we get used to not showing sympathy. I do care though. A lot. I have a kid too. Well, she’s sixteen, but still a kid if you ask me. If anything happened to her I don’t know what I would do. She is everything to me. So I understand-” He was cut off when Maria whipped her head around, her the ends of her brown hair flying through the air.
“I thought I already told you not to say that you understand, because you don’t. I thought we went through this! How could you possibly understand anything that is going on in my life. Just because you read the case file doesn’t mean you understand. You don’t know what its like to have the love of your life say he love’s you, but then goes and gives you a black eye. You don’t know what its like to be so afraid you will say something wrong because he might slap you. You don’t know what it feels like to have to forgive him every time he says sorry, or I’ll never do it again. You don’t know what it’s like. You have no idea. I need time. I can’t just talk about this all of sudden like it doesn’t matter to me. It does matter. This is a big part of my life. It is a part that I’ve been forced to hide for a very long time.” She paused. “He is my husband. I loved him. I still love him, and I hate that I do, but I can't change it. When you love someone, you force yourself to see the best in them. I need time Detective Rivers. Right now, I just can’t talk about it. With anyone. Not with you, not with Officer Armstrong, not to that damn therapist the hospital wants me to see. I can’t talk about it. If I do he might come and find me again, then hurt me for confessing to the police when they told me someone reported him. So, no, I can’t talk about it.” The brunette hesitated before continuing her sentence. “Now, Detective Rivers, answer me one question. Has your daughter ever been taken from you? From the point where you don’t know if you will ever see her again? To the point where you don’t know if she is dead or alive.”
Alex shook his head back and forth.
“See. That is what is happening to me. You don’t understand. At all. So I am going to ask you one more time to not say that you understand me. Because believe me, Detective, you don’t know a thing. Just find her. Please. I'm begging you.”
He stood there while she stepped into the elevator stunned. She was beautiful and terrifying all at once. Once his legs had begun to move again, Alex followed her into the elevator, finally realizing what he should have said before.
“You're right,” he said softly. “I don’t understand. But I want to. And I do care. I really do. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about it. I don’t want you to feel like you have to suffer alone. And I will tell you right now that I am going to find the both of them and put Matthew in jail so he doesn’t hurt you again. I’ll make sure of it. I know that this is scary for you because you weren’t allowed to say what you wanted before. But you don’t have to be scared anymore.”
“I’m not scared.”
He answered with a simple, “Okay,” before letting out a sigh. If it were someone else, he probably would have argued more. But Maria was different. With Matthew, she had to hide her emotions to make sure no one knew how she was truly feeling. She wasn’t used to being able to express her emotions. This was probably the only way she knew how. Anger and sadness.
It was just the two of them standing in the elevator, their feet feeling the ground shake as it moved down to the first floor.
“And... Maria?” Alex continued after a while, interrupting the silence.
She hummed, staring into a haze into front of her like nothing mattered anymore.
“I hate to ask, but we have to search your house. I’m sorry, but Armstrong just wants us to scope out the area to see if anything will lead us to them.”
Not moving an inch, Maria answered, her voice sounding defeated. “Fine. Search the house. Just find them. Please. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to deal with this.”
Alex nodded, thinking nothing of the very last thing Maria said.
The doors opened once the bell had beeped, and Alex watched as Maria stepped closer to the sliding metal doors. But she didn’t make it far; she jumped backwards and almost lost her footing when she saw the man who was waiting for the elevator standing in front of her.
Alex was quick to move towards her, putting one hand on her back and the other on her arm.
“Are you okay?” He studied her, checking every inch of her body to make sure nothing was wrong. Even though there was because the true scars were really within herself.
“Don’t touch me.” She swatted Alex’s hands away, refusing to let the golden brown haired cop lay a hand on her. “And yes, I am okay. I can take care of myself. I don’t need anyone to protect me.”
He knew better then to believe anyone when they said they were fine. Especially Maria. She was broken, and jumpy because every time she saw a random guy she would get the same frightened look on her face every time. It was obvious she was afraid that her husband was going to come back and beat her. But at the same time, she loved him. It was hard to imagine how she could do that. Loving someone and fearing them at the same time. She being ripped in two. He couldn’t imagine how that felt. He wanted to help her, he really did. He just wasn’t sure if he could.
Although he knew that it was only going to end with her probably yelling again, Alex followed her as she walked out of the elevator and down the hallway.
“Where are you staying?” He asked abruptly, keeping in mind that he needed to stay a healthy distance.
Maria turned around, her face still frazzled. “What?”
“Staying in your house would be a trigger. Where are you staying?”
She clenched her jaw, but her expression softened when she realized Alex was only asking out of concern. “A hotel that’s a few minutes down the road. Why?”
“Because I was going to say that you could always stay with me if you want.”
“Why I would I want to do that?”
He walked closer to her, his head tilted to the right. “Well for starters, you got out of the hospital this morning, second, I don’t want you to be alone. Third, you have broken rib and your whole body hurts, and fourth... hotels are expensive. Plus, it's just me and Elena and I have an extra room.”
“I appreciate your offer, but I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.”
But that was the thing, he did. He did have to worry. Even after only knowing her for less than two days. Maybe it was because he didn’t trust her. Or rather, what she did when she was alone. He saw her wrists, and that was what haunted him. Not the bruises or stitches. And now that she was in a more fragile state than ever, he didn’t want to leave to leave her alone. She didn’t just have look out for herself, but for her child also.
Suddenly memories from two years ago, when Elena was going through a very dark time, had all swarmed back. It wasn’t only a dark time for her, but a dark time for him as well. He had spent so many months always worried about what she was doing and scared that one day he would lose her forever. Luckily that story didn’t have a bad ending, unlike so many others.
“Right. Um... well if you need anything, you know where to find me.”
Maria nodded before turning and walking away.
The rest of the day seemed to drag on. Otto was still a pain in the ass, particularly since he hadn’t had a drink all day. Even though he wasn’t happy drunk, he was still more pleasant to be around when intoxicated.
Alex walked back to his desk, his mind filled with thoughts about the broken brunette and what the future would hold for her. He sat down, his focus a thousand miles from his work. Eventually he was dragged back to reality when Enrique’s voice sucked him from his thoughts.
“You going home?” The Puerto Rican asked, his hair identical to what it looked like earlier that morning thanks to his extra hold gel
“Yeah, I got to get home to Elena,” Alex said, gathering a few papers that had research on them about domestic violence. Mainly focusing on how the victims feel and how you should treat them. He paused once he realized something was missing.
“Do you want to go to Violet’s and grab a drink? First rounds on me.”
Ignoring his question, Alex pointed at the corner of his desk. “Did you eat the other half of my sandwich?”
Enrique gulped. “No.”
Alex raised an eyebrow. “How about the first two rounds?” He compromised. “And another sandwich because you ate mine.”
Alex and Enrique walked down to Violet’s, and found that all of their friends were busy taking orders and trying there best not to run into anyone. Violet’s was always busy on Friday nights. Much more so the first Friday on the month because it was senior’s bingo night in the back party room, curtesy of Rumi’s grandmother.
As the two cops walked in, all eyes were on them, which wasn’t unusual. But Alex was paying more attention to the warm greeting to his nose from the chocolate sundaes and salty fries. He had to admit, Violet’s had to be his favorite place to let loose. It had also been the first place he had made friends in his ‘new life’.
“Alex! Is the case any good? Was it everything you expected it to be?” Rumi ignored the men and women sitting at the bar and instead ran over to him, his shoes clicking in the floor.
“It’s good. But it’s a lot to handle. I met the woman yesterday and it was worse than I thought. But overall I am really excited that I get to finally make a difference.”
“Really? Cause you don’t seem excited.”
“Yeah, well it’s a difficult subject. And one I would rather forget about for the moment. Two beers on him.” Alex patted Enrique on his shoulder and they both took the two empty stools next to each other.
After a few minutes of sipping their drinks, Alex’s gaze drifted over toward the front corner of the diner, soon noticing that Enrique was staring at him.
Enrique continued his staring Alex’s way. “Nothing,” he said smugly.
“Then why the hell are you staring at me?”
His black eyebrow raised and he pointed towards the person sitting at the table in the corner. It was Maria, but Alex already knew that of course. “Because you’re staring at her like that.”
Alex turned his head back around to look at Maria again, but quickly looked back an Enrique.
“Are you serious? You think I’m staring at her like that?”
Enrique shrugged causing Alex to scoff and roll his eyes.
“Rumi! I need that drink!” Alex called out, the diner staring at the two of them once again.
“Oh come on Ally.”
“Don’t call me Ally.”
“Fine. Come on Alex, just go and say something to her. If not for you, then for her. I mean... look at her. She could use some company,” Enrique persisted.
"Of course she wants company. Just not my company." Alex looked at Maria once more, his neck starting to get used to turning that way. She was in a trance, her eyes just merely staring off into space, not focused on anyone or anything. She was observing the world instead of living in it. It was like she was an outsider. But that’s what she was, wasn’t she? An outsider? She had been isolated from the world for seven years of her life. Kept away from people, slowly uprooted from within herself.
“Alright alright. Just don’t take my drink,” Alex said before sluggishly jumping of the bar stool and walking over to Maria’s table. His boots scuffed against the tile flooring and his badge shone on the rustic lamps above.
Maria’s eyes looked up, and appeared to be warmer than they did earlier, but still appeared as if the life had not been returned.
Alex gave her a slight smile. “Can I sit?”
She nodded, looking though as she was going to burst into tears at any given moment.
Alex pulled out a chair and glanced down at the broken woman in front of him. “Are you okay?”
She rested her head on her hand and slouched over. “It depends on what your definition of okay is. Does is mean that I feel like I just had the best day ever or does it mean that I feel like want to go home and shrivel up and...” She couldn’t finish her sentence without her voice becoming inaudible. Maria put her hands over her face before her tears started falling down her cheeks. She looked so small sitting there. “Listen, Detective, I’m okay. Just please, leave me alone.”
“Do you want anything?”
“Only for you to go away.”
“Maria... I know that seeing a cop, especially me, and constantly being reminded of what happened is not something you want. I get you don’t like me. I get that it’s uncomfortable and scary, and I know I am the absolute last person you would want to talk to, but I don’t want to see you like this.”
“Well that’s too bad because this is what I am going to be like until I take my very last breath,” was the last thing she said before getting up and leaving.
“And I’ll fight to make sure you don’t... until my very last breath,” he muttered, watching as Maria left the restaurant, walking into the parking lot alone.
Alex trudged back to Enrique, his ice cold beer waiting for him as tiny water droplets ran down the glass and onto the table.
“Why did she leave?” Enrique asked.
“I don’t know,” Alex sighed, gripping the beer mug firmly. “Probably because she was starting to get upset and didn’t want anyone to see.”
The two men sat shoulder to shoulder, now both staring off into space as the other spoke.
“Makes sense,” Enrique continued. “Her husband probably beat her up when she was upset.”
Alex scoffed, agreeing, and took a swig of his beer.
After a while, the sun began to go down, and Enrique left. Alex decided to call it a night as well after enjoying his bottomless fries and root beet float. He also picked up Elena a milkshake before he left, knowing she would ask him for one later. When Lillian left, and never came back, it was like she disappeared of the face of the Earth. There was no call, no text, no sign that she was okay. Assuming she was dead wouldn’t even be that farfetched. He spent the year after she left trying to find her, and never did. When he finally realized that staying in Seattle, Washington was choking him with reminders of his hurt, he moved back to Lansing when Elena was four for a fresh start, and luckily he got it for the most part. But even after twelve years he was still unable to comprehend how she could leave him, let alone alone her daughter. Had she ever even cared? He may never know. But he did know that he would never leave, and life was good if it was just the two of them. In his eyes it had always been just the two of them. Bringing someone else into their little family just didn’t seem right, and no one certainly ever felt like the right fit.
It was nine o’clock when he got home, and Elena was sitting on the couch with their German Shepard, Xena, doing research for whatever she was into these days.
Setting his things down on the counter, and kicking off his shoes, Alex asked, “What are you reading about?”
“Nothing,” she said.
For most teens, saying ‘nothing’ wouldn’t be a normal thing, but Elena was an open book. Especially towards Alex. She always told him what she was doing. But he let it slide. For now, anyway.