I Am Roadkill, Hear Me Roar

He laughed like a Hyena. Not the sound, but the shape of his face. A friend told me once that you should never trust a man who bears all of his teeth. His eyes were “bluer than a Patsy Kline song.” That’s what he wrote in his online profile, and even then in the nascence of our relationship, narcissism lingered in that phrase. It was an instant turn-off, perhaps my first twinge of intuition. It took nine months of knowing him before I listened to anything I had to say.

He sent me a message through the dating site, and it was confident, suggesting we cut the virtual courting crap and go grab a beer. I told him to hang on, to cool his jets. I think he liked that. In his profile, there was a photo of him straddling his bicycle dressed as a yellow chicken. So I guess if I’m honest with myself, he always had an in.

I still see him and the way he would stand, feet apart, fist on hips like Superman. He had that effeminate gesture where his wrist went slack and his hand drooped unanimated at his side. He’d do this as he stirred his pots, cooking just for me. He planned a day of biking adventures and we’d go. Out to Seattle’s islands, the beach at night, wherever. We’d drink a beer and eat a sandwich on a rock always overlooking the water.  He changed the oil in my car.

One night, he threw a lamp against the wall. Then he hit, choked, pulled, screamed, tore the door from its hinges and, as I fled and he captured, we overturned the furniture. It was a drama fit for show business. The Hyena’s voice was wet in my ear as he grappled to find some calm; he hissed to me, “Say it’s all your fault,” throughout the evening. I’m unsure if it was my confession he wanted or permission to take his indignation somewhere other than out the back door. Regardless, I couldn’t say it. Fault is a very good place to begin.  

Another’s opinion about you is none of your business. Except when it is.
Bringing a “love” story into the judicial system is like stuffing a wild animal down the front of your shirt and hoping no one will notice. You attempt to tame and groom it, but it won’t sit still in the order of a stately room. Every couple there stood erect before the judge enduring the feral beast chewing at the binding of their spine. If I could have shown myself in this form, a body chewed up by story, I’d have been as tenuously strung together as busted up roadkill.

The judge was female, a gender not indicative of a verdict in my favor, so said the advocates. How could I not compare us, her on high and me down low? Me, part-time tutor, thinker not doer, victim with rattlers up my sleeve. She, money, vocation, erudite cogency. It’s the way of the world, patricians deciding the fate of the plebs.  Her opinion, drawn off of statements on paper, was mightier than I could ever be.

Her assessment of the wilderness I dragged into her courtroom validated not only my accusations of The Hyena, but they were going to validate me.

To obtain an Order of Protection, one must demonstrate to the judge that there is reasonable cause to fear a person, and already the wild animal stirs. We don’t get to talk about emotional thresholds in government buildings. No one knows where you’ve been. You can’t say, “I’m not afraid of him. But I see now that I should be.”

My tolerance for another’s unpredictable meltdowns had reached an unperceived new height through association with The Hyena but, of course, I was already long disoriented. Because I’m not writing about the male anger that permeated my childhood, just know that, on some level, The Hyena was normal. What’s notable is that he exuded the belief of every man before him – that other people were responsible for his fury. And no matter how unreasonable, how quickly he swung that 180 degrees between friend and tyrant, I believed myself to be the complicit element, the charge that awakened the ruthless comportment of others, curled serpentine in the back of their heads.

There was responsibility to be had in all this confusion, and, time after time, I dutifully picked up the wrong pieces. If someone was annoyed, I was annoying somehow. So no, I didn’t fear him because my understanding was that I was the spark; lightning is most at home in the storm and it does not fear the burning forest.

You Can’t Learn to Speak the Truth From a Life in Acrobatics: The definition of codependency in one act
Take an acrobat, bend her backwards, and lift one leg up to the sky. She’s on a stage, covered in spotlight, anchored in hearts and minds. Someone in the audience yells, “Higher!” and the acrobat points her toes.

A man steps from backstage. “Can you please go higher?” The acrobat gains an inch by pushing herself up with her fingertips. Another voice, a woman in the back row speaks. “This would really be perfect if her hair was down.” With one hand, the acrobat manages to rip her locks free of its bun.

“Keep that one hand up!” she thinks she hears someone shout. The acrobat is tiring. She comes down to rest on her elbows, still in a backbend. The audience, in unison, moans.

“Oh well,” someone suggests, “maybe she can touch her heel with her fingertips?” She tries but cannot reach. From out of the darkness, a hacksaw slides into the light. The sweating acrobat grips the tool and begins to saw at one of her fingers. She places the severed extremity at her heel.

The audience cheers! She’s taking requests: “Handstand!”

“Grab one foot!”

“Balance now and smile!” She reaches, she tears, she saws away at her parts.

The evening drags on and the requests are fewer. Chairs are scooting and shoes are clipping the floor. The crowd gets hungry and goes home.

Someone asks if she’s doing okay as they pass along the stage toward the door. “It’s cool,” she says, “I can clean this up myself.” The door swings shut, and in a heap, the acrobat collapses to the floor.

Wikipedia on Lightning
“Lightning's relative unpredictability limits a complete explanation of how or why it occurs, even after hundreds of years of scientific investigation…The actual discharge is the final stage of a very complex process.”

The Mothers of Others
I do not descend from a lineage of steadfast women. Restless spirits we are indeed, but sometimes we roll over and play dead. My mother couldn’t hear about The Hyena.  My sister was angry for me, at least, but together we had no solutions. My aunt was in her own abusive situation. I had fucked up big time, and my bloodline, my own pack, I learned, we travel alone through dark places.  

It was my roommate’s mother who encouraged involving the law. She was my first tipping domino, the conjurer of a single intelligent idea that ran between the misguided crossfire of neurons in my mind. In the void where fear for him should have been was anxiety over what I would do should The Hyena return to my door – what excuses would I espouse from him; what eclectic psychoanalysis would I offer up to betray myself?

I was uncomfortable. With this litigious method, dysfunction was no longer private and the outcome of a courtroom decision, irrevocable. Public and permanent rarely suit me. With the Intelligent Idea spinning in my head, I felt more guided by a downhill rolling boulder than intuition, but I knew I must aim for a different outcome this time. I filed for the Order and The Hyena was served.

This is what’s known as “taking action on your own behalf,” an empowering act that feels unnatural to those who aren’t well practiced.

Things I did say
Get out of my house!
I’m sorry.
I’m calling the police!
You’re crazy!
Are you okay?
Please leave.
I care about you, too.
I hate you!
You’re going to hurt your back.
Okay, we can lie down now.

The Art of Never Inconveniencing Anyone
At one point, I broke free of him and ran out the back door, but the porch and grass were wet. The Hyena chased and slid into me. We sat muddied beneath the open sky. We were surrounded by dark houses, lit porches; it was a neighborhood of plenty. I yelled loud but not too loud. The Hyena covered my mouth. I wanted someone to come, but how embarrassing it would be for anyone to find me.

I fell off my scooter when I was eleven, trying hard to impress a boy outside his house shooting hoops. If he saw, he never came over, so I picked up my ride and limped home.

I was led by the cyclopean eye bleeding in the center of my knee. A rock had scooped out a chunk of flesh deep enough for me to learn that we are somewhat purple inside. On the way, I passed a neighbor mowing her yard, and I stopped walking to linger at the edge of the grass. Crying in my reddening sock, I stepped closer, waiting for her to notice me. I never waved her down and she didn’t look up from her task. Obviously, she was too busy. I turned around, continued on, and entered our house where nobody was home.

I was so concerned for The Hyena and his pending dental school applications that I phoned the advocates at the courthouse to inquire how my allegations would affect him. This is the art of never inconveniencing anyone –make waves without rippling the water, grow without mistakes, change without disappointment, ask without angering; create, invent, qualify, and be happy without causing a scene.

This highly misguided “concern” for others will line the heuristics from which a Frankenstein logic is sewn - the very act of making a decision that serves our best interest is soon followed by the grave responsibility to prevent it from affecting others. This incantation only serves to resurrect a persistent doubt that shadows every thought and every action.

Things I should have said
I absolutely do not love you, and I don’t want to hang out anymore.
There is a hole in my knee, and I’m terribly hurt.
Momma, I hate to inform you, but I am having serious boy problems…

Between our two hearings, he brought a grand total of thirty pages, single-spaced, twelve point font Word documents, fifteen pages for each courtroom visit. My own statements tallied four handwritten paragraphs.

We received a copy of each other’s account. Everything he learned about me, nine months of information was there, written in his distorted witchery, as if words could be poured on paper and stirred with the tip of your finger. In the end, the courts sided with me.

There is much to say concerning the inadequacy of systems and stories. I signed up for a Hyena vs. Victim intervention, but it got complicated remembering the things I said and did that perhaps didn’t mean “No.” There were many a sentence threaded that meant, let’s hang out again sometime, but still, I had to keep choosing the belief that I didn’t deserve his punishment.

I carried bundles of responsibility, misunderstanding that there was but one, and at some point in my past, I walked away and left her standing in her blood-soaked shoe.  For a while I retraced my steps until I found her waiting on a curb, and I still have to remember to keep a firm grip on her tiny hand. When threatened, I stand in front of her or we go where it’s quiet and safe.

Caroline Mays is a chronic student of writing, works primarily in Nonfiction, and holds no advanced degrees beyond her B.A. in Liberal Arts. In 2013, she attended a residency in Edinburgh Scotland through the University of New Orleans. In 2016, she attended Summer Arts in Monterey, California by winning a partial scholarship. She's the recipient of two partial scholarships for Disquiet in Lisbon two years in a row. Caroline is a working writer and the founder of Switchblade Lemonade. She's also an endurance athlete and lives in Chico, California.