• Seneca Basoalto

Seven People Stood in a Kitchen

Seven people stood in the kitchen, breaking silence with wine glasses and the popping sound of grapes being punctured between teeth. On the far end of the room was a shabby oak dining table next to a wall of windows and a door leading to the backyard with a view of a structure that looked like an old, quaint castle. A thin layer of frost lazed like a crystalized veil across the emerald grass, the reflection nearly bright enough to blind once the sun flared down. This was the home in Devon where Desmond’s family spent Christmas nearly every year – with two Christmas trees adorned in an assortment of handmade ornaments – some whittled with wood and some baked in colorful clay.

It was my first holiday season with him in that house, with his family, with strangers who only heard about me through whatever tales his tattling mouth felt necessary to share. Much of it the fable of our histrionic romance – the way he only ever called me babygirl, his narration of our reconnection after years of desperately missing me, how long and arduous it was to find me again despite entering a new relationship and forming multiple bands. Desmond’s mother told me that my name never stopped slipping from his mouth. No matter what the conversation was about he would always find a way to make me a part of it. I was guilty of the same. His name always slipping from my tongue in quixotic fashion during casual work conversation or margarita’s with my best friends.

Unlike me, Desmond battled the urge to change his behavior around the people closest to him, finding himself imprisoned as the person they knew him to be rather than the person he saw himself to be. It was his constant challenge – reiterating to his loved ones that the person he is with me isn’t different – but rather the advent of the attributes that’ve been repressed. The man he always has been but kept hidden because it didn’t fit his lifestyle and the choices he had made –until I became a factor. He was man enough to admit some of it was darker. Some of these pieces that had remained hidden were things that probably should remain hidden, things that were criminal and manipulative. He wasn’t perfect, but he had found solace in our relationship, the congregation of soulmates, his delicacy, softness sheathed in a stern voice and a firm hand like James Dean laced with bougainvillea.

I made no protest to the kind of man he was, good and bad, soft and hard, gentle and violent, domestic and dominant, poetic and cursory – I wanted to be submerged in everything that he was even when I acted like a brat against his will. He liked that too because it gave him a reason to bring the hammer down, even in front of all of his friends and family. He didn’t shy away from referring to himself as my daddy or insisting I be a good little girl and do exactly as he say.

Desmond would pop my cheek in a tart smack if I said no, or if I made some offhanded cheeky remark as I often do. He would slap the cotton candy lip balm right off my mouth without thinking twice if I chose to act like a brat. I didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if I didn’t initiate the erotic banter that we both so ardently thrived on. Though as with most things, there is always a line, a line he past too often because of the tumor on his amygdala. It took months, but eventually I effectively encouraged him to explain his tumor to his family, and how it made him prone to violent outbursts. They attempted to be supportive but I don’t think they understood the gravity of its side effects until the day before Christmas Eve when, during what was barely an argument, he grabbed me by the hair and slammed my head into the wall so hard it knocked the telephone from its hinges – then body slammed me into the floor, partially cracking my cranium.

Seven people stood in the kitchen and watched the escalation in deafening silence. One wine glass shattered on the floor.

I can’t remember what the escalation of events were, I only remember standing by the sink talking about the promise he’d broken a few weeks earlier, about something he said he’d do that he didn’t because his recording schedule changed. I brought it up as a caustic anecdote, but his chest puffed up, his breathing slowed, and his blue eyes glared across the kitchen island and burned a hole through my retina. He couldn’t stay silent. His finger pointed to me to come to him, which I didn’t want to do. I knew what it meant to be within arm’s reach, and it made my heartbeat twitch underneath my dress. It wasn’t my intention to make the situation worse, but my anxiety gets the best of me when I’m under stress, and it leads me to not make clear decisions, like shaking my head no. The corner of his lip spasmed as he once again instructed I come to him. I justified my tiptoeing towards him by telling myself that there are people around so I shouldn’t need to worry about what impulsive thing he may do because he would never do anything in front of his family.

But I was wrong.

He stood in front of me, his fingers gripping my chin as he scolded me like I were an incompetent child. “I love you more than anyone will ever love you,” he proclaimed. “No one will ever love you as much as I love why say such hurtful things to me when I do everything for you? For us?”

The mother of his daughter, Lucy, sat about 3 feet away and scoffed as she told him to stop being such an irritating twat. He stared her down, burning a hole through her too, telling her to mind her own business. He looked back at me and told me to say sorry to him.

With my chin still clutched firmly in his hands, I looked him straight in the eyes and replied, “Say I’m sorry for what?”

I was on the cold wooden floor before I even realized what had happened. For the first few seconds all I heard were buzzards in my ears, and the sound of my neglectful mother’s voice screaming at me to stop acting fresh – followed by the click of the locking closet door while she ignored my cries. Half incoherent, I struggled to open my eyes, but could feel Desmond’s weight on top of me, screaming at me with his hands around my neck “I love you! I love you, and you treat me like nothing!”

Lucy had jumped from the stool and attempted to pull Desmond off of me as his nephew and father helped. Once they’d hauled him off my disoriented body, Lucy came to my aid, their daughter in the background shouting at him, wanting to know what the hell is wrong with him.

Desmond stumbled backwards into the wall where the plaster crumbled from my skull. He was coming out of a rage blackout, in pure shock of what just happened. He dropped to his knees and crawled towards me, sobbing pools around my neck and elbows, repeatedly saying he was sorry. Over and over, thirty times, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry...” He pushed for everyone to get away from me and to give me space while Lucy did the same to him – warning him to not come near me again – but I reached for him, like I always do. I tried to form some type of intelligible sentence to let everyone know that this isn’t him, it’s the tumor, and it’s why he’s getting treatment. I wanted them all to know that I was fine, and that these unfortunate things happen between us from time to time because there is no way to know what is going to trigger a rage blackout. But I said nothing. My attentions were black while my throat swelled like natal toxemia of the limbs.

Most of the time Desmond only remembers what he did like remembering a bad dream, coming in salty waves of rubble. It forces me to relive the trauma every time I’ve got to describe to him what he did – like a tattletale. Pieces are always missing, that’s terrifying to him. None of us could imagine what it feels like to lose time and memory, and to not know how bad you’ll be triggered, or when. Just as he could not imagine what it feels like to have your lovers hands turn into a noose affixed to your neck like a new appendage.

There must have been something about being around so many people with me that made it worse, because it was only two days earlier he’d went into a blackout and tried to rape me early in the morning as the pale sun was rising behind the fog. His mum had walked in and witnessed his naked body placating my somnolent skeleton – his left hand franticly struggling to lift the silk nightgown he’d bought me as I struggle to scream through the palm of his right hand covering my mouth.

I told myself that I was used to it. Yet in saying those words out loud I could hear how pitiful I sounded in believing I could handle it, or believing I knew the difference between normal DDLG play and his blackout aggressions, and that I could manage them both separately. I didn’t want to leave him or blame Desmond for something he had little control over when I knew him and his doctors were doing everything they could to safely manage the issue.

No one understood that.

No one understood that I would rather be with him and in pain than be without him.

I was willing to suffer. And I did. I suffered three successful rapes and five concussions that I haven’t begun to process. I suffered seeing him suffer, feeling so helpless that he wanted to cut off his own hands to make it stop. I don’t have enough fingers to count the nights he cried himself to sleep in fear of the inevitable next event – his ligaments trembling from trying to process the idea that his body was capable of such ruthless brutality. I was always defending him so he wouldn’t have to defend himself.

After that afternoon where Desmond’s family witnessed the cruelty of his condition in all its glory, he carried me to our room and tried to take care of me, lying my battered husk across the bed and tucking me in underneath the quilt he made for me with his grandmother. My mouth became flooded with the opiates he kept hidden away, the ones he would feed me like candy when I behaved. He had the idea that if he monitored my pain pills, then I’d be less likely to overdose or become addicted like I was when we met. After the drugs kicked in, he shaved the hair around the part of my skull where I was bleeding and stitched me up with his mother’s sewing kit after cauterizing the wound himself with his cigarette lighter. He did what he thought was right. I didn’t have the energy or capacity to suggest he do anything else. For the rest of that day I barely spoke a word, hoping my glossy eyes would relay whatever message my ballooning throat couldn’t. We spent that time alone in that room as he snuggled up next to me, reading me Voltaire until my body loosened into a deep slumber.

It was only once I’d fallen asleep that he snuck away and spoke to his family about what they’d witnessed those hours earlier. I’m told they didn’t know what to say other than how shocked they were – and that they thought it best he end our relationship before he causes me anymore trauma, or before he kills me.

In fact, I’m told they spent over an hour trying to convince him that our being in love is irrelevant because our love puts me in danger.

His sister’s voice resounded through the walls and into one of my fever dreams; she said I have children to raise...that being a mother is important than being with him. His mum told me later on before our Christmas trip was over that I don’t deserve to be treated this way and that it’s selfish of her son to not let me go knowing he could snap and unintentionally end my life.

I heard her. I ignored her. I’m not the smartest girl, I admit, but none of them knew what I knew. They didn’t have with him what I have. That type of all-consuming love, mind–blowing orgasms, being spoiled and pampered with affection and adoration. Desmond had more good days than bad ones, and on those good days it was like being in love with the universe itself – vast and wild, I never felt unloved or unappreciated. I was a princess in his eyes – constantly showered with hugs and kisses, he would brush my hair, paint pictures on my back, and compliment me every day. There was never a second within those intimate moments where I questioned if I was loved, or what real love felt like. He would sneak his skin across the bed and surprise me with 500 kisses across my whole body. I never had to ask. I never had to hint. He always just knew how to indulge me – even if sometimes he demanded I be a brat so I could be properly punished. But that was us, and I didn’t want to lose it.

The following day, on Christmas Eve, we spent most of the day out of the house and away from his family. They didn’t know where we went, but we were up at dawn and didn’t come back until dinner. Desmond and I went walking through the woods, down to the water, went shopping, ate lunch, climbed trees and kissed between the crooked and cold branches, we bought records, and we found a secluded church to make love in. We’d come back to the house right as everyone was about to sit and eat. We joined them at the table – and no one said anything more than “how are you feeling?”

I gave a cliché answer, “I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.” Then Desmond proceeded to talk about how we spent our day together, wrapping his arm around me and compelling me to kiss him in front of everyone – reassurance that everything was alright despite the orchid swirl of his flattened fingerprint bruises aligning my neck and jaw. I knew his family wanted to say something, to intervene for my wellbeing, but I think they knew that it wasn’t going to matter because I wasn’t going to be swayed. That Desmond wouldn’t allow me to be swayed.

But they didn’t even try – and that stung.

Their silence towards me only reiterated the most cerebral of reasons that Desmond was such an imperative part of my welfare – because he’s the only one who has ever spoken up for me.

When Desmond told them we first met when I was 13, they didn’t know what to make of it. They had so many questions about how that happened, specifically how a 30 year old man with such an prominent music career could be that ignorant to his inamorata’s real age. One of the biggest questions was why he had spent the next 13 years looking for me everywhere across America. On this day together, Christmas Eve, it had been 17 years since we’d first met, and we were still infatuated with each other. It wasn’t until his family met me and witnessed all our explicit interactions that they saw the riddle of it all quite clearly –– he got to me too young.

Desmond was in me. Desmond was a constant. Desmond took my virginity. Desmond showed me what love was when I’d never felt it. Desmond showed me attention I’d never had. Desmond gave me affection I’d never experienced. Desmond filled the void left inside of me from having absent, abusive parents who hid camcorders under my dresser and tried to sell me into a contract marriage to some stranger in the military who worked with my step–father. Desmond felt he was designed to protect me. Desmond made his role in my life indispensable even when I didn’t know if I wanted him there. Desmond was the persistent force that refused to go away or back down. Desmond was in my bones. Desmond’s voice is the conscience singing hymns in my head alongside a decomposing piano.

Most people say he brainwashed me. I heard his mum ask me if that was the case. I heard his daughter whisper it to her cousin. I’ve had friends validate his love for me then in the same breath imply his emotional indoctrination whenever I name drop him – because a man who says no one could ever love you as much as I love you is a man who belittles your value and place within the rest of the world – a world that does not revolve around him. I hear it all the time.

He brainwashed you. He manipulated you.

He’s obsessed with you. He’s dangerous.

All of that is true. But it’s not all that’s true.

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