My Boyfriend’s Bad Habits

I wrote this story for my writing club for a prompt to write something about drinking. I think I went sufficiently dark and terrifying…again…with this one. Not sure what that says about me, but I also don’t think I want to know.

——

Eric looked different. Scary. I could tell it was happening again and I had an internal panic attack. A dark cloud passed through him and took up a temporary residence, his face enveloped in shadows like a cliché evil villain. He tossed back another gulp of his draft with his eyes fixated on the television screen. The Knicks were losing, badly, which meant that Eric was probably losing money. Badly.

I shifted uncomfortably in my bar stool and looked at my friend Anya and her boyfriend Ted who barely seemed to notice. Maybe it was because Eric was always wasted lately, or maybe they were trying to be polite. But more likely the charismatic man that I fell in love with two years ago fooled them. Most people went out for drinks and many of them got pissed when their favorite sports teams lost. That’s what I chalked it up to before I realized how deep his anger and addictions went.

Anya had been—was—my best friend. We met in college and lived together for three years and were pretty much inseparable. But then I met Eric two years ago and she met Ted, so we moved out of our shared apartment and in with our boyfriends. College was a place for us to rebel against our conservative upbringings. We were walking clichés. We became vegetarians and rallied on campus for equal rights and environmental awareness. Moving back to a big city after our small-town college experience slowly broke our rebelling spirits, and we fell into the very patterns we so adamantly tried to avoid. When we did see each other now, we played the same small talk, catching up games that acquaintances play with one another.

I tried to approximate how many beers he’d drank, but started to get a little confused. I wasn’t drunk; hell, I wasn’t even tipsy—once I saw the effects alcohol had on Eric, I took up sobriety without even realizing. A clear head helped me to protect myself better anyway. Whatever the exact number was, his count probably laid around eight or nine beers while the game was well into the fourth quarter. Ted and Anya were deep in some conveniently distracted conversation, but I needed to get some space and try to think up a strategy to protect myself.

“I’m going to run to the bathroom.”

I tried to catch Anya’s eye so she would come with me, and whether intentionally or not, she dodged my glance. With my bag slung over my shoulder, I began to leave until I felt Eric’s large hand devour my wrist. I sat back down and pretended to fidget in my purse for something while I dug my nails into his knuckles and tried to loosen his grip. He hadn’t looked away from the television until a commercial broke onto the screen and he finally met my gaze. His hazel eyes reminded me of the man I fell in love with two years earlier. The green-brown mixed with sadness, holding the part of him that didn’t want to hurt me, the part of him that didn’t enjoy drinking and gambling. Like a scared child locked in a dark room, the darkness mostly overshadowed the last remaining pieces of who he was when he wasn’t drunk.

I fondly remembered the charming accountant that won my heart in a drunken game of darts then swept me off my feet with a romantic first date. Dark brown hair and a muscular build that loomed almost an entire foot over me. In the beginning I always felt protected by Eric, but the more comfortable he became around me meant that he was able to change into the person he really was underneath the façade. I only saw him as a dangerous threat now, even when others complimented me on how lucky I was for finding such a great catch.

“Where are you going?” his voice slithered out of his mouth and his eyes burned my cheeks.

“I…I’m just going to the bathroom,” I floundered as I tried to mask my shaking voice.

His grip released as the cheering fans inside the television returned, but I felt his gaze glaring through my back. I hopped off the seat and mumbled something about finding lipstick in my purse.

In the bathroom, a pale face stared back at me. My skin clung desperately to my bones as I tried to quickly count up how many pounds I’d lost in the last year and a half since Eric’s gambling really spun out of control. The freckles that normally danced across my nose and splashed onto my cheeks were faded to the point where I barely noticed them. My hair looked unkempt and stringy, the previously strawberry blonde waves now grayish and flat. I dampened a paper towel and placed it on my neck then dipped it into the sunken creases of my cheeks. My eyes even looked dim and I tried to remember where my energy and fire for life went. My life became robotic as I went through the motions yet my focus was always on how to avoid the next fight. My hands were shaking and icy so I ran them under warm water in attempt to bring them back to life. A blueish-green shadow was forming on my wrist already from where Eric grabbed me, and I pulled my maroon sweater sleeve down to cover up the evidence. I don’t know how long I was actually in the bathroom. My fifteen-minute escape felt like a weeklong vacation. Someone came in and interrupted my time away, and I tried to make it look like I was fixing my hair instead of daydreaming about how to escape my life.

Pushing out of the bathroom door, I released the breath I’d been holding since I really looked at myself. I had to sit down alone and figure out how the hell I let myself become this person. I wasn’t the type of girl who let a man control her, let alone lay a hand on her. I channeled the diehard feminist of my late teens and early 20s. Womyn not women and everything that entailed. Now I’m the type of girl who hides bruises with makeup and concealing clothing and avoids talking to her friends. Three years ago, I would’ve been screaming it from the rooftops if my boyfriend laid a hand on me. I straightened my shoulders and adjusted my posture, my back creaking out of its comfortable slouching position. I should meet up with some of my regularly ignored best friends. I needed to talk to someone and share my suffering with someone else. The first step to recovery is to admit when you need help, and I finally felt sick of playing the victim.

Maybe it was because I was lost in a cloud of rare confidence or maybe it was because the light was broken outside the bathroom, but Eric blindsided me. People in the hall snickered and clutched their drinks dramatically to stop them from spilling as they assumed we were just wasted and looking for a place to make out. Eric pushed me up against the wall crushing me to it, the wood panels giving my lower back a painful massage. My breath squeezed out of my diaphragm as I desperately tried to keep it within me, confidence fleeting as it gushed out.

“Eric, you’re hurting my back.” I tried to keep my voice low to avoid a fight about how I caused a scene. I raised my arms to push him off me and relieve the pressure on my lungs, but he encased them both in one of his oven mitt hands.

“What took you so long, sweetie?” His voice crept out of his mouth as if it were coming from somewhere deep inside him.

“I was just fixing my hair.” As much as I tried to keep my voice from quavering, it once again faltered and gave away my fear.

“The Knicks lost,” he said as he pushed his body harder into my chest and planted a hard kiss on my forehead. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Air whooshed into my body, refreshing and refilling me. Eric’s fingers wrapped around my already bruised wrist, settling into the familiar grooves created less than an hour earlier. He pulled me back to our table and my body felt like it was totally out of my control again. My shoulders fell back into their protective slumped position and I could barely remember what having hope felt like. I quickly wrapped my winter jacket over my shoulders as Eric talked to Ted about the basketball game they just witnessed. My mind was in full-blown panic mode trying to think up a way to avoid a fight when we got back to our apartment, but as always I actually knew it was impossible.

“Bye Sarah,” I heard Anya’s voice break into my thoughts. She sounded almost impatient and her sky blue eyes were full of concern and doubt.

“Oh, sorry. Bye Anya,” I said as I tried to avoid her gaze. As I turned around, I broke character. With my last bit of hope inspired from my earlier surge of confidence, I turned back to my friend and looked her dead in the eyes. “I’ll call you tomorrow, maybe we can grab coffee. Just us girls.”

Her lips tightened into a smile that I recognized from years of friendship, her shiny blonde hair and sparkling eyes were the inspiring light that I needed to latch onto. The familiar smile masked the genuine concern and anxiety that I knew would take hold of her until my call. “That sounds great! See you then.”

Anya’s anxiety probably peaked and finally diminished after she didn’t hear from me. There was no surprise; I became such a flake after I moved in with my boyfriend that she probably didn’t think my offer was genuine from the start anyway. Eric must have overheard our conversation at the bar because he made sure that night that our coffee date never occurred.

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