As I trudged up the steep hill, hunched awkwardly over to my right to keep a grip on Stuart's collar, I started to sweat. Then I started to boil. The late afternoon sun was hot and the physical exertion was enough to cause persperation to bead up on my upper lip and along my brow and to slide down the front of my chest to pool inside my bra, but what was really causing my temperature to rise was Mitch's disappearance.
I had specifically requested that he follow me to avoid this precise situation: me stranded with the dog and no leash. In 1996, poor college students did not have cell phones. Cell phones and service plans were still expensive enough to be deemed a luxury. I had no other choice but to hope - no, expect that my husband would realize something was wrong when I did not show up at my parent's house immediately and turn around to look for me.
Each plodding side-step up the steep hill, dog in tow, elevated my temperature and my fury. I fumed over his jack-ass reaction of chasing down those teenagers. What did he expect to accomplish with that? Was he going to accost them? Beat them up? Yell at them? Anything was possible and the longer I walked the more I assumed the worst. Why else would he not have come back to look for me? I also spat my anger in the direction of the nameless jogger who yelled at me and threatened to throw a rock at me and/or my dog. I was angry at the dumb dog who never seemed to learn how to just walk by my side but preferred instead to gallop off in the wrong direction just to tease me at all the wrong times. As I dragged Stuart along by the collar, I worked up all the clever lines I would hurl at Mitch when he finally showed up to collect me and allowed the anger to course through my veins to the point that my whole body was throbbing with it.
And when Mitch never showed up, I sank deeper into my ire and blamed each and every step of that half-mile walk squarely on his shoulders because I was fed up with taking all of the blame.
It was his fault I was driving the Mazda.
It was his fault I was stranded.
It was his fault the leash wasn't in the back of the car like it was supposed to be.
It was his fault.
All his fault.
When I was half-way down my parent's street I could see my bright and cheery new Red Raider parked at the curb. Mitch was there. He knew I wasn't and yet he had failed to look for me.
More anger with each step. Everything between us that was constantly shoved down and ignored was bubling up to the surface no longer capable of containment - or so I thought.
Before I reached the house I released Stuart's collar and he beat me to the door, wagging his curled up tail in anticipation. I stomped up the front porch steps after him and flung open the door in a rage. Stuart went tearing in ahead of me to announce our arrival in blissful, ignorant puppy joy, leaving slobber in his wake. I stepped into the dining room and could see through the kitchen into the family room where Mitch was sitting lazily on the couch watching tv in the cool air conditioned house.
I wish I could recall what I did or said at that point. I wish I could tell you that I let him have it and pummeled out a maelstrom of furied words, but my memory is conveniently blank right there. My timeline skips like a scratched record over and over the part where I had to chase my car down the hill, the threatening jogger, the hot walk home hunched over to keep my dog from frolicking away and ends with the shocked realization that my delay went unnoticed only to skip to a silent scene of me sitting dejectedly on the front porch as dusk fell, the air grew cool and me shrinking under the humiliation of waiting for one of my younger siblings to drive me home.
There is a brief flickering image of a confrontation in the kitchen that ended with Mitch leaving in the car I paid for with my student loan money - tearing down the street at a terrifying speed after a slammed door.
I do not personally recall the specifics of my deflation, I just know the rage was gone and all I was left with was defeated humiliation.
The private hell in which I was living had spilled into my parent's house as a spectacle for them to witness. No more speculation as to what type of marriage I was inhabiting, they got a live show. And they did not forget the scene.
I may or may not have started yelling as I had planned on that overheated, blood boiling walk but my anger was never a match for his fierce temper. He got the last word when he called me a "f@!%ing bitch" in front of my mother and left me there. Stranded in my humilation.
Or so I am told. I just don't remember. Or more accurately, I have a memory of the words being spit at me by my husband in my parent's house but there is a dream-like quality to the image. Dream-like in the nightmare category with all the feeling of it being real and not real all at once and surrounded by mist and blur that makes one question whether it happened due to the inability to put it in context.
And the context is this. Maybe in your parent's house these are the type of words that can spill out in the heat of an argument and can be smoothed over with an apology once tempers cool, but not mine. I grew up in a conservative household with strict rules about swearing - you don't do it. And somehow, we never really did. At least not as weapons hurled at each other in violence. None of us were perfect but we knew the boundaries and Mitch crossed over it and used those words like a grenade.
I can only imagine that receiving those words in my parent's home as a grenade. A grenade that exploded and blurred out the scene and erased my anger and forced me to once again retreat back into myself, to hide in the back recesses of my mind where it was safe.
So I sat on the front porch chilled from the salty sweat that had dried on my skin and the shadows that covered me following the setting sun.