What does it mean to be fragile? Does it mean that we are more susceptible to damage or breaking completely?
At work that morning, my phone screen flashed his name.
“Hey baby, would love to talk to you during your lunch break today. Let me know if you can call me. I feel awful about what happened last night. Let’s meet up after work for drinks or stay in tonight at your place.”
At first, I didn’t know what “event” he was talking about, and my heart skipped at seeing his name, but then with a sinking feeling in my stomach, I remembered. I remembered the ear numbing tingle of fear that came over me so suddenly, the cold sweat that moved over my body from my neck to the back of my knees.
See, earlier that week, I had been having a particularly stressful time at work, not that work wasn’t usually stressful, it’s that it was extra bad that week. Clients were emailing non stop demands, bosses were screaming, coworkers were out for each other, and the city generally felt on edge. New York was bracing itself for the coldest winter yet, and of course the weather just was not helping with peoples’ moods. Anyways, the night that it happened, I was feeling off, it was as if my body was not registering at the same speed as my mind. I needed to recalibrate my machine and didn’t know how to. That night, after eating greasy Chinese food on his bed, he got up to go to the bathroom. His phone flashed. Candice. It flashed again. This time a Facebook message.
Sara: “Hey Daniel, miss you. call me sometime xxx”
When he came back, my eyes boring into his forehead, I said without any emotion in my voice, “your phone.” He took his phone and immediately got defensive. I was accused of being:
jealous, ridiculous, insecure, insane, crazy, nosy, controlling, angry, emotional, inappropriate. And also, a stalker.
We argued about Candice and Sara for hours after. Well after his roommates had gone to bed, well after it was past Candice and Sara and past the premise of Candice and Sara. We screamed at each other until our voices were hoarse, and until he finally gave up and said he needed to go to sleep. I was 4 stops on the ACE from my apartment, but somehow didn’t want to be alone that night. I decided to stay at his place, thinking sleeping beside him would make me feel better. The warmth and company of another person. Someone I cared about and who cared about me. I decided that I would wait for him to fall asleep before I snuck out of bed to get ready for bed. The fight earlier made me exhausted and the last thing I wanted was for us to be fighting again until sunrise. When I woke up a few hours later, I turned over groggily, expecting him to be there, but he was gone. I stumbled out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom to take out my contacts that were glued to my eyes and brush the greasy Chinese food out of my mouth.
I laid in bed for a while, wondering where he was. I noticed his phone was still plugged into the wall, stored in his sock drawer, facedown. A new, unsuspicious, home for it. When he finally came back, it was 4:00 am. I asked if he was ok and where he went. He said he went downstairs to the deli but I smelled the cigarettes on his breath. I had been trying to help him to quit, especially after he said he wanted to, that it didn’t mix well with his medications.
When he got back into bed, I turned towards him and in a whisper said, “hey Daniel, I just wanted to tell you-“. He cut me off and under his breath in the most aggressive tone said, “we’re done here, alright?” and grabbed me by the shoulders. He shook me a few times. Hard. “We’re done here”. With a shaking voice I couldn’t control, I told him that all I wanted to say was that I appreciated him talking things out with me earlier and I know that it isn’t easy. I got angry at him. My voice was shaking with upset but also a new emotion. Fear. Fear that he had just shown me the side of himself that I was scared of. The side that I had suspected was there for the past few months.
I went to bed shaking that night. I could have left, yes. I could have taken the subway back to my little place, walked the chilly walk back to my apartment and gotten 3 hours of sleep before work, but I decided to stay at his place.
That feeling when you are shaking with fear and shivering with cold sweat dripping down your back. My body felt numb, my mind felt disconnected and in shock at what had happened. I know why I stayed that night. I stayed because I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want to be alone. I also thought that if I went home, he would break up with me. The irrational thoughts that went through my mind were disconnected with reality.
Now, a year and a few months over that night, I think back to 22 year old me and wish I could hug her. I wish I could tell her that it was all going to be ok. That she was strong. She was resilient and would thrive.
A few months after that night, I had the realization that it is never okay for anyone to speak to you the way Daniel spoke to me that night. It is never okay to be intimidated by anyone, to be made to feel insecure, crazy, jealous, or anything that makes you feel less than your worth. I advocate for women everywhere who are dealing with anything trying. You do not deserve to feel this way. Be strong. Be brave. Be free.