Lost: One Black Ballet Flat, Size Ten
I am missing a shoe.
I don’t know when I lost it, but it could have been at any point, really. They could slip-on, which meant they could slip off. Lost. One shoe. Black ballet flat. Size ten. Its mate is still on my other foot, one half of an abruptly dissolved relationship.
It is hard for me to get the attention of the hospital staff at first. Hard, because when I open my mouth nothing comes out. Somebody, help me, I want to cry out. It’s March, and I’m missing a shoe. But I open my mouth again and nothing happens. The counter is jelly under my hands, or maybe that’s my hands themselves. My arms. Everything is shaking. So I give up on the world that is not watching, that is ignoring me. When I stop leaning on the counter, I start to sink. I realize that people are suddenly staring, but they fade in and out of focus like a cartoon dream sequence. And then I am on the floor and they are above me. They notice me then.
I wonder offhandedly, as I lose consciousness, if any of them have seen my shoe.
The ex was dating a professor on my campus. It came out of nowhere, a blow to the gut that I didn’t see coming and only discovered because of Facebook. I pictured them walking together across what had used to be my campus. Holding hands. Laughing. I wondered if she knew who I was.
Better yet, I wondered if she knew the things he had done.
We had been divorced all of a year and a half. It was the week that our son would have turned two. And suddenly the ex was all over Facebook with this woman who was a million times more beautiful than I was. I wondered if he hit her too, or if not, just because she was that beautiful. Dating or not, I told myself, the ex would never have a reason to be on campus. It just simply wasn’t logical.
This was a lie I told myself. On the 6th of March there they were together, waiting in the Subway sandwich line. She was leaning on his shoulder, her curly brown hair draped across him and a smile on her face. They inched forward together like they were in a three legged race, and I resisted the urge to bust in and break up their party, to tell him to get the hell out of the land that I had built for myself. The land of safety—mine. But instead I turned around and ran, locked myself in a bathroom stall and cried silently, but so hard that I couldn’t breathe. I beat my fists on the stall door again and again, wishing I would break and cursing him for being there, but cursing my own weakness even more. For being the same, scared, stupid girl I had always been; the one who could never stand up to him.
I am somewhere else when a woman in a white coat shines a light on my naked body. I flinch, startled by the brightness, and I try to wrap myself burrito style in the sheets.
“I know this is hard,” she says, “but I need to take pictures.”
There is someone else holding my hand. I roll my head to the side but I don’t know her. “Is there someone we can call?” this second woman says. “Your family?”
I don’t answer. I close my eyes as the first woman touches me, on the inside. I feel something cold, metal. I shudder. She tells me she is collecting samples. To go with the pictures. One of them helps me pull my hospital gown closed again, but I don’t open my eyes to see who. I feel like I’ve been punched in the ribs and the splinters of bone are driving into my lungs. Hard and fast.
I don’t understand why I’m not dead.
“The police would like a statement,” one of the women says.
I don’t know how to give one. Do I have to get up? Walk? Be a person?
I don’t have any shoes on.
Hey, read the note on my windshield, in the university parking lot, I know what you’ve been up to. I’m really sorry for everything. Give me a call. I crumpled it up and tossed it on to the front seat, my eyes automatically darting back and forth and giving matter to someone who was not present. It had to be from the ex. The note was unsigned, but I knew it was his. I wondered if he saw me six days prior in Subway. If he knew I was thinking about talking to his girlfriend.
Because, really, though it was no responsibility of mine, it was all responsibility of mine. If he hurt her and I hadn’t said anything to her, wasn’t that on me? And if she wasn’t as lucky as I had been…? But if he knew I was even thinking of talking to her, he would kill me. I had no doubt of that. What I was up to? The date I had gone on the weekend before? Looking at his girlfriend in the hall, stalking her on the university website to find out exactly who she was?
The next night, I came out of work to find a flat tire on my car. Some of my students’ dads volunteered to put my spare tire on, but I hid inside while they did it. I imagined him waiting for me, in the darkness. And I didn’t want to play that game. I decided to cover my own ass for once, to stop thinking about what he might say. I reached out for help, but a conversation with legal aid left me more lost than before I’d started:
“If your case isn’t strong enough and you fail at getting a temporary restraining order, it is possible that that could anger him and serve as a catalyst to further altercations.”
In other words: “We can’t do anything for you until something actually happens. Until he almost kills you again, like how you got the protection order last time.”
The voice on the other end of the phone followed up with: “But I’m sure he learned from the last time he was served with an order. That tends to scare the shit out of them. You’ll be fine.”
I was not nearly as confident as the voice on the other end of the phone.
The nurse fills out a sheet of stickers; my name, the date; March 15th. The white stickers go on everything, binding it all to my file. The police officer waits, pen in hand, almost begging me to say something, anything, in answer to his questions. I open my mouth but then slap it shut again so hard that I bite the inside of my cheek. I taste blood then, hot and sticky in my mouth, with a tinge of salt. Like tears.
I am crying then, crying because I need to tell the police what happened but I find that I cannot speak. How can I tell him when I cannot speak? What will stop it from happening again? What if the ex is there, in the hospital? Right. Now?
The officer reaches out to touch my arm, and I scream so loudly my ears ring. The sound knocks me outside of myself, after so long without making any. I jump back on the bed, and the IV in my arm threatens to tangle me up in a plastic vine. I scream and I scream, and I can’t stop. I can feel the ex’s fingers wrapped around my arm, feel the knife against my throat. The police officer’s face changes into my ex’s face and I am lost inside myself in a sea of white.
The other woman, the stranger, the maybe advocate, suggests that she talk to me alone, without the man in the room. She asks if this is okay, and I nod. I have hope that this will be easier than just simply trying to force myself into words. She offers me a change of clothes to replace the hospital gown, because I will be more comfortable talking with clothes on. New shoes—stiff plastic flip flops. But it’s March, I want to say. I want my old shoes. Once again, nothing comes out. So I take her shoes and I take her clothes and I wait until she turns her back to shed the gown and put them on. I need to cover myself up.
My old clothes are evidence now. I want them, but I can’t ever have them back.
It was pitch black the evening of March 15th as I walked to my car, and my mind was racing in anticipation of all the things that were about to happen. I was starting a new phase with my job, using new skills and doing different tasks than I had ever done before. It had taken two years to arrive at that point, that moment when I was at the top of the teaching pyramid, so when I was asked to stay late to finish up, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I was happy.
So happy, in fact, that I forgot that he was out there. I forgot to be careful.
I never even saw him coming. He must have been waiting behind the dumpsters, watching the entire time, or at least long enough to know that I was alone and everyone else had left me long before. Something metal jammed against my throat, something cold: a knife. His other arm snatched my wrist and twisted it, torquing until the keys came loose and fell to the ground. He pinned me against my car while he struggled with the door, and then forced me in on my back. The seatbelt dug into my spine as his weight crushed me into the seat. In the small window of opportunity I saw while he was situating himself in the small space, I lashed out with my pathetic excuse for fingernails and tried to rake them across his face. My reward was a fist to the side of the head, a jab of the knife against the soft skin on my throat, and a searing pain that sparked red across my vision.
I didn’t say a word. I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe. I was crying, silently, and as he leaned forward on top of me so that we were eye to eye, the knife dug harder into my skin. In my head, I could see my throat opening up, the blood pouring out. Bright red, staining the car seats. My skin. His skin. I imagined death, a welcome friend, and how much better it would be than what was happening. I stuck on the thought that I had lost everything and then could lose it all again just like this. In this moment, in the backseat of my car. His breath stank. Garlic maybe. I wasn’t sure. The smell made me sick to my stomach and I closed my eyes. That made it better, somehow. It helped me drift away.
I prayed that God would take my life. I wanted to die.
I was still crying; I couldn’t make it stop. He licked my face again and again, catching the tears where they rolled off my chin. I lost count of how many licks, and everything got blurry. His head pressed against my ear, and the pressure of the knife released slightly as he struggled to undo my pants. When he figured out the button, he tugged the pants down around my ankles.
He was hard when he forced himself inside of me, but I didn’t try to get away. I didn’t fight. The knife was right there, right on me, ever present. Every breath was a struggle. I closed my eyes again. If I could scream, if I could cry out, if I could just do something...but I couldn’t. And then it was gone. The edges of my vision were cluttered with black, and I wondered if I was finally going to die. I wished for that again; I wished that I would die. But I didn’t.
When he was done, he laid on top of me, crushing me further into the seat.
“I love you,” he whispered into my ear.
I realized then that it was a good thing I was dying, that I didn’t need to breathe, because I couldn’t. He loved me. I couldn’t move. He had raped me, but he loved me. Those two things didn’t balance inside my head; he was stuck in his anger and his loss and I was stuck on him. Lost inside myself.
He pushed himself up slightly, clutching the knife in his right hand, and then leaned back down to nibble my ear. I was barely breathing, an animal caught in a trap that he told not to make a sound if it wanted to live. I jammed my eyes shut, his words echoing in the dark. When I opened them, he was sliding back out of the car. I could still feel his weight draped across me, could still feel the knife pressed against my throat even though it wasn’t there. The sobs came then—hysterical, gasping for air sobs. I counted to 500, slowly, my lips moving but no sound coming out. I tried to push myself up, but my chest felt like it was going to cave in. Everything ached almost audibly. Where I hadn’t felt anything at all before, suddenly it all hurt. It was all much too loud.
My face was a mixture of tears and snot. And blood. There was blood, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.
Somehow, I managed to pull myself up into a sitting position. I pulled my pants up in a mechanical fashion. There was more blood, but I ignored it. Where is it coming from? Shouldn’t I be dead if there’s this much blood? I looked outside, one way, then the other, and pulled myself out of the car. When my feet hit the ground, my body buckled and sank to the concrete. My vision was dark; the blackness was taking over everything. I was floating in the sky, above everything, above myself. I was gone, flying away, lost in a cloud of grief that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
I wasn’t breathing. Was I supposed to be breathing?
Did it matter?
I sank back against the rear tire and prayed that he wouldn’t come back. I didn’t believe in God anymore, but I was too gone to care that He wouldn’t answer. I was breaking; I was broken. I knew that I had to go to the hospital, but I didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t know how to get there. I wished that I would die.
I couldn’t forgive myself for the fact that for one evening, for one second I had forgotten to be aware. It was all my fault.
“It was all my fault,” I finish.
The stranger assures me it is not, but I do not believe her; I have no logical reason to.
“I’d like to go home now,” I inform her, because there is nothing left to say.
I need to go home. I need to get away from these people and these words and what happened to me, and I need to take a shower and scrub my skin pink and raw until every vestige of him is erased. I need to drop out of college, I need to get drunk. I need to run away and never, ever, come back to this hideous place and this hideous girl that I thought was better than this. This hideous girl that I have become—or rather, that never left me.
In the parking lot sits my car that I don’t remember driving here, my car that is the site of all this pain that bubbles below the surface of my eyes and threatens to spill over and boil away the March snow. I drive home, though I don’t know how I do it without killing myself or someone else. I don’t remember the drive, but then I am in the driveway; then I’m on the lawn. I am holding the stiff as a board flip-flops in my hand and I throw them, chuck them so they disappear into an oblivion of ice and snow. Because they are not black, and they are not solid. They do not cover my feet and they do not keep me warm.
I have lost my real shoes. And that’s my fault too.
About the author:
S. Fischer is a lover of all things literary. A first year graduate student at The New School in New York City, she hopes to share her memoir—which is not a love story—with the world. Her work has been published in The Rectangle, and she has a forthcoming publication in Brain, Child: A Magazine for Working Mothers.