Below is an excerpt from Betty Hafner’s Not Exactly Love: A Memoir, published today (She Writes Press) and reprinted with permission.
Coming into the house after my therapy session, I yelled “Hi,” dropped my things onto a chair, and headed into the kitchen. Jack was standing near the sink with a scowl, as if he’d been there for hours waiting to dump on me. Damn! Something had gone wrong during the day, and I would have to wallow in its waste. I kept quiet as I opened the refrigerator, poured myself a glass of orange juice and got out the silverware we needed for dinner.
“Keeping it all to yourself again, huh?” he said. “You are SOOO happy to leave me out. I can see it on your face.” He threw a box of crackers he’d been eating towards me. “Did you two have fun analyzing me?”
How I would have loved to come back to an empty house afterwards! It had been a good session, and I felt raw. I didn’t want to get into anything with him, but I couldn’t keep it in. “Don’t forget, you and I could be working on stuff together,” I said, “but YOU walked out.”
Jack’s face turned fiery red. “Oh, I see. It’s MY fault,” he said baring his teeth like a rabid dog. In a flash I felt his knuckles hammer the side of my face. He stamped out of the room and bounded up the stairs. I heard the door click shut.
The anger I felt was stronger than the pain. “I hate you!” I shouted at the ceiling. “You’re IMPOSSIBLE!” I could not believe that I, the person who had just spent fifty minutes in therapy opening up to what was buried inside, was once again getting shut down so brutally. “You CANNOT do this!” I said out loud.
I scurried to the bulletin board hanging next to the phone, looking for the number of the Nassau County police on a list from a realtor. I had never before imagined myself as a person who might need to call the police. But I had noticed it months ago and got the idea.
I dialed the wall phone as quickly as my fingers could move. “Can you send someone over right now? I’m frightened,” I murmured. “My husband hit me, and I don’t know if it’s over.”
In the time it took me to get a bag of ice for my face, two officers knocked on our front door. Jack must have seen them pull up from the upstairs window because he bounded down into the living room as I opened the front door. The pair stepped in as though they were entering a church, holding their hats in their hands in front of them. They took in my puffy eye and blotchy cheek. The tall one asked, “Are you okay, Ma’am?”
Jack was rigid next to me, our shoulders almost touching. “Well . . . for the time being, “ I said, “but he really hurt me and I don’t know if he’s—”
“Officer, you didn’t need to come over,” Jack said. “We just had a misunderstanding, but it’s cleared up now.”
They looked to me for something, but I had no words to explain. His shoulder was touching mine by then. I said only, “This was no misunderstanding.” Would these officers ever believe how Jack could pull things out of the air? I saw how police often reported in newspapers that a fight had preceded a husband hurting or killing his wife. A fight. Yeah, right. Two equally angry people duking it out to claim victory? No, a fight is never, ever, how I would describe what happened before I got hurt.
I wanted the police to take charge right away. Weren’t they supposed to? The short one said to me, “You need to get an icepack on that eye,” then turned to Jack and said, “Look, sir, cool down, all right? You don’t need to be doing this.” Jack shifted weight from one foot to the other. I felt a balloon grow in my chest and waited.
The two officers looked at each other and then the tall one said to Jack, “Why don’t you take your wife out to dinner tonight?”
“I’ll do that, sir,” he said. They each shook Jack’s hand, nodded good-bye to me, and then walked out the door and got into their cruiser. That was it. Five minutes max. The only part that felt right to me was the scared look on Jack’s face.
At my insistence he picked up our regular order from the Chinese restaurant, and we ate in silence in front of the television. I pressed an ice pack against my face during the shows. I wanted to make sure he didn’t forget why I hadn’t cooked dinner.
That night I memorized the police phone number and promised myself I would call again if I needed to. I was certain the police would have to do something if I kept calling, like take Jack in or charge him with something. I could not have imagined then how little protection from them a woman like me had.