Why I Stayed, 1997—2001

Each time we moved to a new apartment,
and we did three times, I knew
I shouldn't, that I should
 
leave while I had the chance, but each
time we moved to a new apartment
we were desperate,
 
had been kicked out or priced out
and we only had one bed,
no savings, just friends
 
some of whom knew that you fractured
your hand punching through a wall,
inches from my head,
 
and some of whom were aware
that you threw things at me
when I said things
 
you didn't like, as if my words were
things I threw at you first.
It made sense to you.
 
I can't remember the bad things
I said—my self-serving
memory enraged
 
you, and why not: I always
remembered the bad
things you did.
 
And, yes, I do remember
everything you threw:
a chair
 
over our heads at a bar (Liz was
there), a mirror like a frisbee
aimed at my knees,
 
a carton of fried rice that splat
on the shade of our only
nice lamp, oil stains
 
patterned it with tiny bugs.
Also, you threw
me against a
 
wall, but you always said it was because
I made you so mad because
you loved me so much
 
and didn't want to lose me
that you'd lose control
instead and later
 
beg me to stay, that if I left you
it meant you would never
be loved and I couldn't
 
bear to have you think that
about either one of us.
I wasn't someone
 
who'd let herself be hit; I'd never
take that from a man. A man
would be a criminal
 
if he did what you did.
But you had been
hurt and all that
 
pain and anger needed more
time, and I made you so
crazy, I was so
 
stubborn and good at mean
words, what else were you
supposed to do?
 
You liked to raise your fist pretending
to hit me and then
half-smile when
 
I winced or cringed. It was important
that you had never actually hit me,
never punched me
 
with a closed fist: you'd only grabbed me
and choked me and flung me and made
dents in the wall next to me,
 
and narrowly missed me, but we knew you
meant to miss, never truly
meant to clobber me
 
on the head with something heavy,
something light, maybe,
like a book I loved.
 
When a woman you love hits you
on the head with a book
you love, is that love?
 
I was so ashamed and afraid someone
would find out about us, then I was
afraid and ashamed
 
people already knew but didn't know
what to do. Did I really think
this was a secret?
 
Not from the cops we called during two bad
fights or from Peggy who let you stay
with her rent-free that month
 
I kicked you out. You two had a blast.
But I couldn't pay the rent
on my own,
 
so you moved back in, triumphant,
Peggy still in love with you,
and you gloated about
 
how much money you'd saved.
Surrounded by friends,
whom could I tell?
 
Why would I tell anyone who didn't
already know us well enough
to already know?
 
If everyone knew, none of us said so.
We talked, all of us, almost
constantly, intimately,
 
so how did we keep ourselves so quiet?
You and I, together in this,
were alone with this,
 
alone among women who loved us.
The two of us never more alone
than when together.
 

Brenda Shaughnessy, "Why I Stayed, 1997-2001" from So Much Synth. Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Shaughnessy.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: So Much Synth (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
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