I noticed instantly that he wasn't next to me. Stepping out of bed, I looked across the room and saw him, asleep on the chair. The worst part was, the chair was right next to the closet, and I needed to open the closet to get my backpack.
It had to be done. I began tip-toeing away from the bed, toward the closet, and once I was near, I held my breath and slid the right door open, taking my empty, old backpack from the corner. As I was pulling it out, I noticed the empty vodka bottle near it—probably from last night, since I'd just recently cleaned out all the old bottles he’d thrown in here. However, that was no longer a concern of mine. Leaving the door open, I then tip-toed over to the dresser.
I first grabbed my laptop, which I’d purposely placed on top of the dresser last night, and put it inside my backpack. Then, slowly and carefully, I slid open the drawers of the wood dresser. I didn’t have much, so it was easy to find what I needed. From his persistent snoring, I knew I was safe… for now.
I took my time selecting which pieces of clothing I’d bring. The act of choosing which ones to keep felt calming, like a respite from the storm that had been raging the past few days. Picking up a maroon blouse, I rubbed the material between my fingers, feeling the cool, silky texture. This one, I would pick. One by one, I chose the clothes that would come with me, and the ones I would leave behind.
Once I was done, I dipped my hands underneath all the fabric, feeling around for something I’d hidden years ago: a gemstone necklace I’d once been gifted by a friend, a friend who I had not spoken to in a long, long time. A thought crossed my mind, completely irrelevant to the moment—if she saw me again, would she still recognize me? Not in terms of my appearance, but the way I’d act, the things I’d say.
Or, if I couldn’t speak, would my silence still seem like my silence? Or would even my emptiness reek of him?
Part of me felt completely certain I was making the right choice; another was terrified and screaming at me to just slip back into bed and wait for him to wake up so I could, for the millionth time, try to make things better again: cook him breakfast and tell him I was sorry for whatever mistake I made, real or imagined. It was like fixing flowers in a vase. It had to be done, so the day could move forward. So the yelling could stop. So that, while he looked for a new target for his ever-present, ever-growing anger, I might regain the silence needed to step back into my imagination, where everything was always better than reality.
I dropped the necklace inside the backpack and, after giving everything a cursory glance, stood up, leaving the drawers open. There was no point in closing them, either. I headed for the closed door—another challenge. This apartment was old, and all the doors squeaked when opened. I closed my eyes and gently twisted the knob, slowly pulling open the door. It did squeak, and I darted my eyes toward him. He was still asleep, but my heart raced as if he’d actually woken up.
After leaving the room and entering the hallway, a rush of relief finally flooded in. That was the hard part. Now I just needed to get my phone, download a rideshare app, schedule a ride, and wait for the driver to arrive. I’d never done it before, but it seemed easy enough. Walking into the living room, I grabbed my phone off the coffee table and quickly signed up for an account, but I was typing so fast that I kept making mistakes and having to go back.
Eventually, I finished scheduling the ride and sat down on the couch, staring at the light spilling between the curtains. The estimated time of arrival was 7:15, and right now it was exactly 7:00. I thought about how I should leave the apartment. If I go out the front door, the door might squeak, and I left the bedroom door open, so it’d be extremely easy for the sound to travel to him. He was an incredibly light sleeper, even when he’d been drinking.
But… there weren’t any screens on the windows, and as far as I could remember, the windows never squeaked. We were on the first floor, so I had no worries about heights. Sure, it might look strange to anyone passing by, me leaving through the window, but I never planned on coming back here, anyway.
My heart wouldn’t slow down. I took deep breaths. Soon, this would all be over. An eight-year nightmare. Eight years, the number he always said was his favorite because it reminded him of infinity. I wondered if maybe I took too long, if maybe eight years was when it did become infinity, and he’d always be part of me. I looked down at my hand; it was shaking.
Well, there was no way to know unless I tried to live without him, unless I tried to escape his shadow, and see what things could be.
I walked over to the window and pushed back the curtains. Unlocking the window and pushing it up, I felt cool air pour into the room.
And then I heard the chair creak. I spun around and then, as I saw his shadow approach, my entire body tensed up. I didn’t dare move. I just stared.
I kept my gaze on the ground until eventually his figure began to emerge from the hallway. He walked slowly, clumsily, which instantly gave away his lack of sobriety, as if I needed any more clues.
He stepped into the light of the living room, squinting his eyes, one more so than the other. Despite my anger—and fear—toward him, I looked into his eyes and thought about how this might be the last time I ever see them: the eyes I fell in love with all those years ago, when I was only a clueless teenager. I loved him before I even knew who I was, what I wanted from life. Yet, because of him, I never did find that out.
He stood still, staring at me, his eyebrows furrowing. My throat tightened so much I wasn’t sure if I could still speak.
“I was just... getting some fresh air,” I managed to say.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my backpack on the couch, but I didn’t dare glance directly at it. Then he looked at me as if I just spoke nonsense, and turned around. I heard him walk to the bathroom and swing the door closed.
I didn’t know what to do. Would he go back to bed? Maybe this was my only chance. I darted toward the couch and grabbed the backpack, pulling the straps onto my shoulder, and then climbed out the window. I started to run, feeling goosebumps form all over me.
When I got halfway down the street, I turned around, expecting to see him behind me, or at least glancing out the window, wondering where I went.
But when I turned around, no one was there. So, I kept on running, my heart like a sinking ship in my chest. The wind brushed against my face and blew my hair back as I ran. I was getting closer and closer to the nearby street, the one I’d entered into the app instead of the one for my apartment complex.
As I grew closer, a black car came into view, which was almost certainly my driver’s car. The dark car stood out in the sunlit streets, appearing almost like a tear in the scenery. It seemed like a gateway. A portal. Like once I got in that car, I’d finally leave behind this eight-year nightmare. Or at least, that was what I hoped.
But as I was running, a part of me wondered—after all this time, what was the point of leaving? I looked around at the trees, the sky, the grass. And a part of me understood: this was the point. To be somewhere he did not permit me to be. To be somewhere I chose to be, to be someone I chose to be, to say what I want to say, to do what I want to do, to no longer be trapped in his grasp.
I slowed down as I approached the car. When I reached it, I saw that all the windows were tinted. The driver rolled down the window and asked me my name.
“Caroline,” I said, the name sounding so strange on my lips.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d spoken my own name. When I entered the car, my heart beat finally began to slow down. I took a deep breath: I was out of there. I did what had to be done. Relief flooded my veins like rain.