I’m waiting at the slope side restaurant when she arrives, a woman near my own age, hobbling on new crutches. She is seated at the neighboring table. Two non-skiiers waiting. We exchange tight smiles but that’s it. I’ve learned not to talk to strangers. They tend to back away like they’ve encountered a crazy person, so I’ve stopped.
Someone joins her shortly. A husband. A boyfriend. I’m not sure, but he’s glad to see her. So glad he orders a bottle of wine.
“We need to celebrate,” he said. “It could have been worse.”
A broken foot is better than a broken leg, she agrees. But she doesn’t want wine. Not with the pain pills.
He insists. He kiddingly berates her. Anyone listening would think he’s joking and I’m hearing every word, every intonation. I may not talk to strangers, but I do listen in. It’s a writer thing. We all do it. Don’t judge.
She teases him back. Something about falling for him. He’d cut her off on the slopes yesterday. Just playing. She was too cautious, he said. He shouldn’t have brought her if she couldn’t keep up.
And her fall, her clumsiness, had ruined his day. He’d had to bring her to the hospital, wasting half a day of good skiing.
I look at her out of the side of my eye. If I talked to strangers, I would tell her to stop. To run. Stop apologizing. Stop listening to this man. But I know she doesn’t understand yet. Doesn’t realize that this is emotional abuse. I didn’t understand either. For a long, long time I didn’t understand.
When I did understand, I ran far away. But that didn’t stop his voice. Not at first.
My family is late, still skiing. I order another ice tea and pretend to check Facebook. Yes, I’m still listening. The wine has agitated him.
Apparently she had ordered the wrong pizza last night. She insists she ordered exactly what he’d requested. That the pizza place had made the mistake.
“You’re crazy. You don’t remember a thing that comes out of your mouth. You’re either crazy or you’re lying.” He is smiling as he says it, but she no longer is. They’re quiet for a moment before he tells her to stop crying.
“I was just kidding,” he insists. And before I can see if she dries her tears, my tablemates arrive. Drinks are ordered. Slope stories take over.
They’re gone before I notice. And I say a little prayer for her. This unknown woman.
He wasn’t kidding. Hopefully she figured that out. It wasn’t a joke. He’ll continue to berate her, blame her, assign flaws that don’t exist. It will escalate. It always does. Sadly, she’ll believe he is right for a while. He will talk at her until she does. But somehow, sometime soon, a small spark may light and she’ll see his lies. She can fan the flame, use it to burn it all down.
Or she can blow it out and live like that until she dies inside. Because emotional abuse kills too. It kills from the inside out and the scars don’t always show.