It was as usual; him arriving home, late as always. She used to ask if it was a drunk driver or if that accident on the news was what kept him, she no longer had to. Their years together in this life of law enforcement let her know, just by the gait of his walk, the movement of his body, she knew. He would arrive home, sit in the chair he still scolded her for paying too much for but longed to sink into after a shift gone bad, his head rested in his hands, rubbing that bald head as he looked at his boots, almost wishing they would remove themselves.
They had their own language. He spoke in full sentences just by catching her eye. She responded with three simple words which said all that needed to be said in that moment… “I love you”. It said everything he needed to hear and he knew it meant so much more. They said enough, with his eyes, with her simple words, to communicate volumes. It was what he needed and it was what she had learned to give, together with what she needed to reserve for the moment. There were times, here and there, that she would notice he had already removed his boots before entering the house… she knew exactly why and took that as her cue to pay extra attention to his mood. She had learned the one thing he would not bring inside their haven was someone else's remains. She would find herself watching him, as he lugged himself to the bathroom, the sound of Velcro a double edge sword as he removed his vest. That sound, the ripping of the Velcro, held so much symbolism. The ripping of Velcro after a shift was the sweetest relief, the proof of a safe return, a twelve hour long anticipated proof of life. Velcro before a shift invoked immediate anxiety which was quickly put in its place. A battle cry of sorts…. The ripping and replacing the Velcro - just so… perfectly so; armor, protection, an added chance of victory against an unstoppable enemy.
The mirror in their bathroom gave her a view from a distance. As she lay in bed waiting on him to collapse she would watch him. On a good day he would balance his phone on top of the shower door, his playlist helping him decompress, she couldn’t help but smile as he did his best imitation of voice and dance as he let go of all he carried home on his shoulders that day. On a bad day she would find herself holding back tears as she watched him rest his forehead on the shower wall, the steam rising as he tried to allow the scalding water to wash away the nightmares forming in his mind of a day he knew and she knew, he could never erase. Today was one of those days. The bad days.
She watched him, studied him…. It had been years of this, this crazy life of theirs. She still looked at him with a love even she felt hard to comprehend at times. Dear God, how she loved him, she felt guilty on the bad days, watching him in the shower, she knew he was struggling, yet still, watching him she longed for his body next to hers. Intimacy was a second thought at the moment, knowing his state of mind, yet she still longed for his warm skin and strong arms wrapped around her, she allowed him his time….his time to decompress, his time to allow all which continued to spin around and replay in his mind to settle, always knowing settled by no means meant resolved. She prepared as she watched him, for she knew what was to come.
It would start with mumbling, sometimes a twitch of a leg or an arm. On a really bad night she would suffer an elbow to her ribs, or on rare occasion she would force him awake as he began to place her in a choke hold, his apologies so profuse as he held her, kissing her over and over as he swore he would never, ever hurt her. Most times it was just the slide of her foot over to his side of the bed, just enough to stir him, just enough to interrupt the monsters which took over his sleep. There were times he would wake himself, finding himself sitting straight up, sweating, not knowing what brought him there….he would sink back into peace as he encompassed her with his body. She would never forget him calling her his “kryptonite”…the one thing he couldn’t overpower, his weakness. She was his refuge, his sanctuary, the one place he could let go of his duty to the public. She was his haven. She held those words as close to her heart as she held him. She knew he needed that escape. She knew she was the one who could give him that…. She also knew she could take it away. She made it her mission to never take it away.
Tonight was one of the bad nights; the nights when nothing could keep the monsters at bay. She was never sure who was walking the halls of his memory. The baby he couldn’t save, the pregnant mother he held as she lay dying in his arms on a cold highway, the teenager he had mentored for years who ended it all with a single shot gun blast to the head. The gang bangers he found himself facing, outnumbered, waiting for backup, exposed in a battle which he prayed he survived. Inside a cruiser, trying to end a pursuit before it ended an innocent’s life as he felt the wheels lose traction as he saw pavement coming into sight before he awoke days later wondering why he was in a hospital bed. She never knew what triggered it, she never knew which monster was visiting, all she knew was his peace, if even momentary, was in her hands. She gently grabbed his shoulder from behind, slid her hand across his chest….she felt him shake himself awake and look to her in confusion. His chest, clammy with sweat as she held him and said those three words, plus two, which were the equivalent of his kryptonite…. “I love you…. now sleep”. ©TPWL Written by Melissa Littles