by Jessica Hulsey
The wailing of sirens is etched into my brain, throbbing and gnawing away. I feel like I’ve been sitting at my kitchen table for years, though it’s only been a couple of hours. Time acts differently when your mind is at a standstill. Paramedics and police officers come in and out of my house, breezing by me, while I stare at the chipping floral wallpaper I never cared to replace. The house was built in the heart of Ann Arbor in the 1970s and it has some serious flair. Wood-paneled walls lead up to arched entries and lead down to thick, wooly carpet—a mixture of brown and burnt orange. When Jackson and I picked this place out three years ago, it was perfect for me, perfect for us, and perfect for our supposed future family. Now it feels hollow and haunted. I’m sitting here getting lost in delicate floral designs, stirring my cold coffee, trying to listen to the detective and respond accordingly. His name is something very Italian, like Candolini or Tortellini, but I can’t remember what he said. It all feels like so long ago. My mind won’t stop ticking and running around inside my skull. I didn’t tell the emergency dispatcher much, and I’m at a loss for words now. I told them what they needed: My name is Elizabeth Carter and I killed my husband.
The dispatcher received my call at 7:13 on a Wednesday night. I shot my husband. Twice, for good measure. I should have shot him thirty-four times; one bullet for each time he hit me. I didn’t know he had a temper. He didn’t know I had a gun. The officers who showed up took one look at my battered body and swollen eye and ordered the paramedics to usher Jackson’s body out of our house. It’s been four hours of routine questions and my same answers. It was self-defense. I told him, “I’m pregnant. We’re having a baby.” He didn’t believe me, said I cheated, and got angry. He threatened me, punched me in my face, and as I lay unconscious, he left. He came back reeking of booze, slurring and angrier, if possible. I was pretending to be asleep in the bedroom, and he dragged me by my ankle out of the bed, onto the floor, ready for another fight. I already had the gun, a small, matte black pistol, loaded and I shot him once in the chest, and when he lunged at me, once more in the neck. It’s been five hours since they took his body and I can still smell his blood, thick in the carpet.
Nausea bubbles up in my stomach and I look at Detective Pasta. He is wearing some form of sympathy on his face. It makes me feel even sicker. I excuse myself and walk down the hallway into the bathroom. The pregnancy test is still sitting on the counter, its little pink lines staring at me. I haven’t looked in the mirror since this morning. I splash water on my bruised face and try to find the green in my eyes. Who are you? My red hair, once full and long, is tangled with streaks of gray. Premature aging due to extensive stress, or some other bullshit medical reason.
Jackson wasn’t always so angry. At one point, I believe he truly loved me. When we met, he said I was mesmerizing and too good to resist. He said he had to marry me, had to have me forever. He lifted me high off the ground and placed me on a pedestal. God, he was so beautiful. Jackson is—was—sculpted to perfection. His broad, tan shoulders held up a head full of blond, tousled hair. His full lips framed his icy blue eyes. He was the man of my dreams, but he was broken. For years, I blamed his anger on clichéd things like work stress, or his absent father and wearisome mother. It was just like the battered wives I watched in movies and pitied. The first time he hit me, we were both so shocked, we cried. We were arguing about some forgettable thing on TV. And when I disagreed with his opinion, in my own anger, I called him stupid. In his own anger, he slapped me right across the left side of my face. Hard. He held me for hours after and swore he would never harm me again. Cue the make-up-and-I-forgive-you scene.
From there, the fights progressed too quickly. I stayed out too late visiting with my dad and didn’t prepare any dinner. Swift kick to the ribs. Easily hidden. I went to a concert in downtown Detroit with my friend, Shannon, and I didn’t call him. He slammed me up against the wall and punched me in the chest. He didn’t let me explain that my cell phone had lost all its charge before the opening act. Then Jackson got sloppy. He gave me my first black eye when I bought the wrong kind of milk. He bruised a rib when dinner was once again “the shittiest thing I’ve put in my mouth.” I started seeing my parents less, coming up with excuses even I didn’t believe.
I tell myself over and over again that I did what I had to. I protected myself and if he weren’t dead, then I would be. I tell myself that I’m not at fault, but I start to cry. I’m sobbing and thinking of him, and I feel lost and empty. I contemplate how long I can hide in the bathroom, away from probing eyes and never-ending questions, when there is a knock on the door.
“Mrs. Carter, we have a couple more questions for you, then we’ll leave you be for the night and the paramedics will take you to the hospital,” Detective Rotini gently promises.
I splash my face again, avoid the mirror, and open the door. I walk through what feels like a sea of people and sit back down in the kitchen, eyes fixed on the peeling petals on the wall. A younger officer—Officer Bryson, I think—brings in a small, black duffel bag and sets it on the table. Her sad, brown eyes are full of pity, and she reminds me of a basset hound. She looks at me solemnly, wondering, I’m sure, how I got to this place, where I would let a man do this to me. She had packed a long-sleeved white top, a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee, all the essential undergarments, my toothbrush and toothpaste, and my hair brush. Detective Linguine helps me stand up and kindly leads me by my arm to two paramedics.
“I know you say you are fine, and we had your basic vitals checked, but you should still stay in the hospital tonight so they can keep an eye on you and the baby. And we can, uh…finish up here. This is Jake.” He gestures toward the tall one. “And this is Joe.” Short and stout Joe looks at me with the same basset hound eyes as Bryson.
I nod, exhausted, and follow Jake and Joe to the ambulance. This all feels so surreal that I have almost forgotten about the little burst of energy growing in my stomach. We’re having a baby. I’m terrified and excited, sad and elated, and I realize I am going to be a mother. What will I tell them about their father? How will I raise the baby alone?
When I was thirteen, my dad took me out to the forest behind our old house and taught me how to shoot. He told me that someday, I may need to know how. It was December and I still remember how badly my hands shook from the fear and the cold, snowy air. The sky was as gray as the trampled snow beneath our feet. As we inched deeper into the forest, the blue shutters on our home grew smaller in the distance. I recall feeling like I was running away, except for my dad walking right beside me. We reached our mark and my dad lined up four aluminum beer cans as targets. Stomach full of anxious butterflies, my dad handed me the rifle and stood behind me to line up my shot. He told me then something I would remember for the rest of my life:
“Liz, you may be scared now, but you won’t always be. Ground yourself, take in your surroundings, and inhale deeply. Exhale all of your fears, and pull the trigger. Breathe, Liz, and shoot.”