She was married to a man who loved her with ugly words and angry hands. At night, they slept, confined to a bed, seventy-two inches long, eighty-four inches wide, and named for the state they lived in. She slept on the edge of the california king, with her arms tucked close and when she heard his breath move slow and deep, she slept, with twenty-two inches of mattress between them. Some nights he pulled her to the middle of the bed, where she opened her legs and turned her face away; when he was finished, his weight lifted off of her and she returned to the geography of her allotment of bed, she could breathe again, safe on her side. She married him because it was her duty to be a wife, she stayed because it was her obligation as a daughter of God, and she could not bear the thought of denying her children the glory of eternal life by leaving. She knew the price was the space she guarded while she slept.
She did not think that she would ever live a different life, even on the day she left. She slept on the edge of a new, smaller bed, and wept quietly, for herself, for her children, and for the life she hadn’t deserved. She mourned her blind obedience; grieved the years she spent sleeping with someone who left her feeling raw and numb. She patched her children back together, tucking them into their own beds every night, determined that they would be whole and safe; knowing she was not.
She met a man with soft eyes. He knew she had stories to tell but he never asked for them. He moved gently. She felt like she was holding herself together with kite string and scotch tape; he told she was beautiful. Late one night, in a dim hotel room, she turned away from him and curled into the safe space on the border of the bed to wait for him to find sleep so that she could rest. The man moved to her, his body travelling across the space between them, until his skin reached hers. He molded himself around her, his nose at the nape of her neck, his chest to her back. His knees fit into the angle at the bend of her legs, and he pulled her into him. His body curled around her body.
She hesitated, confused with this unfamiliar touch that asked for nothing in return. He was present with her and she was overwhelmed. She focused on his breath on her neck, matching her breathing to his, in to in, out to out. She allowed herself to relax into him, as she started to cry without sound. He didn’t speak. He placed his hand over her eyes, and rested it there as she wept. When her grief began to slow, he smoothed her curls away from her face and waited, unmoving, until her breath became rhythmic and deep, and finally she could sleep.