Cursed Hands

by | Jun 11, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Nine

When my first husband put his hands around my neck it wasn’t kinky, and he didn’t leave a mark. It was surprising though since he had never laid a hand on me before. It was even understandable, after all he was frustrated, and I wasn’t being helpful. I should have helped him understand why I didn’t love him anymore; I should have helped him to open his eyes to what I saw. Two people evolved from a backwoods, skinny dipping in the lake kind of love to a lost in the city stripped down indifference.

I remember his hands, the long fingers, the way they were both rough and smooth at the same time. He worked with his hands when he had to, laying tile, painting houses, caulking windows. I would pack him lunches to save money—two sandwiches each with an egg fried in butter on homemade Amish bread coated with mayonnaise when we had it otherwise it was margarine from a tub littered with crumbs. In those early days I didn’t know that he preferred to work with his mouth making promises to people he never intended to keep, charming them into his bubble of trust and leaving them with less means and less faith than when they’d met him. By the time his hands were around my neck I had been working with my body because the odd jobs he couldn’t keep and his fast mouth weren’t even to sustain us.

On that morning, my legs were covered in green and grey bruises. A side effect of climbing a pole and having little fat between skin and bone. My husband knew that I paid cash for our Volvo by sitting on men’s laps and letting them see the body he stopped touching as it became bonier as I became less. When his fingers wrapped around my throat, I was empty save for the last night’s whiskey turning to acid, the whiskey that had loosened my tongue enough to tell my husband I didn’t love him anymore. He shook me and I rattled like a paddle in a butter churn. He’d told me that his mother churned their own butter and that she packed it into cubes and kept them cold in the creek. She also sent back all the letters delivered to their doorstep. His world was one of homemade spreads and paper and pencil and one of rejection and wandering. I told myself all the reasons he might have for allowing his 19-year-old wife to dance naked in front of strange men. It was exotic, it was more money than he had ever had to his (our) name, it was just what needed to be done. And now he was surprised that I had stopped loving him.

Our bedroom was a den filled with piles of laundry and stacks of overdue library books. I sat on the edge of the bed while he called me a whore and threw his phone through the door. He had stopped touching me when my breasts sunk into my chest, and everything became flat. I had stopped touching him when he took the cash I made and handed it to women with hard earned breasts, climbing their own poles on their own stages. Explain, he wanted me to explain how I could stop loving him, my husband. We yelled at each other like the people we swore we’d never become, volatile, hateful, doomed. He took the car, and I took the apartment and never paid for the heating bill, still in his name.

I walked on bruised legs to the club that night and told the girl with the locker next to me that I was leaving my husband. She squatted hovering 8 inches above the dirty tiles in her sparkling heels and handed me a tiny shooter of banana flavored vodka. “Sorry, baby, he doesn’t deserve you.” We shared a cigarette and a straightener at the long mirrors, and she moved in with me two weeks later. My husband came back to give me roses and tell me that he couldn’t be a divorced man. I sat in the car I had paid for in dances and songs and listened to him, fingering the velvet petals. “I still don’t love you anymore.” I said and got out of the car taking the flowers with me.

When I was 9 years old my best friend and I ripped tulips and daisies from her mother’s flower beds and went door to door offering sweaty bunches for $1 or baggies of hand-picked wild blackberries for $.50. Her mother found us counting coins next to wilted flowers and hot berries and picked up each of the coins and stood over us with massive eyes and red cheeks and said we were never to go near her flowerbeds again. We’d wandered outside and sat on the sagging back steps of the farmhouse until the milk truck came. The man who drove it was a friendly neighbor, tall with a red hat and a brown mustache. He would lift the back of the truck and stack two empty crates or a pallet for us and her six siblings to climb in the back and take pints of expired milk, the chocolate milk was the real prize and it would usually run out before we could all get our hands on one, though I would see her father in the kitchen in his mechanic’s uniform chugging from one the coveted brown pint in massive gulps.

Fate would hit us square in the face a decade later when she called me from Miami and said I’d never guess what she was doing for money now. She’d sounded annoyed when I said that I too was dressing up in g-strings and depositing fat stacks of $1’s at the bank. Once, I was jealous when her parents let her the church appointed head covering before mine did. Boys always talked to me after church as my boobs got bigger and my stomach got flatter while she sat next to me trying to suck in her stomach under the band of her maxi skirt. Her jealousy rang in the silence after we’d faltered through goodbyes and hung up both going back to our lives so far from the world we’d known.

My husband was shunned when he left the Amish community, and he melted right into the accepting nature of mine. Neither of us had more than an 8th grade education; we eloped and moved to the city with little work or secular life experience. The club behind our apartment building thumped with music and the drone of the day Dj’s voice when I walked in wearing a mini skirt and tights, heels and a bomber jacket. I was hired on the spot. The rules of a strip club are blurry, shrouded by darkness and even if they are stopped in an instant, there are hands that snatch at an opportune moment, grabbing at the body only meant to looked at. Sometimes, I fail to see the difference in a church that manipulates their women into submission and an institution that objectifies them.

When I close my eyes on those nights where the past is scratching its way through the doors I closed and boarded up, I see the hands. The hands that grazed my nipples and triggered my gag reflex, strange hands that raked across my naked back, hands that slapped at my bare ass before I could grab them, hands that trailed my hip bone while snapping a dollar under the string, hands wiping dollars against my thigh when there was no string, hands encircling my neck, hands holding mine while walking to the champagne room, hands pressing buttons at the ATM, hands with baggies of pills and powders, all different but they are all the same, they are the hands that made my skin crawl and the hands that fed and clothed me, the hands that subdued me. Then they become the hands that empower me, the ones that I think of when I send in my college application at age 28, the ones that push me forward when I think I’m not smart enough or that I don’t deserve normalcy, they are the ones that shove the imposter aside and allow me to stand my ground. They are the ones I raise a middle finger to and curse in hopes that if they touch another woman she will know where they’ve been and what they’ve done.

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