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first person

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Illustration by Rachel Wada

The sun’s shining, I’ve got that postworkout glow on and I’m sitting on the patio waiting for one of my girlfriends to arrive for our standing happy-hour date. I’m feeling divine.

I do also happen to have a throbbing pain in my wrist and forearm and can see the start of a deep purplish bruise and it’s starting to swell.

As the server approaches to take my drink order, I see her eyes drawn to that spot on my arm.

She averts her eyes just as quickly as they were initially lured. I see the expressions on her face, changing by the millisecond. There are traces of discomfort, pity, disgust, confusion and, dare I say, a dash of judgment and contempt.

I know what she must be thinking …

“Where did this poor woman get those bruises? Obviously, someone’s doing this to her. Why is she letting people see this? Why doesn’t she go to the police, leave him? Why do they stay in those situations?”

I do not wish to cause undue stress or concern for anyone. I offer up, with a genuine smile and what I hope transmits an understanding of her confusion and disappointment, “I just came from kung fu,” and shift my gaze to the throbbing, swollen, now purplish-greenish bruise.

“Would you be able to bring me some ice?” I smile sincerely and hope that she understands this is true and not a creative version of, “I tripped and fell down the stairs.”

She nods and appears on the surface to be relieved. But I can tell that the questions haven’t been fully exorcised.

I smile to myself as I mentally review my kung-fu session to engrain the lessons and techniques we practised. The bruises come from the final 15 to 20 minutes where we do my favourite thing: spar.

I wear protective pads on my forearms and shins; he does not. And I recently learned that the reason I keep getting bruises is because bone cuts through padding like a hot knife through butter. Hence, every Friday afternoon for nearly two years, I walk away with bruises.

She comes back to the table with a glass full of ice cubes and a linen napkin for me to wrap the ice in. I smile again and thank her and let her know I’ll order a drink when my friend arrives. She forces a smile and I know she has made up her mind about my bruise.

This judgment has happened to me many times. One thing I always find interesting is that not one person has ever asked: “How did you get those bruises? Are you okay, do you need help?”

I frequently ask myself, should I just cover them up so no one sees them and wonders?

I always come to the same conclusion. If what I feel like wearing on that day does not cover my bruises, so be it. I have nothing to hide. If I don’t learn how to fight smarter in kung fu, bruises there will be. And, if it gets someone thinking about what they could possibly be from, even better!

If someone ever does directly ask me; I would appreciate their concern and reassure them, most certainly, that my life is not in danger.

Had they asked me two years ago; I could not provide the same honest answer.

Two years ago, I did everything and anything to cover up the bruises on my body. They were covered in the spirit of shame, fear and confusion. I certainly did not pay good money for the privilege of them as I do now when they occur from kung fu missteps.

They weren’t a weekly occurrence, until close to the end of my relationship. They were a striking visual alarm warning me of the grave danger my life was in.

I recall the last time.

That night he threw me around two rooms like a rag doll. His pièce de résistance was pinning me up against a wall with his hand squeezing my throat. Nose to nose.

I pleaded for him to release me. The more I did, the more enraged he became. The look in his eyes was wild.

My survival instant kicked in. In -25 C weather, with no vehicle and a steep and long flight of stairs between me and the escape exit. I vowed to myself that if I got out alive with my dog, I would do everything in my power to keep us safe.

I made it home with my dog after that last attack. And I continue to do everything in my power to keep my life going and our lives safe. I finally told my family and close friends. I sought counselling. I was vigilant every time I was out on the street.

And, I went back to kung fu in earnest. This became my spiritual, emotional and physical salvation.

I truly believe that to heal from being a victim, you must find a way to put yourself on the exact opposite end of that spectrum.

For me; I faced someone threatening my life. So, I had to come to a place where I could feel, with every fibre in my being, that I was in control. Where, if ever I was faced with another life-threatening experience, I had the skills to keep my life intact. I would also be full of enough self-love, self-awareness and self-confidence to do everything in my power to mitigate the risk of falling into a relationship with a dangerous man.

On the patio, I ice my forearm and feel the sun on my face. I see my friend walking toward me and smile. I’m exhausted and bruised from kung fu but I’m feeling the joy of freedom bubble up from the depth of my soul.

I celebrate these bruises and know I will gladly sustain them for a lifetime.

Lynn Cox lives in Calgary.

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