We hadn’t been dating very long, though we had started sleeping in the same bed, from time to time.
Her dog was just a puppy, still, but a big breed, more than 60 pounds already. Energetic and exuberant and proud of some of the privileges he had. Including sleeping on the bed, which there wasn’t as much space for when I was over. More reason to claim it as early as possible.
We were getting ready to go to bed at her place. She was adjusting the sheets or something, and the puppy decided that her presence in the bedroom meant it was his time to get up on the bed.
He jumped, leading with his skull. Her forehead was in the way. Skull met brow and it opened up three quarters of an inch along the ridge of her eyebrow. I wasn’t in the room, but I heard her yell, and by the time I got there it was already running down her face and she was staunching it as best she could.
Maybe not a million-to-one shot, but somewhat long odds.
We got in touch with her daughter, who in her sociology work had seen this sort of thing from time to time. She thought that it would need to get looked at.
In the end, we agreed. Ice hadn’t slowed it much, it was clear it might need stitches or glue. We went to the hospital. At ten o’clock at night. An apparent couple, the woman with a facial wound and the man unharmed.
At every stage they tried to separate us, and eventually I realized why. When we first came in and filled out the paperwork, they asked her to join them in another room and she said, no, he can stay with me. When we were in an examination room, the nurses would ask if maybe she’d rather just be alone with the doctors. The doctor did, too. And the nurses did again. I say it like it was a handful of times, but in retrospect each step probably had a couple of different ways of trying to separate us. So that the truth could be known.
I don’t think it was the first time they tried to separate us that they thought I had hit her. It may not have even been the second time. Certainly by the third time it had dawned on me the assumptions they had made. They had seen it all before. I definitely hadn’t.
She ended up with a bunch of stitches.
I ended up a bit queasy at having been thought to be the cause.
Here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on the offensive, once I realized what they were insinuating by trying to separate us. I didn’t let any anger burst out of me. I didn’t accuse anyone of anything. I didn’t shout, or get red in the face, or tighten my lips, or sweat, or demand anything of anyone, or ask barbed questions like whether the doctor ever hit his wife.
I just realized what they so often dealt with. I appreciated what they were trying to do. Sure, I felt some shame, that they thought this of me. But the demographics were not in my favor — white guy, late 30s to early 40s — I got it, once I got it. She understood it a lot sooner than I did, which is why she kept explaining that it had been the dog that had done it.
It hadn’t stopped them asking.
It was subtle enough that it took me awhile to even realize what they were trying to do, to separate us so that she could tell them I had hit her. Even if I hadn’t.
But that was what they saw. And a lot of indignant male partners, husbands or what-have-you, who didn’t want to be separated. Who didn’t want her telling her side of the tale.
She’d say later that I went above and beyond the call, that night, early in a relationship. I didn’t feel that way, even though I had realized what was going on, and had mentioned it to her even as we waited for a doctor to come in and put in the dozen or so stitches. I felt it was just what you did — you’re with someone, they get hurt, you go with them.
I guess she meant the assumption that I had been the cause. It was a reasonable assumption, though, however wrong it had been in that case.
When I see a man railing against how awful and unfair it is that they be questioned? I think: that’s a guilty man. Because the rest of us, if we’ve been paying attention? We know the score. We know why the questions get asked. We might feel a sense of shame that someone might think that of us, but we also know: they don’t know us. They know the statistics, and they know their personal experience. Their personal experience is: it’s never a fall, or a door walked into, or good-effin’-christ a dog? Are you kidding me? It’s the man who brought them in.
The systems which question aren’t wrong. They are born from experience. It’s the rage, the “how dare you,” that is wrong. That’s the guilt talking.
In the end, the scar was nothing. It faded within a year or so.
The understanding, on both of our parts, that stayed. She knew it already. It was my turn to learn.