Turn the other cheek, she always said to me, my mother, as she turned her face away from my abuse.
That’s what love is. Forgiveness. My identity is formed upon this, upon the way I choose to believe the best in people, give second chances and forgive. Turn the other cheek, she always said to me, and I do. That is how I will come to understand love. No matter the cost. No matter the cost.
And so the first time he hurts me, the first time he calls me a whore, slut, cheat, liar, I reel back at the words as if I have been slapped across the face, my heart knifed by the sharpness of his words. I tell him he overreacts; I do not know the man who smiled at me. But he cannot hear me. His words shred me, they slice at my very core, but I absolve his anger through my forgiveness. I love him through his pain, that way he will know he is wrong about me. That way he will love me better.
Later, he is ashamed as he whispers promises against my neck. I taste saltwater on his cheeks and I know he will change for me, he will see my love and he will change, I know it. We walk in golden light and carve our name in the tree where orbs spin their webs and the dank smell of earth reaches our nostrils as we walk hand in hand back to our house. That night there are no more tears, instead I taste his sweat as he loves me, he loses himself in the soft folds of my skin and I am lost to him.
But weeks later jealousy rears his temper again. He assaults me with more than just words and I feel the sting of his calloused hand against my fragile face as the two come into collision. I steady myself against the wall, against his rage, against his voice as he spits vile words at my face. They bypass my face, intercepted by my heart, and the imprint of words is deeper there than the fingerprints upon my face will ever be.