“Anything but Peanut Butter”

Randi Sessums


Flipping the sizzling bacon over in the pan, I prayed for it to be quieter. I didn’t want to wake my husband before breakfast was ready. Turning off the stove and placing all of the food onto a plate, I gathered everything and headed back up towards our bedroom. As I went, I stopped in front of a mirror in the hallway to check my makeup. I wanted to make sure none of my foundation had come off from around my eye. I knew he wouldn’t want to be reminded of our fight the night before when he had suddenly blown up and hit me. He had occasionally grabbed my arm too hard or pushed me back when I pushed him first, but never had his fist connected with my face in a harmful way before last night, so I hadn’t really known how to react. All I knew was since it had never happened before, it wasn’t going to happen again.

As I entered with the food he rolled over in bed and sniffed, his eyes opening at the scent of the bacon. He grinned, making my insides sing with joy.

Seeing him smile made me smile.

We sat together on the bed and ate the breakfast I had prepared. When we were finished, he set the tray on the nightstand and looked at me, staring into my brown eyes with his emerald green ones. Suddenly, he reached forward and grabbed me, wrapping his arms around me then twisting so I was underneath him. I let out a small shriek, not knowing what was happening, until I looked into his eyes and saw the joy in them and the laugh lines forming around his eyes. He was playing. I relaxed and smiled back.

He tickled me until I laughed then kissed me with a passion I hadn’t felt from him in a long time. Things had been so tense between us since he had lost his job a few months ago. He had found a new one, but he didn’t enjoy it quite as much so he was often grumpy when he came home, and no matter what I did, something would still piss him off. He pulled back and stared at my face, gently stroking my cheek with his thumb. He brushed past my bruises, making me wince, and he froze. He slowly leaned down and kissed them, making his way around my eye. A sense of calm washed over me, knowing he was sorry. When he was finished, he looked at me again and said, “You put makeup on.”

I said, “I didn’t think you’d want to see them.”

“I don’t. You really shouldn’t push me like that. You know how stressed I’ve been.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“No, it won’t. I’ll never hurt you like that again. I promise.  I love you, Sarah.”

I smiled at him, loving how those words sounded. “I love you too, Jack.”

He got up then to get ready for work, so I took the dishes to the kitchen and cleaned up my mess. As I walked back to the bedroom, I paused and stared at the picture of us that hung on the wall in the hallway. It was a picture of us on our wedding day, him in a black tuxedo and me in a flowing white bridal gown. Our smiles were shining bright through the picture, our happiness almost tangible. He was holding me in his arms and looking into my eyes with longing. I gently stroked the picture with my fingertips, remembering that day and how much I loved that man. I could still hear the clinking of the champagne glasses and the soft jazz music as it resonated through the reception hall. Our families had been there to celebrate our union; even mine, who lived all the way in Oregon, where I grew up. They weren’t too happy when I told them I was moving to Florida to be with him, but for love, you must make sacrifices.

I kissed him goodbye, waited until he was out of the driveway, then let out a long sigh. I had a doctor’s appointment to go to today. I hadn’t wanted to worry him, so I kept it to myself. I gathered my things and made my way to the doctor. As I sat in the room fidgeting and waiting for the doctor, my mind wandered to a few days ago when those two pink lines had shaken up my world. I had been feeling a little off when I realized that I hadn’t had the need for tampons in weeks, and what that must mean. I had bought a test, the type you can’t study for, in a pink box and it had shown me what I hadn’t wanted to see. I knew he didn’t want kids, but those two pink lines said otherwise.

When the doctor finally came in, I told her what was going on. She made me lie down and spread my legs, so she could do a sonogram. A lot of gray blurry lines came up on the screen next to me and she explained that it was my uterus. She moved the probe around until there was a black blob off to the right with a gray shape inside of it. She froze the screen and told me to look inside the blob at the shape. I looked but all I saw was the gray shape. It kind of resembled a peanut. She then hit a button on the keyboard and the room erupted in a “whoosh-whoosh” noise. I looked around shocked, asking what the noise was. She looked at me with a smile on her face and said, “That’s the heartbeat.”

A heartbeat. I had never heard something so amazing in my life. I looked back at the screen and had to fight back tears. A heartbeat meant life. I had life growing inside of me. That gray peanut was alive. It was alive with a very fast heartbeat. My doctor removed the probe, but the image remained on the screen. I didn’t want to look away from that little peanut. She printed out a picture of it and handed it to me before leaving the room. I put my clothes back on as I stared at the picture, still amazed at it.

I drove home with my head rattling. After seeing the peanut, it was like I wasn’t as scared anymore. I could see it. I could see being a mom, and everything that came with it. I was so excited I forgot how nervous I had been about telling my husband. Surely, he would be just as excited as I was.

Arriving home, I ran upstairs to tell him the good news. I burst into our room with a huge smile on my face and he looked at me like I was crazy. “What the hell is wrong with you? You look like a mental patient.”

Ignoring his comment, I said, “I have something to show you.”

“What?”

I reached into my purse and pulled out the sonogram of the gray peanut and handed it to him. He looked at it with a puzzled look on his face. He asked, “What is this?”

“It’s our baby.”

When I said this, his face got suddenly pale as he stared at the picture. He gripped it with both hands, his knuckles turning white. He looked up at me suddenly, a burning fury in his eyes. My smile faded and I stepped back a few inches. His voice booming with anger, he said, “Are you serious? Please tell me you’re joking.”

“I thought you would be excited,” I said in a small voice.

“Excited? You know I don’t want kids. What the hell were you thinking? How could you be so irresponsible?”

With each question his voice rose a little louder, and I could feel myself shrinking, stepping back with each sentence. “It just happens, sweetheart.”

“No, it doesn’t if you’re being responsible. You should have taken your pill. I can’t believe this,” he threw the sonogram on the floor and started pacing.

I badly wanted to pick it up, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea. He kept ranting under his breath as he paced and I just stood there. While he walked, he stepped on the picture, crumpling it. An anger started burning inside me and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I exploded, yelling at him, telling him he wasn’t being fair. Married couples were supposed to be happy about a baby, not mad. He yelled back at me, standing over me so his face was inches from mine. He reached out to grab my arm and, not feeling very happy with him, I yanked it away and turned to leave the room. I wanted to be away from him and calm down. He obviously didn’t share this thought because he followed me into the hallway.

“Don’t walk away from me, Sarah,” he tried to grab my arm again so I pulled away and slapped him. We stood there frozen at the top of the stairs. Neither one of us moved for what felt like ages. Something inside of me had snapped when he stepped on that sonogram. It was a picture of our baby and he had stepped on it like it was trash.

He looked me in the eyes and it seemed like some switch inside of him flipped. Whether it switched off or on I’ll never know, but something happened. An eerie calm washed over him and his pupils dilated until I could barely see the color anymore. He set his jaw and faced me squarely. I thought he was going to punch me again, but he didn’t. Instead, he reached out and gripped both of my arms with a vice like grip and shoved me backward with all the strength he could muster. I flew backward, but not into a wall since we were in front of the stairs. I hit the stairs with a thud, then kept rolling down them, all the way to the bottom. Each stair rammed into my skin like a brick, causing pain on every inch of my body. My head snapped backward, hitting the stairs and the railing with a brute force. I flailed my arms trying to stop myself, but it did no good. I slammed onto the wooden floor at the bottom. I landed on my stomach, my face pressed into the ground. It felt like I had fallen for hours, but it had all happened in a matter of seconds. Groaning in pain, I turned my head to look up at the man standing at the top of the stairs. He hadn’t moved a muscle; he was just standing there, watching me.

I didn’t recognize him anymore. He stood there, having caused me so much pain, and he didn’t even move to help. He didn’t run down and apologize. He didn’t make sure I was okay. He just watched me, daring me with his eyes to move or say something. He wasn’t the man I fell in love with. I didn’t marry a man who would push a woman down stairs. He wasn’t the love of my life, and I was finally seeing it. Seeing him standing there above me like he was a god, like he controlled me, made me sick. It was like I was finally seeing the devil that he was.

He finally broke eye contact when he turned away and went inside our room and slammed the door. I lay there on the ground, not knowing if I could even move, and let myself go. I cried. I cried until my body shook. I cried until there were no more tears left inside of me. I cried until I couldn’t anymore. Then I laid there and stared at the wall, unsure of what to do next, letting the afternoon turn into evening. My entire body had become numb until I felt a weird sensation in my pelvis. Pain surged through me and the area became very warm. I got up then and ran to the guest bathroom. I pulled down my pants and stared at the unthinkable. My underwear was covered in bright red blood and it was running down my legs. I just sat there and stared in shock as it ran all the way down to my foot. I knew what this meant. I should have known. This was probably what he had wanted when he pushed me.

Forcing myself to get up, I cleaned myself off and threw my bottoms into the trash. I put on spare clothes and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes were red and swollen and I had a smudge of blood on my cheek from my hand. I looked broken and tired. I felt empty. I knew I had to do something, so I did what any good wife would. I went into the kitchen and made dinner. He heard me cooking and came down when it was done. We sat in silence while we ate and when he was done I took the plates and went to the sink to wash them.

We went upstairs, and he immediately went to bed. I got in the shower and just sat in the tub, letting the water wash over my throbbing body and clean the rest of the blood off. I stared at the pink stream as it ran down the drain, imagining what color I would have painted the room if it had been a girl. Probably a soft pink with white sparkly accents.

After about an hour in the shower, the water was no longer warm. I got out and put on my softest pajamas before climbing into bed. He was already asleep and snoring, so I curled into a ball on my side of the bed and prayed for sleep to come. When it never did, I started picking out names. Brayden for a boy. Cassie for a girl.

In the morning, we didn’t say much to each other. He kissed me goodbye, but I didn’t move my mouth. He didn’t seem to notice. I called into work that day, having a lot to do around the house. I cleaned up all of my blood from the bathroom and the floor. I cleaned out our closet and dressers. I did my make-up, putting extra around my swollen and bruised eyes. I put on long sleeves to cover up the bruises that were already forming on my body from the stairs. I went to the store to get groceries for dinner, then started it when I got home.

As I cleaned the chicken, I thought about when he had asked me to marry him. He got down on one knee in front of my family at Christmas. I cried with happiness, and my mom cried with sadness. She had known what he was, but I had never listened.

I started the water for the noodles and I could hear his voice in my head on the night he told me he wanted to move to Florida. He had told me I would like it, that heat was good for me. He said I needed space from my family, that they were holding me back. I guess it’s easier to control someone when their family is on the other side of the country.

I poured the peanut sauce over the chicken so it could marinate. I cooked the vegetables and I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he saw me walking down the aisle.

I finely chopped up peanuts for the glaze, adding honey and some herbs for more flavor. I looked down at my purple shirt, trying not to get something on it. He always told me I looked like barney when I wore purple.

Just as I finished dinner, he walked in the door. I went to him and helped him take his jacket off. He grabbed me and kissed me with a little too much force. I gave in for a second, kissing him back, remembering the good days. Our first date at the carnival. The first time he kissed me, in front of my house. My beautiful wedding dress that he had ripped off in our hotel room. I almost let myself go in the memories, sinking into his kiss, until the image of a teddy bear popped into my head. A teddy bear sitting inside of a crib, next to a smiling baby. Suddenly his kisses didn’t bring nostalgia anymore. They tasted like acid and burned my lips, making me want to vomit. I pulled away then, telling him dinner was ready. We walked into the dining room and I made him a plate, telling him how it was a new Thai recipe I had found. We sat and talked as we ate, like everything was normal.

About halfway through his food he started to cough. He kept trying to clear his throat but was having little luck. A red splotchy rash started to creep up his neck and onto his face, covering him in spots. He drank an entire bottle of water trying to stop the coughing, but it didn’t work. I sat there, watching him, wondering how long this would take. I could tell his throat was starting to close because he dropped his fork and started to scratch at it as he coughed. With a thick tongue, he asked me what was in the food. “It’s just chicken with a peanut sauce.”

His eyes wide with pain and terror, he looked at me like I was insane and sputtered out, “Pehnutssss?! You know I’m allergic to pehnuutsss!”

Straight faced, I said, “I know.”

He started wheezing and got up to go to the table in the hallway. Walking out behind him, I saw he was searching through the drawers angrily as he scratched at his throat. I walked up next to him calmly and asked, “Looking for this?”

I held out his epi-pen that I had been holding in my pocket. He lunged for it, but I stepped back quickly so he tripped and fell to the ground. He lay there, in the same place that I had been the night before and clutched at his throat as it got harder and harder to breathe. I stared at his wide framed body, tall and powerful and strong, as I stood above him, seething. I no longer felt love for him; just hate. I hated him for hurting me, for pushing me, for making me lose our baby. I hated him for isolating me, for bullying me, for making me feel worthless. I hated him for all of that and so much more. I looked at him struggling and I felt no sympathy. So I simply said, “You shouldn’t have pushed me.”

I walked away from him then, towards my bags that I had packed and set in the closet by the front door. I got them out and got my keys ready to leave. I stuffed all of the cash that I had pulled out earlier in the day, taking our entire savings and most of the checking, into my purse and grabbed the door handle to leave. For some reason, I froze. My plan had been to leave him to die, to suffer like I had for years, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave him wheezing on the floor. I muttered, “dammit,” then turned back around and went back over to him. I kneeled on the ground and shoved the epi-pen into his leg without an ounce of gentleness. He gasped out in pain then fell back on the ground. I stood up and threw the pen down next to him. He looked up at me terrified as I stood above him. I looked him hard in the eyes and finally said, “Don’t you dare follow me.”

I walked away then and opened the door, taking my things with me and getting into the car. I started it and I drove. I drove for hours and hours, barely thinking about what I was doing. With each mile I got away from him, it was like a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I had never felt so free in my life. I rolled down the windows and let the cool air wash over and I let out a full-bellied laugh. I was out. I could finally feel good about myself. The farther away I got, the happier I felt. It was the first smart decision I had made in over five years. I drove all night until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. I stopped at a hotel, then I got up and kept driving. I drove all the way to Oregon, to home. I knocked on my mom’s door and fell into her arms with relief. I ate her cooking. I slept for many hours. Then I got up, got dressed, went to a lawyer’s office, and filed for divorce.

Fiction piece by Randi Sessums