Krystal became clever about hiding the clawlike fingernail marks on her neck. The bruises on her face. But makeup didn’t always cover the welts, so she wore turtlenecks until the Houston summer made her sweat too much. When she couldn’t hide the injuries, there was always an excuse for her co-workers and friends: I fell. It was an accident.

Even though she made the same excuses to Terrance’s friends and family, she figured they had to know. The two had that fight in the parking lot, when she sent everyone back into the restaurant once he started yelling. He’d berated her at a party for fixing his plate wrong. He routinely tore her down. She was too black. Too fat. Too ugly. “Who is going to want you?” he’d ask. “No one is going to want you but me.” She thought other people saw. Why didn’t they do anything about it?

She began to doubt herself, to wonder if she was the only one who viewed him like this. When they went out, she says she felt like Beyoncé with Jay-Z—glitz, glamour, and perfection. When they were alone, he became someone else. His mood swings were their secret; it was up to her to decode his demeanor and deflect his anger. She could sense the vibe as soon as she walked in the door. If he was smiling, she worried. If he had a beer in his hand, her back started tensing against the assault that was sure to follow.

Verbal, physical, it didn’t really matter. She was already hurting—tired—before the abuse would even begin; so weary it became almost mundane. She’d hand him dinner knowing what was next. “Boobie, this shit is nasty,” he’d say. “Your ass can’t do shit right. You can’t cook. Man, I see why I never fucked with no black girls. I promise your stupid ass I’m done with you. I wish I had left your ass in Virginia. I don’t want to be here with you or your damn kids. Fuck all y’all, for real.” Krystal would shout back until the slap came. She’d look up to see Jay and Adara watching—again.

“Go in the other room, guys,” she’d say. “Mommy’s OK.”

There were moments when he seemed like the man she’d met in Virginia. He’d stroke her back. Wrap his big arms around her. Even if those same hands had hit her the night before, she wanted him. Wanted him to be everything she’d planned out in her head. Which is why, when his visage darkened, she was always a little unprepared for the wrath.

She stumbled upon a new way to delay his anger on the night of her 29th birthday. They were partying again, with friends, and Krystal was drunk. Terrance pulled her downstairs and out to the car. “This is what I do,” he said, showing her how to take a bump of cocaine off a key. “I want to introduce you to it because you’ll still be drunk, but it’ll help you sober up. Here.”

“What do I do with that?” Krystal asked.

“You snort it.”

She didn’t want to, but she did anyway. The next morning her nose was clogged, and she just didn’t feel right. She wasn’t the type to do drugs, and yet…. He was so happy with her. This was their thing; their love.

Krystal began to strategize. She’d finish her shifts as a nurse’s assistant with a lingering thought: If I could just keep him high…. If she called the dealer on her way home and picked up some coke, she could hand it over like a prize. He’d be pleased. Happy she was the good wife who understood and partied with him.

The more they partied, the more they spent. Between their two jobs, the family should have been flush. Instead, they always seemed to live month to month. Although they never could afford new shoes for her kids, they could always scrape together whatever it took to get high. Sometimes they’d invite friends over, throwing away $400 a night on drugs and booze.

Then Terrance lost his job. Krystal picked up double shifts to keep the lights on and the coke supply high. She was solely focused on making this man happy. If that meant she showed up to work high or drunk, so be it. She was starting not to mind so much, anyway. After last night’s party, she needed to stay high to stay awake. And she needed to get high again tonight to keep him happy. She never seemed to sleep.

Her boss started to comment on her persistent sinus infections. Her nose was constantly congested. Her teeth, her skin, everything just looked awful. She began suspecting all those things Terrance said—you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re too black—were true.

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