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The Red Dress Club: Misstep

Friday, 29 April 2011

It started the same way every time. Always after he’d been drinking. Always.

Things would be fine. Until something, anything, would set him off. Money. His lack of employment. My disrespect. The child.

I tried to stand my ground. Tried to speak in a calm and controlled voice, just as I’d been coached. It was as if the calmer I spoke, the more his anger grew.

He grabbed my arms. The marks? They would go away. In time. He pushed me against the wall. He’d done it before. Didn’t think much of it. Figured it would end the way it always did.

I never saw it coming: his fist. It landed squarely on my jaw. I tasted something salty. Tears, I assumed. Until I saw droplets of blood fall to the floor.

That’s blood. That’s my blood. Oh God, I’m bleeding.

He stormed off, leaving me in a bit of daze. I could feel my lip begin to swell. But I had to get back to work. No time to feel sorry for myself or wonder how or why that just happened.

A bit later, playing it over and over in my mind, I sorted out what had gone wrong. And how to avoid it the next time. There would be a next time.

Seeking me out, he was clearly filled with remorse.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized.
“I know. It’s OK.” It was a struggle to speak with a split lip. “No biggie.”
“Yes, it is. I don’t know what happened. We’ve done that dozens of times…”


In the weeks leading up to opening night, “Bill” and I spent many an hour “finding the rage” that we would need to fully inhabit our characters. At seventeen, I had never played anyone who was a victim of what is now called IPV, or Intimate Partner Violence. Working together to find the right balance of emotions was both exhilarating and terrifying. For quite some time, my staccato slumber was darkened by troubling dreams. One particular day-long rehearsal included a character development session in which “Bill” threw me into a chair and screamed at me until I shrunk into the chair, cowering. Intellectually, I knew this was make-believe. But how could I not help but think of the thousands and thousands of girls and women for whom such episodes of violence are not an act?

Though we had blocked the scene, refined it, rehearsed it, something went very wrong on that night. The carefully choreographed fight scene was thrown off by just the slightest misstep.

“‘Bet’. She missed her mark,” I explained, “I had to adjust and…”
“So the blocking was thrown off?”
“Guess that’s why you seemed so much closer.”
“Because I really was closer,” I smiled.
“I really am sorry.”
“I know.”

Red Writing Hood is a writing meme. This week’s prompt was to write about a fight, either fiction or non-fiction, in 600 words or fewer. Immediately, I was transported back to my senior year in high school and the Spring musical. My role as “Nancy” in Oliver! required several scenes involving physical violence. It left a lasting imprint. (Please read here for more.) As always, constructive criticism is appreciated.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Friday, 29 April 2011 8:36 am

    i have chills.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:36 pm

      Thanks, Melissa. I knew how I wanted this to read in my head and was hoping that it would work for those outside of my head.

  2. Friday, 29 April 2011 9:25 am

    In every post I’ve read today, I’ve been keen to figure out whether the words are fiction or non-fiction. And now you’ve thrown me for a loop by combining the two!
    I did have to read it through a few times to make the distinction. It is quite powerful to not realize till the asterisks that the people in this post are actors. Their “act” ends several lines before the asterisks. When he storms off, and later is filled with remorse, it still reads as a stereotype of an abuser who is able to repeat the abuse because they always apologize and are always forgiven.
    But it is also clear in your post that the actors themselves experienced IPV in a very visceral way… it might not have been “real”, but they worked at feeling the emotions and experiencing, as closely as possible, what an abuser and victim would feel.

    A very powerful post!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:43 pm

      It really was frightening to step into a character who lived, and subsequently died, in fear of a so-called loved one. I’m pleased that I was able to convey that fear.

      Thanks so much for your continued support!!!

  3. osita permalink
    Friday, 29 April 2011 10:48 am


    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:44 pm

      Thanks. I thought it was a clever approach too — as long as it worked, that is.

  4. Friday, 29 April 2011 12:50 pm

    You do know that every time you write constructive criticism I want to talk about hammers, dry walls, I-Beams and the importance of using proper tools for a job.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:44 pm

      Of course you do.

      Which isn’t very helpful to me at all 😦

  5. Friday, 29 April 2011 6:55 pm

    Wow, this was so well done. I loved this take on the prompt! And you are an excellent writer. You included just enough detail – didn’t over do it.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:46 pm

      Thanks, Kim. I admit — the word count definitely forced me to shave any extraneous words.

  6. Friday, 29 April 2011 8:27 pm

    I have to say that I was relieved when the scene ended and the actors emerged. Powerful piece.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:50 pm

      A satisfying comment as this is precisely the reaction I’d envisioned. Thanks so much for commenting.

  7. Friday, 29 April 2011 10:47 pm

    I too thought it was an abuse story, and loved the twist about it being roles in a play. It really does send a powerful message.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Saturday, 30 April 2011 11:56 pm

      Thanks, Stephanie. I had hoped to catch the reader unaware.

  8. Sunday, 1 May 2011 8:04 am

    I also thought it was about abuse. I’m glad to know it was just for a play, although that must still have hurt. Really good job on the writing! Succinct, yet all the emotions are captured.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:23 pm

      Then it worked! It was meant to read as though it was an abusive situation. And, on some level, it was. I left those rehearsals physically marked and emotionally exhausted.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  9. Sunday, 1 May 2011 7:29 pm

    Very convincing, and captivating. I was also very relieved to find it was a play. That must have been a really intense experience, and at such a tender age! I don’t have any criticism; it’s an excellent piece.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:27 pm

      Thanks, Rivki. I learned a lot about getting inside of a character from this experience. Knowledge that came in handy later.

  10. Sunday, 1 May 2011 8:03 pm

    I was about to say “chilling”–which was my gut reaction. Then I saw the first commenter said “chills” so I feel justified in that gut instinct. Well done. Glad it was just a play!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 1 May 2011 9:27 pm

      Yeah, me too.

      I admire your writing a great deal so your comments are especially meaningful.

  11. Sunday, 1 May 2011 11:48 pm

    After reading it & realizing where you had taken the story my favorite line was the realization of “MY” blood. I can’t really explain it, but I thought it was good.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 2 May 2011 11:07 pm

      Thanks so much. It is interesting how different lines resonate with people.

  12. Monday, 2 May 2011 9:41 am

    Totally remember that night! And I remember the thing in the chair AND the bruises. Here is my constructive criticism: change your WordPress template so all writing assignments like these are in a specific place. You know how people skim things and you would want a knock on the door from child services.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 2 May 2011 11:08 pm

      What a crazy experience that was. Do you remember how I had the first round of a vocal competition the following day and had to sing with a split and swollen lip? In German??

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