The film provides images gathered from Wendy Maldonado's 20 years of marriage, including home videos and snapshots, plus brief interviews with neighbors who describe the horrendous scenes they observed from a distance.
As a young bride, Wendy Maldonado looks happy. Her hair long and dyed red, she smiles sweetly into the video camera her husband Aaron points at her, her image slipping in and out of focus, her eyes wide and shy. He makes his way to a fairground gypsy window, where the life-sized puppet nods and bobs, then slips him a ticket. He pauses, the camera now observing him as he reads his fortune carefully: "Oh, for the powers the gypsies, give us to see ourselves as others see us," he says. Then a nod as he sees something that resonates: "Listen to this! You have a sharp tongue which may cause unhappiness to others." A last cut to the gypsy shows her mechanical eyes in motion, as if they see something.
Alternately canny and corny, this opening sequence of Every F---ing Day of My Life hints at the horror story to follow. The documentary, airing throughout the month on HBO, reveals not only the extreme dysfunction of the Maldonados' marriage, but also of the legal and social systems that keep wives without wherewithal. Wendy lets Tommy Davis' film crew into her home during her last four days of freedom, before she begins a 10-year prison term for killing Aaron. She works on her glass blowing and gets a tattoo to mark her connection with her 16-year-old son Randy, who came to her aid on that grim night in 2005.
She also talks. That's not to say that she describes exactly what happened or how she came to such a crisis. But she does make clear the frightening lack of options that lay before her, the desperation she felt and her fear for her four sons. "What happened the night of the murder?" her interviewer asks from off camera. "I don’t know," she says bluntly, walking with the camera hovering near her. "I have no idea why I did it that night, because in my mind, I could have waited another 20 years or I could have done it 10 years ago, you know what I mean?"
Initially, it's difficult to know what she means, Every F---ing Day of My Life -- the title an answer Wendy gave to a 911 operator who asked her how often her husband hit her. (When the operator asks what happened, she gasps, "I just killed my husband, I hit him in the head with a hammer.") As Wendy describes the torment that led to that night, her abjection and immobility seem almost beyond language. (Wendy's 10-year sentence and Randy's, 75 months, are the result of plea deals they decide to make, out of worry that trials won't possibly yield better outcomes, that is, out of continuing distrust of the authorities who have been unable to help her throughout her lengthy ordeal.) Just so, the film provides images gathered from her 20 years of marriage, including home videos, police photos of her seemingly endless injuries, brief interviews with neighbors who describe the horrendous scenes they observed -- her injuries, his brutal assaults -- as well as family snapshots. One especially effective series of pictures shows the children's drawings she tacked to the walls of their home to cover over the holes Aaron had punched: the sequence shows a drawing, then the drawing lifted to reveal the damage, again and again.
While the film opens with a series of home movies displaying just how young she was when they married and she was first pregnant ("I was like, 17"), current images show her aged and weary with experience. Bent over her blowtorch as she fashions glass figurines, Wendy remembers first realizing that she was trapped in an impossible situation. "When Randy was like, a year and a half old, that's when I found out he was really crazy," she says. "We were just laying in bed and he just told me how his fantasy was to be a killer." Her eyes still go wide as she remembers that he wanted not only to "kill 'em, but keep 'em," so that he could "slowly just torture" his victims. (Video shows him with a dead deer on the porch, his gleeful play with the carcass not a little uncomfortable to see.)
As she explains it, Wendy and her boys became Aaron's victims, so abused over years they were afraid to reveal to others what was happening with their "Jekyll and Hyde" dad. That's not to say there weren't signs -- and these stories, told by her mother and sisters, may be the most incomprehensible. "She'd come to my house bawling or freezing, with no coat on," says her sister Chris. "She wouldn't let me do anything because she knew it would make everything worse." Donna, the sisters' mother, nods, quietly noting that as they were coming up, she was in her own violent relationship. While you'd think -- from the outside -- that this would make her more inclined to protect her daughter, the cycle and expectations of abuse become immersive, seemingly inescapable. Mom recalls that while she had a "place to hide," Wendy didn't have "that opportunity."
Interviewed in prison, from behind a thick plastic wall, Randy recounts the abuse ("I fell down, he started kicking me") as well as his and Wendy's abrupt decision to take action ("He was making this noise, I guess it's called a death rattle or something"). Driving with the camera beside her, Wendy adds that when cops arrived following her phone call -- she was handcuffed and Aaron was loaded into the ambulance -- she was most worried that he was still alive. "I was so fucking scared that he didn’t die, you know what I mean?" The camera tilts up to show a rainy sky above her car, the windshield wipers slowly whooshing.
The film closes with a similar abstraction. Following a day in the courtroom, where her son Joshua reads a statement ("I know my dad started hitting me before preschool" and Aaron's brother declares his fierce certainty that she will face a "judgment day." Wincing but not surprised at his rage, Wendy apologizes to Aaron's family but goes on to tell the judge, "My children and I are the only ones who will ever know what it was like to live in our home." He, in turn, intones that while her and Randy's stories are persuasive, killing Aaron was not the right solution -- what sort of society would allow such chaos? Indeed, this is the question the film can only ask, but must leave unanswered. Some minutes later, following hugs and tears, she heads into the jail, offering her wrists to the guards who will escort her inside. The camera watches for a long minute, then turns to the sidewalk and fades to black. It's a chilling evocation of the irresolution of Wendy's story, no matter the new sentence, the one replacing the years she served with Aaron.