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“He didn’t have to hit me, his words hurt enough.”
“Three things you need to survive: a job, a roof over your head and an escape fund.”
“One Brave Thing A Day made me the woman I am today, it can work for you, too.”
Once upon a time she loved him and thought he loved her. As long as she did everything he wanted, how he wanted and when he wanted, things were fine between them. Only they weren’t and it was always her fault.
Follow one woman’s journey as she breaks free from the emotional abuse that has held her captive for most of her marriage. As she grows strong and independent, she discovers that she is stronger than she thought she was, smarter than he gave her credit for and braver than anyone ever expected.
The growth of an emotionally and sexually abused woman from doormat to strong, confident woman
I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, she assured herself as the scent of sweat, cigarette smoke and alcohol drowned her. If she repeated it often enough, maybe her brain would believe it, though the knotting in her stomach warned that her body did not agree. Her belly clenched as if preparing to send her dinner of reheated leftovers north again. He was back and he was horny. She turned away from his open-mouthed kiss though a similar kiss had woken her just seconds before. Half expecting this all evening, she’d still been caught off guard and asleep.
The shaft of light streaming through a two-inch wide opening in the curtains across the room caught her attention. That peachy-pink glow drew her mind away from her body, away from the man groping one breast while suckling at the other. That light kept her from screaming and clawing for escape as he shifted to lie over her, trapping her beneath his sticky, sweat-covered body. This was, after all, her job. Every minute or so he slid a hand into the apex of her thighs to judge how her body was reacting to his efforts at foreplay. He wanted her panting and moaning, though that was the last thing she felt. She’d rather roll over and go back to the sleep she’d been ripped from, but that was not to be. At least, not for a few more minutes.
Taking a breath, she shifted into the act of enjoying his sexual performance. Anything to move this production along. Her moaning with faked passion should win her an award for best actress in a sex scene somewhere in the world. If only someone could witness this moment. It always surprised her that he never realized her passion was a ruse. She had been pretending for so many years she could not remember what a real orgasm felt like.
I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. He shifted and slid into her with his patented groan of passion. Then he forced her head around so he could kiss her again. He paused once he was fully seated in her. Then he began to piston in and out, changing positions and tempos every few strokes. She closed her eyes so he would not see the contempt she was feeling. Rolling her face away from his, she took a breath of air that wasn’t tainted with his cigarette smoke and whiskey breath. Gritting her teeth to keep the scream of rage inside, she concentrated on her performance. All the while she prayed he would finish before she threw up.
Two minutes later he growled deep in his throat and stiffened for a few endless seconds. He collapsed so heavily on her chest, she could not take a breath, bar tainted or otherwise. When she would have bucked him off or blacked out from lack of oxygen, he jerked his shriveling manhood from her core. He rolled onto his back with a sigh of satisfaction.
“Wow, that was great. Did you get yours?” his words slurred together as he reached out and patted her left breast.
Her lips curled into a shadow of a smile as she murmured a soft “uh huh.”
He rolled from the bed without another glance in her direction. He’d gotten what he wanted, now for more important matters. “Dibbies on the bathroom.”
As soon as he was out of sight behind the bathroom door, she shivered. Swallowing hard, she blinked away the tears that threatened to expose the extent of her misery. Reaching to the floor on her side of the bed, she brushed her hand against the industrial-grade, oatmeal-colored Berber carpet they’d installed last year. She snatched up the first bit of clothing her fingers touched. She had to wipe away the still warm evidence of his passion that felt like acid burning her skin. She pushed herself to a sitting position, no longer worried about leaving a wet spot in the bed. Using the back of the fingers of her left hand, she brushed at her cheek, wiping away two tears that slipped past the locked iron gate that guarded her heart and emotions.
Get a grip. He’ll be back in another minute. She forced the misery down further even though he would not notice. These days he never acknowledged her tears. Not after hurtful words at dinner, not during an emotionally touching movie, not even when they had sex. Her tears were not important to him. Nothing about her was important as long as she did her job and kept him happy.
The bathroom door opened and he appeared, scratching at his butt with one hand, his ear with the other. “I’m beat. How about you?”
“Yeah,” she whispered her voice hoarse from keeping emotion under control, “exhausted.”
As he crawled into the bed on the right side, she rose from the left. He was tired, sexually satisfied and drunk, but she kept her face averted anyway. She did not want him to see her pain, her disgust. He might ask what was wrong and she would have to lie. Again. Over the years, she had misrepresented the truth with him so much sometimes she wasn’t sure herself what was real and was a lie. Tonight, however, her emotions were too close to the surface and shredding fast. She could not fabricate a story as to why her face was wet. She’d rather scream in anger or in agony, but that would lead to more questions she did not have answers to right now.
Once behind the safety of the bathroom door, she collapsed onto the toilet. He would not bother her in here. It was one of the unwritten rules of their marriage. The bathroom was off limits if the door was closed. She was safe for a few minutes. Letting go of the diamond hard control she had developed, she allowed herself the luxury of silent tears. Maybe by releasing a few now, the pressure behind her eyes would ease.
I cannot do this any more. I have to change. I am going to change. I cannot keep living like this.
Sniffing and still blinded by her tears, she pulled a clean washcloth from the stack in the linen closet. Running the hot water into the sink, she wet the cloth and wiped dried spittle from her cheeks, neck, breasts and body. As she removed the evidence of sex from her body, she pushed down the ball of anger, hatred and self-pity that swelled in her chest.
She took another moment to brush her teeth and then comb the tangles from the auburn hair that hung to her waist in a waterfall of straightness. He thought the style suited her. She thought she looked like a teenybopper.
Looking into the mirror, she met her own gaze, but could only study her reflection for a few seconds before dropping her focus to the sink. The eyes looking back at her had always been brown, but when had they turned the color of dried dog shit? No sparkle, no life, just dull, dull brown with flat black pupils. Her normally ivory skin was as pale as the soft cotton white wall behind her, except for the rosy beard burn around her chin and breasts. Turning out the light, paused to pull close the invisible cloak of calm she always wore around him. With a deep breath, she opened the bathroom door.
That calm exterior was an illusion he never bothered to see beyond to the blaze of emotion that raged behind her clever façade. He always thought she was placid, calm, agreeable in a way that appealed to him. In truth she held a firestorm secreted behind a firewall. She was not sure how much longer she would be able to keep those fiery feelings under control, though she was terrified of releasing them. She could not predict what might happen if she let herself go. Would she beat him to death with a wooden spoon or cry herself into a coma?
As she stepped into the darkened bedroom, rhythmic grunting snores met her. She was safe. She would not have to call up her ever-expanding acting skills tonight. Crossing the room, she stood and watched her husband sleep in peaceful ignorance.
Five days later, She looked across the table and the skin between her shoulders crawled. She wanted to bring her shoulders up as close to her ears as possible and then down back down again to ease the feeling, but did not. It wouldn’t help. Nothing ever did.
She looked past the overcooked meatloaf with BBQ sauce smeared over the top, the lumpy mashed potatoes and the mushy canned corn at the man she had vowed to spend the rest of her life with. For the first time in months she really looked at him. In a momentary flash of genius-like insight she realized he would never change. He was content, even happy, with meatloaf Thursdays and spaghetti Mondays and sex on alternate Saturday nights after he had drinks with the boys down at the Sheraton. To him life was fine, comfortable and predictable, just the way he liked it. He did not see that she was drowning in sadness.
Only once had she tried to change the menu, hoping to inject a little sparkle and zip into their meals. She still cringed at the memory of that evening.
“What is this crap?” he demanded when she set the Pyrex French White casserole dish on the table between their plates. “That’s not spaghetti.”
“This is seafood Alfredo,” she said.
“It’s Monday, spaghetti night. This isn’t spaghetti,” he persisted.
“Won’t you at least taste this? I thought we could try something different,” She said, her happiness at accomplishing the complicated recipe evaporating in the heat of his darkening expression.
“I like knowing what’s for dinner. That way I can prepare myself for your cooking. I was all set for spaghetti with meat sauce. You make that so well.”
She was ready to throw the meal away and start over. The thought of hamburger fried up and mixed into canned spaghetti sauce then poured over spaghetti turned her stomach. She blinked several times to keep the rising tears from falling. Her earlier joy was gone, replaced by a headache and queasy stomach. After allowing him to serve himself a large helping, she took a single spoonful. He cleaned his plate, twice, while she picked at the noodles and shrimp on her own plate.
“That was pretty good, I guess,” Matthew admitted as he wiped his lips on his napkin. “Maybe you can fix it the next time my folks come to dinner. But next Monday, make spaghetti.”
The memory caused sadness to bubble up and swamped her. Dreading a lifetime of Thursday meatloaf dinners and a life revolving around Matthew’s every want, need and demand, her racing thoughts of unhappiness crystallized into one single, mind-blowing conclusion.
I cannot do this anymore. I have got to get out.
“Did you say something?” Matthew looked up from mixing the last of the canned corn into his third helping of mashed potatoes. The combination turned her stomach, but that was how he ate those vegetables, mixed together with lots of butter, salt and pepper.
She had not spoken her thoughts aloud, had she? “I didn’t say anything,” she murmured, crossing the fingers of her left hand that lay in her lap. The childhood belief of canceling out a lie did little to make her feel better. She had been lying for so long would ever overcome them all?
“Uh huh. Oh yeah, I’m going fishing tomorrow with the boys,” Matthew announced as casually as he did the weather forecast. Pushing from his chair, he left his dishes where they were and headed for the bedroom.
Her eyes widened, but she did not speak. Thank God was her first thought, but she swallowed those words as she followed him.
She watched as he packed his clothes. Tears pressed against the back of her eyelids. Though she looked forward to the time alone, it hurt that he was free to jump in his car and take off with his fishing buddies at a moment’s notice and she was trapped in the house. As he piled bags by the back door, he looked at her when she sniffed twice in rapid succession.
“What’s up with you?”
“Nothing. Go, have a great weekend,” she said, not able to keep the bitterness out of her voice. She could not keep the single tear from slipping down her cheek.
“Why are you crying? You gonna miss me that much? If you don’t want me to go say so,” he said, his tone shifting from surprised to accusatory to put out in three sentences.
“So why are you crying?”
“I just wish I could take off spur of the moment for a weekend away,” she said after swallowing hard.
I wish I could pack my bags and leave and never come back. I wish I would never have to have another one of these unwinnable conversations with you.
“So go. I’m not stopping you. You keep talking about spending a weekend at that bed and breakfast in Beaufort. What’s stopping you?”
“It costs money to go to a bed and breakfast. I don’t have any money. You’ve squirreled it all away,” she lashed out. Sniffing again, she gave up the battle to hide her tears. The pressure behind her eyes was too great.
It did not matter. If tears could make him feel guilty, she would use them, but nothing would change him. Wasn’t there a country song called “Men Don’t Change”?
“I suppose I could foot the bill if you want to go away for a weekend sometime. Let me know and I’ll give you some money,” Matthew said in his conciliatory, patient father voice. He pulled her to him for a one-armed hug as if that would make everything all right.
She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, working hard not to shudder at his touch. If only he would hug her properly, wrap both arms around her and pull her tight to his chest. Maybe then she would feel loved. She had not been wrapped in loving, supportive arms since her mother had died two years before. Would she ever feel a warm, protective embrace again? Or was she forever sentenced to one-armed hugs and no-lip kisses that almost connected with her skin before they were over?
Matthew patted her shoulder, emphasizing the fact that he no longer saw her as a sexual being. She could have been any woman on Earth. His interest in her only rose after he had been out drinking with the boys. She would worry that he was having an affair, but he had admitted more than once to being scared spitless that he might catch AIDS or syphilis or some other sexually transmitted disease. It was the only reason she had not accused him of such a thing before now.
He did not have the same concern. “You would never step out on me,” he’d told her on more than one occasion. “No man would have you. Men want a good-looking woman who is sure of her sexuality and knows how to play. You strike out on all counts. You’re a plain, pudgy mouse of a woman who’s afraid of her own shadow. Aren’t I lucky that you’re all mine?”
She never responded to his “discussions” of the problems in their marriage. Pointing out his faults when he demanded she tell him how she felt just earned her more insults, more putdowns, more criticisms. He did not care what she thought of him. He claimed to have nothing that needed changing. She, on the other hand, needed to change everything.
Friday morning Matthew left for work after patting her shoulder and brushing a kiss near her lips as he did every weekday morning. “Have dinner ready when I get home, okay? We want to get out on the river before dark.”
“Yeah, sure,” She said following him as far as the back door. Closing the door behind him, she flipped the deadbolt, then turned and leaned against it. “Of course your dinner will be ready when you get home. Isn’t it always?” With a deep breath, She pushed away from the door and headed to the bedroom. Time to get her own day started.
She had just finished making the bed when tears started to fall. Instead of moving on to the next chore, she crawled onto the queen-size bed she had just finished making and curled into a ball.
The tears came from deep in her center. They rendered her immobile. The sound of sobbing filled the otherwise silent house. She was thirty-four years old, but felt a hundred and four. She could count her friends on one hand and still have fingers left over. Matthew had made her dependent on him for everything.
What’s happened to me? I used to be creative and ambitious and happy. When did I become Matthew’s floor mat? What happened to the backbone and fiery spirit that intimidated the boys back when I was in high school and college?
Lying on the bed, she forced herself to look back at the last ten years of her life.