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Running From Love
Many times, I got tired of waiting for him to come home, so I took a long walk to the little store where they sold handmade jewelry and small crafts. I often thought of how easy it would be to work there while he was away for hours at work. I could make a little money and hide it away in a place where he would not think to look, a drawer somewhere maybe. Once the money added up I could move out, and I would no longer have to depend on him.
One day he got off work early, and I came home from that small store. He was sitting on the sofa watching the television, a bottle of beer resting in his hand, the remote in his other hand.
He set the remote down first, then took a long drink of beer before setting it down too. Then he stood abruptly and walked towards me and I flinched.
I decided to run away that night. I woke up at seven o’ clock in the afternoon, when Tom was asleep. I looked at him long and hard as he slept with an arm across his bare, strong chest. Then I walked into the bathroom next to our dark bedroom, where so many memories had been made, and flipped on the light after gently shutting the door.
I wet a rag and cleaned the cuts on my arms. Mud-colored bruises were already forming along the length of my forearm, covering almost the entire canvas of my pale skin. I lifted my shirt and gasped.
I finished rinsing the wounds he had given me with a broken beer bottle, somehow feeling that leaving Tom was wrong. I snuck into our bedroom and grabbed a blue duffel bag, where I dumped in a few shirts, a pair of blue jeans, deodorant, cash, and a flashlight. I grabbed a bra lying somewhere and rushed back into the bathroom. I put on the bra, feeling stupid for almost having forgotten to put one on, and it proved to be a painful process.
As I left, I imagined Tom hearing the soft click of the front door as I escaped. I walked down the street, looking behind me every now and then with the fear that he would be walking behind me, his hands balled into fists. A part of me almost wanted him to be there, standing in a pair of jeans, shirtless, saying, “Babe, come on back home and maybe I’ll forgive you. Come back to bed.”
I walked all the way down the street and was aware that it was not too late to turn back and go home. I slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses to hide the bruises around my eyes and continued to walk until I reached the main highway.
A red beater pulled up next to me, its engine groaning as if in pain.
“Need a ride?”
I nodded and climbed into the truck. I glanced out the window, expecting Tom to be walking down the patch of grass by the highway looking for me.
The cowboy next to me pulled off his straw hat and tugged at his brown goatee.
“Where to, babe?”
“Anywhere,” I answered.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said with a wink. He hit the gas and we were out of there.
He said very little throughout the two hour drive. We pulled into a Sonic, where he bought me a cheeseburger and fries with a large Coke. I thanked him, we ate under the stars, and we got back into his old Ford.
I stared out the window most of the time, but glanced at his sun kissed long arms. He saw me turn to look at him and he looked at me with a question in his eyes. A very simple question: Who are you and what do you want to do?
He drove us deep into a lonely neighborhood. The streets were so peaceful that I could scarcely believe that in neighborhoods there lived wife- beaters who left enormous welts on women’s fragile bodies.
His garage door rolled open and he jerked his beater into the dark, gaping hole of his garage. The big door rolled shut behind the truck. I got out of the truck and followed him into his house. He flipped on the lights and I caught a glimpse of his world. A small country-style home was before me. The kitchen met us first, simple and slightly unlived-in. The living room was small. There was a big-screen television, deer heads mounted on the walls, beer bottles neatly scooted to the end of the coffee table, and a small pile of newspapers on the chair in the corner of the room.
I followed him into the bedroom, where he left the lights off. A sliver of light spilled in from behind the bathroom door.
For a moment, it was as if I weren’t there. He pulled off his belt, tossed the hat he had carried with him onto the bed, and unbuttoned his shirt. Then he walked over to me and pulled off my sunglasses gently.
“You’ve got the most beautiful eyes,” he said, although I had a very obvious black eye.
He carefully took off my shirt, barely touching my bruised and battered skin. His fingers ran across my ribs, lightly scanning areas of black and blue and red.
“What’s his name?” he asked, his fingers in my dark brown, long hair.
“Tom,” I whispered, a feeling of guilt encompassing me.
“My name’s Daniel,” he whispered into my ear.
I touched his shoulder, which was warm and nicely shaped. He moved in for a kiss.
“I don’t want to kiss you,” I said.
“Okay,” he responded.
Sunlight poured in through the big bedroom window. The bathroom light was off. I turned over in bed, feeling the soft white sheets around me. I noticed my duffel bag in the corner of the room and walked to it. I pulled out underwear and jeans, and a fresh tee shirt.
I stepped into the bathroom, where I splashed cold water on my face and inspected my black eye. I fixed up my hair a bit, tweaking it with my fingers.
I walked past the living room and into the kitchen. He was making breakfast in his boxers. He spoke without turning to look at me.
“Hey. I’m making you some breakfast.”
“You really don’t have to,” I said, my voice barely audible. “I should leave, but thanks anyway.”
He turned, seeing that I really meant to leave.
“All right. I’ll walk you out.”
He turned off the stove and led me to the front door. Sunlight poured in, and I felt naked in front of him although I was fully dressed. The string of my duffel bag hurt the cuts on my right shoulder.
“You don’t have to leave,” Daniel said, his big brown eyes suddenly glimmering in the sunlight.
There were birds chirping and a lovely breeze pulled the hair from my shoulders. I wanted to stay.
“I can’t stay. I’m sorry,” I began to say, but then I said “I’m a married woman.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Well, let me drive you wherever you need to go.”
“No, you’ve already helped me a lot.”
“Really? So you’ll hitch another ride?”
“Sweetie, what if some guy picks you up and does the same thing I did to you?”
I looked away from him, out toward the street.
“Goodbye,” he called after me as I left.
I walked down the street and out of the peaceful neighborhood, and the sun slowly rose higher in the sky as noon approached. I stopped to buy some food at a nearby taco stand (and a cold beer) and continued to walk down busy streets where cars sped by.
It occurred to me then that people really have no idea. They climb into their cars, lock themselves in, and speed off to their destinations, unaware that the lonely woman walking down the street will probably die as soon as her husband finds her. People worry over such minute things, and others, like me, worry over the next breath they will be allowed to take and the next thing that will happen in the course of a single day.
My husband Tom found me. I guess I wasn’t careful enough; I saw him too late. He saw me and grabbed me, and he pulled me into his truck. There were very few people around in the nearly empty parking lot where I was resting after a long walk. My cries were left unheard.
It was really too bad he was my husband. I cannot presently call what he did to me rape, at least not in his presence. He would say that I wanted sex, but it would be a lie.
He drove us deep into the woods, close to a country store but still rather far from civilization. The pain was immense, but worse was the shame.
“Get out of here, whore,” he said.
I climbed out of the truck and ran out of the woods, out of the way, out of his sight. Then I could not run anymore because the sharp pain in my abdomen was so great, so I fell against a bench at the nearby country store and rested awhile. Somehow, I fell asleep.
I woke up late at night. There were no people around. The bench was suddenly extremely hard beneath me, and I shifted uncomfortably.
I vomited all over the bench suddenly, and my neck stiffened as I retched the entire contents of my stomach. The air around me felt humid and stuffy, ideal Texas summer air. I felt weak and disgusting, my face inches away from my own puke.
I started to cry then, for the first time in a whole year. Tears streamed down my face, mixing with the steady stream of snot pouring from my nose.
I realized I didn’t want my life. I wanted to be dead. But a new discovery altered my desire, and I found myself wanting life over death.
The pregnancy test declared, “Positive.”
“Oh, my god!” I breathed, my entire body trembling in awe as I stood in the brightly lit gas station bathroom.
I left the bathroom and the convenience store; the clerk behind the desk called goodbye behind me.
“I need to apply for a job,” I told the prim-and-proper woman sitting behind the desk of a secretarial office that I had walked into.
“I’m sorry. We are not currently looking to fill any positions.”
“I really need this job.” It was my fourth try, my fourth rejection.
The lady sighed shortly, as if annoyed by my presence.
“Improve your appearance and we might reconsider,” she said, staring at my tee shirt and torn, ragged jeans. I was wearing a baseball cap to hide my disgusting hair that I hadn’t been able to wash in four days.
“Yeah, okay, whatever.” I left the place and vowed to never return.
I realized it was time to find my baby’s daddy or return home.
As quickly as the thought came, it went.
He raped me, I thought, and I knew that my baby would have to grow up without a father.
So there I was, rejected by the woman, rejected by my husband, rejected by the world. It felt as if the world itself, the very earth I stood on, was telling me, “Die! Die! You’re so disgusting! You ought to die!”
I seriously wondered then what it would be like to die. I pondered over the thought all that day, until I came across a bulletin that was lying in the street, wet and abandoned; rejected, like me.
“Get a Job in Less Than a Month!” the bulletin declared, and a woman was pictured smiling successfully. I picked up the bulletin and unfolded it.
“Oh, crap. I’m a high school dropout. I need a degree for this kind of job.”
I wondered if this stupid, tantalizing bulletin had been dropped on the street purposefully. Maybe someone had seen me walk by and they thought it would be funny to watch me pick it up and think that I had a chance. Or maybe some god up in the heavens had done it to me, finding it amusing.
“Hey, you!” I heard someone call, and I dropped the bulletin and looked around.
Seeing no one, I began to walk on to nowhere in particular.
“Hey! Where are you going?” the lady’s voice called out yet again.
I finally saw her and knew that she would help me somehow. I couldn’t tell how I knew-I just did. She had a job in store for me!
He drove all the way over here-all the way to this stinking little town-just to show you who’s got the pants in the relationship. Just to show you he’s still the boss. The thought randomly strayed into my mind.
“He’s not the boss anymore,” I countered aloud.
A few weeks later I had a steady job, thanks to the woman who had called me, whose name turned out to be Jacqueline.
But a new problem offered itself to me, the storehouse of so many problems. A nightmare kept repeating itself every night; a nightmare so intense that I would always wake up panting in the still of the night. I usually slept in the woods, and the sound of cicadas chirping would quickly drive me back to sleep.
In the dream, a lonely girl cried quietly in a dark closet, holding her knees close to her by wrapping her skinny, white arms around them. Then the girl was no longer a child but a grown woman like me. I knew her exact age somehow: twenty-one. Like me. Then she would lift her head, her eyes brimming with tears, and I realized she was me.
I stared at her, into her. Her, or my, eyes, brown and big with fear, looked straight at me; accusing eyes, lost eyes, desperate and afraid and understanding that I was the cause of all the pain. I was the one who had let myself believe that I would amount to nothing. I was convinced that all that was in store for me was a mediocre job, and I dropped out of high school, and I settled for John although I knew that he was unstable because I knew that no one else would want a whore like me.
I worked for Jacqueline for nine months selling small merchandise, and I finally found the money to rent a cheap (crappy) apartment. I often had to go without light and without meat, eating beans and rice in total darkness.
Every time I threw up because of my pregnancy, I cried because I couldn’t afford to see an obstetrician and I wondered if my baby was doing okay in there. And every time I wondered about my baby, I remembered my nightmare. I finally realized that the girl in my dreams was my baby. I was afraid she would go through the crap I was currently going through; afraid that a man would hit her, that her dad would never love her and she would suffer for it.
I knew that her growing up without a dad would force her to seek admiration and love and comfort in the arms of some teenage boy, and he would break her heart. Then she would realize that in reality, there is no such thing as love. There is only sex and availability, lust and emotion; there is only chemical and physical attraction.
I finally had the baby, and the hospital was so clean and comfortable that I almost wanted to stay there. Jacqueline helped with the expenses, but I was glad that I had a bit of money saved after all those months of working in Jacqueline’s store.
I named the baby Joanna White, giving her my maiden name. I thought of naming her Mary so that we would have the same name, but I felt that I might doom her to my fate by giving her my name.
I held Joanna for the first time, gazing into her barely opened brown eyes.
“So you don’t have blue eyes like your daddy,” I said, thinking of Tom’s beautiful eyes. He had won me over with those eyes once-a long time ago.
Then I remembered, although I had never really forgotten, that I had a decision to make. I considered Joanna growing up looking at her twenty-one-year-old single mom who could never provide enough for her. I thought of her as a teenager, wondering who she was supposed to be, whether or not she ought to be like her mother; whether she would be smart enough to get an education.
Then I realized that the thoughts running through my mind were really memories from my own past; worries I had when I was a teenager. As I looked at little Joanna sleeping in my arms, my father’s words echoed in my head.
“You don’t need to go to college. You’re pretty-you can get married and be a good…housewife.”
My mother heard my father’s words but said nothing. She was, after all, a housewife herself.
“I can go to college, Daddy,” I said, wishing he would agree; wishing he would acknowledge me and say, “You’re right, sweetheart. After all, you’re smart. You make good grades. If I’m letting your brother go, I ought to let you go too.”
“Sweetheart, college is for guys,” he explained as if I were stupid. “Girls just aren’t smart enough. Some think they are, but really, they ought to remember their place in society. God made men to provide for the family by working and women to take care of the family at home.”
“I wish I was a man then,” I said, standing in the living room feeling like a whiny fool.
“Don’t speak such nonsense.” My mother’s voice echoed from the kitchen, a perfect, sweet housewife’s voice; the voice of a “lucky woman who really has it all.”
I finally made my decision. I decided to keep Joanna rather than give her up for adoption. Although I knew I could never give her the sort of life she deserved, I felt that at least I could protect her from the screwed-up perceptions people have concerning women and their role in society. I didn’t want a family to adopt Joanna and put the same stupid thoughts through her mind that my parents had put into my mind. I wanted her to grow up knowing that she could amount to something good, as long as she put her mind to it.
I continued to hold Joanna in my arms; her short baby breaths caused her little body to move rhythmically against my chest. I knew then that I could never love someone as I loved Joanna, my innocent baby. I vowed to her, whispering over her softly as she slept.
“I will love you forever and protect you. I will give you so much love since there is nothing else that I can provide for you.”
Two years later, I still lived in a small apartment. It was December, and I sat by the baby’s cradle, barely seeing by candlelight in order to save on electricity. It was midnight, and the world slept in a deep, cool slumber, surrounded by their blankets in their beds, surrounded by their mates maybe, or perhaps surrounded by their millions of pet cats if they had no mate.
I looked over at Joanna’s cradle and felt myself try to smile, but I found smiling very difficult. It was near Christmas and Joanna was ill; I sat near her cradle and rested my hand against it. It was empty, and I feared it would remain that way forever.
I thought of my baby sleeping in the hospital. I thought of the way her eyes sometimes fluttered in her sleep, her giggly laughter, and her ringlets of soft brown hair that bounced as she ran around the apartment playing. I tried not to think of her cries or her pain as she struggled through a bad case of pneumonia.
I hadn’t left the hospital for almost three days, but I then decided that it was time for me to go home. She wouldn’t be coming back home anytime soon.
“So this is what it all comes down to,” I whispered to myself, sitting on my brown sofa and gazing into the flickering flame of one of the brightly shining candles.
“In the end I’ll still be alone. In the end it will still hurt even though he isn’t beating me up.”
I picked up the wrapped Christmas present that I had left on the coffee table in front of me. It was the first gift I had bought, and I had not yet wrapped it. It was a baby doll for Joanna, its face sweetly smiling and its dress a bright cherry red. It was still in the box, so I carefully took it out, the sound of popping while pulling the plastic box off the doll overwhelming in the total silence of my apartment.
I knew I would not be able to sleep that night. I set the doll back on the coffee table and grabbed my coat from the coat rack, and I slipped out of my apartment.
The cold air outside struck me with intensity. I clambered out of my car and drove away to a bar, barely aware of the name of the place. I parked the beater car into an empty slot and swiftly walked into the bar, my eyes glued to the man who would heal my wounds: the bartender. I reached into my coat pocket to pull out some cash as I sat down to order something rather strong.
“Two shots of tequila for the pretty lady and I.” A voice appeared by my shoulder, a voice that was smooth and soft.
I waited for the bartender to pour the drinks so that I could down the first shot before I turned to thank the man.
“Daniel,” I said.
“You never told me your name, pretty lady,” he said.
“Mary,” I said.
“Mary,” he repeated. “What do you say we get out of here and go back to my place?”
“Not that again,” I said. “Been there, done that.”
“There’s a lot on your mind,” Daniel said. He was sitting next to me, his arms rested on the tabletop of the bar. He was watching me intently like a cat.
“Can I take you home with me, darling?” he asked. “I swear I won’t hurt you. I just want you to be there.”
He did not answer right away, but instead gazed at me intensely.
“Then just let me drive you somewhere. Not my house-somewhere else.” His voice was quieter, as if this place he spoke of were a great secret. He wanted no one else to hear.
“It’s a place where I like to go sometimes when I feel like crap. Trust me. You’ll like it.”
“No thanks. But thanks for the shots-really kind of you, really.”
I had been about to down another shot when he said that. I turned to him suddenly, noticing a desperate look in his eyes.
“Please,” he repeated.
He showed me to his familiar red beater truck and helped me climb in. Then he got in himself, started up the truck, and shivered a bit from the cold outside.
“Sure is cold out there,” he said.
He drove silently for a while. Then he turned to glance at me furtively.
“You’ll like it where I’m taking you.”
“So you’ve said.”
“I think you will, anyway.”
There was total silence for another ten minutes. Then he glanced at me. I turned to look at him and he quickly looked away. Then he glanced at me again, right at my face as if there were something odd on it.
“What?” I asked, rolling my eyes while trying not to smile.
“Now I know it’s a little cold out by the water, but…” he began to say…
I looked around at the scene before me, awestruck. Ahead of us there was a big lake and it reflected what seemed to be millions of stars and a crescent moon. Trees loomed gloomily around the lake and willows dipped their strings of leaves into the black and silver water.
The land surrounding the lake was flat and plain, a clearing in the midst of the forest. I shuddered. The forest reminded me of what Tom did to me that day a while back.
“Come on,” Daniel said, urging me with his sweet, cautious voice.
“Wait,” he said, and he walked to me slowly. “Let’s get you zipped up-it’s cold on the lake.”
His fingers found the edge of my jacket and he zipped it all the way up my neck. Although he had already zipped me up, he lingered for a moment, peering at me.
“Follow me,” he said.
He led me to a canoe that awaited us by the lake. He pushed it into the water and gave me his hand so that I could get into the boat. I stepped in cautiously. Then he got in and pushed off, sending us flying out over the water in his canoe. He paddled us to the middle of the lake and set the oars gently into the boat.
“It’s beautiful out here,” I said.
“Mary, do you trust me?” he asked.
I was facing him directly in the canoe. He had just placed the oars securely at the bottom of the boat and was looking right at me; there were no distractions, only the intensity of his gaze.
“You brought me out here just to ask me that?”
“No. But I’m asking right now, and I need you to answer.”
“My answer is no,” I said. “I’m sorry, Daniel, I just…”
He held up a hand. “Don’t apologize to me. Why are you apologizing?”
“I don’t know. I…”
“Well, don’t. I’m not him, you know. I don’t require apologies or explanations. When you say no, it means no, and I understand that.”
“You know nothing about him,” I said. “How can you compare yourself to him?”
“I know he hurt you.”
I felt like crying. Why did this man have to be so torturous? Why couldn’t he act like a normal man and treat me like trash? How could he be cruel enough to bring me to a beautiful place and show me kindness just to get me to sleep with him again? I could read right through him. It was what he really wanted.
“I won’t ask you to trust me. I know you can’t.” He was no longer staring into my eyes; he was staring at the bottom of the boat. “I’m not going to tell you I’m different from other guys. You already know I’m not. I’m not going to lie to you, Mary.” He tried to look at me, but he immediately looked away when he met my eyes. “When I first saw you, I didn’t want anything but…sex. But now I can’t figure out…I don’t know how…I don’t know what I feel. All I’m asking is that you stay here with me tonight. If you say no, I’ll take you back to the truck and drive you back to the bar. But don’t say no.”
I was indecisive. I wanted to leave; I wanted to run from him and hide, but we were out in the middle of the lake. There was nowhere to run.
“Please, Mary. Don’t say no.”
“Why did you bring me out here?” I was on the verge of tears, and I knew he could hear it in my voice.
“Mary, just say you’ll stay with me here tonight. Just for a while. Just tonight.”
“No,” I said. “No. Take me to the truck. I don’t want to be here.”
For a moment I was afraid that he would turn to me angrily and hit me, or at least yell at me. I never would have dreamed of telling Tom no; he would have thrown me into the cold water after hitting me. But somehow Daniel’s kindness was more painful than being hit; it was the way Tom had won me over before turning into a wife-beating monster.
“Please, Mary. Stay.”
He was so close to me, his face by mine as if he were whispering into my ear. He said nothing more at first; he held my head in his hands and pressed the side of his face against the side of mine as we held each other.
Then we had our first kiss. I thought of that night we had spent together two years before, and the possibility that he was my baby’s father. I had considered the possibility before but had never thought much on the subject.
“Tell me what’s on your mind. Tell me what you’ve been going through lately.”
I was cradled in his arms, nestled in the bottom of the boat. I was on top of him, and we were both staring up at the stars while light waves rocked us gently.
I told him about Joanna, my unexpected baby. I told him all about my job and apartment. I basically told him everything that had been going on in my life.
Then we fell asleep, and the world around us was no longer cold. The night seemed to warm up. I wrapped my arms around him and slept using his torso as my pillow.
In the morning, the sun had fallen across the lake and the earth below it was warm.
“I’d like to wake up this way every morning of my life,” Daniel said.
“Out on the lake?” I asked.
“Yeah. And with you.”
“Daniel, don’t say things you don’t really mean.”
“I’m not talking marriage. I’m talking being with you forever-something deeper than marriage. Love. With no divorce, no compromise. Nothing but love.”
“Aren’t you ever going to marry one day?”
“Maybe. But for now, just tell me you’ll stay with me. You can move in with me.”
“No, Daniel. I don’t want that. I’ll be tempted to sleep with you, and we both know the consequences. Sure, the baby is probably not yours since we used protection. But the stakes are too high.”
I paused, then added, “Even if the stakes weren’t so high, sex hurts. I gave you all of me in one night, just like I gave all of me to Tom. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Without a man to love me, I feel unworthy. It’s almost as if my life were determined solely by my beauty. I want to be something more than just another pretty face.”
“You are more than a pretty face.”
“If you really felt that way you wouldn’t have slept with me. I was your one-night stand.”
“How does spending every night with me sound?”
“I’m not ready to commit.”
We left the lake and got into his truck. We drove to the hospital after I got my car from the bar’s parking lot. He followed me as I drove to the hospital. He wanted to meet Joanna.
We were at the hospital, gazing down at Joanna, who was asleep. Then her eyes fluttered open, and Daniel stepped closer to her cradle-like hospital bed.
“Hello, beautiful,” Daniel said, and as he spoke an incredible glow came across Joanna’s face and she smiled.
“Who are you?” she asked in a weak, raspy voice, the smile never leaving her face.
“I’m Daniel. And what’s your name, beautiful?”
I stayed with Daniel and Joanna in the hospital room. I watched Daniel make Joanna laugh sweetly, and Joanna made him laugh as well through her many antics. I couldn’t believe that Daniel brought my baby so much joy. My little Joanna looked so pretty laughing. I could see her father’s eyes in hers, but they were such innocent, mirthful eyes.
“Mommy, I like him,” Joanna told me once Daniel had left the room. “Can you make him my new daddy?”
“It’s not that easy, sweetie,” I said.
I told her goodbye and waited a few minutes until the heavy drugs she was on caused her to fall asleep. Then I left with Daniel. I wondered whether spending too much time with him was a mistake.
So we continued, visiting the lake and having long conversations over the water, then visiting Joanna in the hospital. Every moment I wasn’t at work I was with him. He waited for me outside work sometimes with flowers. He was with me as I cleaned up my apartment, helping vacuum the carpet. He was with me when I was ill with a cold, risking catching germs just to be with me and cook me chicken noodle soup. He was with me in the apartment watching movies late at night, almost every Saturday . He was with me the Sunday that I went to church for the first time in ten years. He was with me the day Joanna died.
One day, a year after Joanna’s death, he proposed to me by our lake.
“I thought you didn’t want to get married,” I said.
We had been together for awhile, but I still remembered that he had told me that he didn’t want to get married that first time at the lake.
“There’s something about you, Mary, that’s changing me. Or maybe it’s God. I don’t know. But I want to be with you and start a whole new life with you.”
“Those were the same kind of words Tom gave me once upon a time.” I could feel tears coming, but I stopped them. “He promised me so much.”
“I would never dream of hurting you,” Daniel said.
“You already have.”
“Joanna wasn’t my baby. We used protection! How have I hurt you?!”
I felt as if he had slapped me.
“You know I didn’t mean it!” he said quickly. “I loved Joanna as if she were my own-you know it, Mary!”
“When I look at you,” I said, trying unsuccessfully to stop the oncoming tears, “I see him.”
“Don’t say that, Mary.”
“Take a look at the ring I bought you! Look at the damn size of that diamond!”
I didn’t want to look at the ring, but he had opened the black box and the diamond stared at me.
“The size of the damn diamond doesn’t matter to me!” I screamed. “I wanted you! I wanted to believe in love! I wanted to trust a man after Tom! But now you see it’s not possible!”
“Marry me!” he said loudly. “Just marry me!”
“We haven’t had sex in so long since you made that crazy promise to God! Marry me, come on! I waited all that time for nothing!”
“Exactly what I’m thinking right now,” I answered quietly. “I made a promise to God that I would change my life because you made me feel like I’m more than just a sex object. But you see me in the same light that you did when I first met you.” I looked at him and spoke steadily. “I haven’t waited for nothing, though. Now I know I’m worth something because God has given me a second chance at life. Thanks for helping me find love, if only for a while. I have to go now. I’m sorry-oh, wait!-You don’t require apologies or explanations. When I say no it means no.”
I walked away from him and the lake. I only glanced back once to find Daniel smiling at me with pride. His smile seemed to say “You finally stood up for yourself! I’m proud of you, Mary.”
I walked through the forest and then to my apartment. Once in my apartment, I cried in the total silence.
“I’m so afraid, God,” I said in a desperate prayer. “What do I do now?”
I fell asleep on the sofa in the living room after watching the television for a few hours. I woke up and checked the time. It was nine p.m. I had slept for three hours.
There was a loud knock at the door.
“Who is it?” I called, startled by the knock.
“Jacqueline?” But I knew it wouldn’t be my boss this late at night.
“Daniel?” (Although I doubted I’d see him again, especially at this moment.)
I stupidly opened the door without checking to see who it was first through the peephole.
“Miss me, babe?”
His cold blue eyes brought back frightening memories.
“Why don’t you let Daddy in!” he said, and he shoved the door open.
He was drunk, shirtless, and angry.
“What do you want?” I asked, trying to keep my voice from quivering.
He grabbed a fistful of my brown hair that was dark like his and slammed my face down hard against the coffee table.
“Heard you had a baby. Now where’s my kid?”
“How’d you know?”
“Word gets around.”
“Well, you’re a little late. She died.”
“Oh,” he said. “And who’s Daniel? I heard you say that name before I came in. Were you expecting ‘Daniel’ to come here?” he laughed. “What do you know…the little slut already had a male friend coming over to keep her warm at night.”
He no longer had a hold of my hair. He was smiling wickedly. It reminded me of our few years together, when I had felt like I was in hell.
“You cheated on me, little whore. The baby you had probably wasn’t even mine. I came all the way over here for nothing.” He smiled. “You ain’t looking too bad though, woman.”
Something inside my heart leaped, as if his words still had control over me like they had back in high school. I remembered sitting by him in fourth period my senior year of high school. He acted very sweet sometimes, but at other times he was cold. He knew that being cold made me desperate, seeking him even more, using every bit of my charm and sex appeal. It was his game since the beginning and even to the end.
“I still want you, baby,” he said, and his beautiful blue eyes that were once cold like ice melted to pools of clear water, refreshing, loving, and familiar.
He was close to me, but rather than pulling my hair, he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me in towards his strong body.
“I still miss you.”
“I missed you too, Tom,” I said. I pulled away from him just enough to peer into his eyes.
“The funny thing is, I don’t know why. I guess I got used to you, and even though you hit me, I missed you. I missed the familiarity.”
“Tell me who Daniel is, baby.”
“The man of my dreams.”
Tom let go of my waist. He looked at me, his eyes wide and his mouth agape.
“But I can’t be with him,” I continued, “Just like I can’t be with you.”
“Shut up, Tom. I bought this apartment with my own money. Just get out. You came looking for your wife-the stupid girl you violently raped in the forest. But instead you’ve found me, a woman named Mary. A woman with value.”
“Value?” he asked. “And what value is that?”
“More than what you’re worth, that’s for sure. At least I don’t go around hitting people who are weaker than me.”
“You’re just asking for a beating, aren’t you, woman?”
“I’m asking you to get out of my apartment!” I yelled suddenly, surprising myself.
Then I pulled out the baby I’d been saving up for such a moment. I was conveniently standing by the kitchen and all I had to do was reach into the nearest drawer where my handgun was concealed.
I took her out then and Tom’s eyes widened. “You’re not going to shoot me!” he said, but he actually seemed afraid.
“Yeah, I am. Unless you leave. Then maybe I won’t shoot.”
“You don’t even know how to shoot a gun!” he said.
I fired a round into the wall, only inches above his head.
Tom flinched and immediately raised both arms in surrender. “Okay! I get it! Don’t shoot again!”
“There’s one thing I almost forgot!”
I grabbed the wedding ring that I had placed in the drawer with the gun. I threw the ring at him and it bounced off his cheekbone. He caught it and looked at it briefly, a flash of sadness crossing his face.
“Give it to that girl you cheated on me with!”
Tom fell to his knees and said, “If I would have known it would come to this I never would have hit you the first time.”
I remembered the first time, when he had struck me across the face. He had sent me flying across our bedroom, crashing against the wall. My heart had been pounding, my hands were sweaty. My throat had been dry, and I had immediately begun to cry. Nothing compared to the first time.
Tom began to cry on his knees in my apartment. It was like every other time-beat me up then cry uncontrollably and beg for forgiveness, cheat then return with flowers, as if flowers make up for disrespecting your wife by sleeping with a prostitute.
“Don’t waste your time crying, Tom,” I said gently. “It’s the same thing I always did, and my tears didn’t stop you from hitting me or raping me. What makes you think your tears will affect me?”
Tom stood and opened the door. “Okay, I’ll leave.” His eyes were red with tears and his upper lip quivered.
“I’ll leave and never return, Mary, if that’s what you want. But please tell me you at least didn’t sleep with that guy Daniel.”
“Tom, you might as well just leave and don’t wait ‘til I answer that question.”
So Tom left and took the wedding ring with him.
I finally filed for a divorce. Although I have been separated from Tom for a while, I need the closure.
I have decided to go to college. The life that awaits me is sure to be better than any previous life I’ve lived. At least I’ll be educated.
Although I lost the two people I loved most in this world, Daniel and Joanna, I gained a love that will never be taken away. I will probably never remarry; I can’t trust anyone enough to do that again. Daniel would have been the only man I would have married. But I’m not sad; I’ll see him someday in another world, an afterlife maybe.
I’ll just have to go on believing. I’m going to church regularly now, a good church where they accept me for who I am. I hope I’ll find Daniel again someday and once again be in love, but for now I’m not looking for love; I’m still learning what love is.