Thursday, July 29, 2010
"I am the conscience of all those who knew something - but did nothing." - Oskar Schindler
I learned early on in our marriage to not argue with my husband. He made quite sure I understood he was never wrong. I was his punching bag, his doormat upon which he often wiped his feet, his captive, if you will. I rarely argued, out of fear. I rarely stood up for myself, out of fear. More often than not, I found myself cowering at the sound of footsteps, wondering whether or not it would be my last day on earth. I became this docile, subservient, governable, chattel, walking on eggshells every waking moment of every miserable day.
The rare occasion, on which I did stand up for what I believed, usually resulted in some act of violence against my person. Our five year-three-month, and thirteen-day marriage resulted in broken bones, missing teeth, cigarette burns, sexual assaults, and the annihilation of Candy, my nickname since junior high school, for there was nothing sweet about me anymore.
February, 1979. It was almost 1:00 in the morning. The kids were asleep, but I hadn’t been sleeping well at all. I couldn’t seem to turn off my brain. Paranoia was taking over. My husband would find out I was leaving him, and the thought of what he would do terrified me.
After lying awake for more than an hour I decided to take a bath. The hot, scented water would be calming and perhaps help me sleep. As usual, I avoided the mirrors, feeling my bruised reflection was a brutal reminder of the violence that my life was. The remnant of the cigarette burn on my right breast, didn’t need a mirror to be seen.
I slipped into the soothing comfort of the water, sunk down low in the claw foot tub and closed my eyes. I dreamt of happier, bright sunny days by the ocean. Val, Nicky and I were running, laughing and free. My kids would no longer have nightmares of the monsters in the house, for our monster would be thousands of miles away.
I struggled against the force of the hand pushing me below the surface of the water. I thrashed about wildly, taking in water as I tried to scream. This was it. I was going to die. My kids would be at the mercy of this tyrant.
I don’t know if it was survival instinct or the protective mother instinct, but the strength came from somewhere. I pushed with all of my might and my tormentor lost his balance. In one move, I rose from the water and hurled myself from the tub, knocking him off his feet, causing him to bump his head on the freestanding radiator. He rose with an aggression that only bloodshed would soothe.
I had long ago chosen to wear my hair short. It was less for him to grab. It didn’t matter this night. Before I caught my breath, he seized a handful of hair and dragged me naked from the warmth of the bathroom. The house was chilled and there was a breeze not normally felt in the hallway he was dragging me through.
Humiliation is a powerful weapon. If used enough, even the strongest of people can succumb to its dispensation, and I knew, as I was unceremoniously thrust through the open front door, that I had admitted defeat for the last time.
The bitterness of the snow-covered February morning hit me with a force that belies any meaning. I shivered uncontrollably. I tried to push my way back into the house. Rudy not only blocked my way, but shouted to my neighbors what was being done, as if demanding them to bear witness to whatever my indiscretion had been, and daring them to stop him.
“Look at her,” he shouted. “Look at this cheatin’, lyin’ bitch I married.” Lights went on. Curtains parted. “She’s a whore. She’s a freakin' whore.”
He hit me then, for what would be the last time. Clutching my cheek, I stumbled backwards from the blow. He used that moment to close and lock the door, becoming a barrier between my children and me. I kicked at the door, pounding with every ounce of strength I had in me. It didn’t budge. I turned, and saw the last of the neighbors closing their curtains and shutting off the lights. I would receive no help from them. I was alone.
With the outside temperature being less than twenty degrees, the drops of bathwater remaining on my exposed flesh, began turning to ice. Every hair on my body stood erect in defiance of the cold, as a cat’s does in the throes of a battle. I tried once more in vain to open the door.
“Get a grip, Linda Jean. Get a grip.” I spoke out loud to myself as I rubbed my hands over my face and took a deep breath. As I did so, I took back the control that had been pilfered from me. I looked around and not seeing anything to cover myself with, made my way to the cellar. I hoped there would be something in the basement to keep me from hypothermia.
Reaching my destination, I discovered the door slightly ajar which meant no reprieve from the cold just yet. It smelled musty, this crypt of the past. I hoped it would not be my final resting place as well.
I found the string to the solitary overhead light bulb hanging from the ceiling and pulled it, illuminating the shadows and cobwebs that hopefully held for me a shroud of warmth. After tearing open the lids to many of the boxes, I was disheartened to find mostly papers. It wasn't until I had gone through the last of the cartons that I noticed the old tarp left behind by the painter the previous summer. I did not care that it was covered in feces of local rodents; I only cared that it would offer me a tiny respite from the cold.
Wrapped in this cloak of many colors, I made my way to the access of a clandestine passageway I had discovered when we first moved into this house. The passageway that would not only bring me back to my children, but if luck was with me, bring us to our freedom as well. As quietly as I could, I moved the drawers of the wardrobe, which was the hidden entrance to our apartment. I climbed through the opening and feeling like a cat burglar, I slyly made my way back to the main part of the house.
It was there I discovered the front door not locked, but barricaded by the comatose form of my husband, lying in his own urine. I stared at him for a moment, wondering if I had the courage. There was no doubt in my mind.
I knew every minute counted as I dressed quietly, not bothering to clean the dust and feces from my body. I went back to the wardrobe and reaching up into its bowels, removed the hidden firearm. With silent, purposeful steps, I moved towards the heap that was once something I dared to love. I stood over him for one moment longer, greedy with power, knowing that in less time it took to draw a breath, my nightmare would be over.
The cocking of the firing pin was so loud I wondered for an instant had I inadvertently pulled the trigger. I held the gun to his head. Just as I was about to pull the trigger a noise from behind startled me. I spun around, aiming at the predator.
There before me, stood my six-year-old daughter, rubbing her eyes from disbelief as much as sleep. With my knees turning to gel, I dropped the gun, and gathered her in my arms. I thanked a God in which I did not believe, that in my haste, I had forgotten to load the gun.
I heard it then. A deep guttural sound like a wounded animal coming from within the depths of my soul. There would have been no comfort, no solace that could be offered had I killed what I treasured most. The only taste of consolation came from the gently whispered words, “Its okay, Mommy. Don’t be scared, I’m here.”
I opted to not look back as I drove away with my children sheltered in the back seat of the Vega. What was left behind was now the past. What lay ahead was our future, and good bad or indifferent; it had to be better than the life we led here