If nothing else, keeping a secret keeps you clever, inventive and always one step ahead of the people you are keeping the secret from.
And, when some overzealous nurse would get a little too close, when she would hint that she was aware of how I received my injuries...I would laugh at her. Are you joking, Miss? Do you realize I can have your job for that sort of slander? How dare you suggest that my husband would do such a thing to me!
I was the Queen of Indignant Lies. Long may she reign.
The abuse got increasingly worse over the next two years. He was cautious with his beatings, careful to make sure that my bruises were always in places that my clothes covered. His favorite place to batter me was my skull, because my long, thick dark hair would cover any lumps and bumps. He delighted in rendering my unconscious and took special care to tell me about the way he would abuse me in my coma like state. He would abuse me sexually when I was knocked out. He even went so far as to take rather explicit photographs of me in various stages of undress while I was unconscious. The one he particularly loved was a photo of my face, post masturbation session...the remnants of the successful endeavor spewed all over my face. He had a friend who worked at a Fotomat booth (for any of you old enough to remember those) and he would develop his pictures for him...free of charge. Tony would tell him to "make copies of your favorites". I would sit in the car, a bag of trash taking up space. My spirit, my soul and my body were all crushed. Any self-esteem that I had was gone. My sole purpose on this planet was whatever Tony told me it was.
In essence, I was a true living dead girl.
At the height of my humiliation is an experience so heinous, that it brings bile to my throat just to think about it. As I type this, I have a bowl next to me, should I suddenly have to throw up.
Enter Eric and Erica. Yes, those are their real names.
Eric was Tony's best friend, a pseudonym for "co-defendant". If there was trouble, you can be assured that Tony and Eric were in it, together. Eric began to date a girl named Erica, a young, fresh-faced blonde. I recall thinking that she was incredibly beautiful and incredibly stupid all at the same time. Yet, who was I to talk? Here I was, a mother, 26 years old, two college degrees, a homeowner...and being beaten on a weekly basis by an animal who was scarcely worth the shit on the bottom of my shoes. I had a brand new definition of stupid. It was me.
One night, Eric comes to Tony and tells him that he and Erica got kicked out of his parents house and can he please come and stay at HIS house. His house? Yes, I suppose it was now his house...as the mortgage was no longer being paid, he had stolen every dime I had and the house...my sweet castle of hope for me and my little princess...was now falling into default. Yes, it was no more my house than my life was my own. Everything was Tony's. Everything and everyone. "Sure you can stay here," he said. "We'd love to have you guys, right CP?"
Yeah. Sure. More people to cook for, clean for and be humiliated in front of.
Flashback: Several months earlier.
Ever see the movie, "Sleeping with the Enemy" with Julia Roberts? I cannot tell you how accurately that movie depicted my life with Tony. I was a slave in my own home. The towels had to match and be lined up straight. The cans in the cabinet of vegetables were to be faced label out and in alphabetical order. I had to buy fresh flowers every other day. Dead flowers were unacceptable and must be removed from the bouquet at once, lest their disease destroy the other flowers. My daughter could not have her toys anywhere else but her own room. Anything of hers that was anywhere else in the house was to be put in the garbage. His clothing was to be put in the closet in color order. Blues with blues. Reds with reds. Blacks with blacks. Everything on hangers and yes, to sound like a complete cliché, no wire hangers...ever. I was so diligent in my duties that I never felt human. I had a schedule. I clung to that schedule like my life depended on it. I suppose it did. The rare times that S. *my daughter* would leave a stray Lego piece in the living room, I would stand on it, barefoot, just to cover it from his view until he passed. The piece would gouge my foot deeply, hurting my foot...but the wrath that would have been released on me over allowing the child to play in the living room was worth the pain I endured.
I recall one time so vividly. Tony had stepped on one of my daughters toys. It was a small Happy Meal toy from McDonalds. Apparently, it wounded his delicate foot. He was in a red terry cloth bathrobe I had bought him a year earlier. He came at her like a bull, charging in her direction. He, an enormous 250 pound red rock. She, all of 30 pounds at 4 years old. He looked at her so violently as he cursed his way across the room. It was the first time I felt alive again in nearly a year. I sprang up from the chair in the kitchen and got in front of him. And I pushed. I pushed with all the strength I had in me. I pushed with all the violence I had in my heart and my head, with all the contempt of a beaten woman. I pushed him with urgency, a mother protecting her baby.
He stumbled backward and fell upon the couch.
"Stay the fuck away from her, you pussy. You have to hit little girls too, you fucking animal?"
I grabbed a butterknife off the kitchen table. It was all I could see, it was all that was accessible, but it would suit my purpose for now. I was absolutely enraged, but my body was coursing with adrenaline and it was pumping through me, keeping me awake and alive. I felt my little girl clinging to my left leg and hiding behind me. No. I would absolutely NOT allow this. He will not ever touch my baby. I will die defending this little girl. She never asked for this and before he will touch one hair on her head, I would kill him.
He stood up. He was laughing. Hard. I wasn't. I wasn't smiling. I wasn't joking.
He started to walk towards us. His robe had fallen open revealing his bare stomach. He reached out toward me, shoving me. I fell over my daughter and onto the floor. I slid my little girl behind me and kept my body over hers. He lurched forward to startle me, to scare me. To dare me.
I stuck the blade of the butterknife into his stomach.
He backed away from me, touching his stomach. He was watching the blood ooze from the wound. His fingers toyed with the gash, swirling the blood over his belly. He put his hands out in front of him. They were covered in blood.
Dear sweet mother of God, what the fuck have I done? What the fuck have I done? I'm sorry, S. I failed you. He is going to kill me. I've failed you. I'm so sorry.
He raised his eyes to meet mine. We stared at each other for a long time, the knife glistening on the floor between us. Tony walked over to the kitchen sink. He picked up the spray nozzle and squirted it all over his stomach. The blood made patterns, red trails down his waist, down his legs. He patted the wound with a paper towel and stared down at it.
"Don't be scared, baby," he said to me, "It's just a fleshwound. I'll be fine. I love you, CP. I love when you get crazy, you know that? It's sexy."
He smiled at me. I remembered that smile. It was the same smile that he baited the hook with a year earlier. It was the smile that said "Be with me, I'll take care of you forever".
It was the smile that lied to me. And I couldn't help but to smile back at him and the irony of it all.
So, when Eric and Erica moved in, I was grateful that at least, I would have an ally in Erica. I was hoping that I would suffer less at Tony's hands, now that there would be tangible witnesses to his abuse. The more the merrier. At least I might have a captive audience, in the case of my sudden disappearance or demise.
I was wrong. On all counts.
Erica turned out to be the silliest twit on the planet. She had taken to walking around my home topless, much to Tony and Eric's delight. And I eventually became a slave to three masters as opposed to just one. One evening I came home from work to find Tony and Eric having a threesome with Erica. No one jumped from the bed and attempted to cover the indiscretion. I was invisible. My heart sunk in my chest. No matter what, no matter how dire your circumstances are, there is something so degrading about seeing the man you are with in the company of another woman. Even if you hate that man, even if you wished him dead on a daily basis...to see him treating another woman with such tenderness and care while treating you with such disdain and ugliness hurts regardless.
Their threesomes became more and more frequent. Sometimes, I was called in at the tail end of their sessions to get them a towel to clean up with or a drink of water. I did so, gladly. When they would light up a joint and smoke it together, I was thrilled. I know they would get so stoned that they would all fall asleep together. This time was invaluable to me. On these nights, I would curl up with my daughter in her bed and read to her all night long. We would play shadow puppets together. We would giggle softly and play Barbie's, very quietly, not wanting to wake the beast.
Is it evil of me to secretly wish that Tony would have attempted *but not succeeded* to go after my child again? Not because I wanted him to harm her. Never that. Rather, I always believed in my heart that if he HAD attempted to go after her one more time, instead of me, it would give me the strength, the fuel I needed, to be able to kill him. I came so close once before. So close. If we had only had steak for dinner as opposed to bagels for breakfast, he was one piece of cutlery away from death that day. I could do it again. I would do that for my child. I didn't care enough about myself any longer to do that for myself.
The fantasies became positively orgasmic. Dreaming of killing him was my foreplay.
One night, during one of their sessions, I got the idea to leave. Not permanently, mind you, but just long enough to see my parents, perhaps have a meal and get some sleep in my old room at my folks house. I was desperate for sleep. I hadn't eaten in what seemed to be weeks. And so, I took my daughter and we walked along the highway for a few blocks before stopping at a payphone. I called a cab. I didn't dare start my own car that was sitting in the driveway. I was afraid of rousing any of them. I got to my parents house, put on my best "game face" and went in. The relief washed over me like a warm wave of ocean water enveloping me. My daughter was finally able to run, squeal, laugh and leave her toys everywhere. I ate...and ate...and ate some more. Then, I went into the living room and slept on the couch until the next morning. My parents put S. to bed in their room.
For twelve hours, all was right with my world. We were safe.
My parents drove us home the next day. They offered to keep S. at their house for the night. I knew there would be hell to pay for my little escapade so I took them up on their offer. My daughter was delighted to spend the night at her grandparents. For a brief second, I thought of killing myself. Just a fleeting moment. Long enough to know that if I was gone, my daughter would have a better life than what I am giving her. Long enough to realize that I was too much of a coward to take such a brave step. I kissed my baby goodbye, thanked my parents and went into my house. No one was home. I exhaled...and went up to my room to take a shower.
In the privacy of my shower, with the silly turtle shower curtain, I cried. I cried so hard that I choked. I cried until I broke blood vessels in my eyes. I cried so hard that through my tears, I could see the turtles crying with me. The little droplets of water that fell on the shower curtain looking like teardrops rolling down the cheeks of turtles in various stages of dance. "Run," they said to me through their tears, "run and never look back."
I jumped out of the shower. I threw on some clothes. I packed one suitcase with some clothes for my daughter and I. Run. I was going to listen to the turtles. I was going to run. I was going to run fast and far and never look back.
I grabbed my suitcase, grabbed my spare car keys and lugged my suitcase out to the garage where my car was parked.
And then, I covered my mouth and screamed. I screamed over and over again.
From the window of my garage, I could see him. I was met with the sight of my dog, Shadow, hanging from a tree limb. His tongue lolled out of the side of his mouth. His eyes were wide open, huge and the blood vessels in his eyes were broken as well. He was hanging from a sheet that I recognized to be one of my own. He swung in the winter wind, his nose decorated with tiny icicles. His body was stiff. His mouth was pulled back in a grimace. He almost looked like he was laughing. Or screaming. I walked over to him. I stroked his fur.
"I'm so sorry, Shadie-boy," I said out loud. "I'm so sorry."
Defeated, I walked back into my house, leaving my suitcase on the ground, next to where my beloved German Shepherd swung from a tree limb. I walked directly to the answering machine, its flashing light beckoning me to press play, press play, press play.
Message: "Hey babe, it's me. I was wondering where you were this morning. You weren't here when I got up. We missed you this morning. By the way, I haven't been able to find Shadow. I called him a few times, but he never came. You haven't seen him have you, babe? Anyway, I'll be home tonight. Page me if you need anything. Love you, Gorgeous. Make something amazing for dinner, alright?"
I never heard the messages that followed. I threw the answering machine across the room. I picked it up over and over again, smashing it into the wall. I beat on the smaller pieces with my fists until my hands bled. Out of frustration, out of anguish, out of desperation and out of hope, I mercifully fainted on the kitchen floor and didn't wake up again until the steel toe of Tony's construction boot tapped me in the jaw lightly.
"Hey. HEY. CP. Get up, babe. We need to talk."
To be continued....