I looked over at my knight in shining armor. He was returned to make up for the terrible way we ended our night. I wasn’t ready for any form of physical contact, and that had caused most of the discomfort in our goodbye. He was confused, puzzled, and concerned at the same time. I threw my head back, and noisily let air out of my lungs, like a deflating balloon. Each turn took me farther away from Joseph, for the moment, I knew I couldn’t relax yet because he would be back. It was real now, and I had every reason to be worried. Richard and I were just starting to get to know each other, and explaining all of this to him would be extremely hard but unavoidable.
“The immediate threat is far behind us now.” He pulled off the road, tapping his index fingers on the steering wheel, patiently waiting for some sort of explanation. My hands went to my mouth as I looked at his face wearing a polite, yet somewhat anxious smile.
“So what was that all about?” He leaned forward and gripped the steering wheel, circling his thumbs around each other.
I thought that if he knew what was really going on, there was no hope of us getting to know each other any further, or even the chance of a friendship, but I knew that hiding the truth would only make matters worse. I wanted to explain everything without scaring him away from my horror of a life. I took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly. A lump swelled in my throat as the words began to form.
“He’s my ex-husband,” my voice cracked then dropped to a whisper. I didn’t wait for his response before I continued the explanation, a light cough and a hard swallow pushed the lump from my throat, and enabled me to speak clearly. I started slowly from the beginning in a long line of sentences that didn’t allow him to interrupt even once. I had set it in my mind that if, after he heard the whole truth, if he decided to throw me out of his car and leave me to walk the dark lonely streets alone, then so be it.
I was used to fighting my battles alone, and I did not see the prospect of that changing soon. He loosened his is grip around the steering wheel and flopped back in his seat.
“Thank God. I thought you were in some kind of trouble with a cartel or something.” He laughed as he breathed a sigh of relief. I thought about that comment, but didn’t respond to it. The engine roared to life as he turned the key in the ignition, and the GMC was back on the road again. He looked over at me; with hands folded staring out the window. He took my hand gently into his.
“It’s going to be ok. We’re going to figure this out.” He was more calm and reassuring than I had expected him to be. I told him that the kids were at Helen’s and I needed to get them and leave town immediately because Joseph was asking for them. He suggested that since Joseph did not know where the kids were, we shouldn’t wake them up in the middle of the night to frighten them with the whole ordeal. His suggestion was that we go to the police station and report the attack.
It took forever at the police station. No one paid any real attention to us. We were there for hours trying to get any form of assistance. When we finally got some attention, we were directed to a young officer named Perez. After I told him about the attack, he thought that it was just a domestic dispute. They dispatched a car to my apartment, but Joseph was long gone when they got there. I felt hopeless; I walked out of the station, and headed down the street. I realized that Joseph would never give up, and that we might end up running away from him for the rest of our lives. Richard came out and ran after me.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to Helen’s to get the kids and leave town tonight.”
“So you’ve got a plan and a place to go? Do you think now is the best time to try and flee he’s here, no doubt he’ll be able to track you down easily.”
“No, I don’t have a plan yet, but I’ll figure something out.”
“I think it’s a bad idea to go to Helen’s this late. You’ll frighten the kids. You said that he was asking for them, so that means he does not know where they are. If he did, wouldn’t he just take them instead of coming to you? If you go to Helen’s now, you’re only going to scare them, and you don’t have a plan. You’re not thinking straight, and you need to rest. You can stay at my place tonight. Then you can figure things out in the morning.” The wave of hopelessness and confusion that overcame me was too much to bear. I went with him to his apartment; it was cozy, and very evident that he had just moved in. Most of the furniture seemed new, and he still had unpacked boxes all over the place. I walked in and sat on the couch, which also had a few unpacked boxes on one end.
“You can have my room. I’ll crash on the couch,” he said, gesturing toward the bedroom.
“No, I don’t want to put you out. I’ll sleep on the couch.”
“I insist and apologize for not having a guest room, it’s been a long night and you deserve a good night’s rest.” He smiled as he tucked both hands into his pockets and walked over to the couch.
“Please don’t insist Richard, you’ve already done so much, and I appreciate it. But I’ll be fine out here.”
“Okay. You want something to drink before bed?” He went to the kitchen for bottled water, and then went into his bedroom. He came back hugging a huge blue fleece blanket and pillows. He dumped the stuff on the coffee table and sat down beside me.
“You know if you want to talk about it…?” We both looked at each other momentarily. I couldn’t find words to answer him, but amazingly he knew what I was thinking. He slapped his hands down on his thighs, and then smiled at me.
“Get some rest. I’m here if you need anything.” He said good night, and disappeared into his room. I understood that he was just being hospitable, and he really wanted to help. But I just needed some time to think. I lay on the couch watching the clock, the only hanging ornament on the wall of the barely lived in apartment. I tucked the pillows up against the armrest of the couch, and hugged my knees.
I struggled to control my emotions, as memories flooded my mind. Joseph wanted children immediately after we got married, but we were together for two years before our first son, Jaden was born. During my pregnancy, things turned upside down. He had more mood swings than I did.
He started going out almost every night, and then came home smelling like a whisky bottle. He was very temperamental and the smallest things would set him off. I was up late one night waiting for him to come home. Rain poured down that night, and I was worried sick that something bad had happened to him. At a quarter to three, I heard him at the door struggling with his keys. I went to let him in. He was soaking wet and came in staggering and tracking mud all over the house.
He lost his balance and fell into our glass top coffee table, shattering it to pieces and got a nasty gash on his upper arm. I tried to help him up, but he pitched me away like waste. He was at a bar; he had too much to drink, so the bartender cut him off and took his keys. He started a fight and was thrown out. Joseph walked two miles home in the rain.
My deafening screams woke the neighbors who called the police after I tried to get him into the tub. It seemed like he came home with the intention of finishing the fight at home, because he rejected my help and yelled at me, and then the screaming and shouting turned into a physical attack. I ran outside to escape the blows and stayed there until the cops came.
My nightmare was over when Joseph was locked up, and this was our final move, all was well or so I felt; now I was back where I started, constantly worrying about what would happen next.
Such were my thoughts as the hours dragged on. Richard’s couch was brand new, but I turned and twisted constantly trying to find a comfortable spot. I found no ease, as the brutal memories haunted me through the lonely hours. I bunched up the pillow, tucked it in the corner of the couch, and forced my eyes shut.
Jaden was sitting at his desk, the music was so loud in the headphones I could hear it through the door like a high pitch whine. I rapped at the door to get him to turn it down as I past to go down stairs for another load of laundry. He had forgotten to take the rest of the lumber from the garage to the back yard where he and his father were building that new dog house.
I climbed the stairs shifting the load of the laundry basket to my hip. As I climbed the last tred, my eyes caught a glimpse of my son screaming in pain as his face was pressed against his desk, his arm being twisted unnaturally behind his back.
“You lazy brat! How many times do I need to talk to you about these damn headphones.” His father snarled at him. I dropped the load and ran to the door, but it slammed in my face. I forced it open and went in. Joseph was standing at the balcony of our bedroom.
“I’m tired of telling you not to play in my study!” he yelled as our four year old son, kicks and screams dangling over the railing. As I filled the house with a screamed “no” he pulled the child back and came toward me.... “Karen wake up, wake up it’s just a bad dream.” Richard was standing over me. I sat straight up, panting and sweating a river.
“It was just a dream you’re okay,” he said consolingly.
“What time is it? I need to call the kids.” I dialed Helen twice, but she didn’t pick up.
“It’s really late Karen, she’s probably still asleep.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right. I need to make one more call if that’s okay.” I said sniffling and wiping tears from my face.
“Go ahead do what you need to do,” he said as he went to the kitchen and poured a glass of water and set it down on the coffee table. He sat down on the couch, and watched me as I paced the floor dialing the same number over and over.
“It’s late!” A sleepy voice came from the other end of the line.
“Sharon, I need your help. Joseph, he escaped and he’s after the kids this time!”
“Karen? Okay calm down and tell me what happened. What’s going on?” She sounded more awake.
“Where are you, where are the kids? What’s going on?” she wanted to know.
“They’re at a friend’s house. I’ll explain everything but I need to move there. Can you help me? It’s the only way to put an end to this.”
“What’s going on Karen? Calm down and tell me what’s going on.” I explained as much as I could without breaking down even more.
“Of course you can come. Mark and I will get everything ready. When are you coming?” she questioned enthusiastically.
“Soon. I have a few things to take care of here first.”
We talked and made plans before we said goodbye. Day was dawning, and I could not wait to see my children. Richard looked at me intensely as I dragged on my pants and got myself together.
“So you’re moving.”
“It’s the only way. That was my sister in Dominica I said as I pulled my hair back. “It’s my only option. The kids are not safe here and I need to get them away from him.”
“Would you at least like some coffee before you go?”
“Thank you Richard, I appreciate everything.” I said as I walked through the narrow entryway of the apartment
“Call me if you need anything,” he shouted as I closed the door.