When I return home, I take the necessary time to sit in my car and brace myself for reentering the house. Dear God, help me be strong and please keep me safe. You know how seriously I take my faith in You, and, by extension, how seriously I take my marriage vows, so please help me honor You. I’ve made up my mind, Lord. I won’t be a victim again. I won’t stay with Jackson if he continues to treat me this way. If necessary, I’ll count on Your grace and Your forgiveness to include my transgression of divorce. Amen.
I take a deep breath, exit the car and make my way resolutely through our quiet, empty home. I walk through the door of our room at 11:10. I’m surprised to find Jackson waiting for me. I’m not ready for this. I was hoping to be fast asleep when he got home from crime fighting.
“Oh, Jackson, hi,” I state in quiet surprise. “I didn’t expect you to be here. I know you had at least three men following me the entire time I was gone, but I left a note for you so you wouldn’t worry.” My knees are weak, and I can’t stop mist from collecting in the corners of my eyes.
Jackson comes forward and kisses my cheek. He seems genuinely happy to see me, but his hands are shaking slightly. There’s an obvious awkwardness between us. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it indicates Jackson’s awareness of the damage he’s inflicted.
Jackson does his best to belie the disturbed intensity of our reunion with a forced casualness to his tone. “Why wouldn’t I be here, Ellie? Where else would I be?” Jackson asks like it’s the most normal thing in the world for him to be home this time of night. There’s nothing normal about it. In fact, there’s nothing normal about any aspect of my life. Normal is behind me.
“I assumed you’d be out fighting bad guys. That’s usually where you go about this time of day, isn’t it?” I remind him as casually as I can.
“This hasn’t been a usual day,” he says as he takes my hand.
“That’s something I’m truly grateful for,” I concede as I speak without regard to the impact my words might have. Jackson looks sideways at me and cringes slightly at my words.
“Ellie, there’s no way I’d go off and leave you alone tonight. Not after what I put you through this evening.” Jackson squeezes my hand and smiles at me. He deflects and moves the conversation forward. “Did you enjoy your movie? What did you see?”
I sigh heavily. I don’t have the energy for small talk, but I answer Jackson just the same. “I saw the Monuments Men. I don’t know if enjoy is the right word. It was very well done, but sad somehow.” I sigh again and finish my thoughts, “I didn’t really pay a great deal of attention. It was probably my state of mind more than the movie. The popcorn was great. It always is.
“I just had to get out of the house. You know me, I’m not a social butterfly so I don’t really have any friends to visit. It’s not safe to walk the streets and clear my head, especially when my thoughts are so preoccupied. I felt like a movie was my best option.” I’m not sure why I’m rambling on and on to Jackson. He didn’t ask for an explanation. I feel incredibly awkward and unsure of myself.
“Ellie, you’re so nervous.” Jackson states the obvious as he begins twirling his thumbs.
“I’m more nervous than you can possibly know, Jackson,” I admit to him teary-eyed.
“Please don’t be nervous, Ellie. Somehow, we’ll figure this out,” he reassures me as he pulls me into his chest. He tenderly kisses the top of my head and strokes my hair. Fear and dread lodge themselves in my heart. I’m not comfortable being this close to him so soon after the assault.
I pull away and ask him, “What about you? Did you have a good nap?”
“Yes, I did. I slept for about an hour and then I ran some errands.”
I look up at him. Impulsively, I ask, “What kind of errands do you run at 8:30 in the evening?” Why did I ask that? Is this my emergent distrust of Jackson asserting itself? I hope not. This is no way to care for a marriage. Then again, I don’t have the marriage I thought I had.
“I’m glad you asked,” Jackson says as he squeezes my hand and smiles for me. He walks over to a bureau which sets a few feet from the couch.
“I got you a few things while you were out. Two of them, I’d already purchased. This,” he says as he pulls an incredible painting from behind the bureau, “I had commissioned some time ago because I know how you love pansies. They only bloom a few weeks out of the year so, this way you get to enjoy them all year long. I’ve been storing it at the office and wanted to give it to you at just the right time.”
I cover my mouth with my hands and walk over to the painting. It’s huge, at least three feet by six feet. Its perimeter is encased in a large antique bronze frame which beautifully accents the style and colors of the painting. The background of the painting is an idyllic pastoral setting. The foreground is the depiction of a meadow on the left side with a rambling stone wall on the right. Just off center in the canvas is an old stone structure, possibly an abandoned well house, with a leaky roof and a door that’s barely hanging on. Across the front of the canvas and draping the stone wall and building is a thick, luxurious blanket of pansies. Their vibrant colors are everywhere. The flowers look real because of the way the light reflects off of them. I know that pansies aren’t a climbing variety of flower, but I’m fine with the artistic license the painter took.
“Oh, Jackson, this is the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen!” I marvel to him. “I love how the intense life of the flowers is juxtaposed by the dilapidated building. To me it represents the cycle of life.”
“Yes, he did a great job, didn’t he?” Jackson readily agrees.
I wipe the tears from my cheeks and retrieve a tissue. “I’ve got to find the perfect spot for it. Somewhere I can see it most of the time, from any vantage point.”
“Well, you decide where you want it and I’ll get it hung for you,” Jackson promises as he captures my hand again and leads me over to the sofa.
“I love my painting, Jackson! It’s perfect. Thank you so much,” I say breathlessly. My mind is reeling at this about face turn of events.
“I have more for you, Ellie. Anything you want. Absolutely anything, just say it and I’ll make it happen,” Jackson states desperately.
Should I bring up the idea that I’d love for him to see a therapist? Would he give me that? Better pray about it first. I have no idea how easy it will be for the Jackson who hurt me to reemerge. Better keep my mouth shut until I better understand our new dynamic.
Jackson reaches toward the coffee table and picks up a slender, oblong, expensive looking box. My anxiety, coupled with the appearance of the painting, so completely captured my attention I didn’t even notice it lying there.
“I ordered this for you a couple months back from Yumuchian’s,” Jackson explains. “They’ve been holding it for me. I ran down a little while ago and picked it up for you. Go ahead, open it,” he says as he hands me the box.
My hands are shaking so badly I drop the box while trying to pry it open. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Jackson. I guess my nerves haven’t calmed much. I haven’t had too many little black boxes in my life. I can’t imagine what’s in here.”
“It’s okay, Ellie,” Jackson says as he squeezes my hand. “Would you like me to open it for you?” Jackson asks as he retrieves the box from the floor. Even with the palpable tension between us and the sketchiness of Jackson’s calmness he’s far more coordinated and capable than I.
“Thanks, that would be great,” I tell him. Jackson positions the box so that it faces me. When he lifts the lid of the box, there, in front of my eyes, is a heart shaped pendant studded with gems.
“Oh, Jackson, this is breathtaking. It’s purple!! These are diamonds and…”
“Tanzanite, Ellie. It comes from East Africa. Diamonds and Tanzanite,” Jackson explains.
“Can I pick it up and look more closely?”
Jackson responds with a chuckle, incredulous at my question. “Of course, sweetheart, it’s yours, completely yours. You can do anything you like with it.”
I retrieve the stunning necklace for closer inspection. There are twelve oblong purple tanzanite gems spaced evenly around the perimeter of the pendant. They lay atop a field of glittering diamonds. It’s breathtaking and I have never seen anything so sparkly. It shatters the lamp light into a billion fragments. In sunlight, I suspect it would hurt one’s eyes to gaze upon it.
“I’ve never had anything so beautiful, Jackson! This is mine? Really?”
“Absolutely, Ellie, it’s all yours. Would you like to put it on?”
“Of course,” he confirms as he takes my hand and leads me to the mirror which hangs over the bureau that hid my painting.
I watch as he stands behind me, gently places it around my neck and secures it in back. I finger the remarkable piece, marveling anew at its beauty.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, Jackson. It’s absolutely perfect. Thank you so much.”
“You’re very welcome sweetheart. I want you to enjoy it,” Jackson assures me.
I turn and give Jackson a sweet, sincere kiss on his cheek. He might be expecting more from me, but right now, that’s as comfortable as I am with contact between the two of us. When I look up, he’s smiling, and his eyes are shining for me.
Suddenly, Jackson says, “Oh, I have one more thing for you, Ellie.”
I shake my head at him. “Jackson, this is too much. I don’t need all these beautiful things.”
“Yes, you do,” Jackson corrects me as he leads me forward. “You need all these and every other beautiful thing I can imagine for you, Ellie. This last item is really for your charity work, not for you personally, so much.”
Jackson returns us to the coffee table and fetches a white envelope from within a large book that resides there. He hands the envelope to me and says, “I’m sorry, Ellie. I should have helped you with your charity long before now.”
“I don’t expect your help, Jackson. I’m a big girl.”
“I know, but I want to do better standing by you. Open it, Ellie.” My hands are shaking again, and I struggle to open the envelope. I can’t find a loose spot on either end of it. I have nothing with which to pull it apart. Traitor body. Is it ever going to come through for me?
Tears fill my eyes. I feel so stupid, useless and confused. I’m completely overwhelmed. Jackson takes both my hands in his and says, “It’s okay, Ellie. Take a deep breath.”
I look up at him. He’s watching me, waiting for me to take the requested breath. I close my eyes and pull in a huge amount of air, too much air evidently, as I choke on it. Jackson rubs my back and gives me time to collect myself. Soon, he comes to the rescue.
“Would you like for me to help?” he asks again. I hand the envelope to him. Jackson tears it open and returns it to me. “You pull it from the envelope, Ellie,” he states smiling at me. I take another deep breath and try to still my hands long enough to pull the contents from their paper sheath.
Jackson is watching me. I’m pretty sure he’s holding his breath. A check slowly emerges to the point where I can read the dollar amount. $25,000,000.00 dollars smile back at me from a Dawes’ Incorporated water mark.
I collapse on the couch because my knees give way. “Jackson, I…I… can’t accept this. It’s too much, far, far too much!”
“You can and will accept it, Ellie. It’s not enough. It will never be enough. Take it and use it for your kids. It will help your work last longer so you can reach more people. When this is gone, let me know. I have more for you.”
Suddenly, a thought hits me and I look up at Jackson. I know my eyes are large and full of unshed tears, but they also carry true remorse for a singularly fearful reason. Quietly, I confess to Jackson, “I’m sorry, Jackson, but I don’t have a makeup gift for you.” I don’t know if he was expecting one, but I’m covering my bases just in case. I don’t want him to be disappointed and I certainly don’t want him upset with me.
Jackson shakes his head like my words are the craziest things he’s ever heard. “Ellie, you’ve already given me my present,” he says in a hoarse whisper while twirling his thumbs into the backs of my hands.
I shake my head in confusion. “There’s no present Jackson. I don’t understand what you mean.”
He cups my face and speaks into my gaze with his eyes, as well as, his words.
“The entire time I was racing around town collecting all these beautiful things for you I was terrified you’d never come home. You’re here with me, Ellie. That’s my present. It’s all I’ll ever want.”
The watersheds which are the rims of my eyes relinquish their tears. Now, for two reasons, I shake uncontrollably. First, Jackson pulls me in against his chest and holds me close. I don’t want to be held by this man, the man who is my husband, the man I barely know. Second, Jackson has the impression I’m in such a state because I’m overwhelmed in a good way. While I am truly grateful for his overt generosity, I’m shaking mostly because I’m scared and doubting his sincerity.
Is the rest of my marriage going to be like this? Is it going to be periods of abuse and damage followed by periods of remorse and mind-boggling generosity? Dear God, what have I gotten myself into? How do I get myself out of it? Do I need to leave, or can we work this out?
I graciously accept the peace offerings because I know to refuse them will make Jackson doubt the sincerity and permanence of my presence here with him. I’m fine with the sincerity aspect. I’m here because this is where I need to be. The permanence aspect is a different story. Jackson assumes, because I came home, I’m in this with him for good, when, in fact, I haven’t yet decided. This is a first step only, one of many. However, I don’t want to do anything to upset him. I have no desire to be dishonest with him, but I’m uncertain what’s right and what’s wrong. A refusal from me will hurt his pride. He’s already hurting enough for two people. I won’t intentionally add to his pain. So, I’ll err on the side of kindness for him and safety for myself.
After all the excitement of my return home we retire together. I make sure I wear a loose T-shirt and pajama bottoms. Climbing into bed with Jackson is scary and awkward. I’m a tense, nervous wreck. Jackson asks if he can hold me for a while. Really, it’s the last thing I want, but, again, I don’t want to give him a reason to be angry with me, so I agree.
I hate this, God. I hate being afraid of my own husband. I hate it that I can’t be myself, that I’m too afraid to say what I truly think and feel. A marriage is the one place where I should be allowed to be myself.
Jackson is a perfect gentleman, though, and eventually, my body relaxes enough that I fall asleep. Unsurprisingly, though, my rest is fitful. Each time a bad dream or unpleasant subconscious thought rallies me Jackson is there, reassuring me with his strong physical presence. For the life of me, I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I fight the tears that sting my eyes. Being held by Jackson used to be one of my favorite things in life. It makes me incredibly sad to realize that’s no longer the case.
The next morning Jackson has Sarah clear his schedule so we can spend the day together. We take in the Museum of Science and Industry and enjoy a leisurely lunch at the Chicago Beef Company. In the afternoon we peruse the Adler Planetarium. Being a recent transplant to the city, the museum and planetarium are new to me and I enjoy them as much as my mind set allows.
Neither of us is really ourselves as we tour the exhibits and eat lunch. There’s a cumbersome awkwardness between us. I know Jackson well enough to know he’s horribly ashamed of the way he treated me. He’s walking on eggshells afraid he’ll do something else to hurt me. I know, at this moment, he understands the frailty of our marriage. He fears one wrong move, or one wrong comment will send me packing. Sadly, at this point, I’m not willing to convince him otherwise.
For myself, I see fear shining in my eyes every time I pass a mirror or see my expression reflected in a pane of glass. Jackson’s brute force is intoxicating and thrilling when he wields it with mercy and tenderness. It’s terrifying and destructive when he doesn’t. I’m somewhat certain that I’ll never recover my trust in him. I’m afraid my trust is a part of our history, the part of our life that’s behind us. Yet, if I live with him as his wife and all that that term embodies, that certainly includes trust, so where does that leave me?
There’s fear, too, that our marriage may really be over after just a few short months. I’ve never known failure like this before. Can my self-esteem recover from the rubble of a decimated union, from the heartbreak of something I wanted so desperately and believed in so completely? Can I ever regain trust in myself and my ability to make good decisions about my own life? If I fail, how will I ever go forward toward anything new?
The weight of my current reality pulls exhaustion from every pore of my body and mind. The workload involved in restoring our friendship and marriage will be backbreaking. Even if I could endure the burden, I’m not sure if I even want to try.
Every time I trust Jackson my trust bites me in my backside. Is it insanity to expect a different outcome if I trust one more time? Our incident was not for the usual reasons associated with domestic battery. Is that relevant or am I deluding myself? Am I making excuses that only put me in harm’s way or am I fighting for our marriage because it’s worth fighting for? Help me, God! Help me know the difference.
The easy, lighthearted banter Jackson and I enjoyed before the assault is missing. We don’t speak of the future or what we’d like to do even as early as tomorrow. Our conversation is limited to the things we see as we tour the museum and planetarium.
Sex and the events of the previous day are not topics for discussion. Nothing outside of the moment in which we exist is mentioned. We’re simply two broken souls trying to get through the day one moment at a time.
I wear my new necklace and find myself touching it several times throughout the day. I still can’t believe, it’s mine. I’ve never owned anything this expensive or beautiful. Thomas always wanted to buy me nice things, but there was never money for them. If Jackson weren’t with me, I’d be too afraid to wear it for fear someone would take it from me.
Another problem is that I can’t help but wonder if the painting and necklace are bribes. I don’t worry about the check so much because the charity will benefit from it, not me. Will I ever be able to look at my painting or this necklace and just enjoy the simple, profound beauty they embody? Or, will a glance at them always evoke a seed of doubt about the motivation behind their appearance?
It’s time to pray. Dear God, I’m in so far over my head! I need you to pull me from the rising waters of my fear, distrust and confusion. Help me to love Jackson like he deserves to be loved. Please, always help me temper my response to him with a compassionate understanding of his perspective. Please work in his heart so he’ll embrace therapy and please send the right doctor, the one who can best help him.
Help me face every day with faith to handle everything and strength to let the little things go. I’m so scared to trust him with my emotions and my body. Please keep me safe but help me be strong so I can honor You in my marriage. Help me to make wise decisions and then please prevent me from second-guessing myself. Help me to walk through every door you open for me. Thank you, God, for sending Jesus because in Him all your promises are “Yes.” Thank you, God, for Your faithfulness and Your provision. Please forgive me when I fail you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.