Chapter 17: Working It Out
The time from the Jackson’s attack until now has been chaste. However, three mornings after our day out I awake in need of my husband. I don’t remember any such occurrence, but I might have been dreaming about Jackson while I slept. It’s possible I could have relived an actual memory. Jackson and I do have some awesome memories from our brief time together.
Then, too, my mind might be playing with my head. Or, maybe it’s my head playing with my mind. It might simply be a matter of physical need. From a merely sexual standpoint, and putting our recent upheaval aside, it’s nearly impossible to lie next to such a stunning specimen of virility and not be affected by him. Jackson’s muscled mass and appealing good looks are overwhelming and can’t help but make their impression on the mind of a woman sleeping next to him.
Knowing myself as I do, though, and because of our recent upheaval, I disregard the purely sexual aspect and blame a dream for my current predicament. I’m sure the dream involved an intense longing to reconnect to Jackson, to have things the way they used to be. I love so many things about the life behind us. I suppose a longing to recapture those lovely aspects is only normal.
Right or wrong about the reason, I’ve awakened in serious need of my husband’s attention. The idea of trusting Jackson with my heart and body grips me with something approaching panic, but I know there’s only one way to find out what’s going to happen. I’m a doer, always have been. If our marriage is going farther south, I might as well know it now as later. I say a quick prayer and ask God for His strength and protection for both my body and my heart. I roll over and wake Jackson.
Jackson looks over his shoulder at me through his sleepy gaze and suddenly realizes I’m talking to him. He quickly turns to face me. He’s concerned because it’s so unusual for me to wake him. “Oh, my gosh, Ellie. Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“There’s nothing wrong, Jackson,” I assure him. “I’ve just been dreaming, I suppose, and my body needs some attention. Is that okay?”
Jackson vigorously rubs his eyes, attempting to wake himself more completely. “Well, yeah. Of course, it is. Are you sure about this?” Jackson asks with concern dripping from his voice. “It’s awfully soon,” he says like I’m completely unaware of the time frame involved and need to be reminded.
“I know,” I concede, “but my body has a mind of its own. I don’t need to fight unfulfilled desire along with everything else that’s going on, do I?”
I see hesitation written all over Jackson’s face. I pull away and say resignedly, “If you don’t want to take care of me, I’ll make do on my own.”
Jackson shakes his head and reaches for my hand. “Ellie, what are you talking about?! I’ll never turn you away. Are you seriously thinking I might?”
Suddenly, I remember asking God to open doors for me and to keep me from second guessing myself. I take a deep breath and attempt an explanation. “Jackson, I’m simply trying to put my fear aside and follow logical steps as they’re laid out in front of me. Honestly, I don’t know how else to get through this,” I tell him bluntly while tears shimmer in my eyes.
Jackson squeezes my hand gently and says, “Sure, Ellie. Anything you need.”
The word ‘anything’ resonates within me, so I speak up. “Okay, Jackson if you mean that, here’s what I need from you. I want one simple climax, just something basic to satisfy me. My breasts are completely off limits. Do you understand?” I ask him sternly.
Jackson looks at me with confusion in his gaze. It’s completely obvious he doesn’t understand the boundary I’ve set, but he agrees anyway. “Alright, Ellie, if that’s what you want.” Hesitantly, he asks, “Is it okay if I come, too?”
“Absolutely,” I tell him. I harbor no desire to be unfair to him in any manner. I simply need to deal with the situation in front of me.
Tentatively, Jackson pulls his body alongside my own. He turns my face so he can gaze deeply into my eyes. I’m not yet ready to make a huge emotional connection so I close my eyes while Jackson gives me a warm, gentle kiss. I refuse to let my fear rob me of what my body needs. Dear God, give me strength and safety.
Regardless of the harrowing nature of prior days, and my innate apprehension, my needy body allows my skin to tingle at the connection that’s always present between Jackson and me. His kisses claim my lips until Jackson puts his lips on my belly and continues the kisses there. He peels my pajama bottoms and panties from me and lowers his kisses onto the flesh that sits atop my pelvic bone. By now, my insides are responding very well to Jackson’s attention. So far, I’m able to put my fear aside so I can let Jackson tend to the ache that resides within me. I’ll take my victories where I can find them.
Jackson looks up at me and asks with his gaze if I want him to continue. I assure him of my compliance as I spread my legs before him. Jackson forges my opening with his fingers. I anticipate some level of discomfort when he penetrates me, so I instinctively reach for his wrist, but I’m surprised to find my center isn’t at all tender.
Again, Jackson’s gaze asks if he’s to continue. I nod at him and reclose my eyes. Jackson retrieves my wetness and brings it forward to my clit. He knows my body so well. The touch of his fingers against my bundle of nerve endings is the perfect combination of pressure, speed and direction. I can’t help but writhe and moan as he stimulates me. Soon, those awesome waves of pleasure spread throughout me finally filling the ache I have for him.
When it’s obvious my climax has passed Jackson sheaths himself with a condom, centers his body between my legs and slowly penetrates me. I can tell he’s struggling both physically and emotionally. Being this cautious goes against the virility he personifies. It’s been days since he’s had me, so I know his body needs relief. However, as much as someone who isn’t on the battered end of such a situation can understand, he’s aware of the harm he’s caused.
Jackson’s guilt is vying for first place with his concern for me. I hope the two together do not rob him of his climax. He’s extremely careful and gauges my reaction with regards to his every movement. As for me, I’m doing alright. Though, I am surprised that his girth doesn’t illicit more discomfort from my groin. He was so rough with me during his assault. It’s hard to believe he didn’t harm me there as well as my chest. Thanks, God, for that.
Very quickly, Jackson comes to understand that I’m not being harmed by him so, as his thrusts pick up speed and ferocity, I lay quietly beneath him. Soon, I feel goose bumps erupt on my flesh and a massive tingle covers the length of my body as my muscles tighten in response to Jackson’s presence within me. Soon, Jackson explodes into me and bears down hard.
Unfortunately, his chest lands on and crushes into mine. I can’t help but scream and push against Jackson’s shoulders in an attempt to get the weight of his body off mine. My tears find origin in the physical pain caused by the weight of his body mashing my battered breasts. At the same time, they spring from the emotional pain festering deep within my broken spirit.
Jackson lifts himself off me and comes alongside me. “Ellie, what’s wrong?!” comes his worried question. “Did I push too hard? Have I hurt you?” His tone and expression indicate he’s frantic with worry.
Intermittent with my sobs I manage to utter an answer to his question. “Yes, Jackson…, you hurt me, but…it wasn’t my groin… you hurt.”
“What is it then? I don’t understand,” Jackson asks as he strokes my right cheek with the back of his fingers.
When I look over at him, I see confusion drenching his gaze. I pull away from him, sit up in bed and tear my T-shirt off over my head. My breasts hang before Jackson in all their bruised and battered glory. Large black and purple bruises cover much of each breast. Blood blisters also randomly dot the span of my bosom.
“Oh, my God, Ellie!” Jackson sobs as he backs away from me. His surprise and horror are genuine. Quickly, he finds his voice. “Did I do that… to you? Am I responsible for th…th…this?!” he exclaims as he gestures at my exposed, battered torso.
Solemnly, I nod at Jackson. He grabs my upper arms and pulls me gently into him. As he holds me his chest heaves with the force of his sobs. Slowly, I disengage myself from his embrace because I’m afraid he might hurt me again. Jackson willingly releases me and wraps his arms around his abdomen as he rocks back and forth on his knees. I watch trauma as it careens throughout his features, especially his eyes.
I’m aware of shock value, but he did this to me. He might as well see and experience the consequences of his selfishness. I sure have to. He’s not a kid and this is what it is. This is what he’s done to my body, my spirit and our marriage.
“Oh, Ellie, Ellie, my precious Ellie, I’m so sorry! Please, forgive me!” he sobs inconsolably.
For some reason, seeing Jackson so distraught helps to calm me. A quiet understanding consumes me. I see God at work in this. I haven’t been trying to hide the damage Jackson’s caused to my body. I simply didn’t know how to broach the subject because I didn’t want to risk making him angry again. God gave me a desire for Jackson on this morning, at this time, because God wants Jackson confronted with the damage for which he’s responsible.
I didn’t know how to accomplish this feat, so God made a way for me. Seeing the pain present in Jackson, pain that’s real enough to reach out and touch, I know without a second’s doubt this was necessary if Jackson and I are going to make it as a married couple. Thank you, God, for having my back.
“I’m sorry I screamed,” I tell him. “It just hurt me when your chest landed on mine,” I admit as I wipe away tears.
“I’m sure it did,” Jackson agrees. “Oh, your poor, tender body!” he exclaims while he continues to reel from shock and self-revulsion. He looks at my chest intently like he’s burning a memory into his brain. Tears still seep from his eyes. He looks directly at me and asks quietly, “Can I have your permission to touch them?”
Suddenly, I find myself fighting panic as it rises within me. I pull away from Jackson and ask in a worried tone. “Why? We agreed they’re off limits, didn’t we?” I remind him.
“Yes, I know,” Jackson admits as he nods his head in agreement. “It’s not about sex, Ellie. I just want to feel them and know they’re all right.”
Quietly, peace comes over me. God reminds me of His presence, guidance and protection. You’ve brought me this far, Lord. I’ll go where you want me to go. Besides, maybe making this a dual sense memory will help protect me in the future.
I look at Jackson quite calmly because I feel much calmer internally. “I suppose, for a moment,” I tell him quietly. “You have to be very gentle. They can’t take any pressure. Jackson?”
He acknowledges the question in my tone and looks me in the eye.
“Don’t think for one second that they’re all right,” I inform him.
Jackson walks up behind me on his knees and straddles my back from behind. Very gingerly he cups my breasts with his hands. The warmth of his palms is so incredibly soothing to my aching body. Until now, it hasn’t occurred to me that his touch would once again be pleasant.
“Oh, Ellie, they’re so swollen,” Jackson laments.
“They’re a mess,” I tell him. “They hurt so badly they’ve kept me from getting any real rest. I should have taken a pain killer, but, honestly, it just now occurred to me. I’ve been kind of numb, just going on auto-pilot.”
My heart and mind are in turmoil. It saddens me to the depth of my soul that I can’t be myself with my husband. I don’t want Jackson to see me as weak and vulnerable. I feel like I need to be strong and unbreakable. I hate myself for it, but despite my best efforts to prevent it, tears trail down my face and land on Jackson’s wrists as he cradles my breasts. Soon, sobs rock my body and Jackson holds me while I cry.
I’m this far in, so I might as well come clean about all of it. “I hit your shoulders… and screamed for you to finish when I became certain you were going to bite my nipples… clean off me,” I sputter to him in between sobs. “You terrorized me, Jackson… I’ve never been so scared in my life.” I admit as a soul wrenching sob doubles me in two.
Jackson wraps his strong arms around my midriff and pulls me backwards into his body. He sobs into the back of my shoulder. Eventually, our tears mingle together and soak the swollen battered nipple of my left breast. The wet manifestation of our misery makes my damaged bosom shine in the morning light.
To be honest, I don’t know who’s more upset. I’m eviscerated because Jackson took my trust and vulnerability and beat me into oblivion with them. Jackson is traumatized because he’s faced with graphic, irrefutable evidence of his abuse of me. There’s no way he can deny it. There’s no way to downplay it. There’s no way to make this look any different than it is. He is utterly devastated by the reality of what he’s done to me.
He’s not the only one.
We sit and cry for several minutes. We try to cope with the damage done to our psyches, as well as, our marriage. Finally, Jackson releases me and charges to the bathroom. He returns with acetaminophen, a small glass of water and tissues.
“Here take these. You’ll feel better in a few minutes,” he tells me quietly.
After I comply with his request, Jackson scoots me forward so that I sit on the edge of the bed. He squats in front of me, so that he’s on my eye level.
“Ellie…,” he begins.
“Don’t, Jackson,” I interrupt him. The thought of another useless apology makes me nauseous. “There are no words that can fix this,” I say sternly.
Jackson hangs his head and shakes it with profound intensity. “I know, Ellie. I know. I just get so damn tired of apologizing to you all the time. You give me chance after chance after chance. I just keep screwing up. What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I take the one thing I hold most dear in this world and sabotage it? You mean more to me than anything. How could I have done this to you?”
I’ve been waiting for my chance to talk to him. It’s here now and I’m going to avail myself of it. “Jackson,” I say with all the love and compassion of which I’m capable, “I’m no therapist, but I think it’s got to do with the death of your dad.”
Jackson cocks his head rearward while surprise and a resultant curiosity write themselves across his features. Without uttering a word, I know what he’s thinking, ‘Where’d that come from?’
I continue quickly before he has a chance to bail on me. “Jackson, listen to me for just a moment, okay?”
Silently, Jackson nods his head in concession, agreeing to do as I ask.
I take a deep breath, utter a silent prayer for God’s wisdom and continue. “I know we made a deep emotional connection the other day right before you went all hateful on yourself. Don’t do that again here today, okay? We’ve made another powerful connection. I’ve trusted you again with my heart and my body. Don’t you dare go and screw it up with more self-loathing and all that crap about how you don’t deserve me. Do you hear me?!” I insist loudly as I push into his chest with both hands. I’m desperate for his undivided attention. He has to really hear what I’m saying or our marriage is done.
“You need to find a good therapist, Jackson. You need someone who can help you understand your issues and the loss of your father.” There. I’ve planted the seed, Lord. Please help him to make use of it. Please help him cooperate. Help him to care enough about me and about our marriage to follow through!
“Right now, you need to go to the gym and do something strenuous so you can work out your frustrations. I will not be the disposal for your unmet emotional rage. I will not let you do this to me again. Do you understand, Jackson?”
Jackson nods affirmatively. “Yes, Ellie, I completely understand.” He pauses for a brief time and then continues, “Ellie?”
I’m not sure what’s coming, but I am sure it’s important, so I drop my gaze and focus it on my nervous twitching fingers. “Yes, Jackson?”
“Do you realize how truly sorry I am about all of this, about hurting you?” he asks quietly. It’s completely obvious his spirit is broken.
“Yes, Jackson, I know how sorry you are. Trust in your remorse is about the only trust I have left in you. If I didn’t have a tiny speck of trust left in you, I’d be long gone by now. It was your body that assaulted me, Jackson. I don’t understand the psychology of what happened, but you weren’t yourself when you did this to me. Somehow, you weren’t home at the time, but don’t think for one second that makes this okay. You have to get help, alright?”
He cups my face and pulls our foreheads together. He plants several little kisses on my eyes and cheeks and then one very tender kiss on each swollen breast.
“I’ll do better, Ellie. I’ll be better for you,” he whispers earnestly into the side of my neck, just under my left cheek.
Suddenly, raging fury fuels my bravado. I quickly pull away from the edge of the bed and spin upwards so that I’m sitting on my knees, facing him once again. “Stop it, Jackson!” I yell at him. “That’s not good enough! That’s what you promised me in the shower, remember? Then this happened. Words are so easy to utter yet so hard to honor! Stop making promises with your lips and start keeping them with your actions. Your good intentions never accomplish anything, Jackson! I’m fed up with your empty words!”
Jackson’s head hangs now and he’s quiet, but he’s listening to me. His silence and submission confirm his agreement to what I just said.
I cup his cheek bones and pull his face up so his gaze meets mine. “Jackson, I have never had anything in my life wound me so deeply. You have tested my faith and my love for you to the point of completely killing them off. If anything, remotely close to this happens again, you’re all out of chances…”
Jackson answers my question before I can ask it. “I understand,” comes his broken reply as he embraces me again.
I pull away from his embrace because I need to watch his face. “I have one more thing to ask you, Jackson.” Against my wishes of being strong and unbreakable my spine of iron dissolves and my eyes rapidly fill with tears as my shoulders start to shake. Either way, I dread his answer to my question. I fear it’s a no-win situation.
Jackson soaks up my obvious distress and takes my hands in his. He repositions me in my seat on the edge of the bed before him. “Ellie, honey, what is it?” He’s truly concerned for me. He needs to be. I’m about to lose it.
I take another deep breath, dry my eyes and forge ahead. “All that’s happened between us has made me doubt myself, as well as, you. You’ve already proven to me that you have trouble talking about things that really bother you, so I have to ask because it’s occurred to me... no, it’s worrying me, actually…”
I look sternly at him and pause because of the gravity of the moment. Slowly, I continue. “Jackson, I want an honest answer from you.”
Jackson has no idea what’s coming but nods his agreement to be forthright in his response.
I do my best to be honest without being threatening. “Did this whole grisly thing happen because you’ve decided that you don’t want me?” The tears rage in earnest now. There’s no stopping them.
Jackson starts to speak, but I stay him by raising my left forefinger and using my facial expression to warn him into silence.
I breathe deeply and forcibly calm myself. Regardless of its difficulty, my goal is to speak intelligibly. It’s killing him, but Jackson remains quiet. He’s dying to speak and head off what he believes is my next question. Even though he’s convinced he’s right, the truth is, he has no idea what I’m about to say.
My words are stuck in my head. I’m not trying to torture Jackson by making him wait on me, by asking him to be patient with me. It’s just that I’m truly terrified of his answer. I’m more terrified, than I am of asking my question. I drop my gaze momentarily, gather my courage, and reconnect with Jackson both visually and vocally.
“Have you changed your mind about being married to me?” I ask quietly while tears saturate my cheeks and run down onto my bare chest. “Have you decided I’m not good enough for you? Maybe, you’ve decided our age difference bothers you more than you thought it would. Do you want your single life back because marriage isn’t what you hoped it would be? If you were too afraid to bring it up or if you didn’t know how, here’s your chance, Jackson. Here’s your chance to get out of our marriage.”
I raise my hand to thwart any response from Jackson. My burdened heart isn’t finished expressing itself, so, the rest of what I need to say forces more tears from me. “I’m exhausted, Jackson,” I confess as I lean forward and drop my forehead onto his broad shoulder. I let his body carry the weight of my world while I cry. “My spirit, my will to go on, is so bone weary I’m ready to just lay down, go to sleep, and never wake up. There’s no point in fighting for our marriage if you’ve already decided you want out. I don’t have that kind of fight left in me.”
Jackson leans forward and wraps his arms around me, holding me gently while he strokes my hair.
Dear God, he can be so gentle, so loving, when he chooses to be.
I look over into Jackson’s eyes and continue to offer him a path of departure. “I can go, Jackson. I can leave this marriage with what I brought to it and will ask for nothing, not one single thing. I promise. Just tell me the truth, Jackson. I’d much rather know now, than later. Please, if you were ever honest about loving me in any way, please just be honest with me now.”
Jackson pushes my body away from his and looks earnestly into my eyes. My questions, and offer to leave the marriage, leave their mark of pain and surprise on his face. He cups my cheeks and kisses me over and over like he’s trying to erase my pain. The responsibility he feels for the situation is severe and is crushing his own heart, as well as, mine. He wants so desperately for us both to feel better. As badly as I wish it would work, kisses aren’t nearly enough to make that happen.
Jackson rises from his knees and slides into bed behind me. Being very mindful of my battered chest, he wraps his arms around me and carefully uses my midriff to pull me up against his body. He holds me while I cry.
I’m not sure when I fall asleep. I remember feeling utterly exhausted. My brain, my body and my spirit are empty. All energy reserves have been used. The very last thing I remember is Jackson’s incessant reassurances in my ear that he will love me forever. Jackson’s current definition of love includes deception, emotional immaturity and physical violence. The cost of living with that definition is far too high. So, again, for the life of me, I’m uncertain if his reassurances are a good thing.
Later, shortly after lunch time, I awake feeling more rested. The pain killer certainly helped. It’s time for more by now. I find that Jackson left me a note saying he’s gone to the gym. He says he’d like to take me out for dinner. That would be nice. It would get us out of the house for a while. Before I do anything though, and while I still have the place to myself, I talk out loud with God.
“Dear God, thank you for keeping me safe. Thank you for making me strong enough to say the hard things that needed saying. Thank you for making me strong enough to make Jackson understand I won’t tolerate his behavior.
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to him about therapy. Thank you for making his heart ready to hear something he wasn’t prepared for emotionally. Please send the doctor he needs.
“Mostly, though, thank you for not leaving me on my own to deal with my tattered life even though it’s what I deserve for disobeying you. Please continue to open doors for me. Please make them idiot proof. Give me wisdom and insight so I can communicate with Jackson as effectively as possible. Please help me to know when he lies to me, so I can make wise real-time decisions.
“Please let forgiveness saturate my heart so it has no choice but to overflow to Jackson. When I look at him, help me see the man he can be instead of the monster he was. Please keep him mindful of the damage he’s done so he can stay humble and never feel entitled to treat me this way again. Please forgive me when I sin and fall short of who You want me to be. Thank you, most of all, for Jesus. I pray these things in His name, Amen.”
As I finish with my prayer time, God brings to my memory part of a conversation I had with Jackson early in our relationship. I remember asking Jackson why he chose me over every woman he had available to him. His answer was that he knew I was truly capable of loving him.
Suddenly, because of the insight God gives me, I see Jackson’s answer with a new depth of understanding. Is it possible Jackson’s answer to me was an unconscious concession of his deep need for emotional connection? Is it possible when he saw me come to the aid of a child, unknown to me, he saw the light of God in my life and was inexplicably drawn to me because of it?
Is it possible that Jackson isn’t relating to me out of some ulterior motive and expressing it by using my faith against me, but is earnestly and genuinely seeking a solution for a problem of which he isn’t completely aware? He knows he’s missing something in his life, but he isn’t sure what it is. Maybe he’s truly convinced that I’m capable of loving him enough to help him find it.
Is it possible that Jackson’s crime fighting activities aren’t about expressing his athleticism as much as they’re about his attempt to meet his own emotional needs? Does helping others, when they’re in unfortunate circumstances, provide Jackson with a ‘safe’ emotional outlet? When he saves them, Jackson gets to be the hero, but isn’t vested enough to make himself emotionally vulnerable. Can it be that being married has pushed Jackson out of his comfort zone and into a life of emotional connection that terrifies him even as he craves it?
This revelation puts an entirely different light on my understanding of my situation. God gives me an overwhelming sense of peace. I know, without a doubt, that I am not supposed to behave impulsively with regards to ending my marriage. For the first time since the assault I can see a path forward for Jackson and myself if we can only deal with his emotional issues.
In the weeks that follow, Jackson and I slowly rebuild our friendship. I will say, he certainly invests the time in it. Despite his crushing business obligations, he spends as little time as is possible at the office. He attends only meetings that are imperative about his participation. Except for his daily workouts, Jackson spends nearly all his time with me. That’s fine, as far as I’m concerned. He needs the workouts, so he doesn’t bring his issues home.
Within three weeks, my bruised, mangled breasts are pretty much back to normal. There doesn’t appear to be any permanent scarring. At least there won’t be a continual reminder of this chapter in my life. That will make it much easier to put our ordeal behind me.
Jackson and I are having sex on a regular basis, but it’s not back to normal. I don’t know if it ever will be. My breasts are still off limits. I do not trust him to touch them. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the reason I have this issue so, until we get some things straightened out, he’s just going to have to live with it like I do. I will say, though, Jackson is being very attentive and extremely respectful of the boundaries I set.
I finally come to a decision about my painting and necklace. Jackson told me he’d bought them before that horrible day. He must be telling the truth because both of them are one of a kind, commissioned works. Because he didn’t go buy them after his abuse of me, I decide to keep them and enjoy them because they were picked for me from a place of love instead of a place of guilt and desperation.
To my knowledge Jackson hasn’t started therapy sessions. He’s not mentioned it again. I’m not going to nag him about it. I can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do. Throwing good effort and energy after a refusal is only wasting good effort and energy. Besides, nagging him will only create frustration in me and friction between us. We have enough to overcome as it is.
As of right now, nothing is off the table and everything is on. At some point Jackson will decide whether our marriage is worth the investment. Certainty with regards to our situation will only come with the passage of time.
On a high note, there’s no sign of crazed Jackson despite several, emotionally intense conversations. Because I’m truly unaware of the adversity barreling down on us, I’m guardedly optimistic we’ve turned a corner in our relationship and are on our way to the bright future I’d envisioned on our wedding day.
Next in the Surrender series: Surrender To Each Other
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