Thank God he was gone, for now. I stared at the ugly, purplish bruises on my forearms. I looked in the mirror and saw a thin line of blood trickle down the side of my face, a result of a cut hidden in my hairline. I tenderly felt my arms, making sure nothing was broken. Again, I began rationalizing the abuse, trying to find some way to justify it. What had I done to damage our marriage? What could I do to repair it? The less pleasant encounters between me and Charles always ended this way. I looked for any serious injury and tried to find some way to blame myself for what had happened.
While I was making sure there was no permanent damage from the last encounter with my husband, I felt a small stirring within me. That small movement told me leaving was no longer a mere option. It had become necessity.
I had taken "'til death do us part" as far as I could. I had taken abuse, both physical and verbal, from him and said nothing. I foolishly believed my situation would improve with time, that there was something I could do to fix it. But I would be risking more than myself if I continued like this.
Even though the child growing inside me was my husband's, I already loved it. How could I not? I could never subject anyone I loved to the kind of treatment I had known since the beginning of my marriage. I had finally decided, before anyone else even knew about the child, that it would never meet its abusive father. It had finally given me the courage to leave.
Not knowing when he would return, I packed a small bag quickly, looking over my shoulder the entire time. I took a deep breath and stepped out the door and locked it, pushing my house key under the door. There was no need to keep it. I turned around and left the town that had served as my prison for so long.
I was afraid. The town had been left behind, and there was no one in sight. I felt exposed and vulnerable walking alone down a country road. Somehow, being alone in the middle of nowhere felt more dangerous than staying with Charles. I shook my head and pulled my coat more tightly around me. I needed to stop myself from panicking. If my thoughts continued to stray down that dark path, I might lose my resolve.
Where could I go? My parents insisted on keeping Charles' behavior quiet. I suppose it would have embarrassed them. If I turned to them, I would be met with disappointment and, perhaps, anger. They would never understand.
A car coming down the road interrupted my musings. The driver stopped beside me and rolled down the window. He was around sixty and reminded me of my grandfather. Thankfully, he did not seem to recognize me.
He looked at me with concern in his eyes and asked, "Do you need help, miss?"
I hesitated, unsure who I could trust. I looked back the way I had come. There was really no possibility of me getting to safety on my own. I nodded.
"Do you need a ride?" he asked. I nodded again. He got out of the car and opened the passenger door for me. I climbed in, grateful to be off of my feet.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"I was going to Wisconsin. I can drop you off on the way if you like."
I vaguely remembered that I had a second cousin living in Wisconsin. I had not seen her in years, but right now she seemed like my only choice of shelter. Any port in a storm. "Actually, I have relatives in Wisconsin."
"All right," he said, putting the car in gear. "By the way, I'm Albert."
"I'm Esme. Thank you so much for the ride."