As I was sitting on the couch snuggled up with Hunky watching the inauguration, I felt it… A glimmer of hope. I felt hope that I could start to believe my government would do the right thing for its citizens. It seemed inconceivable that in one day’s time, my perception could change so dramatically.
But the inaugural activities aren’t the point of this post. As I watched the news coverage of this historic event that will stand in history, the date flashed across the screen. January 20th. Then it hit me. I will always remember January 20th, 2009 as a day of hope. But to me, this was the second January 20th that was filled with a feeling of hope.
January 20, 1993…
A little back-story… after I came home from the Army in November 1992, there wasn’t enough room in my Mom’s house for me, and my Dad had packed up and moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. So I moved in with The Girl Beater and his family.
I started the day as normal. TGB was getting ready for work, and I was getting him some breakfast. He sat down at the table and started shoveling. In between bites, he said, “What are you going to do today?”
“Look for a better job,” I replied.
He nodded. “Good. You should stop by the Court House and see about getting a marriage license.”
My heart stopped a moment, and I managed to croak, “Why?”
“Well, we should just do it.”
Before I left for Boot Camp at Ft. McClellan, AL, we had discussed that maybe we’d get married in between Boot Camp and my AIT (Advanced Individual Training). What we didn’t see coming is the Army discovering my hearing loss and sending me home one week before Boot Camp graduation, and the marriage discussion had not even come back up in conversation again in the two months since I had returned.
“We should just DO IT?!” I parroted back, my voice squeaky. This wasn’t exactly the proposal of my dreams.
He stopped eating and looked up at me. “Yeah, sure. If it doesn’t work, we can just get a divorce.”
My heart literally stopped a moment and I struggled to take my next breath.
I didn’t have to worry about formulating a reply, because he wasn’t looking for one. As usual, he made a statement, and I was to submit.
“I’ll see you after work. Make me something good for dinner.”
He left his dishes on the table for me to take care of and hurried out the door.
I turned my head and watched him out the window as he got into his Monte Carlo and sped off.
I turned my head back and looked down at the old, dark beat-up table. I breathed in, I breathed out. I felt like my life was a movie, and someone had hit the pause button.
I heard his statement inside my head again, echo-y and drawn out, like a 45 record playing at 33 speed. “Yeah, sure. If it doesn’t work, we can just get a divorce.”
What was he thinking?! I couldn’t enter a marriage with that frame of mind! Most of our four and a half year relationship, I had spent grieving for my parent’s divorce. When we met, he was one stable element in my world shaken by the earthquake that was the disillusionment of a marriage. I had told him time and time again, that I would never get divorced; that when I got married, I was determined that it would be forever.
Again, I heard his statement inside my head. “Yeah, sure. If it doesn’t work, we can just get a divorce.”
In that moment, I felt my whole life shift.
On one side of the moment, I was with him. On the other side of the moment, I left him. One side; I feared him and the shackles he held me enslaved with. Other side; the chains disintegrated with a small POOF into harmless powder.
I realized I was going to have to move quickly. I had a lot to do to get out, and I couldn’t risk his father discovering me packing. He’d call TGB for sure.
I wouldn’t be able to stay where he could find me; I didn’t trust either of us. I didn’t trust him to let me go without manipulative speech to wear me down, or physical pain when that didn’t work. I didn’t trust myself to stand up to his physical presence and promises of change that had never been honored in the past.
As quietly and as quickly as I could, I threw everything I owned into black garbage bags. Every time I opened and shut a drawer, it sounded to me like it was amplified through a megaphone, and I nervously listened for the TV volume to go down which would be my warning that his father knew something was up and would think nothing of knocking down the locked bedroom door.
As softly as I could, I opened the rarely used side door, and the old metal creaked a little. I held my stance and my breath simultaneously, and listened.
I put the first bag out, and repeated that shaky maneuver a few more times for the rest of my belongings.
My heart was banging in my chest; I was shaking furiously.
I went out to the kitchen, held my voice as steady as I possibly could, and called, “Hey, Dad; I’m going to the store for a pop. Want anything?” All the while, praying fervently that he wouldn’t detect a tremor in my voice or God forbid, tell me he was going along.
“No. When will you be back?” I heard his meaning hang in the air. Damn, I had 30 minutes, tops, before he’d call TGB and rat me out.
“I’ll go straight there and straight back. I’m not stopping anywhere else or seeing anyone else.”
The next few moments felt like an eternity. Finally; “Alright,” he conceded.
I tried not to rush too fast as I left the house. I knew if I was nonchalant enough, and pulled it off right, that it may buy me an extra 15-30 minutes before my absence was reported.
The snow squeaked under my feet and it hurt to breathe, it was so cold; especially since these were frightened, jaggedy breaths. I got in my car and tried to steady my shaking hand as I attempted to meet ignition with key. She started right up. I put her in gear and made sure not to drive too fast out of the driveway. I placed as calm a look on my face as I could muster; I knew it would be observed as I passed the living room window.
I rounded the corner and passed out of sight of the house. Ok, what’s next, I thought as priorities bounced around in my brain like a dozen racquet balls. There was so much to think about, and the clock was ticking. I had nothing except my wallet and the clothes I was wearing. Who can I get to pick up my stuff, I need gas, where will I go, ohmygod where will I sleep tonight, was Dad suspicious, what the hell am I doing… if he catches me… Gas. To get anywhere I need gas. Shit. I had just gotten paid, but as usual, TGB had taken my signed check and put it in his account but had not yet dispensed my “allowance”. Because I was so stupid with money, you see.
Once one decision was made, the others fell into restless but somewhat orderly place, like busy kindergardeners in a single-file, indian-style line.
I drove into town like I had the hounds of hell on my tail. I turned into the driveway of the car dealership where a month before my father had worked, before his entire life changed. I stepped softly into the office and the secretary, Vicki, looked up and smiled at me brightly. “Well, hi there! What a nice surprise!” Her expression changed as the look on my face registered with her.
“I have to leave him. I don’t know where to go. He can’t know where I am, at least for a while. He’ll hurt me. I can’t go to my Mom’s because her house is full, and Dad’s moved, and I’m pretty sure he knows where the domestic violence shelter is.”
“Well, you call your Dad, and we’ll figure it out,” she said as she gave me a reassuring hug. “It’s going to be ok now,” she added.
I dialed my Dad’s new number and hurriedly brought him up to speed. He said, of course, that the safest plan would be for me to drive to Iowa and then decide the next step once I arrived. “One step at a time,” he said. “Ok, put Vicki back on for just a minute, and then as quickly as you can, safely, I want you to go straight to the gas station and then get on the interstate, ok?”
“Ok, Daddy.” I paused. In a very small voice, I said, “I’m scared.”
His voice took the tone he used to calm me down after I had woken up from a bad dream. “It’s going to be ok now. You just get here.”
“Ok, Daddy. I love you.”
“I love you, too; put Vicki on, ok?”
I handed the phone to Vicki, and less than five minutes later, I had $50 for gas and lunch, and directions written out to get me to my Dad’s. A quick hug from Vicki, and I was out the door.
I got in my car and looked at the clock. Forty-five minutes had passed already. I started shaking again. I was in the danger zone. I decided that I would go straight to the interstate and go as far as I could and then get gas.
As I went through town, I looked left and right at my surroundings. All the familiar old buildings that made up my town. The Hallmark store, where I had gotten keepsake ornaments. JcPenney, where I had gotten my graduation dress. The silk-screen place where I got band t-shirts, my letter jacket, and senior t-shirts. The jewelry store where I had gotten my class ring. The pharmacy where I had worked for a couple years. It felt surreal. But I knew that that moment, right then, would be a defining moment of my life.
I reached the interstate and got on I-69 South. I put the cruise on 70, and for the first time since I had sat at the breakfast table, I took a long, deep breath in. And exhaled. Now I had time to think.
I had done it. I was fairly confident that Dad hadn’t called TGB yet. He would, soon. But by the time he called him, and he left work, and started looking for me, I’d be gone. The only people on earth that knew where I was, was my father and Vicki. And they weren’t sayin’ nothin’.
Then I felt it.
Hope that he would no longer hurt me; physically, sexually, verbally, or emotionally.
Hope that I could learn to live without him.
Hope that he had not “institutionalized” me, and that I’d be able to live my own life without someone telling me what I could wear and where I could go and who I could see and what I could buy andwhenandhowandwhy.
For the first time in almost five years, hope washed down over me like a hard spring rain, and it was unbelievably overwhelming. The tires hummed on the road and the hope-rain cleansed my soul. And as the mile markers flew by, I sobbed.
The world around me was different. It was like, for five years someone had been slowly turning down the saturation dial of my life; and in three seconds, cranked it all the way up past normal. It was… staggering. Everything around me and inside me was bigger, deeper, heavier, just more. The snow was whiter. The sky was bluer. My tears were wetter.
A semi-truck passed me; slowly, but he passed me. As he drove ahead, through my tears, I saw on the back side of his trailer cab, CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA. He was going where I was going! Up to that point, I thought of the town as kind of a Never Never Land. But this CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA did exist, and I would follow him there.
I cried for miles and miles. Emotions that I thought were dead inside of me surfaced, and it was like I had been underwater for too long and had just broken through to the air and I gasped and gulped, drawing it deep within my core. Those emotions were so overpoweringly real, they actually, physically hurt inside my chest, and all I could do was sob and feel.
But most of all… hope.