Friday, August 31, 2012

Chapter 1

“She’s not a bad person!” I yell, my fists clenched and held high, as if trying to pull down the powers of heaven to help me.
“You’re too brainwashed to see what she’s up to!” Ben’s face twists with rage.
“No one’s up to anything. She’s my friend, we just want to hang out and have some fun.”
“She wants to take you out to hook-up. How stupid can you be?”
“Hook-up, are you serious? No one can make me do anything I don’t want to,” I say, and then realize that isn’t entirely true. Ben has always been able to make me do as he wishes. I hate him for it.
His hand falls hard across my face, sending my head snapping to the side. I want to cry as the burn penetrates my skin, sinking deep into my flesh. As I look up at him with watery eyes and quivering lips, his expression softens. He pulls me close, shoving my face into his firm shoulder. I feel trapped against his broad, muscular chest, and am reminded that he could snap me like a twig.
“I just love you so much. I see how easily manipulated you are by people, and I just want to protect you.”
I remain still, too scared to react. I need to think. I have to be careful, couching my every word and action. It is a hard way to live, but leaving is something I haven’t had the courage to do.
He strokes my hair and tells me, “Okay, you can go, but I don’t trust Lynette. Don’t drink too much, and call me if you need to be picked-up.”
I don’t trust Lynette either, but I go out with her to get a break from you!
I stay quiet, figuring it is better not to speak than to say the wrong thing. I realize what he gave me is a warning of what’s to come if I don’t behave as expected.  I get the message loud and clear, he knows it.
I wipe away my tears and walk into the bathroom, locking the door.  As I examine the red mark across my face I am no longer in the mood to go out, but I don’t want to stay at home with him. He succeeds once again in ruining an evening. It’s what he wants. No, I won’t enjoy myself, but I’m still going out.
After dabbing on some make-up, I smile at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes are red and my face puffy. I hope the club we go to is dark. I need some time to think, without being distracted by thoughts of my appearance.
A car horn blows. I burst out of the bathroom, grab my purse and head for the door.
Ben blocks the way. “Hey, look I’m sorry.”
“You’re always sorry.” I retort, feeling proud of myself for saying so.
“Look babe, I know…I just…it would kill me if I ever lost you.” He grabs my hand and squeezes. I don’t squeeze back. I can’t look him in the eye. What a load of shit! They only way he’ll lose me is when and if he kills me.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll be back early anyway.” I pull away and race out the door. The sun is just beginning to set and I see through the tinted car windows that Lynette is not alone. I am relieved that she is going to have someone else to talk to. I just want to have a drink, sit back and figure a way out of my mess.  I have put four years into this relationship, thinking things will get better. One day I fear I will wake up old, and still find him lying in bed next to me. I shake the thought from my head.
“Hey girl,” says Lynette as I bounce into the back seat and pull the door shut.
“Hi,” I return, trying to act like nothing is wrong, but she’s too flighty to notice.
“This is my other friend, Lynette.”
“You mean crazy Lynette?” I ask, jokingly.
“Hey, stop telling everyone that,” says crazy Lynette as she nudges Lynette. She doesn’t look back to say hi or even introduce herself. It’s as if I’m not even there. I watch her animated head bob as she jabbers away, never seeming to stop to take a breath.  Her moon pie face is glassy and heavily layered with foundation, like a badly frosted cake. Her lips are painted bright red, in stark contrast to her pale complexion.
The girls are loud and I am happy to stay out of the conversation.  They have known each other since high school. They haven’t seen each other in a while, so I figure there is nothing wrong with giving them a little time to catch-up.
I focus on my situation and conclude I must leave Ben, but that would mean sneaking out unnoticed. That would mean leaving behind most of my belongings. We also share a car, my car, my graduation gift from my mother. I hate the idea of leaving him without a car, knowing that he’d probably lose his job if he has no means of transportation. But then why the hell should I care? He can afford his own damn car!
I start feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach as Lynette swirls up the ramp in the parking garage. She finally parks. We bounce out of the car and head down to the river walk, with no set plans on where to go. The San Antonio River winds its way through down town and is lined with shops, restaurants and clubs.
“I want a drink, good music and hot men!” belts crazy Lynette.
I wonder if she has already been drinking. She seems like a lot of fun, even if she doesn’t like me. 
We don’t walk far before we find a club with neon signs, not the tacky kind you see outside of bars, but the nice, classy kind. Loud music is booming and I can tell it’s a live band. Just our luck there is no cover charge since it’s still early. We flounce in and head straight for the bar. Crazy Lynette orders beers for us. I try to slip her some money, but she refuses. Okay, so maybe she’s not so bad and needs a little time to warm up to me. However, I insist that I pay for the next round.
We decide to explore the second floor and climb the crowded stairs, and much to my relief more people are leaving then coming. Techno music blasts, lights flash like shiny beacons, and people are dancing. Best of all, it’s dim, making it impossible for anyone to see my face with any clarity.
The beer starts to kick in and I feel happy. We make our way over to a table where I relax and enjoy the lights while the Lynette’s start to pose.
“So when is your cousin coming in?” Lynette yells over the music.
“He’s coming tomorrow night,” returns Crazy Lynette.
“Where is he coming from?” I ask.
“Edward’s Air force base.”
“Oh, how long has he been in the military?”
“Two years. It was his only option after graduating. He couldn’t find a job.”
I lean my face against my hand and imagine myself in full military fatigues, walking down a dimly lit street, and in the distance I see Ben. He begins to bark commands. I snap from my thoughts at the sound of crazy Lynette’s too loud laugh. Noticing the girl’s beers are empty, I stand, point to the bar, and make my way over to buy the next round.
A warm sweaty hand grabs my arm; I jerk away and look back, terrified its Ben.
“Hey,” slurs the man, “You’re very pretty.”
 “Uh, thanks,” I say.
“You really are,” he calls after me as I quicken my pace to the bar.
I shift my petite frame around groups of people and lose the creep. I order another round and return to the table. As we down our beers like thirsty sailors, a man approaches.
“Want to dance?” he asks me.
I’m feeling a little tipsy, but join him on the dance floor.  At first I am self-conscious, but loosen up as the music vibrates through my body and sways me like a well-played instrument. My dance partner, on the other hand, is doing some weird robot moves. I try not to giggle, but hysterical laughter comes from behind as the two Lynette’s join me on the floor and imitate his bizarre moves.   
Before long my partner makes a quick exit. I feel bad about that. I know how much it hurts to be teased. I was tormented often as a kid. If my height wasn’t poked on then it was my less than full breasts.  My own family tells me I have a big nose and am hunched back.
Despite all my physical ‘deformities’ men still seem to like me. I never go to a club without attracting a decent amount of attention. Still, I dismiss most of them as horny creeps looking to get laid. I find it difficult to accept that some men may have honorable intentions. Maybe it’s my way of coping with my ignorance of the opposite sex. What makes a good man? What signs should I being looking for? Are all good looking men total assholes? Ben is one handsome asshole, that’s for sure.
I tire after a while and return to the table with the girls. No sooner than we sit down, Crazy Lynette springs to her feet and waves over a stumpy Mafioso looking, polyester clad man.
“Hey what’s up?” he says with a Chicano accent.
I roll my eyes.
“Didn’t I see you at the comic club last week,” asks crazy Lynette as she sweeps back her dark tresses with a coquettish flip of the hand.
“Yeah, I do the comic circuit,” he says as he pulls up a chair.
He runs his fingers through his too long greasy hair, maintaining its combed back pattern. He disgusts me, so I stay out of the conversation. It’s just as well because it quickly goes from cordial to inappropriate.
“So when did you lose your virginity?” he asks crazy Lynette.
She sparkles and says, “When I was sixteen” – her eyes shift to Lynette and narrow – “just like everyone else.”
“So how did you lose it?” continues the man as he moves in closer.
Crazy Lynette is thoughtful for a moment then says, “The window thing.”
The man chortles. “What’s the window thing? You jump out the window and land on his dick?” he asks and then makes a vulgar squishing sound.
“Ya know the window thing.”
“No I don’t know,” says the slime bag.
He reminds me more and more of a Mexican Joe Pesci.
“Ya know, I snuck out the window at night,” she says, and then throws her head back and giggles.
He scowls and rolls his eyes, then shifts his attention to me. I put on my best pissed-off face and stare at a TV hanging from the wall, watching the flashing video. He then turns to Lynette and asks her about her loss of virginity. I check my watch and see it’s close to ten. My worry is not lost on Lynette.
She clears her throat, purses her lips and says drily, “I don’t want to talk about this. It’s time we get going. Mia needs to get back.”
The man bursts into a fit of laughter. I stand, eager to make my escape. Crazy Lynette lingers awhile as Lynette and I walk away. We eventually leave together and the two girls bicker for a bit. I’m hoping to hear talk about Lynette’s loss of virginity, and apparently at the age of sixteen. Her claims of virginity and waiting for marriage almost fooled me. I feel my face turn red as I begin to think about her criticisms of me living in sin. An incredible urge to push both bitches into the river rushes over me, but I resist because I need a ride home. On the drive back I tune out their conversation and think, in my buzzed state, about what I must do next. My mind is made up. I’ve mulled it over all night and I’m doing it first thing in the morning.
When I return home, I find the TV blaring, empty beer bottles strewn about the room, and Ben pacing like a caged animal.
“What’s up with you?” I ask as I take in the mess.
“Wow, you’re home early,” he says surprised as he stumbles toward me.
“Yeah, I told you I’d be back early.”
His smile of relief twists into suspicion as he gets close to me and sniffs like a dog over a hunk of meat. He grabs my arm, yanks me forward, and drags a heavy hand over my head. I suppose he thinks he is petting me, but scalping me is more like it.
“Look you’re drunk and I’m tired. I’m going to bed,” I say.
He retracts his hand and scowls. “Can’t you ever show me any affection? I was worried about you all night!” he yells.
“Why? Why would you worry about me? I’m fine. Hell, I’m not even drunk. I told you I wasn’t going out to hook up.”
I try to control my temper and not let the alcohol get me into trouble. My cheeks are on fire and my body steaming hot. I want to tear off my clothes, but that will definitely send the wrong message.
He moves in closer and raises his hand. This time I don’t flinch. I hold up one arm to block, and a fist to strike. I stare him in the eye, angry and defiant. He lowers his hand, stumbles to the sofa, and flops down in front of the TV.
Is this your retreat you pathetic piece of shit!
I tell myself, ‘Mia, follow through on your plan.’ I play it over and over in my head, just like I used to do in college when trying to memorize answers to a test.
I get ready for sleep and collapse in bed. I lay there alone, room spinning, and fall asleep.
I am startled awake when Ben begins to shake me by the shoulders. I open my eyes and can just make out his dark form, standing over me, like a menacing black cloud.
“What is it?” I ask, hoping there is a legitimate emergency.
“You slut!” he yells, spraying me with spittle. “How can you go out, acting like a whore and then go to sleep like a baby?”
His words are slurred and my mind becomes a mess. I am tired and cannot think straight, too tired to figure out the right words to say.
“I didn’t act like a whore,” I protest. “I went out and you allowed it.”
I feel like an idiot having to explain myself to him as if I am a child, but those feelings are replaced with fear as I realize I picked the wrong words. He raises his arm and brings a burning slap across my cheek. He catches the corner of my eye, making it sting and tear. I raise my hands to protect my face as he continues to beat me.
“Stop Ben, please stop,” I plead, and he does.
He goes into the closet, flicks on the light, and begins to rummage. Returning with a belt wrapped around his hand, I gulp hard and pull the covers up. He brings the thick leather strap down on my legs with a slap. It burns, but only for a moment. And then he brings it down again. Taking a deep breath I spring from the bed and grab the belt, pulling it hard, but he is too strong. He brings me in close and pushes me hard on the bed. My head snaps back and strains my neck. I collect myself to rise, but he has already cast the belt aside, removed his boxers and thrown himself on top of me. Putting a hand over my mouth, he shoves his penis into my vagina. I go limp under his crushing weight, hoping that once he has finished he will leave me alone. Ignoring the pain and holding my breath, I close my eyes tight and imagine I am somewhere else. When he finishes he rolls off of me and falls asleep.
Next morning I rise to the sound of running water. Ben is showering and I must start working on my escape plan.  I grab my cell phone from the nightstand and search for the nearest Air Force recruiter. I then stretch across the bed, and call from the landline.
“Hello, I’d like to join the Air Force as an officer,” I say.
“Thank you, I’ll send you through to Cpt. Woodlow,” says the receptionist.
“Hello, this is Cpt. Woodlow. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?” says the man.
“Okay, Mia what time would you like to come in?”
I hesitate a moment, distracted by the sound of the water shutting off.
“I can pencil you in at ten,” he continues.
“Uh…that’d be great,” I say.
I return to my side of the bed and pull up the covers, closing my eyes, pretending to be asleep. The bathroom door cracks open and steam enters the room, folding around me like a suffocating mist. Ben gently shakes my shoulder. I yawn, stretch and sit up. His dark eyes shine on me like evening stars and a sly smile stretches across his clean shaven face. The smell of his aftershave burns my nose and makes my stomach lurch.
“Hey, looks like you have some work to do,” he says.
I pull back the covers, swing my feet to the floor, and blurt, “Hey Ben, I have an interview today.”
“You do? You didn’t tell me.”
“I did,” I lie.
“Where’s it? “
“At the bank. They’re looking for a loan officer, and they like the fact that I have an MBA.”
“A Loan officer?” he chuckles. ”Are you sure it’s not some secretarial job?”
“Why would I apply for a secretarial job?” I ask, my voice piping loud.
“Well, you know how they build up these jobs, and you go in, only to find out its crap.”
“No, this one is definitely not crap. I found it myself. No recruiter.”
I stand on shaky legs. My stomach bubbles, but I take a deep breath and pass thoughts of vomiting out of my head.
“Oh well that’s good. I don’t know why you feel you have to go on every job interview a recruiter finds for you. Those people are shit…used cars salesmen. They don’t deserve respect. I don’t know why you always have to be so polite. How many times do you have to get burned before you snap out of it?”
“Look Ben, I know, I agree with you, but I’m telling you I found this job and it’s not crap.”
“What time’s the interview?”He sighs in disgust as he runs his fingers through his wavy chestnut hair.
“It’s at ten. I’ll drop you off at work and pick you up at five.”
He remains silent, his penetrating stare lingering on me as I leave the room.
“Ok,” he calls after me, “but you’ll have to make me lunch and meet me at the office at noon. Go make it now. I don’t have a lot of time.”
I want to tell him to shove his lunch up his ass, but I have a plan and I don’t want to mess it up with more fighting. I make my way to the other room, stepping over the beer bottles strewn across the floor. I guess that’s what he means by a lot of work to do. As I make my way toward the kitchen I see chips squashed into the carpet, and wonder if he chewed and spit them out. Then the smell hits me.
“Yeah, sorry I couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time,” he says with a smirk as he sneaks up behind me and jiggles my breasts.
I walk into the kitchen and pour myself a cup of hot coffee. I take gulps between pulling out the bread, ham and cheese to make him a sandwich. He hovers over my shoulder, dressed and ready to go, watching, never offering to help.
He taps his watch. “I have to be to work on time girly girl.” He twists a strand of my hair around his finger, pulls then releases.
 Shut the fuck up! Oh and why you’re at it, drop dead.
I go to the bedroom closet, ignoring my rumbling stomach, food is not an option.  I pull out a decent looking pant suit and slip it on. In the bathroom I check for marks on my face, but there are none, and my clothes hide the large welts from last night’s beating. A generous coat of Make-up takes away some of my feelings of insecurity, and as I dab it on I eye the shower. A nice hot bath would be perfect, but I know Ben will not allow me time for it. Grabbing handfuls of my long golden hair, I race it under my nose and sniff. Hints of smoke still linger. I spritz body spray over my head and then run a brush through my hair. After quickly washing my teeth, I race toward the door, where Ben is leaning against the wall, my car keys dangling from his hand.
“You going to go to an interview looking like that?” he sneers.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with how I look?” I feel self-conscious and wonder if I should change.
“Seems a little out dated, that’s all.”
“I don’t have time to worry about that.” I think he may be right, but it’s the military for Pete’s sake, they take anyone with a pulse.
“Did you even try to fix your hair?” He looks me over with disgust.
I slip an elastic hair band from my wrist, gather my long golden locks and make a pig-tail.
We head for my car and he, as usual, takes the driver’s seat.
“You sure this is a legit interview?”
“Yes,” I say aggravated.
“Okay, it’s not something your friend Lynette found for you is it?”
“So what happened last night?”
“What do you mean?” I feel defensive, certain he is talking about my outing and not his beating. He has a magical way of forgetting about his assaults on me, and I fear bringing it up because it turns on me. It’s always my fault, he’ll insist, because of the way I behave.
“Hey, just asking,” he says, amused. “Who was that ugly bitch in the car with Lynette?”
“Oh that’s her friend Lynette, crazy Lynette.” I’m taken aback by his apparent good mood, as if nothing at all happened last night.
“Wow that was some ugly transvestite looking bitch. No wonder you didn’t hook-up. The guys probably took one look at her and went running.”
I had to laugh.
“So if she’s crazy you shouldn’t be hanging out with her, either one of them,” he says seriously.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m done with them both.”
And I really mean that because once I sign the papers, it is not up to me where I go. One thing I am certain, I won’t be in Texas. No Texas, no Lynette and no Ben.

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