~ THE GREAT ESCAPE ~
The house shook when Harry slammed the front door behind him on his way to work. With muscles tensed like a tightrope, I got out of bed and approached the bedroom window from the side, slinking along the wall, fearful that Harry might see my shape moving should he glance up at the window. Taking great care not to disturb the lace curtains, I peeked through the slit between them and the window frame. Thankfully, I saw Harry backing his green Lincoln out of the driveway. The car’s tires crunched on the loose gravel and the twin exhausts reverberated off the neighbor’s brick walls and the oak tree by the road, shattering the early morning silence. Relief flooded my body.
If Harry leaves for work I might have a chance to get out of here, a chance to leave him again, I thought. And this time I’m leaving for good.
My hand trembled and sweat trickled down my brow as I opened the curtain a little more to get a better view. Holding my breath, I watched the car reverse onto the road and then pause. Please, oh please don’t stop, I thought. Please keep going, please go, go, go!
A low whistle escaped my lips as the car slowly moved down the cracked, weathered black top. Frozen in place, the curtain scrunched tightly in my fist, I hardly dared believe that Harry was really going to work. Then the tail of his car disappeared around the corner and the rumbling sound grew fainter as the distance between us increased. Straining to hear the fading rumble, I traced his route in my mind, down Raven Road, and onto the main highway. When I could no longer hear the car, I slowly unclenched my fist. Pins and needles shot through my fingers as the circulation returned. The stinging sensation shocked me from the trance I was in, jolting my mind back to action. I realized there were a lot of things to do before I could leave. Pack bags, don’t forget photographs and jewelry. Break down the computer, sort through files, and pack anything personal. Quick, quick, do it now! Hurry, he’ll be back soon I know he will. Oh God! Where do I start?
A deep breath helped calm my thoughts enabling me to focus on the task at hand. Against the wall sat an antique chest with a curved lid. It held several items including three photo albums and a box of family heirlooms that had sentimental value. I’d created the photo albums several weeks ago tossing hundreds of photographs away, keeping only the most precious ones. Both the heirloom box and the photos had been prepared and stored in this chest secretly, a place Harry never looked so they would be ready to grab when the time came to escape. The rest of the items I could live without, including our wedding album. As I closed the lid, my fingers lovingly traced the dark, cracked wood. I had purchased the chest at a yard sale earlier that year. My mum and dad had been with me that day, their only visit from England to Indiana. The chest held fond memories but was too big to take along, so I turned my back on it.
With these precious items, plus the feather quilt from the bed, I rushed onto the outside deck. Realizing I was still in my pajamas, I dumped the items back in the house, got dressed, scooped the pile back up and ran down the steps to my Buick Skylark. After tossing these items onto the back seat, I grabbed another armload of bedding and deposited it unceremoniously on top of the first pile.
I made short order of the closet. The suitcase bulged with my favorite clothes rammed into it with a ferocity that threatened to burst the zipper. Coat hangers lay haphazardly on the closet floor and swung wildly on the rack. Several size 14 dresses and other items hung dejectedly—items that would be left behind because they were too dressy or there was simply no room for them.
In the bathroom, I grabbed my hairdryer and toiletries. At 34 years old I didn’t dare forget my face cream. I hesitated over which towels to take. Should I leave the ones that match the shower curtain so Harry will still have a matching set, or leave the old ones we use when camping? I decided to take the good ones. “Why should he get everything good? The cupboards are still full of stuff, and he gets the house as well,” I said aloud to convince myself.
There was no time for slow decisions. Harry could be back anytime. His morning break from work was at 8:30, but I didn’t believe he would stay at work that long. Due to our argument the previous night Harry had little sleep and looked terrible. It would not take much to convince his boss he was sick and needed the day off. And, if I was not long gone when he returned? A shiver of fear ran down my spine as I thought of the possible consequences. I knew from previous experiences it was not in my best interest to get caught in the act of leaving.
Finally, my belongings were piled so high on the car seats I couldn’t see through the rear window. The trunk was also full to the hilt. I locked my purse in the car to make it harder for Harry to find if he showed up, then, with the key in hand ran around the side of the shed and dragged my car top carrier out onto the driveway. With a grunt, I swung it onto the roof of the car and locked the tie-down straps in place. Then I froze. Is that Harry’s car I hear coming? Cold sweat formed on my forehead. I took two shaky steps toward the road for a better view, straining to hear over my pounding heart, but all I heard were the sounds of rustling leaves, singing birds, and the far-off drone of traffic on the highway three blocks away.
It was now around 7 AM. Earlier I had called my friend Mary and begged her to come over immediately to take some things for me. When I explained that I was leaving Harry, she was nervous about coming over. Instead, her husband Roy agreed to risk it. I did not blame them for their nervousness, they knew how violent Harry could get, or how manipulative he could be, which was sometimes harder to deal with than his anger. As much as I hated getting them involved, I just couldn’t bear to leave some of my favorite things behind for Harry to destroy. So I glanced up the road frequently, praying that Roy would get here soon.
In the workshop, I found a ladder and propped it against the rafters of the attic. At the top I balanced precariously while retrieving the tent and tossed it down carelessly. What do I need the tent for, am I really thinking of camping alone? Na! Probably not, but what if I run out of money, what else might I need if I’m forced to camp? I tried to think clearly. Ah, yes, a pan for cooking, a rack to put over the fire, a knife, the copper kettle. I felt it highly unlikely I’d end up camping, but it couldn’t hurt to have the stuff, just in case. I ran back into the house and grabbed the camping utensils and crammed them into the car-top carrier.
In the dining room, I gathered my herbal medicines together from the antique dresser. Running my fingers over the maple inlay I whispered, “goodbye,” then wrapped up my Wedgwood tea set in a newspaper and packed it carefully in a box. I had to do some shuffling around to get the box in the car carrier, but it went, though not graciously.
At that moment Roy drove up. Upon hearing the tires on the gravel driveway my heart almost stopped, then seeing it was Roy’s blue Chevy and not the dreaded green monster my heart beat again, though a little faster.
“Quickly,” said Roy, “What do you want me to take?” Cautiously he heaved out of the car and stood looking as though this was the last place in the world he wanted to be. I started to cry again.
“Damn it! Where do these tears keep on coming from?” I exclaimed and tried a weak smile. I pointed at an old chest I had carried to the front porch. It was a beautiful piece, an old steamer trunk. When standing on end it opened out to expose a mini closet, complete with drawers and a place to hang dresses. This trunk had been a gift from my dad, and I was not leaving it behind for Harry. We struggled to get it into Roy’s small car, along with another smaller trunk and some Christmas woodcrafts I’d made myself.
“So what are you going to do?” asked Roy.
“I’ve no idea, just get away from here quickly; I know he’ll be back soon.” We both glanced nervously at the road.
“I think you should just leave town, get as far away as possible. Disappear,” he said. “This has to be at least the eighth time you’ve left him”.
“Perhaps you’re right; it’s going to be the last though, one way or the other.”
“Why don’t you go home, back to England, to your family? They’d love to see you.”
“No, I like it here in the States, besides I just got my green card. No, I don’t want to go back to England.”
“Well, if there’s nothing else, I’d better go,” said Roy, glancing toward the road and looking very uneasy. “I’ve got to get to work.”
It wasn’t necessary for me to tell Roy what had happened, he could guess. It was not the first time I’d turned to Mary and Roy. In the past, I had always run to them for help, but this time I didn’t want to get them overly involved. It was time for me to help myself instead of expecting someone else to do it. Now I looked at Roy fondly, taking in his round belly, his thinning red hair and freckled, bespectacled face.
“Thanks for coming Roy, I’m sorry to do this to you. I’ll call and let you know what I decide to do.” Roy returned my hug gingerly. “Give my love to Mary, and pass on this hug.” I gave him a huge squeeze. “Tell her I’ll be fine and not to worry too much.”
As Roy drove away a sense of loss overwhelmed me, and I feared it would be the last time I’d see my plump, middle-aged friend. Tears started to swamp my face again.
I swiped at the tears angrily. There was no time for self-pity; I had to get out of here! Back in the house, I scanned each room quickly. My eyes lingered on the collection of old English plates displayed on the oak shelf then dismissed them. No time and no room.
Before taking my leave I checked on the new Springer Spaniel puppy Harry had brought home the week before. She had plenty of water and food, so I gave her a brief hug. “Bye girl, sorry I haven’t spent much time with you, I didn’t want to get attached, well… because I knew, err… thought I’d be leaving soon, well… I’m sorry, bye.” I kissed the bounding puppy and felt my heart wrench. I then turned and, without looking back, strode purposefully toward my car. **(Since people react strongly towards stories involving pets please read the **Endnotes at the bottom of this chapter before saying horrible things about me or un-friending me. Thank you).
I backed my car out of the driveway onto Green Boulevard and paused to take one last look at my home. It’s freshly mowed lawn appeared welcoming, but the new privacy fence looked foreboding to me. For five years this house had protected me from the elements. In return, I had worked hard fixing her up. I had scraped, painted, re-roofed, decorated and repaired. Sweat poured from my brow as I landscaped the large garden around her and lovingly planted an abundance of English wildflowers. Fingers bled as I tended the small vegetable plot at the back of the house, removing years of glass and trash from the ground to prepare it for planting. However, the house had failed to make those years’ happy ones, so as I pulled away I shouted, “Good Riddance!” Then forgetting to be a lady, I threw one finger in the direction of the house while accelerating. Fresh tears rolled down my cheeks, but there was a smile of triumph on my face.
I had no plans beyond getting away from this house and its other occupant. I had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. All I had was a carload of stuff and a determination to start a new life.
* * *
**** Endnotes*** In light of receiving some nasty comments and even being unfriended by at least one person, I feel the need to remind you that this incident took place in 1996 (when I left Harry and the puppy), not yesterday. If, after you have read my explanation below, you still feel that I did a terrible thing by leaving the puppy behind all those years ago, may I remind you that I am now 20+ years older, and am no longer the same person I was then. Attempting to punish me now for something I did 20+ years ago, is a bit like punishing a 34-year old mother of two, for doing something mean to a child when she was 14-years old and hadn’t even started her period yet. It is pointless and achieves nothing.
People have stated that I must be a horrible person to leave the puppy with an abusive drunk man. They are reacting without even having read the whole story yet. If they had waited to read the whole story, they would learn that this man who abused me, was not an animal abuser. They would learn that he loved animals and treated them with lots of love and kindness, and had even rescued dogs from abusive situations. (I recall one time he went to great length to rescue a severely abused dog, putting himself in danger of being arrested by trespassing on private land. That dog could not be saved, and we had to do the kind thing and have the dog put out of its misery. Harry also reported the owners to the authorities because there were more dogs to be rescued from their backyard). I never once saw him hit a dog, or hurt an animal, I only law love. In fact, he built a doghouse with heat and a padded bed for the dog we had prior. When I left Harry, I did not fear for the dog’s safety, he was not cruel to animals, plain and simple. Even during big fights, I had never once seen him be cruel to one of our pets, dog or cat. It never even entered my mind that the puppy would not be safe with him.
What did cross my mind was how on earth could I care for a puppy, and a very energetic one at that which was still being house trained, while I was in such a difficult situation myself? Homeless, jobless, on the run, with very little cash, with no idea what the future held. What if I returned to England, what would I do with the puppy then? It would grow attached to me, and giving it to someone else after that would be cruel. I had gone to great lengths not to let the puppy get attached to me while I was at the house, for its sake, not mine. What could I offer that puppy that Harry couldn’t give? The puppy needed stability, shots, care, and love. I knew he would get that from Harry, I wasn’t even sure I could afford to feed myself let alone a puppy. Additionally, the puppy would not be entirely alone with Harry, because his parents lived a few houses down the road, and he had two sisters, one who was a nurse, who would take care of the dog or take it in if needed (and I think that is what happened ultimately, though I am not sure of this). The puppy would not be in any danger or uncared for, I was sure of that.
Additionally, despite all the bad things that Harry had done to me, I am still a person capable of showing compassion for another human being. Despite my desire to leave this man, I still worried about him. I knew my leaving would break him apart, and it would be hard enough on him without losing his puppy as well. And the puppy was his, not mine so it could have been considered theft. Although I didn’t think about this at the time, by taking the puppy it could have angered him more and given him an excuse to at least attempt to issue an arrest warrant for me, and that would have been a good reason for Harry to see me again. It was the last thing I needed.
There are many reasons I chose to leave the puppy behind. Some folks have said I would never have left the puppy if it were me. You may think that, but in reality, you cannot truly know what you would have done at that moment if you were me, and were under the same duress I was under at that time.
Let me conclude by saying I am grateful to each and every one of you that feels such love to the animals on this planet, thank goodness you are out there fighting for them. I too feel such intense love toward all animals, so much so that I actually feel physical pain all over my body when I see a dead bird in the road. It breaks my heart and my emotions become almost unbearable. It broke my heart to leave that puppy, but I had to do what was best for the puppy and myself, and show compassion for another human being who I knew would also be in pain, even though I hated him.
Please, think before you react, and try to show compassion, kindness, love and caring, before hate, and ask questions before making assumptions. You cannot know what a person is going through unless you walk in their shoes.
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