~ ~ ~
~ CHAPTER EIGHT ~
~ A ROLLER COASTER RIDE INTO ARKANSAS & A SCARY NIGHT INVOLVING A HAMMER~
This is a blast! I’d traveled 137S to 63S, and the road was like a roller coaster. With my windows down and the radio turned up, I accelerated uphill and squealed as I flew over the hump of the next hill, my tummy turning and the wind buffeting my face.
The roller coaster ride lasted for many miles. I laughed and squealed the whole way. The car’s speedometer inched over the speed limit more than once but there were no other cars on this road, only mine. I let all the joy of freedom out in those squeals, never had I felt so close to flying without wings.
When my outburst ended and I caught my breath again, I heard a song on the radio that really caught my attention. It was LeAnn Rimes singing One Way Ticket. The singer sang, “ Standing on the border, looking out into the great unknown, I can feel my heart beating faster as I step out on my own… I’m heading out tonight, traveling light, I’m gonna start all over again.” She sang of dancing in the rain, talking to strangers, climbing a mountain, and doing everything, simply “Because I can.” The words to the song fit my current situation so perfectly, it became my booster song. Every time it came on the radio I turned up the volume and sang the words at the top of my voice. I became determined to do just those things, and especially to climb a mountain, if only because I was now free enough to do so. Free to do whatever I chose. The song instilled in me a determination to live life to the fullest, to try things I’d never tried before, heck, do things that scared me and really feel what it was like to be alive. Then with a laugh, I realized I was already doing it. I’d already had several scary moments in the past week, done some things I’d never done before, stepped out into the great unknown, and if this wasn’t living, I didn’t know what was.
Just before I crossed the state line into Arkansas, I went for a walk in Grand Gulf State Park, then visited Mammoth Springs State Park where the water that collected in the Gulf comes up as a spring. That morning I had hit a natural high, but now, as a heavy mist settled into the surrounding forest, my spirits reached a low. It was amazing how my feelings had changed with the weather. It was October 1, 1996, and I supposed I ought to expect some colder weather to dampen my journey.
At one point this day I’d stopped at a rest stop to use the bathroom, and when I came out, was horrified to see a man standing by my car trying to pull items out of the edge of the car top carrier. He’d succeeded in tugging out a tiny bit of fabric by the time I saw him.
“Hey!” I shouted at him, and he took off running. Fortunately, there were a number people around, otherwise, this could have been a scary situation. I looked at the tiny gap he’d forced open on the carrier and shook my head in disgust. How he thought he could get anything out of that tiny slit was beyond me, I guess some thieves will try anything. It didn’t make me feel any better though, so at the next gas station I bought two tiny padlocks and locked the sides of the carrier. It already had padlocks on both ends, and I’d thought that would be enough. If someone wanted to steal anything out of that now, they’d have to pick four locks, or pick the door lock and take the whole car.
I set up camp at Bull Shoals State Park along the White River and moped around camp half-heartedly feeding my tiny fire. I’d bought a beer earlier and sipped at it with little enjoyment. The gloomy skies and my depressed mind led my thoughts back to the past, and another time when misery was a constant in my life.
* * * * *
After a few months, Harry and I rented a house together. I’d been living at Mary and Roy’s house for a year and had outstayed my welcome. It was time to move on. Our new place was near the Indiana state line, only one house away from Michigan. The owner of the house was a long distance truck driver and was rarely home.
One night I was feeling a little restless and decided to go for a drive. Harry said okay, though I could tell he wasn’t too happy with the idea. I drove around the Michigan country roads aimlessly, the gently rolling hills soothing my nerves. When I’d first come here to live with Mary and Roy, they had told me how beautiful the hills were just up the road. That day I’d driven around most of the day trying to find the hills, expecting to find rugged rocky slopes like back home in Derbyshire. It wasn’t until I got back home and told her where I’d been, that I learned I’d been in the hills all day long. Now, I focused on the smaller details, the particular shape of a tree, deer in a field or the wildflowers creeping up a fence. Once I moved in with Harry, a new kind of tension had built around us and it felt good to get away for an hour or two. As we were ten miles or so from Elkhart, it made more sense to drive into the countryside.
While driving around I stumbled upon a bar and decided to have a beer. After a few minutes sitting at the bar, a man started talking to me. When he heard my accent, he asked me was where was I from, and we fell into a harmless conversation about England. When he asked if he could buy me a drink I said no thanks and I told him I had a boyfriend, and it turned out that he knew Harry. After one drink, I left the bar and drove home, not wanting to appear as though I was flirting with someone behind Harry’s back. The last thing I’d ever consider was flirting. I was faithful to Harry and could never imagine leaving him. He needed me to help him in so many ways, and I feared his temper should he get jealous.
However, the second I opened the door at home I knew something was seriously wrong.
“I’m home,” I called to the back of the house, where I could hear the sound of things smashing against the wall. Harry came from the bedroom storming down the hallway. His feet thumped heavily, his arms swung wildly and he pointed one finger at me.
“Where have you been you little slut?”
“Just out for a drive, I stopped by a bar and had one drink, that’s all.”
“Yes, Billy called me, told me you were flirting with him at the bar, you bitch.”
“I wasn’t flirting, I just had a drink. He came and spoke to me. I couldn’t be rude and just walk away. All we talked about was England. When he asked if he could buy me a drink I told him about you and left.”
“You’re just a little slut. How many other boys have you picked up in bars and slept with.”
“Gees, I haven’t slept with anyone. What are you talking about? Please calm down, nothing happened. I just went for a drive.”
Harry scoffed at me, his eyes fiery, and his face red with anger. It was then that I noticed he was holding a hammer in his hand. My eyes locked on it and no matter how hard I tried, I could not tear my eyes from it. Harry turned the hammer in his hand casually, slowly, caressing it, rolling it between his callused fingers. I felt the color drain from my face, and stumbled forward a step, feeling light-headed and faint.
“Harry, what have you been doing?” My voice quivered. “Harry?” I looked up at him, questioning. A cold sweat broke out on my back, and my hands became sticky. I could feel his eyes penetrating me, his anger and hatred were dense, it palpitated like an evil force field, and I could hear anger between each raspy word uttered. His face revealed jealousy, anger, and hatred in the twist of his smirk and the flare of his eyes. Struck by the look of evil on his face I took a backward step away from him, then another and glanced with my eyes toward the door. It was so close.
“Where’d you think you’re goin bitch? You little slut, I’m not letting you go back to that bar.” With lightning speed, he reached out, grabbed a handful of my hair, and pulled me toward him. Holding my hair high and forcing me to totter on tiptoes, he dragged me down the corridor towards the bedroom and gave me a shove into the room. I immediately tripped over something on the floor and fell down on the carpet, and lifting my head was horrified by what I saw.
My belongings lay strewn about the room haphazardly, clothes, jewelry, bedding, photographs, my camera and many more items. I took a step toward a pile of pictures on the floor and picked one up. It was torn in two. Glancing down I noticed that most of the other pictures had also been torn. I dropped the picture of my parents on the floor and a sob escaped my throat. On my knees, I picked up my camera and immediately Harry snatched it from my hand. He laid it on the bed the hammer poised above it. For one split second time stood still as the hammer hovered in the air, and then with one swift blow, Harry brought the hammer down on my brand new camera like a judge with his mallet, and I felt as though I’d been sentenced, but to what? Is he going to kill me? Dear God, help me, please.
Harry’s laughter chilled me, as tears burst from my eyes.
“Quit your crying you big baby. You’re such a useless wimp. No good for nothing. I ought to just get rid of you now, you’re pathetic.”
“Oh my god Harry, please don’t hit me, please.” I raised my hand up to shield my face from the blow, but it didn’t come.
“Oh, I’m not going to hit you right now, think I’ll just watch you grovel like the pathetic wimp you are, its fun.” He pushed me on the floor with his foot and strode by me making a beeline for my jewelry box. Some items from the box had already fallen on the floor, and now he proceeded to destroy the box. The hammer came down and down, he hit so hard that the wood at the end of the hammer split, and the hammerhead flew off across the room, landing in a pile of paperwork that I recognized to be my passport and British drivers license. Harry strode over to the pile and reached down for the hammerhead, but he stopped when he saw the paperwork and picked them up.
“Get up you slut!” he yanked me up by my blouse, and pushed me toward the door again, shoving me ahead of him we went into the kitchen.
At the stove, he turned on the electric burner and held my driver’s license to the ring.
“Harry, stop, that’s my driver’s license and passport, I’ll be in a lot of trouble if you burn it.” Then another thought came to my mind, “Harry, you could burn the house down, please stop!” The driver’s license smoldered briefly, then flames started licking up the sides of it. Back then a British drivers license was a huge piece of paper folded in half four times and was still quite large when folded. Now the flames reached the top of the paper and Harry tossed it into the sink. For a second he had his back to me and I turned toward the door ready to take flight. Harry, however, was quicker than I. He’d always had the uncanny ability to know what I was going to do, even before I knew myself.
“Oh no, you don’t.” I turned at his voice and saw his arm swinging towards me, in his hand he still held the wooden handle. Whomp! The sound of the wood connecting with my skull surprised me. For a second I tottered sideways, then another blow landed on my shoulder and I fell to the floor. He just hit me. For some reason, I was surprised. Despite all the threats and the obvious anger he was feeling, I didn’t really think he would hit me.
“You little slut, thought you could get away eh? You know better than that, I’m too fast for you. Get up off the floor you wimp. Take it like a real woman.”
Instead, I curled up in a ball, shielding my face and head with my arms. “Stop it, Harry, you’re hurting me.” My chest heaved with sobs, tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t feeling any pain, except inside. How could he do this to me?
“You’re hurting me, you’re hurting me,” he mimicked in a girlish voice, tilting his hips from side to side comically. “Of course I’m hurting you, that’s the idea. You’re so fuckin stupid!”
Then he kicked me, and I tried to get up on my knees, but every time I made an effort to get up, down came the wooden handle again. I crawled across the living room, an inch at a time, trying to avoid the blows by pulling in my legs or shielding my head and face. Several of the hits struck my back and head. I wasn’t quick enough for him. As I crawled by the fireplace, my eyes focused on the iron poker laying there. Should I grab it, use it against him. No, no, that would be stupid. Right now he’s only hitting you with wood, if he got hold of the poker he’d kill you with it. He’d kill you with it.” Dizziness took hold of me, I wasn’t sure if it was from the blows to my head or the thought of being beaten to death with an iron poker. The dizzy spell became my ally, as I wobbled on my knees, I leaned over the poker, blocking it from Harry’s sight with my body. Please, god, please, don’t let him see the poker. I crawled forward a little faster. It’s almost behind us, almost around the corner. I crawled past the fireplace, looking forward my eyes focused on the table in the dining room ahead. Maybe I could get under the table, use it as a shield. Then I noticed that Harry had stopped moving with me. He was just standing there, staring at me. When I saw his eyes start to travel over to the fireplace, instinct kicked in and I found myself getting to my feet a little too quickly.
“Harry, I love you, please stop doing this, I think I’m going to be sick.” Harry’s eyes turned back to me, as I stumbled into the kitchen. Thankfully, I had drawn his eyes away from the poker. We had gone full circle around the room, worked our way around the wall and chimney that was the center of the large space. Now I was back in the kitchen stumbling to the sink. I really did feel sick. There lay the charred remains of my driver’s license, the passport I noticed, still lay on the counter, untouched.
Harry’s anger seemed to be waning a little. I reached out for the dishcloth and held it to my forehead when I looked at it again, I saw there was blood on it. Until then I hadn’t felt any pain, but now, seeing my own blood on the cloth brought all the pain searing in at once. I held it out towards Harry, a pleading look on my face. He glanced at it in disdain.
“It’s just a scratch, quit being a wimp and making a big deal out of it.” He pushed me across the kitchen, but I managed to keep my balance. “Get in the bedroom bitch.”
Realizing his anger was subsiding, and realizing I was still alive, I decided I’d best just do as he said. Maybe I could avoid raising his anger again if I just did as I was told. Painfully, fighting back nausea and biting my tongue on the pain, I stumbled down the corridor into the bedroom again.
“Lay down on the bed.” He ordered. We had two beds in our room, a queen, and a full bed. Frequently we slept in separate beds as Harry gritted his teeth at night and it kept me awake. I stumbled over to the twin bed and pushed the shattered pieces of my life on to the floor to avoid cutting myself on something. I noticed that the beautiful sleeping bag Harry had bought me for my birthday was in shreds, sliced repeatedly with a knife. Befuddled as my mind was, the thought of a knife had me in a panic again, and I scoured the floor nearby looking for it. Not seeing it anywhere, I could only hope that Harry had lost it and wouldn’t stumble across it again. I sat down on the edge of the bed, unwilling to lay down for fear Harry would see it as an invitation. I was sure it wouldn’t bother Harry how bedraggled I looked. If he wanted it, he’d take it. I sat on the edge of my bed, looking at my shoes. I was fixated on them, it seemed amazing to me that they were still on my feet. Then I kicked them off, the high heels would be a hindrance should I get a chance to escape.
I was surprised when Harry let me stay there. I’d expected him to demand I go onto the queen bed with him, but instead, he climbed on the bigger bed and laid back in the pillows casually, his fingers linked together behind his head. Harry looked very smug, as though he had just won the lottery and was kicking back on a luxurious bed in a big fancy hotel.
We sat, mostly in silence. Every now and then he would look up and utter something incomprehensible. If he asked a question, I answered saying whatever I thought he wanted to hear. After about 10 minutes, I noticed his eyes were getting heavy and it looked like he might fall asleep. I was beginning to hope he would so I could sneak out. I started to reach down with my hand for my shoes, and just as the tips of my fingers touched them, I heard Harry’s voice again.
“Get over here and suck my dick!”
I froze and tried to swallow, but the spit caught in my throat. Slowly I raised my head and looked directly into Harry’s bloodshot eyes. Suck my dick, suck my dick. The words repeated in my mind. Then something inside me snapped, No! No! No! and with a speed I didn’t know I possessed, I leaped off the bed, pushing myself forward with my hands and lunged toward the door, glass cutting my feet as I fled. As I pushed away from the bed, I caught a glimpse of Harry’s surprised expression, then his face was gone, and I was fleeing down the corridor. As I reached the front door I heard Harry behind me, his guttural tones were inches away. “Get back here you bitch.” But I didn’t stop, I flung the door open, losing precious seconds as I stepped back to allow for the inward swing. I actually felt his breath on the back of my neck, when I stepped through the door I couldn’t believe his grasp had missed me. I turned left and started to run across the grass toward the only hope I had, the neighbor’s house.
I put every ounce of energy into that sprint. With lungs searing, arms and legs pumping, the blood pumped around my body so fast I thought I was going to pass out, but somehow I didn’t. I focused on the front door of the neighbor’s house, and in-between gulps of air I screamed, “Help me, help, help!” For a moment, it seemed like I was never going to reach that front door, it appeared to stay in one place, never getting any closer. Then I saw two steps in front of me and I stumbled up them and slammed my body against the neighbor’s door, bringing myself to an abrupt and violent halt. Screaming as hard as I could, I banged on the door with my fists. When the door opened, I glanced back across the lawn. Harry was nowhere in sight, and I stumbled into the house, crying and screaming “Help me, help me please.”
* * * * *
That night, the sound of the river did little to soothe my nerves. In the nightmare, I kept on running across that lawn, feeling Harry’s hot breath on my neck, my lungs burning, my voice calling “Help, Help,” endlessly. I never reached that door, though it was always in sight. I never got the chance to bang my fist upon the wood and stumble into the neighbor’s house.
By morning I was exhausted. Instant coffee and toast only revived me a little. I decided to take my mind off the past by cleaning more stuff out of my car. The bathroom in this campground had a large mirror in it, and when I saw my reflection, I was surprised to see how much slimmer my face looked. When I looked at my body, I saw that I had lost weight, quite a bit of weight actually. I’d noticed that my shorts were a little slack, but I figured they’d just stretched out from being worn repeatedly without being washed. Now I realized I’d lost quite a bit of weight. I was delighted, and things seemed brighter again.
I decided to get rid of all my sized 14 dresses and laid them out on the picnic table. Then hoping I wouldn’t get in trouble from the camp host, stuck a sign up on the mirror in the women’s bathroom advertising a clothing sale at my camp spot. Many of them I gave away, but a few women left me money. I also gave away some tapes that I no longer wanted to listen to as they made me think of Harry, which was mostly country rock. These items were useless to me now, so why keep them.
While waiting for people to take the stuff away, I read a passage from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. This little book had been my savior for the past few years. I turned to it whenever I felt confused, depressed, hurt or lost. It didn’t matter what mood I was in, I could always depend on this book to help. About five years ago I’d come to realize that I was codependent, when a friend of mine told me, very bluntly, that I was one of the most codependent people she knew. At first, I felt hurt and horrified by the accusation, as it sounded like something awful. What the heck is codependent? I wondered. When eventually I read a few articles on codependency, at first I denied it, but as time passed and I gained a better understanding of the meaning of codependency, I learned that my friend was right, and proceeded to take steps to turn around that negative side of my personality.
Codependency is a pattern of detrimental, behavioral interactions within a dysfunctional relationship. Sometimes, the codependent is in a relationship that involves alcohol, substance abuse, physical abuse, or other destructive behaviors. The codependent has learned to interact or behave in such ways that they believe will help their loved one, but never do. Codependents often feel tremendous guilt, responsibility or want to “fix” things, by controlling the actions of others, especially the one who owns the original problem. It’s very common to “cover up” the behavior of their loved one; this is called enabling. By enabling, they are allowing the behavior to continue and cause avoidance of natural consequences. Codependents don’t want to “rock the boat.” They, therefore, are willing to do almost anything just to keep the peace. This fits the source of dysfunction or dependent just fine since the person looks for others to blame for their actions. They are not beyond threats, coercion, or manipulation to avoid taking responsibility.
This book had helped me enormously. I was now as free as a person could hope to be, and loving life, and it was mostly thanks to this book and a few al-anon meetings.
This past week I’d been so full of adventure, I’d forgotten to read it daily, and decided it was time to get back into the habit. I felt much better afterward, and by the time I had my car packed, I felt strong enough to make another call to Harry’s sister.
The news was not good. Angie informed me they’d put Harry on 24-hour watch at his parent’s house after he’d threatened to commit suicide. He was both mentally and physically sick. We didn’t talk for long. I didn’t know what to say.
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