IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 2/27/2007 8:24 AM ET
You need to find an agent. This is really good.
|** This is the beginning of a novel I started. If enough people think it's good, I'll work on it.
IF ONLY BLOOD DIDN’T STAIN
VICTORIA BOOTH copyright 1994
I looked down at the gun I held in my hands and I was a bit puzzled. In all of the movies I had ever seen where a person is murdered I thought that it was only knives that glisten and shine. But the barrel on the 357 Magnum, which I held tightly in my hands, was glistening in the light shining in through a slit in the curtain from the street. It felt good. It felt right. There was no going back now.
Somewhere inside, I knew I had the choice to change my mind, but some other part of me wouldn’t allow the terrible injustice to go unpunished. No, he must pay for what he had done to me and put me through and for how he had made me live in fear and suffer.
The glistening of the cold, stainless steel caused my eyes to glaze over, sending me into an almost hypnotic state, numbing the mind to the task somehow. A “task’ is what it had become to me by now. Just a job – a not so pleasant job, granted – kind of like doing dirty laundry - but a job nonetheless - that had to be carried out. It was something to be done to expunge the way he haunted my dreams at night, robbing me of precious sleep, torturing my emotions and slowly draining the very life within me. He deserved to die; I was so very tired.
I hadn’t wanted a knife. No, knives were too messy, and he had made my life messy for over seven years. I wanted to end it the way I wished it would have been: clean and neat with minimal pain and mess. After all, I was not out to torture him – just kill him.
My eyes were drawn to the glistening of the steel barrel again. The glistening made me think of the way his blood would glisten when I pulled the trigger, and his rotten, little world exploded into tiny bits and pieces all over his perfect little apartment. Oh. Well. I guess it was going to be messy, after all. It would end just as messy as he had made my life when he slithered and slimed his way into it. I was thinking there might be some kind of poetic justice in that.
Soon. He would see me soon. But not just yet. According to my calculations, he wouldn’t be home until the early morning – shortly before the hour of dawn. Dawn. A new day… a new beginning. For me, not for him.
His landlady had told me that he had gone to Ohio and that his plane was due in around 5:30am. I figured by the time he got to the apartment, the sun would just be starting to peek over the horizon. And he would be peeking at… well… nothing ever again.
I knew no one would ever suspect me. He had many enemies, and besides that, everyone knew I suffered from debilitating panic attacks, and could not travel. What they wouldn’t know is that I had taken a bunch of tranquilizers and with an alias, took a bus.
When I arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, at 7:00pm that night, I had taken a taxi to his apartment and convinced his landlady I was his sister from California. She was a nice, trusting, gray-haired older lady who had readily let me into Don’s apartment with her master key. I had gone in, making very sure I didn’t touch anything except with my gloved hands. It was early February and it would be easy to keep my lightweight, leather gloves on even in the house.
I was somewhat curious about his little “home”, but I touched nothing and I turned on no lights.
After I removed the loaded gun from my purse, I sat in the rocker next to the window with the sliver of light shining in.
Waiting and thinking…
Like a VCR on rewind, my mind flew backwards to the beginning… to when he first crashed into my life…
I met Don on a cold January night in 1982. It was bitterly frigid that night. I can still remember how the tips of my fingers felt. They were burning from the cold. The wind was howling and moaning, tearing through the nakedness of the trees, ripping off the weakest branches and tossing them through the air like so much confetti.
I’ve always loved the wind, I can sleep like a baby when the wind is wailing and lamenting its anguish as it shakes the panes of a window. However, this night the wind sounded angry and barren – almost ominous. That was the way it sounded on that night. Full of doom and foreboding. Maybe it was trying to speak to me – to warn me – maybe I should have listened…
It was Saturday night and my sister’s friend, Rod and I, were trying unsuccessfully to find something interesting to do with the evening. I had known Rod since he was about nine, and although he and I weren’t really close, we could have fun together and talk easily. Over a pizza we discussed going to a disco in Columbus, but neither of us really felt up to the thirty- five-mile drive that night. So we finished our pizza, and drove around for awhile through town, talking, laughing and listening to disco tunes on his car stereo. Finally, we both had to admit we were tired, bored, and ready to give it up for the night. He asked if I wanted to go home.
I had gone through a painful divorce not quite a year before. I had been married to a man who was a good provider, but who was always unhappy with his life, and after almost nine years, finally (if only to himself) admitted the truth: he was gay. He wanted, and got, a divorce.
I was living with my parents temporarily (even though it was pretty clear they were not thrilled with me being there), so I was trying to find a way to avoid going there if I could. So when Rod asked me again, “Do you want me to drop you at home?” I replied, “No. Take me to Dolly’s house.”
Dolly was an older woman, somewhere in her late fifties. She was a heavy-set black woman who proclaimed Christianity and a close relationship with God, whom she referred to as “The Father”. She was a really strange woman with a lot of even stranger beliefs and ideas, but she had a big heart. She was generous almost to a fault, letting wayward teenagers, and people of all ages and color, come and go in and out of her house literally twenty-four hours a day.
I had heard about her and had stumbled drunk into her house for the first time about six months before. I didn’t like to go too often to her house; there was an underlying current of some kind of control going on there – I could feel it, but it was a safe, and warm haven when you didn’t have any place else to go. She always welcomed you warmly, always had something to eat, and a heated place to sleep, even if it were on the floor.
I had met some interesting people at her house. This night was no different. After saying goodnight to Rod, I knocked on her door. She yelled at me, “Come in! It’s not locked!”
I was struck by two unusual things as I walked through her door to her warm and toasty living room: It was Saturday night, and the house was usually filled with people – especially teenagers – but tonight there was just this one man I’d never seen before. And even though the man sitting next to her engaged in conversation was at first sight, obviously poor, there was something intriguing about him that I noticed immediately. As I sat down, I found myself wondering what it was.
Bondage is a strong word, but a word that I feel has fit many situations in my life, and as it would turn out, it would also fit the relationship Don and I would soon develop.
It was strange how things began with us. When I walked into Dolly’s house that night, out of the corner of my eye, I surveyed and quickly scrutinized the straggly man who sat next to her on the couch. Dolly looked up and flashed me a big smile, introduced me to Don, then immediately reverted her attention back to what the man had been saying.
That was one thing about Dolly – you could be considered the lowest person on earth by others, but if you had her attention, you kept it until you were finished talking. Others might come up and try to interrupt the conversation, to get her focused on them, but she adamantly gave the one she was already talking to, her full attention. Unless it was an emergency, you had to “wait your turn”.
I perched on the piano bench for a few minutes, and then moved over to the chair in the corner. I suddenly felt uncomfortable. The way Dolly’s body was positioned, I could see Don’s face, but not much of the rest of his body. I noticed that he was watching me. He was talking to Dolly, but he was looking straight passed her at me with an intensity that was unsettling.
He was a man with such ordinary looks. He looked to be about five feet, seven or maybe eight inches, he had dark, thinning hair, was probably only about 140 pounds or so, if that. He had on ragged clothing. He was far from my type of man. Mostly I had always liked tall men. What was wrong with me?
I tried to act nonchalant as I pulled a cigarette out of its pack and lit it. I took a deep drag, and glanced at Don. It was odd – he hadn’t verbally said a word, but I sensed that he was trying to be polite to Dolly, yet wanted badly to ask me for a cigarette. For some reason unknown to myself, it was important to me for him to know that I knew what he wanted. I pulled a couple of cigarettes out and leaned over, offering them to Don. Continuing to talk, his eyes leaving mine only long enough to acknowledge Dolly as she spoke, he reached out and took the cigarettes, brushing my hand as he took them from me.
He took one of the cigarettes, and after tapping it on the widow sill for several minutes, finally put it into his mouth and lit it. Dolly stopped talking long enough for there to be almost an uncomfortable lull in the conversation, and Don leaned out around her and ask me, “How did you know I wanted a cigarette?”
Feeling flushed, I smiled and said, “I just did.”
He nodded and said smoothly, “Karma”.
“ESP,” I shot back. Fate, I thought silently, as I felt my pulse quicken. I was suddenly afraid, but didn’t know why.
Somehow later on that first night, we ended up in Dolly’s kitchen where we sat at her table, drinking coffee, and smoking cigarettes until almost three am. We seemed to be able to talk so easily – as if we’d known each other for a long time. Sometime before dawn he finally left for his own house.
I sat at the kitchen table and lit up another cigarette as Dolly came in to the kitchen, pulled out a chair, and sat down. She had been watching TV in her room since Don and I had gone into the kitchen. She and I stared silently at each other for a few minutes, and then I asked her how long she had known Don. She was trying really hard not to smile, as she answered, “Tonight’s the first time he’s ever been here.”
My insides were suddenly a mass of churning emotions. I felt sick to my stomach. Somehow, I knew that already. Where had he come from? I had hoped Dolly could shed some light on this guy, but tonight was the first time he had been here.
The next day after going over to my brother’s house to visit and take a shower, I walked back over to Dolly’s around six that evening. I was afraid Don wouldn’t show up again, and I was afraid he would. Something very unsettling was happening inside me.
As soon as I walked into Dolly’s living room, she looked up and said, “He’s already been here twice asking about you.”
She wasn’t smiling, and there was an edge to her tone I hadn’t heard before and didn’t particularly like. I wasn’t going to ask – I had a feeling I wouldn’t care for the answer she might give me.
I sat on invisible pins and needles, chain smoking, until finally a little after eight, when he casually walked in her door. Dolly suggested we fix something to eat for our selves, which we did.
Dolly was in another room counseling a young girl about abortion, so Don and I once again had the kitchen to our selves. We ate, and sat talking until about midnight, and then just as casually as if he’d asked me if I would like a drink of water, he said, “How would you like to come down to the house for awhile? It’s just a few houses down the street.”
I stared down at the table, keeping my eyes carefully diverted from his burning gaze. He was direct and piercing. His brazenness in the way he would look you straight on was unnerving, and discomforting.
This man, so unattractive in his apparent poverty, had some sort of hold on me that was beyond words, and more than a little spooky. I felt as if he could see into the very depths of my soul. I felt naked and exposed, yet incapable of doing anything about it. There was some sort of powerful magnetism between us, the magnitude of which was indescribable.
Somehow, I managed to raise my eyes to meet his, sensing that I was about to step over an invisible line – a line which would somehow change my life, and maybe not for the better. And still I opened my mouth and quietly said, “Yes. I’ll come.”
Overnight Don seemed to bring a sense of wholeness to my world. It was sprinkled with just the right amount of heated passion, and magical fantasy to keep me swept off my feet… and blinded…
Don and I were together more than we were apart from that first night on and just four months later, I said yes again, without realizing what I was saying yes to.
We were married outside beneath a massive, one- hundred-year-old-oak tree, with just a few friends and family present. I was now Mrs. Don James. Nicole Suzanne James. I liked the sound of it.
Life with Don was intense and turbulent from the beginning. Most of what he had told me about himself before we were married was fraught with lies and indiscrepancies. However, I kept rationalizing and justifying for him. I just couldn’t face that I had married a man I didn’t really know at all, and that I might have made a terrible mistake.
Before we were married, he had told me about being in Vietnam. He was a medic, and said because they were terribly short on medical personnel during the war, that they had used him for a lot more than what a medic is supposed to do. He said that he had worked right along with the doctors in surgery, and about anything else that came up, and that he, himself could have been a doctor when he was discharged from the army; all he had to do was take a state test and pass it.
I had to wonder why anyone who could have been a doctor so easily, would choose to live so poorly. I asked him why he wasn’t a doctor. He made up some story about how messed up he was from the war, and at the time “his nerves couldn’t take it”.
I pressed on, “Well, what about right now? Couldn’t you take the test now?”
He was a little testy with me when he answered. “Look,” he said, “They give you two years after coming out of the service to take the test, and the time I had to take it is gone.”
Don wasn’t working when I met him, he said, because he had a back injury that was going to require surgery. Soon after we were married, I changed to a better paying job to try to keep us afloat until Don could get back to work. Another thing I wondered about was why Don wasn’t getting any worker’s compensation. He was on welfare and barely brought in more than $175.00 a month. I had to admit that part of his life really bothered me. No one in my family had ever had to be on public assistance of any type – not aunts, cousins, no one. For as far back as I knew everyone on both sides of my parent’s families had always worked and pulled their own weight.
Don had told me before we were married he had his own construction company – mostly painting houses. He said he had been hurt “on the job”, so I couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t getting Worker’s Comp. I couldn’t ask him about it, though; he became upset and withdrew.
I tried not to worry about it too much at first because of what Don had told me right before we were married.
It was a conversation we had one night when I went over to his house and he had been smoking pot. I had always tried to avoid people who used illegal street drugs, and I was taken aback. I told him I was uncomfortable with being around drugs. And I said to him, “Why didn’t you tell me you used drugs?”
“I don’t use drugs,” he answered. “I smoke a little pot now and then because it’s the only thing that helps my back and leg pain.”
I asked him about his upcoming surgery. “What are you going to do if going back to your old job is too much for your back? Where will you work?”
He knew where I was going with that one, and decided he would straighten me out right then and there. Using his smooth, charming tone, he said, “Nicki, you don’t have anything to worry about. I know how to do many jobs. Maybe I’ll even work for a doctor as a Physicians Assistant. And after the surgery, there won’t be a reason for me to smoke pot.” Then, he threw the carrot out. “Look, I’m mostly a homebody at heart. I want to settle down. And after we’re married you won’t even have to work – in fact I would prefer my wife not to work. I just need time to get this all taken care of, okay?”
“Sure,” I answered, and then dropped it. He made it all sound so good, so why didn’t my gut feel right?
I got the answer to that question shortly after we were married and he had his back surgery. I soon found out that in reality, Don was wild, irresponsible, totally lacked ambition, and had no intention of “settling down”.
While Don was in the hospital, I rented a house from a friend of mine that was on the outskirts of town. Don was being evicted from his, and had asked me to try to find a house we could afford. On just my pay, that was no easy task. But a lifelong friend of mine, named Rob, had the generosity to rent the house to me for a little less than what his mortgage payment was.
About eight weeks after his surgery, I took Don to Columbus for a check up with the surgeon. I wanted to go into the room with Don and hear what his doctor had to say, but he was adamant that I stay in the waiting room. He wasn’t in there too long, and when the door opened, I heard the doctor say, “Well, Don, the surgery was a success. You can start back to work anytime, no restrictions. Good luck to you now, you don’t have to come back.”
I was so relieved to hear those words, but then on the drive home, Don said something that stunned me. He had been quiet since we left the doctor’s office, but finally he spoke up.
“I have some news that’s not so good…”
Puzzled, I glanced over at him and asked, “What is it?”
He looked me right in the eye and said, Dr. Laker says my back condition may be permanent, and he’s not sure I can work at all.”
I just couldn’t speak. I knew I had heard what the doctor had told Don. Why would he want to lie to me? I wasn’t sure what to say, and I waited until we got home before I said anything. Once home, I went upstairs and changed my clothes. When I came down to the living room, Don was sitting there smoking a joint.
It made me feel sick. “So is this what it’s going to be like?” I asked. “You told me after the back surgery you wouldn’t smoke pot anymore. You know how I feel about –“
“Shut-up!” Don bellowed. “I’m sick of hearing about the pot, I only smoke it when I’m in pain, and I’m in pain now, so drop it, Nicki. Let it alone!”
“You lied to me, Don. Why?”
He looked up at me through his reddened, drug-glazed eyes. That was another thing: he said he smoked pot just to take the edge off the pain, but every time he smoked, he didn’t stop until he was flying high.
“How did I lie to you?” he said in an overly controlled tone.
“I heard what Dr. Laker said, that your back was fine and you could go back to work…”
Suddenly he bolted out of the chair he was sitting in and before I knew what was happening, he had shoved me up against the wall, his arms pinning me so that I couldn’t move, his eyes narrow slits of hatred. He had become angry so quickly, that he had spittle coming out the corner of his mouth. His face was an ugly mask of rage, which he was trying to control so hard, his face was twisting into contorted and grotesque grimaces.
I struggled to get free of him, and pleaded with him to let me go, but he exploded. “I don’t care what you thought you heard!” he bellowed, getting as close to my face as he could. “But I know what the doctor told me, and don’t you ever, ever call me a liar again, do you get it!?”
“I didn’t call you a liar, Don, I said that you lied to me.”I was really getting scared then, and I put my hands on his chest and pushed slightly. “Let me go, Don”.
Lightning fast, he drew back his fist and slammed it into the wall, putting a hole in it. Then he shook me hard, my head jerked backwards and hit the wall. He howled like an animal, “I said, did you hear me!”
Abruptly, I began to cry. “Yes!” I answered, as I continued to try to get him to loosen his grip on me. “Yes, I heard you…”
“You won’t ever call me a liar again, will you?” he said menacingly.
I shook my head. “No,” I said as the tears rolled down my cheeks. “No, I won’t ever call you a liar again.”
He then let go of me, grabbed the keys to my car, and stomped out the door. I heard him gunning the engine of my car, and then the sound of gravel flying as he tore out of our driveway. It was only then that I slid down the wall and collapsed into a heap of tears. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. He always came across as a calm, gentle man before. I was having a hard time believing what just happened had really happened.
Later, after he was gone until evening, he came home. He was calm and sorry.
I grew up in a violent, alcoholic household. My father regularly beat my mother when he was drunk. I had always promised myself I would never let that happen to me. One part of me knew that how Don had acted was very wrong, but another part of me rationalized it by thinking, well, he didn’t hit you.
Pot continued to be a source of dissension between Don and I throughout our marriage. He began hiding it out in the garage, but I could always tell when he had been smoking. He was high, and reeked of the sickening sweet odor of it. He didn’t care how he had to get it, either.
He began to steal from me. Many times I would hide money deep in the folds of my wallet, even going so far as to fold it flat and put it between two pictures so it would be safe. It was money much needed to tide us over until my next payday. But invariably, no matter to what lengths I went to hide it, Don, always managed to find it. And he always vehemently denied taking it; he would get angry with me for even asking him if he had seen the money.
One time after asking him if he had taken some money out of my purse, he quietly answered no. Whew! I thought, at least this time there’s not going to be any repurcussions from asking him about it.
Don got up and went out to the barn. I knew what he was doing out there – he couldn’t stay away from his precious “pot”. He was outside about twenty minutes, and I was standing in the kitchen doing dishes when I caught a glimpse of him coming across the back yard with a new Calico kitten I’d had for about a week. He was holding it by the scruff of the neck. Concerned, I strained to see more clearly.
In just a few seconds, though, he burst through the kitchen door and after squeezing the kitten’s neck so hard that her little eyes began to bulge out, threw her onto the floor.
“There!” He declared, “think about that the next time you call me a thief! It’s your fault I hurt her!”
“Oh, my God!!!” I screamed out loud as I scooped up little “Callie”. I couldn’t believe what he had done to her. Her eyes were bulging out badly. I began to hold her close to me and cry. I felt sick inside and part of me wanted to kill him, and another part was afraid I might be his next victim.
I massaged the skin around her little eyes, trying in vain to get her back to “normal”. She never did, though. Her eyes stayed like that, and everytime I looked at her, I felt sick and wounded inside. I couldn’t stand it anymore and finally gave her to a nice woman who lived out in the country. That memory has stayed with me to this day. He had said he liked animals. How could he possibly, and do the horrendous things he did?
I never asked him about missing money again, although it continued to come up missing – more each time. Sometimes I thought I was going crazy; I would ask myself, are you sure he took the money? Couldn’t you have lost it?
Always within a few days though, I found his “stash” hidden somewhere in the house or out in the garage. I knew the truth, but didn’t know what to do about it. After all, he was my husband, and he did deny taking the money. Being married to Don, was like being trapped in an insane asylum, with no way out.
I’ve often asked myself why I didn’t just divorce Don at the beginning, when he began to “show his true colors”. My only answer is that I’ve never believed in divorce, and I truly wanted to believe in him. He had shared with me how rotten many people had treated him in his life, how no one ever gave him credit for anything, and never believed in him. So, I was trying desperately to give him something he needed so badly.
I had had a bad family life growing up, always being belittled, no matter how hard I tried, and never encouraged about anything. Therefore, I was trying to give Don the chance I felt I’d never had. Another thing was – I didn’t know how to leave.
I realized that there are some people born into this world who are balanced, happy, “normal” people. They go through life seemingly without too many insurmountable problems.
They say “no thanks” to second helpings, and can even say no to desert. They can really have just one glass of wine with dinner or one drink at a party, and put it down. They’ve usually never even thought about taking drugs. Their lives are not perfect, but they aren’t constantly fraught with wanting more, and being desperately willing to do anything to get it. They are basically at peace in this world we live in.
And then there are those of us who are born into this world possessed with an insatiable appetite for anything and everything that pleases us – good food, fine wine, sometimes drugs, sometimes sex.
Some have vices that aren’t too conspicuous – a love of books, collections upon collections of music, little glass trinkets… or jewelry… or… well… whatever gets us going in the morning. Whatever makes our blood boil, our adrenaline pump.
Over time spent with Don, that’s one of the things I came to realize about myself. I was basically insatiable. And Don had something I was “hooked” on. I was like any other drug addict and he was the drug.
And like any other junkie, I couldn’t see how ugly my addiction was, what it was costing me, how it was slowly tearing me down… destroying me… consuming me. I couldn’t see the true evil in our relationship. And that inside, it was tediously, insidiously, killing me. It was devouring my very soul.
I didn’t understand why it didn’t occur to me to try to be healthy, to do what was good for me… to leave the bastard.
Other people made it sound so easy. But I hadn’t a clue.
For me, it was like dancing with the devil. I hated him; he disgusted me, even. Nevertheless, one touch, and sparks like lightning would ignite my body, wiping all reason away like a flash flood.
In early 1985 Don came up with “a great idea” as to how we could get out from under our financial problems. He told it to me one day when I came back home from hunting work. My feet were hurting, the car was almost out of gas, and I was ready to give up.
I should have known something was up that evening. Don was being overly sweet to me, and pouring on the charm. He had cleaned the house. I don’t know where he got it, but he had some rich, port wine, which he poured me a glass of and handed to me, as he came in to “talk”.
He wanted to move to South Bend, Indiana. He wanted to sell all of our things and move in temporarily with some friends in Indiana. He had already discussed it with them; they would “love to have us”.
I remember taking a good long sip of the Port before answering him. My eyes briefly scanned the floor for a hole to drop into, but I saw none. I wanted to stand up and scream at him, hit him, curse him. I wanted to shout, “Nothing here is yours! I worked my fanny off to have what few nice things I have before I met you. I paid two years on my 25-inch screen Curtis Mathis television. I saved and squandered to get my stereo, and through the last thirteen years I managed a collection of over 60 albums, hundreds of books, many of which were collectors. I don’t require a lot in this world, but what I have, I want to keep! You have never contributed a thing to this marriage – especially not materially, but not even for the essentials like food and clothing!”
Oh, I wanted to scream that and so much more! I wanted to ask him what guarantee I would have that he wouldn’t mistreat me even more if I went out of state with him leaving all of my friends and family behind to go to a place I had no idea of what it held for us.
What I did however, was take another sip of the Port, and stared at him without answering.
“Well?” he prompted. “Nikki, it’s the only thing we can do. I’ll be able to take care of you. I always do better when I live out of state. You like Monica and Bill, and – “
“Okay!” I practically screamed. I lowered my tone, afraid it would set him off and repeated, “Okay. We’ll go.”
Inside, I could feel every inch of me beginning to shrivel and die. All that mattered to me, I could feel was ebbing away. Not just the material things. But the things that make life worth living: love, dew on the grass early in the morning, the smell of the air after a cleansing storm has turned to gentle rain, puppy’s breath and kitten fur. Books with thousands of words that could take me away to a better place, or show me someone had it worse than I did. I felt these things and more, so much more being ripped from my life.
I didn’t want to go. I wanted to tell him to get his skuzzy butt out of my life, and get the quickest divorce I could acquire.
I was too afraid. I had seen evil in those things called his eyes, and I feared if I tried to get away from him right now, I wouldn’t make it in one piece. Besides, I felt that I should give him this chance, this "new start” he was asking for.
If I could have foreseen what fresh hell lay before me, would I have then been able to summon the strength to try to leave him? I don’t know, and the fact that I don’t know eats me alive. After all, what would that say about my frame of mind back then?
Without even telling me, Don had privately made deals with auctioneers and various people and had “sold off” our furniture. The day after telling me we were moving out of state, an auctioneer came and took our living room furniture, our washer and dryer, the refrigerator and stove, and various other household items.
Later that day, a friend of his came and took our stereo, and the TV I had worked so hard to keep. He handed Don $200.00 for both of them and a bunch of my albums. I just stood unbelieving and numb, in the background.
People came and went that day, carting off a myriad of possessions I had accumulated over the years. Don even sold a beautiful, Tiffany style lamp my father had made for each of us kids.
I could feel panic building inside me, but was either frozen somewhere sitting off by myself or I felt myself moving through a fog of disbelief so thick it that it couldn’t penetrate my inner consciousness. The outside world ceased to really exist for me that day, and at that point nothing could really touch me inside. Something automatic had taken over. The self I had once been in touch with and had known familiarly was now gone. At least to me.
Another surprise came the next day. Don was in charge now, and obviously had no regard for my feelings. Naively, I had assumed that he would rent a small U-Haul trailer to hook onto the back of our car, to carry the rest of our belongings. However, that was not the case. He announced to me that day that we were leaving the next night around midnight, and to decide what I was going to take with me.
Dumbly, I looked at him and said, “What do you mean, decide what to take?”
“Do I have to draw you a picture, Nikki? We can only take what we can fit in the car. I’m not putting out what little money we have for a U-Haul. So get your shit together and decide what you’re taking!”
I was still sitting there staring at him, trying to absorb this new piece of information, when he picked up a box and hurled it at me, hitting me in the side of the leg. Afraid that he was going to explode, I grabbed the box and stood up, watching him with wary eyes.
The only thing he said though, was “Get packing!” as he lit a cigarette and moved towards the door to go out onto the porch.
I dragged the box along side of me as I went to my most treasured possessions – my books. I sat down on a chair and just stared at the hundreds of books I had collected over the years. Some of these books had even survived a flood we had one year back in 1981. How could I possibly choose just a box full? I scanned some of the titles: A John Steinbeck set of three – The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Winter of Our Discontent. I had a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that was beautifully and hauntingly illustrated, oversized with its own slip box, and was around thirty years old.
I had a collector’s copy of The Secret Garden, Man O’ War, Big Red, and of course, Old Yeller.
I had a complete set of expensive medical books that I’d received one year for Christmas.
Books, to me, were more than just mere words bound by two pieces of leather or cloth. Books were a part of me. From the time I was a child and just able to read, I developed a love for books so intensely that I couldn’t tell where I left off, and books began. They were intricately enmeshed in my mind, heart, soul and spirit.
Leaving all my books behind were like leaving the better half of me behind. It was tearing my heart out, and Don didn’t seem to notice or care.
I don’t think I had ever seen him read a book. Obviously, that was not something he enjoyed, was not something that fit in with his Pot smoking and loose lifestyle. And, if Don didn’t personally care about something, then he had no compassion for those who did. That was just the way he was – self-centered and very selfish.
Looking back, I’m not sure exactly when I began to hate Don, but hate him, I did. The problem was, in order to live with him, I had to try to not see the bad things. I had to try to search, as with a fine-toothed comb for something good. Any little crumb would do, but there had to at least, be that crumb. And I was having a really hard time finding even a crumb.
Feeling trapped in a cage I could not see, I dutifully continued on getting ready for “the move that was going to change our lives”.
I packed what I could manage of my treasured books into two small boxes. Two small boxes were all that Don would allow me, and the next day they were loaded haphazardly into the car, as everything else was, stuffed into the trunk and back seat, until nothing else could possibly fit.
At midnight, we squeezed ourselves into the car, said goodbye to Lancaster, and set off for a seven-hour drive to South Bend, Indiana.
We were about half way there, when I suddenly realized that I had set aside a few of my most precious books to take up front with me in the car. Included in the small stack was Bram Stokers Dracula, a complete collection of Mark Twain’s Adventures, and a collection of The Bobbsey Twins. Books that would almost be impossible to replace.
I didn’t say anything to Don, because I knew he wouldn’t care, and may even get angry that I had gone past “my two box limit” he had allowed me to take.
As we drove down the darkened highway that night leading to an unknown and uncertain future, I thought about the rare and collectible edition of Bram Stokers Dracula that my best friend, Becky, from High school, had given to me years before. It was irreplaceable, as were so many things Don had taken from me, including my integrity and sense of self worth.
We arrived in South Bend, Indiana at around seven that next morning. Just as we pulled past the sign, the car began steaming out from under the hood and died.
Well, I thought, this is nice! We are here in another state, where we really do not know anyone (I didn’t consider Bill and Monica someone I knew well at all, and had actually not even met Monica), our car was now broken down, we had no money to speak of. What were we going to do now?
Don was already out of the car, cursing a blue streak. He was throwing something – he was always throwing something – but I couldn’t imagine what. Then I saw. He had grabbed a bag full of trash we had gotten at a fast-food place, and now he was tearing it up and throwing it everywhere. The wind was catching the mess and strewing it everywhere.
Great! I thought, we just arrive and look at the impression he’s making to anyone passing by! Furthermore, if a police officer saw Don out there throwing his childish fit, he would probably arrest him for littering or at the very least give him a ticket.
This move isn’t going to change anything, I thought dejectedly. It isn’t going to change anything at all…
And, it didn’t. If anything, things became worse. Don and I were moved into his friend’s trailer. They put their little boy in the bedroom with them and gave us his tiny room. We had a makes-shift fold out bed, which was strangely reminiscent of Don’s furnishings when I first met him.
My life felt like it was spinning more and more out of control, and going backwards instead of forwards. I felt as though I had fallen into a bottomless well, and I was spiraling deeper and deeper into the blackness of which there was no end.
The first week we were there, Bill took Don to various places, most of which I thought were a waste of time. Being a “Rainbow” sweeper salesman, which would only pay commision, was to me, a slow trip at best, to having our independence back – if we got it back at all. Those were the types of places Don had Bill take him though. I was getting more and more worried. Every time Bill would mention a factory that paid good, Don would shrink back with some excuse.
What little bit of hope I had had was fast fading. I began to watch the paper for apartment manager jobs. Once again, I felt the need to try to take over the responsibility of seeing to it that we had a roof over our heads. It was all becoming so very tiresome…
And then, finally, a job. It wasn’t a great job – it was for a gas jockey at a gas station not far from where we were staying. But at least, it was a job.
It lasted two weeks. Don complained that it was “killing his back”, and abruptly quit. Later, I wondered if he really quit, or if the manager of the place saw him for what he was and terminated him. Since Don usually covered himself pretty good, there was really no way of knowing.
Since he wasn’t working, he and Bill decided to “take a run” down to Lancaster.
‘Why?” I asked.
They explained that Bill had some “business” down there, and there was someone he had to go see.
I didn’t like the sound of it, but decided it would be best to say nothing.
They left early in the morning, and came back the next afternoon.
I was back in “our” room and heard them talking excitedly. I got up, lit a cigarette and walked out into the living room where I stopped, frozen in my tracks. There, on their card table that served as their kitchen table, was more marijuanna than I had ever seen at one time.
I felt a cold, hard hand reach up and squeeze my heart, but knew I dared say nothing. Now, on top of everything else, I had to worry about being arrested for possession of a large quantitiy of narcotics.
I wanted to scream at them, “what are you crazy!?” You have a child here for God’s sake! Don’t you care about going to jail?”
However, I took one close look at the situation and their faces – Bill’s and Monica’s – and could see immediately this was not a first time thing. This was how they supplemented their income. And looking at Don’s face, I had another harsh revelation – he knew this already! He had brought us here, into this mess – knowing, KNOWING what he was doing!
My feelings of hate and revulsion grew ever so much more as I stood there staring at what must have been an easy couple of thousand dollars’ worth of illegal street drugs.
“Got some “candy”, too…” Bill said as he dug through one of the suitcases and quickly produced some bags that looked like confectioners sugar, but what I knew to be Cocaine. I had had enough, I couldn’t stand to even be in the same living space with any of them right then.
I grabbed my lighter and my cigarettes and started out the door. With my hand on the doorknob, I stopped for a second and threw over my shoulder, “Well, I hope we don’t all end up in Jail!”
The three of them looked up at me in surprise as though I had lost my mind, as I closed the door behind me and went walking. I walked up over a hill of grass and weeds and when I reached the top, I saw a field stretched out beyond me, and there was no one else around. After walking about five minutes I found just what I needed. Hidden under the overgrowth of weeds and grasses was an old-fashioned bomb shelter. I went down inside and sat on the concrete floor.
I sat for the longest time, not smoking, quiet. Absorbed in my thoughts and fears, feeling that trapped feeling and a new feeling – one of strangulation. I felt as though there were a tight rope around my neck, tightening just a tad bit more.
I felt about as helpless and desolate as I’d ever felt, and I had no one to turn to. One question pounded my head over and over: how in God’s name did I ever get to this place in my life?
As I lit up a cigarette, I realized I had no answers.
The only thing I can honestly say I liked about being in Indiana was the fact that since we were living with someone else, Don was on his best behavior.
Almost four months later, it was obvious we had “worn out our welcome”. Don had gone through three jobs rather rapidly. No money… no jobs… we needed to move on, but how?
Then one morning, we woke up and Don showed his true colors to Monica. Bill was on the road – he was a truck driver, so it was just the three of us and their little boy.
We had no money at all. Not even for cigarettes and both of us were having a nicotine fit, but I couldn’t believe what Don did next. He purposely picked a fight with Monica, and when she stood up to him and reminded him that we were in their home, he flew into a rage, crashing around and yelling, “If you don’t give us money for cigarettes, you’re going to find out how fast I can tear up this cracker box you call home!”
I was shocked, but frozen to the spot.
Monica said calmly, way too calmly, “Don, I’d love to buy you and Nikki some cigarettes… here, why don’t you take this money and the car and go down to get some??” She handed him a twenty-dollar bill.
He practically ripped it out of her hand and said, “Come on, Nikki! Get in the car!”
Terrified, but knowing there was no way of getting out of it, I followed him to her car and got in. He got in, started up the car, gunned it, and tore gravel pulling out.
He drove into town like the proverbial “bat out of hell” about scaring me to death. It was only about five minutes to the nearest stop-n-go store. Once there, he bought me two packs of cigarettes, spent the rest of the money on his, and then sat in the parking lot talking about what a bitch Monica was.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. I had a feeling in my gut that there was going to be hell to pay for how Don had treated Monica. I didn’t even know how to face her.
He sat in the parking lot around thirty minutes, before heading back. On the way back, there was a cat getting ready to cross the road, but it pulled back. Then to my absolute horror, Don swerved and hit it on purpose! I screamed and began to cry.
Don looked at me like I was a lowly thing. “Shut up, Nikki! For christ’s sake, it’s just a stupid cat! Better be glad it wasn’t Monica!”
Something more in my spirit was broken that night, I just didn’t realize how severe the damage was. I thought back to what he had done to my Calico kitten, Callie and I tried to stop crying, but I couldn’t.
The next morning, when we woke up, Monica was gone and I had a feeling of urgency and a pit in my stomach that could only spell out one thing: Trouble.
As soon as we had been up for about fifteen minutes, I looked at Don and blurted, “Something’s wrong! We’ve got to get out of here!”
Don was lazily blowing the blue smoke from a cigarette out and up into the room. He turned his head and looked at me, frowning. “What the hell?” he began, but stopped abruptly when he saw my face.
I knew he didn’t like for anyone to tell him what to do, but when he took a good look at my face, he must have seen something there he’d never seen before, because when I blurted , “We’ve got to throw our things in the car and get out of here!” He not only didn’t argue, but he stubbed out his cigarette, jumped up and began doing just that – throwing things into the car.
We had only a few more things to get into the car before Monica drove up in a huge, black car, followed closely by two other black cars.
My head kept trying to tell me that nothing bad was going to happen, but my heart was pounding so fiercely, and the feeling of terror was so raw, that the hair on the back of my neck was standing straight up.
As we stood there and watched, Monica got out of her car and so did four men from the other cars. Monica’s face was a frightening, dark cloud of rage. She pointed at us and said through clenched teeth, “Get out of my house!”
Just then, two big guys came walking towards us. One looked at me and said, “Lady, if you’ve got any brains at all, you better get into the car, right now!”
Something told me not to hesitate, to just obey what he said. I started towards the passenger side of the car, and the same man called out, “No! You get into the driver’s seat!”
Shaking almost uncontrollably by then, I did as I was told. I didn’t look over at Don; I couldn’t bear to see what his face might look like. There was a part of me that didn’t care what I thought might be about to happen. I didn’t want to see if he was afraid or angry. I was terrified, but there was a part of me that didn’t care about what happened to Don right then.
In reality, what did happen was not nearly as bad as it could have been. The guy who had told me to get into the car, ripped Don verbally up one side and down the other about causing Monica to feel afraid of him in what should have been the sanctity of her own home. He grabbed Don by the shirt at the neck and told him that the night before, when we had left to go get cigarettes, that Monica had called the family of brothers Bill had always told her to call on if she had any trouble. They had told her to meet them at their house the next morning and they would come and “remove us” from her home.
Sensing that things were getting to a breaking point, I started up the car.
All of a sudden, there was a blurred flash out of the corner of my eye and I turned just in time to see the other three men rushing towards their brother as he held Don. I forced my eyes frontwards and heard them hitting Don as they threatened him and told him he was lucky to be leaving with his life.
Suddenly the passenger side door was flung open and they threw Don into the car. Peering past his bruised and bloody face at me, the man said, “Lady you must be nuts to be with a low-life like this! Now git! And don’t even look back!”
That’s all he had to say. I put the car in drive and sped out of there before they changed their minds and decided they weren’t finished with us.
Not know really where we were going, I drove into town to the parking lot of the store we had been to the night before and parked.
I looked over at Don. He was glaring at me, as if somehow he thought all of this was my fault.
He spat at me through a bloodied mouth, “Well, I hope you have some bright ideas, cause we have no money, no gas, and no place to go!”
I looked at him, and every fiber of my being wanted to scream at him and claw at his ugly face, “This is your doing! You got us into this and now you want me to figure a way out???” But instead, I looked at him and said tiredly, “Let me think, Don…”
“Yea!” he yelled, “think! and think quick!” With that, he got out of the car, and slammed the door so hard, I was surprised it didn’t pop right off its hinges and fall onto the parking lot. I didn’t know where he was going, but he headed towards the gas station across the street.
Apparently he went across the street to wash up and buy a pack of cigarettes. When he came back about ten minutes later, his face was washed, although bruised, swelled and reddened. He had bought a pack of cigarettes for himself. I noticed he had not bought a pack for me. But with Don, that was so typical. If we only had one sandwich between us and no money, Don would find a way to rationalize why he should be the one to eat the entire sandwich. How I hadn’t been able to see just how selfish and self-absorbed he was in the beginning was beyond me.
“Well!” He grated through clenched teeth, ‘have you come up with any bright ideas?”
Actually I had, but of course I couldn’t put it to him that way. I might get hit.
“We’re going to have to call the bank in Lancaster and have them wire your VA money to us here to a bank.”
At that point, Don smiled slightly. “Oh, I forgot about that… this is the first of the month.”
We were lucky he had forgotten because on the first of the month every month, he always ran to the bank to withdraw his meager amount of money and would go right off to find some pot to buy with it.
We drove to the nearest bank and started the wiring process. It was going to cost us to have it wired and take over two hours until we could pick it up. Since we had no place to go, during that time, we sat out in the parking lot of the bank. Don chain smoked and I sat and thought as hard as I could about where we were going to go once we got the money.
The obvious answer was back to Lancaster, but to whose house? Who would take us in? No one, with the exception of Don’s drugging friends really liked him, so I was racking my brain as to who might be willing to let us stay with them until we figured out something else. I was coming up empty.
We couldn’t just sit there in South Bend, Indiana, so we headed out on the road starting for Lancaster. I had never felt so afraid. Technically, we were homeless.
So much for Don’s grand idea to move “out of state, where he knew he could do well and we could make a fresh start”.
Now we had nothing at all except a few personal things and what little bit of clothes we owned. And no place to go. I hated him. I hated him in a way I never knew I could hate anyone. And that hate was deepening by the minute…
About halfway to Lancaster, we stopped at a roadside rest. I spotted a telephone and decided I would call a good friend of mine that I had gone to school with. I prayed she would be home.
The phone rang about seven times and I was just about to give up when she answered.
“Becky!” I called out, relieved.
“Nikki! Is that you?” she asked.
“Yes, Becky…. Listen we’re in trouble and it’s a long story, but I need to ask a huge favor of you. We are coming back to Lancaster tonight and we don’t have any place to stay.”
“Well, honey, come on!” she said excitedly.
“Beck, before you say yes, let me tell you we need to stay a few days…. Maybe a week or more… I don’t know…”
Waiting for the silence I was sure would follow, I was surprised and terribly relieved when she said, “look, just get here safely and we’ll talk about everything once you get here.”
I was worried how her husband, Danny would feel about this sudden interruption in his life, and I asked her. She was her usually kind self. “Don’t worry about Danny,” she said, “he’ll be fine.”
I thanked her profusely and then hung up. Thank God! At least we had someplace to go besides the streets!
I was still very apprehensive about our situation, but felt much better knowing we at least had someplace to park the car besides on the streets once we returned to Lancaster.
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