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It was another bad night. He came home early in the morning drunk, violent and angry. From what I could see in the darkness it looked like his eye was swollen shut-he was fighting again. I lay in bed pretending to be asleep as he started throwing things around the room. He had just finished destroying the clay vases my daughter had made at camp when she was 12 when my son came in to the room and wrestled his father to the ground. My daughter called 911 and started throwing the pieces of her camp project at him while she shouted “I hate you!“ at him. There used to be sadness in her voice when she yelled at him. Not anymore. Nothing but hate was left in her cries.
The three of us sat around the breakfast table not saying a word. We never said a word. Ever. My son went off to work and my daughter began her routine of saying goodbye to all of her friends. She would be going back to college tomorrow and it always made her sad. My capacity to feel sadness had left me along time ago. Nowadays all I felt was defeat. Living with this monster I used to call my husband for nearly a quarter century had taken its toll. Perhaps in his mind he was only hurting himself but nothing could be farther from the truth. His desire to destroy himself was pure poison to us. The hurt he had caused was beyond words. Its the kind of hurt that is not possible to reconcile. My only hope was that my children can learn to at least compartmentalize it and keep it from contaminating their attempts at future relationships and happiness. I felt like a complete failure. My life had become a drudgery of worry, fear, regret anger and despair. I worried about our safety, I worried about how bad of a scene he would make this time at our next family gathering. And I wondered what was wrong with me for marrying him and more so why I had stayed with him so long. I suppose we were in love once but that was just a distant memory. I could have left him years ago. I should have left him years ago. But for some reason I could never leave. I never was able to just go.
My daughter finished packing up her car and came inside to say goodbye to me. We had a game we played that made these moments easier. We pretended that she was just going to the store or something and would be back soon. This morning was different. She looked at me hugged me hard and said "It’s not your fault momma.“. She kissed me and said she loved me, then she got in her car and drove off.
I heard his truck pull in with the music blaring. The door opened and a beer bottle rolled out and broke on the driveway. He cursed at me for calling the police last night and said that I would get what was coming to me. He brushed his arm across the breakfast table sending all the dishes to the floor to shatter on top of each other and staggered off to his room.
I went out to the backyard and thought about how my life had come to this. It was April in the Midwest and the sky was full of those big white puffy clouds-the kind we used to look at and make up people or things they reminded us of. It was warm today and the tulips had started to push through the winter soil and patches of green grass poked up through the leaves and debris of the long winter.
I sat there staring off into nowhere when I noticed that our birdfeeder had fallen over into the mud and was sticking out like Greek ruin. I walked over and knelt beside it. As I knelt I was overcome with a tiredness that had become very familiar. I was tired from not sleeping the night before but I was feeling the most was the exhaustion you can only get from a life of living with an alcoholic. I loved to garden. It was the only thing in my life that kept me relatively sane. The feel of the soil, the smell of the earth and the beauty of growing something from nothing had always soothed me and made me feel at ease. I put my hands into the wet cold soil and a feeling came over me like I had never experienced before. I had a flash of myself as a little girl helping my mom plant some flowers along side our old house on the other side of town. I could smell the soil and hear the birds singing. I could hear my mom humming next to me as I dug at the ground with my little shovel. I stood up and wandered over to the garage and found myself pulling out a box full of shiny blue pink and silver rocks. It looked like someone had shattered a bunch of those tacky gazing balls you see in some peoples front yards and thrown them all together in a shiny colorful heap. I carried the box back to the yard and saved the birdbath from its muddy winter home. I had the base of the birdbath out of the mud and was setting the bath on top of it. I began to arrange the multi color rocks inside the bath in different patterns and shapes. I looked at what I had done and it occurred to me that I had recreated a Fairy Garden that was in my favorite story I used to read as a kid. It was one of those silly children’s stories with wizards, princess, fairies and happy endings. The scene I loved the most was the one of the princess in her garden. She called it her Fairy garden because when she sat there magical things would happen. I remember many summer days when my mom and I tried to build one in her garden. I remember the story showed the princess in a huge swing in the middle of the garden, swinging for the sky and when she got high enough she would be able to fly over the countryside and help little kids throughout the kingdom. I went over to the maple tree in the corner of the yard and broke off a couple thin branches. I took the branches and lashed them together with some bark and made a swing. I placed the swing at the end of the birdbath like I remembered it was in the story.
And then I was overcome with a feeling of watching my life unfold in front of my eyes. Like I was watching myself on the big screen at the drive in movie with the sound coming out of those little metal boxes you hooked onto the windows. I saw my life replayed in front of me. I found myself shouting “No! don’t do that!!”, and crying with joy at the birth of my son and daughter. I saw me at my wedding day all dressed up full of hope and innocence. And I saw the many scenes of violence and destruction my husband had caused throughout the past years. And then I saw myself on the swing in my garden wearing my Sunday dress and pink ribbons in my hair. I was throwing my head back laughing and giggling, swinging as hard as I could. And suddenly I came back to myself. Standing in my backyard with dirt on my hands, looking at what I had done to the birdfeeder. The sound of his truck had brought me back. The door slammed and music blared from the speakers. He had started listening to Death Metal stuff,,,angry, violent hateful music. I stood there motionless until his sound was just a faint whisper on the horizon.
My hands were shaking as I packed my things. I used my butt to push open the screen door as I backed out of my house headed toward my car. Out of the corner of my eye I felt something moving in the yard. A wind had come up around the birdfeeder and was spinning the leaves all around the base. It was more of a breeze than a wind. I stood there with the total of 25 years of marriage in my arms. I was drawn back to the bird feeder, the garden I had built. I looked closely and saw that the swing I had built was moving as if someone had just jumped off of it. Threw the tears in my eyes I saw that blowing in the breeze caught on the edge of the seat was a little pink ribbon same as the one I wore when I was a little girl. I turned and walked the few steps to my car. As I opened the door and tossed my bag in the back I thought I heard something. It was soft and gentle like a summer day. I heard a voice in the wind say..”You can go now…”
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