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Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of gold just before I felt the impact. Our van was hit with such force that the car instantly began to flip. I don't really know what happened next or how long it took; but eventually the car came to rest on all four wheels. After what seemed like an eternity of squealing tires and the pounding and scraping of metal on pavement, all I could hear was the crying of my children.
I looked back to where Sydney, my two-year-old, was supposed to be. I saw her still buckled in her seat, but obviously scared to death. She was crying at the top of her lungs and was looking frantically around for me. I looked to where I had last seen Hunter, my four-month-old. Luckily he was still in his car seat, but his carrier top covered him completely. With intense fear, I slowly lifted the cover off of his body. No blood. No obvious injuries. No deafening silence. I immediately saw this as a good sign.
Shaking, I looked around the car. Our groceries: cans of soup and green beans, lay in the seats, the floorboard and on the dash. Not one of the van windows was still intact. My eyes then focused on a pencil that had been driven through the one piece of the windshield that still hung in the frame. Having difficulty moving about, I slowly unfastened my seat belt and began to try to comfort my children. The impact of the initial hit came on my side of the car and I realized I could not open my door. It was then that angels in the crowd of people, who had obviously witnessed the wreck, began to come to my aide and try to get my door ajar. I thought I heard them saying that the van had flipped three to five times, but its final resting place was on all four wheels. I couldn't help but sense that God had personally offered His hand to protect us all from what was sure death.
The 16-year-old who had run the red light was unharmed and came to check on us. When the paramedics arrived, they examined each of us before transporting us to the hospital to make certain we had no internal injuries. But how do you really know what is wrong with a four month old or a two year old who has just learned to talk? Those minutes, that became hours, were agonizing.
The accident was a turning point in my life. In a marriage that was already traveling down a rough road, the accident proved to be something of a prophecy of my life over the next few years: blind-sided and hurling head over heels, but with God's grace, landing on my feet.
"Has this ever happened to you? You are washing your face and suddenly you do not recognize the woman staring back at you. "Who is this?" you asked the mirror on the wall. No reply ... Psychologists call this phenomenon the "displacement of self," and it usually occurs during times of great stress ... But what's wrong? What is this great sadness we cannot name? Perhaps the heart of our melancholy is that we miss the woman we were meant to be.... Listen to the whispers of your heart. Look within."
-Sara Breathnach, Simple Abundance
The house we lived in at the time of the accident was on the main road and made of concrete blocks. It wasn't in great shape when we first moved in, but it was right up the road from my in-laws; and we were grateful for a place to call our own. I had painted and cleaned, planted flowers and did what I could to make it a cozy home, all the while I was pregnant with my second child and toting Sydney around. My husband was a skilled craftsman, but work on our house - like time with us - fell to the bottom of his priority list.
After the accident, I had no car, no access to a phone, and very little contact with the outside world. My days at home with my children were very simple, but I came to like it that way. At first, I welcomed the quiet days at home curled up on the couch reading with them. They loved Barney and would march around the house or ride their little trikes singing Barney songs. They were wonderful entertainment for me and I marveled as I watched them grow and develop. Sydney would help me cook and clean, and we would laugh with sheer joy as we made messes while we mixed cake batter or made a meal. Hunter fascinated me with the way he explored his world. Together, we celebrated every wonderful moment: we made tents with blankets over the dining room chairs, played hide and seek, sang and danced together. Those days were priceless to me and fed my spirit so that I was able to endure what nighttime would bring.
I used to call my husband the hardest working man in town because I thought he was out trying to make a better life for us. He was never home. But I learned, bit by bit, that he was actually out gambling and drinking away the little money we did have. With no phone, I never had a way to call or contact him and he never came by to check on me either, so I worried about whether or not he was safe. I made excuses for him and his whereabouts so that the children could be proud of their dad. When he would finally come home, very late each night, I would carefully watch the way he got out of the truck. A part of me died every time I saw the shadow of our windows move across the wall as he pulled his truck into the driveway. I was always relieved that he was okay and that he hadn't hurt anyone, but also overcome with dread, and yes, even intense fear.
I'd stand in the living room and watch him as he staggered up to the front door. By the reflection from the porch light I would try to read his face and determine if he was going to be the happy drunk this time or the angry drunk. I wanted to keep peace in my home, so I tried to be ready for him to avoid any conflict. One night he would yell at me for opening the door too soon. The next night, I opened it too late. The food was always too hot or too cold, too salty or not salted enough. Many nights he threw his plate across the room, food and all, and told me to clean up the mess and bring him something suitable to eat.
Most of his threats against me were empty, but I honestly had no way of knowing which ones he would deliver on. He seemed to enjoy having such control over me and making me wonder when my punishment would come. As soon as he sat down on his favorite couch in front of the television he would begin to belittle me. One night, in one of his screaming rages he yelled, "I wouldn't sleep too hard if I were you. I'll come pi-s and
sh-t on your head." Many nights he made me do degrading things I didn't want to do. I could not fight back because I was afraid for my life and the children's if I didn't do exactly what he said. So through many tears, I did everything I could to protect my children.
I learned a lot in those horrible nights. When you're flat on your back and you cry, your tears run down from the corner of your eyes and through the curves and channels of your ears. They soak your hair, and they leave you messier than crying when you are standing on your feet. It's hard to breathe with someone on top of you, especially someone you don't want to be there or who you feel doesn't deserve to share such an intimate space with you. You want to scream, but you know you can't because you don't want to wake your children and make him angry. Through the nightmare of abusive sex with my own husband, however, I learned that I could endure things no one should ever have to face. I learned that I was stronger than I ever imagined and that I would never allow him to control my spirit.
I may never know how deeply those nights affected me. Did they make me separate who I am spiritually from who I am physically and sexually? What reward in that little concrete house made that price worth paying?
Sleep never came easy. When it did, it was filled with nightmares. One night, in the silence that came when the alcohol overcame him and finally delivered me from his torture, I had a reassurance deep in my soul that let me know I was not alone. I lay in the bed and tried to be perfectly still. I strained to hear the voice that spoke inside me: "you are just as worth saving as your children."
The visits to the doctor following the wreck revealed that our bodies would heal, but we would each need variations of treatment in the meantime. Seat belts had saved all of our lives, but it would be some time before any of us felt comfortable in a car again. For months, even years following the wreck, I had excruciating neck pain and nausea. My mother-in-law or my husband would take me to see a brother and sister team of chiropractors there in our little town. Dr. Mack and Dr. Beth showed me such kindness that I often suspected they knew my deep, dark secrets. They took extra time with the children to make certain that the accident had caused no long-term problems. They talked to me. They listened to me. They befriended me. They gave me wonderful care. "Dr. Mack's" wife once gave me a book, Simple Abundance, which I read every day for years and have shared with many friends since.
During my days at home with the children, I would read the devotional book and pray for strength. I prayed for God to show me what I looked like through His eyes. I struggled trying to discern what God wanted me to do. I knew we had survived the accident because of His wondrous protection, and I felt His comfort with me in the living hell that my home became following the accident. I also knew that God hated divorce; and to be honest, I wondered if I had allowed myself to get into this mess as a form of punishment because of the failure of my first marriage. So many questions and not enough answers.
It was only three months after my divorce from my first husband that I met the father of my children. He was tall and charming. I was tall and broken. Hurting people make bad decisions and for whatever reason, I gave myself to this man too quickly. Maybe those of us who fall in love too quickly are just trying to give someone else what we ourselves long for so deeply. Maybe some people are predators and they smell the wounds of hurting people and the wounded become prey. I told myself that I was being cautious, but I disregarded warnings from my parents and brother who loved me and only wanted what was best for me. They say that "love is blind," but in hindsight, there were warning signs so I know I was not blind. Rather, I saw glimpses of his character flaws and dismissed them because something inside me needed to be with him. I had always looked so deeply for the good in others that I would not allow myself to see what was right in front of me. His father was a wonderfully, loving man and I knew he had to have that kind of love inside him somewhere. I could feel that I loved him, and I know how this sounds, but I thought I could love him enough to change him into the man I knew he could be, or that I wanted him to be. I honestly just wanted to be loved.
Friends who have been involved in recovery programs like NA or AA tell me that the programs advise people to postpone any new romantic relationship for at least a year after their last drug use. The idea behind that advice is that the euphoria of a new relationship can create the same "high" as their drug of choice. That high separates the addict from the real reason he or she used drugs in the first place. So, instead of doing the very hard soul-searching work that will help them grow and stay clean, they have a new drug which, of course, eventually fails them. Getting involved so soon after my divorce probably was not the best idea, but I have three beautiful children from that relationship and I count them as my greatest gifts and life's ultimate blessings.
It some ways, it was easy for me to deceive myself about my husband's potential. His parents, a gentle caring Southern couple, moved as one person. They had built a life together by a heart-felt respect for one another and gentle humor that helped them skate over the rough spots that are a part of every relationship. My husband's father, "Papa Bill," smelled of cigarettes, the starch in his shirts, and the hard work that had built his business and fortified the respect the community placed in him. He was an electrician; and all over town, people turned to him and casually handed him the keys to their homes without hesitation. If you needed a breaker replaced or new wiring throughout the house, you could trust Bill for quality work at a fair price. He had built his business one faithful relationship at a time. He loved the simple joys of life: time with his wife, his grandchildren, and the wonderful rest that comes at the end of a good day's work. But he was not a "simple" man. He was very smart and invested in property and saved his money so that he was able to care for his family. His wife, "Mama Dot," was his perfect counterpart. She, like many Southern women, waited on her husband hand and foot when he was home, even though she had worked a full day herself. Mama Dot worked at the local water company and was as well-known and well-liked as her husband. From the day I met them, I loved them, and I could tell they loved me.
My husband's son from a previous marriage sealed the deal. He was six years old when his dad and I started dating. He had a wonderful relationship with his mother but he still willingly welcomed me into his life. I longed for children of my own, and the hours spent listening to his stories filled my heart to bursting and erased away any concerns I had about his father's occasional selfishness. I often thought my husband's family hoped I was going to be his "savior," in a manner of speaking. I did think I could change him and help him become a better man. I kept my mind focused on the good times and tried not to think about his temper, his drinking, and what eventually became abusive behavior. I took the "crumbs" he dished out and thought it was love.
What I know now that I did not know then was that we teach people how to treat us; and unless we expect the best, we very rarely will get it.
Before the wedding, my brother came to me at the urging of my father. He took me aside and listed specific reasons that they were against me staying with this man. I saw their advice as meddling and confidently told him that he needed to look for the good in others. Never in my wildest nightmares could I have imagined what lay ahead of me, but my family seemed to see things I did not.
After our wedding, we lived in my parent's lake house. While we lived there, God blessed us with Sydney, the beautiful and perfect baby I had always dreamed of. My husband was a wonderful birth coach. I still remember thinking "if he could only be 'out there' the way he has been 'in here'."
For years, I had ached for a child. My first husband's decision to postpone having children; and my feeling of urgency in beginning our family had started the divide that eventually resulted in our divorce. I knew I was going to love my babies, but as they handed this miraculous child of God to me, I was completely undone by my love for her. As much as I had prayed for her, I still could not have anticipated or imagined the powerful feelings that rushed over me. I watched my husband as he held her so tightly and said "I'll always take care of you." Even now, I believe that he meant that promise as he whispered it in Sydney's ear. It just wasn't meant to be. I had hoped that he would stay with us that night. I did not want to break the spell that seemed to surround our hospital room. This was the way it was supposed to be: the three of us together.
Excerpted from The 19 Cent Millionaire by MARIAN WARDLAW Copyright © 2011 by MARIAN WARDLAW. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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