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Farrel locked the bathroom door, quickly turned on the fan and the cold water tap and filled the basin. She dipped a face cloth into the cold water, then pressed the cloth against her right eye, wincing with pain as she held it there for a few minutes. She willed her mind to go blank, anything to erase the scene which had transpired less than five minutes ago. She didn't dare raise her eyes to the mirror above the sink--not yet. She needed time to think up an excuse for her latest 'accident'.
She sighed defeatedly as she slumped to the floor, giving in to her emotions. She winced again in pain as a salty tear slid down her raw cheek. What was she going to do? Where could she go? Was it really her fault? Robert always warned her not to make him angry. He constantly reminded her that he was the head of the household and, as his wife, she was to submit to him without question. There was no middle ground.
She had no idea what had prompted his outburst this time. When he returned from work, she'd had his favorite meal on the table, the apartment was spotless, and their three teenagers were on their best behavior.
Deep down Farrel knew Robert really didn't need a reason to abuse her. If he had a bad day at work, she was his punching bag. He relieved his frustrations through her. Sometimes he only verbally abused her, then he would question why she had no self-esteem and lovingly tell her all of her wonderful characteristics. From abuse to compliments, she'd gotten caught up in the middle and lately had begun to question her own sanity. Perhaps she really was a terrible human being.
She felt like a failure in everything she did. No wonder her friends haddeserted her. Robert was her only friend. She had Robert and the kids. That was all. Her life was a mess. She had nothing to show for thirty-five years of life except a long list of failures.
She stood up and slowly forced herself to look at her reflection in the mirror. A stranger stared back at her. That can't be me. Her eye was puffy and turning a horrible shade of purple. Robert's ring left a gash in her cheek. She performed her usual ritual of applying makeup to cover her injuries, then ran a brush through her blond hair. She lay the brush down as she heard a faint tap at the door.
"Mom, it's me," a shaky voice called from the other side of the door. "Are you okay?"
Farrel quickly unlocked the door to face her firstborn. The girl stared in horror; sobs shook her thin body. "Mom," she whimpered, "how can you put up with this?"
Farrel put her arms around her daughter and held her close for a few seconds, at the same time hating herself for letting her daughters be witnesses to Robert's violence. She released Frankie and held her at arms length. Frankie was a beauty at the tender age of sixteen. Silky blond hair framed her delicate face. Farrel was looking at a carbon copy of herself at that age. The only difference was that her child lacked the carefree whimsy most girls her age felt. Frankie reluctantly went out with her friends and had recently been asked to a dance by Gary Blackmon, who Farrel knew was the most popular boy in school. Farrel couldn't have asked for anyone sweeter for her daughter. Gary had wavy black hair and deep-set coal black eyes. Frankie had liked him for months and had confided her feelings to Farrel. But Frankie had been certain that Gary would never give her a second look. She tried to convince herself that maybe he only asked her out because he felt sorry for her. Farrel tried to impress upon her daughter how many fine attributes she possessed, but Frankie would not be swayed, and accused Farrel of telling her those things out of a sense of obligation as her mother. After all, Frankie reasoned, no mother would tell her daughter that she was ugly even if that was the case. Farrel blamed herself for her daughter's lack of self-esteem.
She realized how Robert's actions had affected all of them and would continue to do so unless she changed things. She worried that her daughters would either become involved with abusive men or be afraid to make a normal commitment to any man. Now Frankie feared that she wouldn't measure up to Gary's expectations of her.
"Mom, can't you just leave Robert? You and Charly and I were happy before. We can't stand Robert," she said through gritted teeth.
"I'll think of something, honey. I promise." She smiled weakly. "Where's Charly?"
"Robert made her go to her room. He said he was sick of her back talk." Frankie's eyes filled with tears as she put a delicate hand to her mother's cheek.
"Where's Robert Jr."
She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Robert said he was going to take him somewhere. I wonder what he'll come back with this time. It's not fair, Mom!"
"No, it's not, Frankie," she answered defeatedly as she again wondered what she could do. "Let's get Charly and watch an old movie. Just the three of us, like old times. I'll even make some popcorn." She smiled.
Hours later Farrel lay in the king-sized bed she shared with her husband. She desperately wanted to fall into a deep sleep, then wake up and be assured her life was just a bad dream. The hell she was living couldn't be real because so much of herself had died. Slowly over the years parts of herself had passed away, victims of a long painful death. She had been so unaware of it until one day she didn't know herself anymore. The smile and forced happiness that she showed to the world were just masks covering the person she'd become.
Her mind screamed to turn back time, but she knew that it was too late. She could never bring back the happy, fun-loving person she had once been. The past four years had murdered that person and she knew she could not raise herself from the dead. She was mentally defeated.
An hour earlier she'd heard Robert's key in the lock and listened as he shuffled down the hall to Robert Jr.'s room. Robert Jr.'s voice talked animatedly about some extravagant purchase his father had gotten him. Farrel sighed. It would mean juggling the monthly budget again.
She felt sick to her stomach. After one of her husband's outbursts, he always took Robert Jr. out for a trip to the mall. He never asked her children to come along. His excuse was always the same, "My boy comes first with me. I'm not the girls' real father." Tears stung her eyes. She loved her daughters with all of her heart and soul and she tried to love Robert Jr., but as time wore on, he was turning into a duplicate of his father. He could be so sweet and loving when he was alone with her, but turned into an obnoxious beast when his father was around. He knew how to pull his father's strings and enjoyed playing him against her. He was going to grow up to repeat his father's actions in his own relationships.
To bring Robert Jr.'s behavior to his father's attention would only incite another outburst from Robert. Farrel remembered Robert saying over and over that he and his son had no faults but always had to deal with everyone else's. It was a hopeless situation.
She heard the bedroom door quietly open. She took a deep breath as she heard Robert remove his clothes and slip into bed beside her.
"Hi, sweetheart," he said as he nuzzled her shoulder with his chin. He planted tender kisses on her neck.
Farrel felt like crying. Why couldn't her husband be this gentle all of the time? This same scene played out over and over after his abuse. She had it memorized. He would act as though nothing had happened and even express surprise at her bruises and deny responsibility for her injuries. His excuse would be that she happened to be in his way and stumbled, or that she was imagining the abuse and then feign shock that she could ever think he would hurt her. He offered to help her find a counselor for the mental and emotional problems he insisted she had. Sometimes she wondered if she were losing her mind. Her daughters witnessed many of his attacks, but his answer was always the same. They were lying about him because they hated him and wanted to make him look like a monster to the world. Farrel knew that somewhere within himself he knew his guilt.
Robert brushed her hair from her brow. The moonlight cast just enough light over the bed to illuminate them. "You are so beautiful," he whispered as he caressed her neck and then slowly and masterfully slid his hands down to her breasts.
Farrel wanted to squelch the fire beginning inside of her as he skillfully manipulated her body into raw sexual passion. She pleaded to herself to remember what he had done to her hours earlier. Her heart beat quicker as her uncontrollable passion melted into the depths of his body. He continued to sexually tease her until he could no longer contain his own desire.
Later Farrel listened to his steady rhythmic breathing and knew that he was in a peaceful sleep. She gently touched his cheek and stared down at him. He looked so innocent, almost boyish, lying with one leg kicked out from under the blanket. A strand of jet black hair fell loosely over his brow.
She longed to hold him and cradle his head against her breast. She ached to get inside his mind to learn why he did and said the things he did. How could he love her so passionately one minute, then physically and verbally abuse her the next? Every time she convinced herself that she should leave him, it seemed as though he could read her mind, and he would suddenly do an about-face and act sweet and attentive, convincing her that she should give him one more chance. Deep down she knew that her fear of leaving him really stemmed from the fact that she had nowhere to go. But at the same time she wondered how many more chances she could give him before he completely destroyed her.
Farrel got out of bed and walked over to the window seat. She sat down and drew her slender legs to her chin. She stared out into the silent darkness. She longed to be a child again. That was so long ago, before her life had become so complicated. She gazed at a bright star and thought of how many times she had wished upon a star as a child, and with a child's innocence had believed that her wish would be granted.
She still felt the touch of Robert's masculine hands. She breathed deeply, wishing for some normalcy to her life. She craved to be loved and cherished. Robert satisfied her sexually but left her feeling cold and empty inside. "Please, God," she prayed, "let my husband see what he is doing and help him to change."
She hugged her knees as her body trembled and silent tears began to fall.
Farrel stood at the stove fixing Robert's breakfast when he entered the small kitchen. He walked over to the table and set his briefcase next to his chair, then firmly planted his hands on the back of it.
The children had been chatting noisily as they ate, but now they abruptly fell silent .
Farrel noticed the chilly silence and stole a glance at her husband. He was impeccably dressed in black slacks, and a gray jacket. His jaw was firmly set, and his facial expression caused an icy coldness to creep up her spine. Her hand trembled slightly as she flipped the pancakes. She slowly turned to face him. "Good morning, honey," she said, trying to keep her voice bright. "Are you going to be late tonight?"
"I don't know," he said as his eyes swept over her face.
Farrel could see the disgust in his eyes. This morning she had tried to mask her bruises, but the ugly purple welt on her cheek showed through and her eye was a sickening shade of black and blue.
"What did you run into this time?" he asked sharply.
She fought the urge to retort, "Your fist," but instead said, "I don't know. Maybe the cupboard." She looked at her daughters. She could read no emotion on their faces. They knew it was useless to contradict anything Robert said. He was the ultimate authority.
"You sure are clumsy, Farrel," Robert Jr. laughed.
He knew the truth. He had seen what his father had done to her last night. Her jaw tightened, but she kept her silence. She observed his profile. He was a husky boy for his fifteen years, and tall. His hair color was the same as his father's and he had those same penetrating dark eyes, eyes which she knew hid so much of the truth behind them. She turned back to the stove.
Robert walked over to her and roughly clamped his hands on her shoulders, causing her to wince in pain. "Don't you ever look at my son like that again!" he thundered.
"I...I didn't," she said lamely, then added, "but I wish you would have him show some respect for me."
Robert laughed loudly. "Respect!" He turned to his son. "Son, she wants your respect!"
Robert Jr. smirked as he finished his bowl of cereal. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Dad."
Robert turned her around. "How can you have the nerve to ask anyone to respect you? Look at yourself! You can't do anything right! It's a wonder you can even dress yourself in the morning!"
Tears stung her eyes as she stole a glance at Frankie and Charly. She could see the pain in their eyes, and it shattered her heart. She had to do something, but she didn't know what. Her head throbbed. She looked into her husband's cold, black eyes. "Honey, let me turn off the stove." She kept her voice light, masking her inner pain.
He released his grip on her. She heaped pancakes on a plate and handed them to him. "I made them just the way you like them." She smiled.
Robert shrugged his shoulders as he slammed the plate on the counter. "You don't know how to do anything just the way I like it." He walked over to the table, picked up his briefcase, and left the room.
Minutes later Farrel heard the front door slam. Her mind drifted to the previous night. He had been so loving and attentive. What was wrong? Was it her? Did she bring this anger out in him? Trying to make sense out of his moods frustrated her.
After the children left for school, she occupied herself the remainder of the morning with doing her daily household chores. She walked from room to room of the cramped apartment as though in a daze, wondering why her life had turned out completely opposite of what she had planned. She sat on the edge of her bed, put her head in her hands, and closed her eyes. She tried to pray but found no peace. She doubted she would ever feel peace again.
At noon she went outside to weed the small garden she had planted a few weeks earlier. Each tenant in the apartment complex was allotted a small plot of land each spring for flowers or vegetables.
She pulled the weeds, enjoying the mid-June sunshine splashing down on her back. She was aware of the chatter between her neighbors as they brought out lawn chairs for their daily visits while basking in the warmth of the beautiful day. She caught bits and pieces of their conversations and longed to be included in their circle of friendship but knew it could never happen. When she and Robert moved in two years earlier, he had forbid her from getting chummy with their new neighbors. She didn't blame her neighbors for ignoring her because she had shrugged off all attempts at friendship. She wondered what they really thought about her. She must seem odd to them staying so withdrawn in her own little world. She was certain they had heard plenty of noise coming from the apartment because of the paper thin walls. Whenever she passed one of the women in the hallway, she noticed a curious, wondering look. No one ever tried to be friends since she had rebuked their neighborly gestures so many times before, but she wished someone would see the loneliness. Couldn't someone see how desperately she needed a friend?
Farrel kept her head low, perspiration beading up on her forehead. It trickled down her back. She immersed herself in her private thoughts and didn't hear approaching footsteps.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Drake. It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" a pleasant voice asked.
Farrel jumped, startled, then quickly regained her composure. "Yes, it is," she answered shyly, still keeping her head bent low.
"I didn't mean to frighten you. I was just admiring your garden. You seem to know an awful lot about vegetable plants. I was wondering if you could give me a few hints?" The woman laughed as she continued, "My garden looks sick compared to yours. Bill, my husband, said I should talk to you."
Farrel slowly raised her head and looked into the older woman's friendly face. Her eyes met the woman's and she saw the shock in them as they swiftly looked over Farrel's bruises.
Farrel pulled herself to her feet. "I'd be happy to help," she said as she wiped her hands on the back of her jeans. She followed the woman to a plot a few feet away and almost laughed out loud when she saw the tangled mass of weeds and plants. She dug into the moist soil and yanked at the weeds.
"By the way, my name is Betty Levitt. I've lived here for more than twenty years," the woman said.
"Hi, I'm Farrel Drake," she shyly replied.
"I know," the woman said with a smile. "Your husband's name is Robert and he's a sales representative for Automon Plastics. You two have three children."
Farrel became uncomfortable as she wondered how much more the woman knew about her. She did not dig for information, but still Farrel felt the need to make up an excuse for her bruises. "I must be the clumsiest person alive," she finally said. "Last night I ran right into the cupboard. I guess one of the kids forgot to close it." She smiled.
"It happens to the best of us." Betty returned her smile. "How about coming up to my apartment for a cup of coffee?"
"I wish I could, but I have a lot to do this afternoon," she lied. She fought back the urge to accept the invitation because she so desperately longed for a friend, someone to share her deepest thoughts with. But she knew what would happen if she disobeyed Robert and he was to find out. He warned her repeatedly that people would interfere in their lives if she involved herself in any womanly friendships, or "cat sessions," as he referred to them. Of course, it did not matter that he had several family members and co-workers in whom he confided. But, as he pointed out, he was a man and that was the difference.
"How about tomorrow morning then? A few of us get together to swap recipes and just have some plain old-fashioned girl talk. It's about time that we got to know you," Betty said.
"I don't know, Mrs. Levitt."
"Okay, Betty. I'll get back to you later." She offered a weak smile.
Farrel wondered how she could keep Betty Levitt at a distance. If the woman sensed Farrel was evading her, she didn't let on. She wanted more than anything to be included in Betty's friendly circle, but even more than that, she feared Robert's retribution if she opposed his authority.