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Yes, You Can Have Joy
Nancy Bramlett was miserable --- trapped in an abusive marriage with no hope of improvement. For her, divorce wasn't an option, but shopping was.
It was summertime in Memphis and Nancy, with her friend Linda, were on a mission. They started with clothing. Hopping from mall to mall, and boutique to shop, they tried on all the latest styles and colors. Midday, there was a lunch break at a trendy cafe or bistro. Sometimes she'd think wistfully about brief times spent living in Boston and Miami, where she could shop at Jordan Marsh or Bonwit Teller. Those happy memories and the thrill of making their latest purchases covered up the pain, at least for a few hours.
In time, Linda and Nancy became bored with clothes. So they visited Ethan Allen and Kacey's and any number of quality antique shops looking for the perfect dining-room set or a unique accessory for the living room. Late in the summer, with closets full and extra furniture stored away, Nancy held a giant garage sale and cleared out the items she no longer wanted, making room for winter fashions she was planning to buy that fall. During a break between customers, she wondered why all her new purchases left her satisfied for only a day or two. Why, when she had so much, did she need more? At a time when so many acquaintances considered her lifestyle glamorous, why was she so unhappy?
Certainly anyone would be envious of the phone calls that came during the months between her husband's seasons in the National Football League? 'Is John there?' said the voice.
'We're about to eat dinner,' Nancy answered.
'Elvis wants you guys to come over.' Immediately, Nancy turned off the oven, put the food in the refrigerator, and called a baby-sitter. John and Nancy then hurried over to the Graceland mansion for dinner with longtime friend Elvis Presley. Afterwards, they might play a football game at the high school field a couple of miles away, or Elvis might rent the old Memphien Theater so they could watch a movie without being disturbed by a myriad of fans. Sometimes in Graceland, Nancy would slip away for a moment to call her mother to check on her sons, Andy and Don.
Isn't this the American dream? For seven years, your husband is a star linebacker in the NFL. After injuries force him to retire, his competitive drive is channeled into business, where he is even more successful. You have all the financial resources you need; you have two children you love dearly. But while your husband provides well financially for his family, he can't give what you want most --- some attention, a little time, a sense that you are important to him. In a word, Nancy wants to feel loved.
All the pain of her marriage came to the surface one evening in a bar when one of the secretaries from John's office grabbed Nancy's arm and hissed, 'Your husband tried to get me to go to an apartment with him this week. I thought you ought to know about it.' Nancy stared at the woman, her mouth open wide in disbelief. Humiliation engulfed her. Her face felt as if it were on fire. She wanted to vanish beneath the table. By the pity she saw in the woman's eyes, Nancy knew she was telling the truth.
She turned to her husband and his stunned look of surprise confirmed the accusation. 'She's lying, Nancy,' John quickly blurted. 'Can't you see she's just making the whole thing up?'
Nancy turned and ran for the parking lot. Sobs convulsed her as she reached their car. John was right behind her. 'Nancy, listen to me. That woman's lying. How could you be stupid enough to believe her?'
'No, she's not lying!' Nancy shouted back. 'I want to know what she's talking about. What apartment? How many other women have you asked to go there with you? Doesn't our marriage mean anything to you?'
'Sure it does. I told you, she's making it up. It never happened, Nancy, I swear it.'
They drove home in silence that night, speaking no more about it, and the next morning they acted as if nothing had happened. But Nancy now knew for sure what had been happening on those nights when her husband didn't come home. She'd assumed he passed out from drinking, and because he didn't come home, she was managing to avoid another ugly abusive scene, so common when he was drunk.
How could Nancy live in such an awful situation? Isn't this a prescription for divorce? No one should have to endure such pain. Was there any hope that John could change? Surely after years of addiction to alcohol, barroom fights, battles with police, and abuse of his wife, he wouldn't change.
Perhaps you'll be surprised to learn that John and Nancy celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary in the summer of 1999. After fourteen years of problems, they found the secret of a happy marriage. It started with Nancy, and John followed a few months later. It didn't happen because Nancy changed John; for years she'd tried to reform him --- and only failed miserably. Rather, both found joy to fill their inner emptiness. And once their inner needs were met, they were finally free to begin to give to each other in their marriage. Today, they work together, helping others find the same joy.