Light in Vignettes

The sky was the brightest of blues the day I first saw him.  He was walking into the red brick church, clearing the steps two at a time as the sunlight, white in the clear sky, shone on his tall form.

“See,” my friend said. “I told you he was cute.”

I was home from college for the weekend: nineteen, but feeling old and worn out from a relationship going awry.

“He’s tall,” I offered.

We didn’t talk that day, but when I came home for Christmas break, I asked him to come to a party at a friend’s house. I admired the straightness of his nose, the navy in his blue eyes, and the politeness of his demeanor.  Instantaneously, we were a couple. 

I stayed home to finish my degree at a local university. Not because he asked me to, I reasoned, but because I was changing majors anyway. Soon, he was driving me to my night class, even walking me to the door of the classroom. The fluorescent hallway lights created an artificial glow over his head as I smiled up at him, feeling loved and protected.

On Valentine’s Day, he bought me two dozen roses and a ridiculously large, velvet-wrapped heart filled with Godiva chocolates. The gifts engulfed the kitchen island, blocking the light from the chandelier over the dining table. My teenaged brother devoured the candies one by one, knowing to save any dark chocolate for me. “Who is this guy?” he asked. “These things are expensive.”

We got married on a bright June day. I wore a ball gown dripping with pearls and lace flowers; he wore a black tuxedo.  The morning light made the tulle of my dress shimmer as I walked down the aisle, young and naïve in my bride-perfection.

Rachel Wedding Day

Walking the aisle on my dad’s arm

***

Given to bouts of silence when we argued about some small thing, he wouldn’t talk for strings of long days. I would take two-hour walks, plodding endless circles around our apartment building, just to leave the thickness of that silence. When I forced a conversation, I was met with yelling, rage-ful and divisive. I fought back sharply and quickly, but ended up face down on the floor between the wall and the bed with blood seeping from my nose and staining the carpet, the light from the bedside lamp illuminating the spot.

He was sorry. He was crying. He was emotional. I forgave.

***

I went on a day trip to the museum with my brother, reveling in the feeling of being away and independent. I came home refreshed and chatty, but he was angry. “You wore that?” he said. I looked down at my clothes: jeans and a tank top layered with a red shirt. “I told you not to wear that; I can see right through it.”  He slammed the door to the basement before stomping down the stairs to his weight bench. I heard him turn on the single overhead light with a click. I imagined the naked bulb swaying and helpless from the force of his pull.

In the laundry room, I took the shirt and sliced scissors through the red fabric. I held it up, ready to tear it in two. As I did so, light from the window blazed through the scissor slits onto my face. I paused for a moment, feeling the beams of light, but I was set on my task. With one vicious tear, the shirt no longer existed. Instead, a few indistinguishable shreds of fabric fell to the floor. I left them there and turned away.

***

The only light breaking into the room came from the TV. I huddled on the couch, bracing myself. He was yelling, in my face. That one forehead vein throbbed right in the center like an angry snake, slithering towards me, about to pounce. I hid my face, just as the hard-zippered edge of a large couch pillow slammed into the space next to me over and over again. I turned my body, trying to get away, but the pillow caught me right above my eye. Feeling the welt begin to form, I ran for the kitchen to grab my car keys. He stood in front of me daring me to leave, telling me I could never come back. I tried to go anyway, but he planted himself like an unyielding, impressive stone. His presence was too large for me to pass by. I went upstairs to bed.

***

All the recessed lights were on in the kitchen. They were glaringly loud, but not as loud as our voices, shouting, arguing. He was hovering over me, trying to take up all my space, giving me no room to breathe my own air. There was only his air, gushing from him, overtaking me, swallowing me whole. I rushed by him, and as I approached the garage steps, he slammed the door hard in my back. I tumbled down the stairs and onto the concrete. Dusting myself off, I felt ashamed and sore, a watermelon-sized bruise began to form from my hip to my thigh. I pushed past him back into the house, ignoring his voice, longing for peace. I took a shower in hopes of feeling clean again.

***

“You stupid, stupid Fuck Face.” The light from the late afternoon winter sun blinded me as I drove the pick-up truck toward home. I turned to look at him in the passenger seat, gauging the seriousness of the situation. “You’re joking, right?” I said.

“No, you’re a fucking idiot. A stupid fucking idiot.” My hands went numb as I tried to grasp the wheel tighter, willing myself to keep quiet until I was safely in the driveway.  The familiar anxiety began to take over and made me struggle to breathe.  I put the truck in park and got out. He followed me inside, yelling, insulting; calling me childish names that made me want to laugh. I went to the bedroom and stood in the corner, wishing for invisibility. I stayed there until the feeling returned to my hands and my heart stopped its racing rhythm.

***

He was late. In my parents’ living room, I folded laundry and talked with my brother while I waited. The U-haul sat in the street outside, packed with boxes, mattresses, and already fading memories. Tomorrow we were moving hundreds of miles away—away from everyone I knew—in hopes that life would be better, less stressful, easier.

The clock ticked to midnight when he walked in. He looked at the jeans I was folding – his jeans – and complained about my technique. I took the laundry basket upstairs, not wanting to cause a scene in front of my brother.

The light in the guest bedroom was already on when I opened the door. As I turned to put the laundry on the bed, he was right there with his middle finger in my face. I sidled past him, used to the choreography, and shut the door.

He followed, but I placed my hand on his chest, pushing him away. Our eyes locked; I was afraid. In a split second, his hands were around my neck. My upper body knocked against the wall over and over again as I struggled and slid to the floor. He slid with me and thrashed my head up and down against the base boards like I had no weight or value.

He let go. I gasped and choked as he opened the door and disappeared downstairs. I followed him, tiptoeing down the wooden steps, watching him sit on the couch and brazenly turn on the TV. In a voice raspy with fear and pain, I said, “You will not stay here with me.” He looked up with dead eyes and no response. I said, “You need to leave; I’m not staying here with you.” He stared at me, refusing to acknowledge my words.

I rushed up the stairs looking for my keys, ready to run, and passed my father. He asked what had happened.  The dim light in the hallway turned bright as a bedroom door opened.  My mother emerged, bleary-eyed from sleep.“I heard something. What was that noise?” she asked. I had no words.

From my place at the top of the stairs, I saw the front door standing open. He had tried to pass into the dark unnoticed.  Angry, I followed him outside; I cursed him, told him never to come back. As he started the car, the harsh white light from the headlights stunned me momentarily, but I turned away before he pulled out of the driveway.

***

 The front door was still open, wide and careless.

I crossed the threshold into an orange light. Three large shapes stood in front of me, but nothing made sense. Sinking into a chair, I felt the slickness of the leather and my own weight on the cushion. As I looked up at the shapes, I realized they were people-shapes, MY people, my family. Each face looked at me, stricken, shocked, worried, horrified.

“That was it,” I said. The orange light warmed into an apricot glow as the words left my mouth. I was safe in the truth and soundness of those words. The light, sure and right, embraced me, welcoming me home.

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64 comments

  1. You made it out. So many don’t. Thankfully you reached out to your family, for this I am so glad. Thank you for writing this, showing there is hope.

    1. It took me too long to reach out and be completely honest with them–I was so ashamed. Thank you for reading!

      1. Rachel as a fellow survivor, sometimes it takes us years. We beat ourselves up and blame ourselves. It always takes us too long, that is the nature of these relationships. I nearly lost my life, I still returned because I thought it was my fault.

        You reached out, you stood up. You are victorious.

        1. I’m so glad you made it out too!

          We always think we can make it better, don’t we? Not realizing it’s not something that WE can fix.

  2. Thank you Rachel, for being so open and sharing your story. It’s terrible what he put you through. I’m so glad you were able to finally get out and away from him. They break us down so completely, it takes strength we don’t have to pull ourselves out.

    1. I think that’s the worst part about it – getting used to it, thinking it’s normal.

      Thank you, Melanie, for giving me and others the opportunity to share our stories. It’s been a liberating experience.

  3. Rachel, you are the most loving, strong, beautiful soul. Your words really touched me and I am forever grateful you eventually came home to the light. Thank you for writing about such a deeply personal and painful time in your life, and for letting us all know hope never dies.

    1. Thank you, D–you are so sweet. I don’t think I realized HOW deeply personal this was until I published it. It’s one thing to write about it, another thing entirely to have people read it. I’m so glad you got the hopeful aspect of this piece.

  4. I just want to reach through the computer, grab you, and hug you forever and ever. How someone could ever do something like that to someone as wonderful as you will always baffle me, and I am so proud of you for standing up to him and allowing yourself to be so vulnerable with your family. The only person in this scenario who has anything to be ashamed about is that sorry excuse for a person that your ex-husband turned into.

    1. (I’m seeing this image of you cradling me like a baby. haha)

      Thank you for taking the time to read this piece! It feels good (and weird) to have it all out there in such detail.

  5. Wow, does domestic violence make me bitter. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. You have incredible strength to have made it out of there. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you!

    1. I wouldn’t want to add to your bitterness, but I appreciate your kind words.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this, Ben!

      1. It must have been painful to write and re-live. No one is more brave to me than a person who is being abused and they find the courage to leave. I don’t think I could have gone through what you did.

  6. This was chilling. And beautifully written. I love how you used the imagery of the light throughout. It took immense bravery to eventually remove yourself from that situation. I am so thankful that you survived it and were able to move on to greater happiness. You are very strong. It took a lot of courage to write about this, and I hope you feel lighter. HUGS.

    1. HUGS right back to you, Misty!

      Thank you! You’ve witnessed my “greater happiness” firsthand. Marriage can be a hopeful, trusting, lovely place.

  7. Anonymous · · Reply

    Beautifully written piece about an extraordinarily personal and painful journey…💗

    1. Thank you for reading…

  8. Shit. I am sitting in a hotel in Ecuador, crying over your story which brought back too many memories of my dad’s violence…..

    1. I should have included a trigger alert first, Kevin. I’m sorry this brought back painful memories! Thinking of you today…

      1. Oh i am fine but thanks anyway! I am always amazed when people have the courage to tell stories like you did.

        1. Glad to hear it, Kevin. Wish I could fly some butternut squash soup your way! Thank you so much for your kind words.

          1. We’ll add it to the list of foods to share. So far, chocolate and soup. If we ever meet maybe we’ll have a feast.

              1. I don’t know if I will ever find my way to Delaware, but if you find yourself in my area, let’s make it happen!

  9. Rachel, this was so brave and moving. I’m so sorry for what you endured but happy for what a great life (and husband) you now have. Thanks for your willingness to share such a horrible side of your past life. Big hugs!

    1. Thank you so much, Angie. It DOES seem like a lifetime ago, and I’m in a better, safer place now.

  10. svivr2013 · · Reply

    Awesome post! So much of what you wrote is similar to my experience. As a fellow survivor, beating myself up is very common for me unfortunately. I try every day not to be too hard on myself and I too went back after nearly losing my life. I could fix it, change it, and make it work….so glad I realized that I didn’t deserve the treatment I got and got out. You are a survivor and victorious! Thanks for sharing.

    1. I think that might be the hardest part – realizing that you don’t deserve the treatment. For some reason, when you get put down and abused day after day, you don’t know any other way. But I’m glad you realized you are worth more and deserve the absolute best! Thanks for reading and sharing a little of your story here today.

  11. Wow, Rachel! So sorry you had to endure this abuse! You are one strong chick! Glad you made it out and safely with your family by your side. Thanks for sharing with us and helping others who may be going through similar circumstances. 🙂

    1. I was lucky because I had my family for support. Some people don’t, but I hope this piece offered them a little hope that it IS possible to leave.

      Thank you!

  12. Atta girl. 😉

  13. I’m so glad that you don’t have to live that anymore. 🙂

    1. Me too! Thank you. 🙂

  14. I love you Ra Ra, and am so proud of how far you have come. I’m so happy you finally have your loving man who adores you! 🙂

    1. Thank you and I love you. 🙂 Yes, Mr. Rache is pretty fabulous. I couldn’t ask for more in a partner and friend. He’s the best!

  15. Another asshole , thankfully you escaped. Best wishes to you and a life without terror and abuse.

    1. Thanks, Becki. It took a while, but I definitely felt free from a special kind of prison once I finally left.

  16. Rachel, I am sitting here with tears in my eyes after having read your account. Thank God you made it out. Thank you so much for sharing your story. This could not have been easy to write.

    1. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad I wrote it. I feel lighter. And yes, thank God – He’s one of the reasons I had the strength to leave. Thank you, Emily!

  17. Rache – you know I have a not-so-secret girl crush on you and that just increased tenfold with this story. You are such an incredible writer and the way you have told this terribly heartbreaking account of your first marriage is touching. I am so glad you managed to reach out to your family and accept help from them, as well as the fact you now have Mr Rache who sounds wonderful and truly deserving of as beautiful a soul as yourself. Sending love hugs and kisses to you xx

    1. Thank you, Daile! I’m accepting those hugs and kisses and sending some your way across the ocean. xoxo

      Mr. Rache is AWESOME–a gift.

    2. Nice! I have a girl crush on Rachel too! Isn’t she awesome? I mean bacon wrapped scapes? Ok! Lol.

      1. Daile + Rache + bacon + scapes = DOAT’s fantasy

  18. Rachel, this was hard to read because it is so well told. It’s the small details that are the most heartbreaking, yet the most poignant. They are also the things that stay with us and that we eventually build upon to avoid repeating mistakes of the past. It sounds like you have created a life with someone who understands the poignancy of the little things. Sometimes, the worst experiences can prepare us for recognizing the best in others. Thank you for sharing your story and adding your voice.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I feel like I see things with new eyes now that I’ve been through this. I enjoy the life – all things – and especially the small, everyday things.

      1. That much is obvious 😉

  19. Rachel-
    I am still coming to terms with my own experiences of domestic abuse. It’s very fresh and I want to write about it, but I’m afraid. this post gave me some strength and hope. Because when I look at your picture, I never would have thought, “she went through it too.” But it could be any of us. So now maybe I can share my story. Thank you for your bravery. Much love, samara

    1. There’s way too many of us, Samara. Maybe in the telling of our stories we’ll help someone find their way out. xoxo

  20. esewalter · · Reply

    You are beautiful and strong. It is my desire that this reaches more beautiful women who have given their power away. Just so they can know there is another way. There is always another way and it takes courage and strength to follow that path. As I read every word, my mind painted pictures. I am happy you found the strength to do the needful. Kudos to you Rachel.

    1. Thank you for the lovely, lovely comment. You are so right – there is always another way. I hope someone sees this and knows it and has the courage to walk away.

  21. […] I married. In an attempt to come to terms with the years spent with him, I wrote a piece called Light in Vignettes, which details the beginning of my story and was published on Tuesday over at Deliberate Donkey. I […]

  22. […] this week, I told you a secret. And in the telling, everything changed. I felt the pieces of a long-worn mask slowly fall off, […]

  23. Rachel, this piece makes me a little sad that I cursed you last weekend because that pie crust totally took me more than 90 seconds and didn’t look near as easy or good as your friend made it seem….lol.

    Seriously though, this is the second time that you’ve blown my mind with something that I’d never have expected to associate with you (sadly, I can’t recall the first one right now). I guess that just goes to show you that you never know another person’s story/demons/etc. You seem so sweet. It’s hard to believe anybody could be so cruel to a woman like you, but I’ve seen hundreds of monsters just like him, so while it’s hard, it’s not surprising. I’m glad you’re in a better place today and I hope your ex is in prison somewhere not hurting somebody else. You’re a beautiful person, Rache! You have my respect.

    1. I guess having a professional baker make a 90-second pie crust is unfair. I mislead you.

      You know what else is unfair? The fact that “monsters” are out there, tormenting their own families. It overwhelms me at times..

      Thank you for your kind words, Don!

  24. I’ll never forget when you shared this part of your past with me – the idea that this could have happened to someone so positive and kind and beautiful, that it didn’t destroy you – was so mind-boggling to me. I’m so happy you are living the kind of life now that you deserve.

    Also – you are an incredible writer, and this is no exception.

    1. I had so much support to get through this, Jules. It made all the difference.

      And now I have incredible, supportive and amazing friends. Thank you!

  25. Thank you for sharing xx

  26. I am always stunned to hear yet another story like yours (ours), Rachel. It’s hard to image that it happens so often, to so many “normal people”. I never told anyone while I was living it. I was embarrassed. I was a failure. It was all my fault. After 16 years, I finally told a few close friends, but not my family, and left him. Although it took years more for him to leave me alone, and I will forever be affected by that life- a life that I have blocked so much of, losing good memories in the process of trying to hide the bad ones. That life which does not even seem like it was mine anymore, yet comes back once in a while to slap me in the face. We need to speak up. Women (and sometimes men) need to know they’re not alone and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. They need to know that someone, somewhere understands. You were brave to write this and I bet your words make a difference to someone, as well as yourself.

  27. Beautifully, yet tragically written. I am so sorry for what you endured, but glad to hear that it is over.

  28. My God, Rachel. I’m getting chills. From the sorrow of what you went through, from the courage you showed in getting out, from the power of your telling. You’re an amazing woman, and you’re also a hell of a writer. But I already knew that.

  29. We have more in common than I care to discuss, Rachel, but I will say this: You’ve given hope to others by sharing your story and fro that you should be proud.

speak loudly, donkeys are sleeping

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