To Have and To Hold

Domestic violence is a crime as old as humanity itself and while victimization does not discriminate between the sexes, women are the ones who fall more often.

I’ve spoken to them, held ice against their swollen faces and broken bodies.  I’ve seen the tears, the frustration, the fear and the love they still have for those who hurt them.

It always impresses me when they find the strength and resolve to finally leave their abusers.  Some say it should be an easy task, to leave a partner who hits and humiliates, but the lives of these women are intricate webs from which they often have trouble extricating themselves.

The following story takes a little from each of the abused women I’ve met over the years. 

It is about their fight to survive.


Like a horrible insect crouched low on her bedside table, the alarm clock pealed its call. An awful sound. A loud sound. An unacceptable sound. Her hand tried to slap down on the off button but the clock danced just out of her reach.

“Turn that damn thing off,” Bret’s voice grumbled from across the vast emptiness of their bed.

Fingers fumbling, her arm partially wrapped in the blanket held fast by Bret’s hip, she again reached out for the clock. She was fully awake and feared her husband would soon be as well.

“Why the fuck is that thing on? Turn it off!” Louder now.

A final lunge freed her arm allowing her finger to press the sleep button. Her body relaxed, sweating lightly under the covers as she monitored the hulk beside her. Bret’s breathing steadied out, became deeper. Moments crept by.

To have and to hold.

Bret issued a low snore and snuffled into his pillow. His shoulders softened but still she could not trust he was asleep.

For better or for worse.

The time she fell asleep reading her book and left the bedside lamp on. She awoke with Bret’s face inches from hers and there had only been time to register his blank gaze before his closed fist came rushing in, closing her left eye like an anvil strike. She did not go to work for a week.

For richer.

The darkness of early morning was a cloak. It hid her hunger, a shameful need to be wanted. Having tried and failed to banish the emptiness, it came back to Bret. Always Bret. Like the time he punched her hard in the gut and their new pregnancy was lost in a spill of blood.

For poorer.

Still, in the dark, she waited. His hand, laying on the coverlet like a pale fish in the moonlight, could grab and crush. It could grip until the pain was unbearable, only letting go when the breaking point must surely have been reached. Purple finger marks left shadows above her elbow.  She did not wear sleeveless blouses anymore.

In sickness and in health.

Apprehension made it hard to breathe. The pulse in her throat beat a staccato against her skin. A taxi would now be waiting down the block, exhaust coiling up into the air. Money, saved up and hidden over months and years, was in a small bag stashed by the front door. She would throw away her wedding band. To leave it here would be suicide.

To love and to cherish.

She held her breath. Listened. Bret was asleep. As if to convince, a low bed-fart sounded from his lumbering shape and he did not move. He did not feel her loveless stare. Her feet slid out from the covers and touched the floor.  She waited.

Sensing no awareness she rose, being careful to distribute her weight evenly so as not to rock the bed, and then padded noiselessly to the hallway (he’s not really asleep, he’s watching you, letting you think you can get away) where she pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt. From the doorway her eyes kept time of the slow rise and fall of Bret’s shoulder.

Until death do us part.

Runners clasped in her hand, the flight down the stairs was a silent blur. Her ears were pricked for the smallest of sounds. Finally, pausing for a moment at the bottom of the stairs, she looked around at the home she had shared with Bret (been captive in). Nothing here but pain and humiliation. She ran a hand through her hair and then crossed to the front door. Slipping on her shoes, she bent to get her bag hidden in a plant.  The bag was so pitifully small, holding only paper bills and her driver’s license.

She straightened, took a breath. Her sweaty palm gripped the knob on the front door and turned it. Cool night air rushed in the widening gap, awakening something that had been asleep inside of her.  A longing finally realized.

From behind, a sudden sound cut through the stillness. The alarm clock signaled again from the bedroom, seeming much too loud. Her eyes cut back to the stairs. From that direction came a low growl, words unheard, and then a thud as Bret’s feet hit the floor of their room. He would be here in seconds, looking for his stray possession. The night air continued through the open door, brushing her turned cheek, a lover’s touch if there ever was one.

Looking away from the stairs and the sound of Bret’s rapidly descending footsteps, she faced her fear and stepped outside.


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