Copyright 2016 Vaughn T. Stanford
Published by Wordtryst Press at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
My mother was simple, beautiful. She was a short, thick black woman with bow legs, and she brought up her four girls with a quiet dignity. We never had too much or too little. She taught us to be content with whatever we had, and to accept what life gave to us without complaining.
I wish that I hadn’t listened to her.
My three older sisters always had lots of friends, male and female. They were the ones who went to the school bazaars, to the parties at the community center in our little country village, and when they were older, to the carnival fetes and calypso tents in the city.
I preferred the comfort of our modest two bedroom wooden house where I spent time reading or looking after the dogs we kept. I was happy to let my sisters regale me with their tales of trips to the city and of the people they met there, of their jobs and of the movies they had seen. I was content to go to the Pentecostal church ten minutes away from where we lived, for it added to my sense of peace, my balance and the feeling that all was well in my world.
I was introduced to God in my final year at secondary school. Like all the other seniors that particular day, I had gone to a religious meeting at school with the sole goal of convincing God to help me to be successful in my exams. But the preacher had a different agenda.
“Maybe you came here today seeking a blessing,” he said. “You want God to be good to you in your exams.” We all snickered because the young man who was leading the meeting was so intuitive. I was impressed with his eloquence and his courage to address teenagers on a topic that was not popular at the time. He didn’t even appear to be over twenty.
“But today God is offering much more than that,” he continued as he covered the floor, looking intently into each face. “He is offering you eternal life with Him if you would only say ‘Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner and I need a Savior. Please come into my heart, forgive my sins and make me the person you want me to be.’” He spoke with compassion and genuine conviction. I wondered if I was passionate about anything like he was. “Now how many or you would like to pray that prayer with me?”
He stuck his hand up at half-mast and scanned the room. I slipped my hand up, looked around the room and saw a few other brave souls had done the same. He said the prayer again and we repeated it. Afterwards, the young man and the group that had come with him took us aside, took our names and addresses, and encouraged us to attend church.
I did not need any more encouragement.
By the time I was twenty, one of my sisters had migrated to Canada, one was married and had moved to the other end of the island with her husband, and the last one moved to the city to work. I remained at home with my mother, preferring the slower pace of life in the countryside. The handful of friends I kept from secondary school were either becoming pregnant or getting married and, in spite of the fact that I told myself that I did not want to be like some of them – unwed mothers without a steady job not knowing where the next meal was coming from, or settling for a husband they weren’t madly in love with – I started to feel some pressure.
I had ambition. I read a lot and was influenced by the books I read from the small church library. I made up my mind that I was going to be a missionary nurse and on the mission field I was going to meet the man of my dreams. He would be someone who did not drink or smoke, someone who knew how to treat a woman, someone who would accept me and love me as I am, not one who would bring me pain and heartache. This man would be someone who would encourage me to grow spiritually and who would spur me on to achieve higher goals. My list seemed reasonable, not too demanding.
But before I had time to send out an application to become a nurse, I met Franklyn at a dinner. He stood out among the diners, not because he was tall – he was not even six feet – but because of the way he was impeccably dressed. Of course his lean figure, dark skin and good looking round face, light brown eyes, deep dimples and a rich baritone voice had me a little weak too.
Franklyn was exactly what I had been dreaming about: we often spent time discussing God’s word, he encouraged me to pursue my goals, he was tenderhearted and was not afraid to laugh out loud at a good joke. He courted me for a year and when he asked me to marry him, naturally I said yes as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
I wished that my family had been there to celebrate my good news with me, but by that time, the country’s declining economy had forced them to migrate. With the exception of my father, whom I barely knew, and who lived far away, I was on my own.
I felt even more alone when I became Mrs. Franklyn Chambers and we stood taking pictures in the gardens at the side of the church. The ugliest thought rose up – I feel this man doesn’t love me – but I dismissed it immediately. After all, all brides had their doubts.
Franklyn and I honeymooned for five days at a rustic resort near a beach in Tobago. It should have been a magical time, my first time to know a man intimately, and we were in paradise, according to all the tourist magazines. But we saw the beach only at nights when we went strolling on those moonlit shores. During the day, we experimented with sex; rather Frankie experimented on me, and even though he assured me that what we were doing was okay since we were married, I was uncomfortable and wondered if this was how it was always going to be. Worse yet, was this what all women had to go through? How did they learn to enjoy it?
On the Friday of the same week we returned home, Frankie’s friend, Horace, turned up at our door to tell him about courses being offered at the Bible school. Franklyn jumped at the opportunity, not discussing it with me first.
“But Frankie, how could you decide to do something like this?” I protested. “Already, we’re in church Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights. When will we have time for ourselves?” He met my pleas with a palpable silence that said he was annoyed with me, and two weeks later he became a part-time student at the School of Theology.
The ugly thought returned – he doesn’t love me – and it brought along a horde of darker ones. This time I allowed them in the door to sit in the living room of my mind while I played hostess to them.
In spite of these new guests that I harbored like fugitives, I went about trying to please Franklyn, to win him back so that things could go smoothly between us. I was married to this man for life and I wanted us to be happy. I did not want to be like my mother who endured ten unhappy years with my father in a common-law relationship before she finally worked up the courage to leave him.
I prepared Franklyn’s meals as if he were a king. I neglected what I wanted and cooked his favorite meals, trying not to repeat one thing too often. I woke up at five o’clock in the morning, showered, combed my hair and put on a simple yet pretty dress before preparing his breakfast. I wanted his first vision of me every morning to be someone desirable.
Since the stomach was the way to a man’s heart, I made bake and salt fish buljol with a mug of hot milky chocolate. Sometimes I prepared sada roti and pumpkin, or melongene, bodi, aloo or tomato choka to go with it. He would also carry some of whatever he had for breakfast for a mid-morning snack at work.
When he left home at 7:30 in the morning I would start the sweeping, dusting, washing, mopping while preparing lunch at the same time. I cooked creole dishes because they were what he was raised on and he didn’t want to change. So he would have coo coo and calalloo with crab, fried fish or oil down or beef pelau with a fresh vegetable salad, ox tail soup filled with ground provision. On a hot day he preferred ice-cold bitter mauby to drink instead of a fruit juice with too much brown sugar for my liking. Other days, sea moss, barbadine, peanut punch or citrus juice would satisfy him.
After lunch, he returned to Frank’s Auto Shop which he had owned since he was twenty-four years old, and I worked outdoors cleaning the yard and looking after the kitchen garden or the flower garden while singing quietly to myself.
“Neighbor, how you working hard so?” someone would inevitably call out while passing in the street.
“Afternoon, neighb’. How you doing?” I would greet them and return to my chores, not wanting to stop to gossip with them.
Franklyn got home just after four o’clock every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, showered, had something light to eat, and then left for Bible school. He returned after nine and spent the rest of the night locked behind the door of his study. On Fridays, he kept the shop open until five, and when he came home we went to prayer meeting together. On Saturdays he worked all day and then went out with his friends while I found solace in the TV. This was not the marriage I had imagined.
Months passed by and something began to gnaw at me. Franklyn had stopped wearing his wedding ring.
“Frankie, where is your ring?” I asked delicately when I could fathom no suitable explanation on my own.
“Somewhere in a drawer in the shop. It bothers me when I’m working.”
“But Frankie ….” His insensitivity caused words to temporarily fail me. “Don’t you wear it at all?” The look he shot me was like a blow to my chest. Still I limped forward with bruised emotions hoping that my hurt would cause a change of heart. “But Frankie, that is a symbol of our love, our union.”
“You see me? I’m an individualist,” he snapped. “I don’t like people to know I’m married. I like to have them guessing.” He shoved the chair back as he got up from dinner and went to the bedroom, his meal unfinished.
I leaned against the kitchen sink, cold and trembling, refusing to believe what I had just heard. I summoned my strength to move my leaden feet to the bedroom where he was preening before the mirror. I propped myself in the doorframe.
“Frank, I don’t make any demands on you. Please wear the ring for my sake.” He splashed on his cologne without looking in my direction. “Frank?”
He grabbed his books off the bed and turned to leave. He stood in front of me, his gaze penetrating, his cologne choking.
“No matter what you do, Marlene,” he breathed out, “you will never please me.”
Only when I heard the front door slam did I throw myself down on the bed, bury my face in the pillow and bawl. The thoughts that I had allowed free rein in my mind rose up to taunt me.
“You were right. You were right,” they jeered. “He doesn’t care about you.”
I jumped up from the bed, wiping away the tears with my hands, but they just kept coming back. I grabbed a suitcase out of the closet, threw my clothes in haphazardly and tried to force it closed. Then, like the midday sun stings the skin when you venture outdoors unprotected, so too did the hopelessness of my current situation sting me. I had nowhere to go. I slid to the floor and cried fresh tears.
“Oh God, what am I doing wrong?” I said aloud and listened, but no voice from heaven answered. I sat there wracking my brain, trying to discover my error, searching for a clue as to why my marriage was falling apart. I found nothing.
While we were courting Franklyn and I agreed that we were going to have four children; he only insisted that we wait five years before trying. I had my reservations since I didn’t know how I was going to pass my days as a wife, but I surrendered to his wishes anyway. But after two years of the deepest solitude that only a neglected married woman could feel, I asked him simply, without any explanation, for a child.
I was glad that our sex life had waned as Frank was always studying. I could not freely give myself to someone who did not love me, nor could I enjoy the pleasure it was supposed to bring with someone who sought only to satisfy himself.
When I was four months pregnant with our first child, Jude, I thought that on seeing my big belly, Franklyn would change, that he would revert to the man I had fallen in love with, that he would be a good husband and father of our child. Instead, I started to fear for my life.
Franklyn was sitting on the bedroom floor polishing his heavy steel-tipped construction boots, blocking my way to the wardrobe.
“Let me pass, please,” I said cheerfully, giddy with the joy of knowing that a new life was growing inside me. Franklyn pulled up his feet to make room for me and as I passed he pounded my toes with the shoe. The sensation that shot up my spine was as if had stepped on a live wire and I wailed.
“What you carrying on so for?” he asked nonchalantly. I dropped myself on the bed and massaged my toes. He sucked his teeth, pulled himself up and said, “May the blackness and the darkness of hell fall on you.”
“Well, it will fall on you first,” I lashed out, “because you’re the head of this house.”
I viewed him suspiciously after that day, being careful to stay out of his way as much as I could, not knowing if he would randomly inflict punishment on me whenever he felt like it. I knew then that no child was going to save our marriage.
After months of walking on eggshells, it was time to go to the hospital. The time had come for me to deliver our first child.
“I can’t go with you to the hospital, you know. All the pastors in our organization have a very important meeting and I have to be there,” he said.
“Tell them your wife is having your first child. They’ll understand.”
“I told you I have to be there.”
“So what am I supposed to do?”
“I’ll leave some money here for you. See if you get a taxi to take you.”
In spite of my pleas, he left me to get myself to the hospital.
Word got around quickly that the assistant pastor’s wife had a son so I had a constant stream of visitors. But the person I longed to see most never visited and I found myself having to make excuses for him.
“You all know how busy he is,” I said to visitors. “There is the convention going on that Frank has to attend. We’ll have plenty time together once I get out of here.”
I had hoped that after seeing his son Franklyn would change his attitude towards me. Instead, he became more aloof. Friends commented on how haggard I looked and on how much weight I had lost, but I had no defense for them. Even Franklyn noticed the change.
“Why you don’t do something about yourself? You’re a mess. You’re embarrassing me.”
“If I’m a mess, you have me so,” I spat back. “If you knew that you were going to give me so much hell, why did you marry me?”
“You’re such a stupid woman. You don’t even know what the Bible says. That’s why you’ll never amount to anything. You don’t know that it is not good for a man to be alone?”
“So I’m some kind of property? A machine to cook and to clean? That’s all I mean to you, Frank?”
“You should be glad you have a good-looking man like me to call your husband. You know how much women wanted me? And they still do. My father was married to my mother for thirty years before a heart attack killed him. I used to see my mother working so hard for him without complaining and if she ever got out of hand, he would put two lash on her and that would straighten her out. You have things too easy that’s why you complaining so much.”
“I can’t take this no more, Frankie. Don’t be surprised if one day you come home and you don’t find me here.”
He clenched his jaw and I saw the veins in his neck pop. His punch to my mouth caught me by surprise and knocked me across the bed.
“Is that what those blasted friends of yours filling your head with? I don’t want them set of stinking women in my house, you hear? And if you leave me, I’ll find you, and you’ll be sorry you ever did.”
On one of those rare occasions when Franklyn felt the need to satisfy his libido, (or was he trying to show me that he still had control over my body?) I became pregnant again.
I knew enough from my first pregnancy five years earlier to know that I should expect no help from my husband. So on a rainy morning in November when I felt the first contraction, I cooked, set the table, spread newspaper on the kitchen floor where the roof had been leaking for three months, and sent Jude to get the neighbor to take me to the hospital. I left a note on the refrigerator for Franklyn.
Once more, Franklyn was too busy to visit me but I didn’t make excuses for him this time. When people asked for him, I told them that I didn’t know.
“Maybe he found something to do that he thinks is more important than me,” I said maliciously. My bitterness embarrassed and silenced them.
When I got home after a peaceful week in the hospital, the house was in chaos, as if a tornado had passed through. Every dish we owned was dirty and covered with flies and maggots. Ants were everywhere, the bed wasn’t made, dirty clothes were strewn all across the floor and everything was out of place.
“Frank, you mean to say you couldn’t look after the place for just one week?”
“Housework is for women. I not doing that.”
“But Franklyn, I was in the hospital having your baby.”
“In Africa, a woman makes a baby today and is out in the field tomorrow.”
“Well, this is not Africa, you hear me. And I am a human being, not an animal.”
“Who you raising your voice for? You want me to fill it with a cuff?”
I went to my room to rest. As I was drifting off to sleep, he entered.
“I’m hungry. Get up and cook something.”
Not wanting to start another argument, I kept my eyes closed and spoke as gently as I could.
“Frank, I’m not feeling so good.”
“Five days you lying down on your backside doing nothing and you telling me you ain’t feeling good. You get too damn lazy. Get up and cook some food.” He yanked my arm forcing me to sit up.
I struggled out of bed because I did not want this to end up in another incident where he resorted to violence in order to have his own way. After a few painful steps, I collapsed. I remained on the floor, fighting to hold back the sobs, not because the pain was so great, but because I was feeling sorry for letting myself get into this situation that I was in. How did a quiet country girl whose only desire was to become a missionary nurse turn out to be the victim of domestic violence?
“Okay,” he said, “Lie down a bit. You could get up and cook later.”
“Bring me some milk please,” I whispered as I climbed back into bed.
A few minutes later I heard him rest a glass on the bedside table. It was the only act of kindness he had demonstrated in years. Over the next few days, it was Jude who helped with the chores as I regained my strength.
I was seven months pregnant with my third child when Franklyn became redundant in his ministry at church. All over the country businesses were adjusting to falling oil prices and the church was not exempt. Franklyn grew even more abusive at home and I was always a tight bundle of nerves when it came to my safety and my children’s as well.
“Shut up!” he often yelled at the children as they went about their childish games of hide-and-seek, or some fantasy game, merry in each other’s company. “I don’t know what your mother make you for.” Early on they learned to sit still on the edge of their bed out of his sight whenever he was at home, cowering, as they huddled in a sad little bunch like abandoned puppies awaiting adoption. As soon as he left the house they ran about freely, shrieking and laughing at the tops of their voices, uninhibited. When Franklyn was not at home, they were giddy with joy and floated around the house like newly released balloons filled with helium. Once he returned, they became like shy pets in a zoo awaiting the departure of visitors before they stuck their heads out again.
“Why are you always so harsh with the children?” I asked him, tired of seeing them so terrified of their own father.
“Why did you bother to have them? They’re always bothering me. I should have made you drink something when you were carrying them. That’s what I should have done.”
I recoiled from him as if I had come face to face with the devil himself.
Not long after, a few ladies from church, who had only alluded to my distress at home before, started to talk plainly about what they had suspected.
“Marlene, you hiding things. We know everything is not like you want us to believe.” I vacillated between offence at their effrontery and gratitude for their caring, but said nothing. “If something were to happen they’ll blame you ‘cause all this time you kept quiet.”
But how could I confide in anybody? He, Franklyn, was until recently a respected junior pastor of the church; he was well-dressed, intelligent, had impeccable manners, and was charming and good-looking. I didn’t think that anybody would believe my story, or even if they did, they would blame me for whatever wrong he had done. Mentally exhausted, I decided to give my friend Lynette a sample of my story. I would venture to say more depending on her response.
“I have something to tell you,” I began timidly.
“I’m all ears,” she said, staring me soberly in the face.
I thought of making up something else, maybe tell her something trivial about one of the children. I sucked in my breath and expelled it. “You won’t believe me, and I wouldn’t blame you. I wouldn’t believe me either if…”
She placed her hands on mine. “Just tell me.”
I looked at her hand resting compassionately on mine. She squeezed my fingers lovingly and my inhibitions disappeared.
“Franklyn has been hurting me.” When I looked up, I couldn’t read what her eyes were saying, so I looked away and continued while I still had some courage. “He’s been beating me – a long time now and I just don’t know what to do anymore. I guess that’s why I look so haggard now. I wanted to tell somebody but I was worried they won’t believe me so I tried to hide it. But since he’s lost his ministry he has become worse and I’m afraid of what more he’ll do to me and my children one of these days.”
I kept my head bowed. I felt ashamed, dirty. An inner voice condemned me for speaking out against the man I had promised to honor and cherish all the days of my life. What was I doing? What did I expect Lynette to do? I regretted sharing my problem with her and started to get up and run away from her.
She held my hand tightly in hers before I could escape. “I believe you and I want to help you,” she said.
“You do? Really?” Warm tears flooded my face. Her words were a balm on a festering wound. “You really do?” I asked again and she nodded. Lynette stood up and pulled me to her bosom. I relaxed, knowing that the weight that I had been carrying was now shared with someone who also cared about me. For the first time in a long time I did not feel alone.
“What do you want to do?” she asked when I had finished giving her a comprehensive picture of my distress.
“I don’t know.” I knew for sure that I had very few options—if any at all. One option was to find a small place of my own to rent, to find a better job to support me and my children for there was no way I could expect any help from their father. But if I did that, if I made a move to independence, that would insult Franklyn, humiliate him in the eyes of his friends, and he would find a way to punish me for ridiculing him. I didn’t want to risk the life of our forthcoming fourth child with additional stress so I decided to return to my husband and wait for a better solution.
“But next time he hits you I want you to report him to the police.”
“I tried that once already but the police said that they didn’t get involved in husband and wife business.”
She sucked her teeth, her frustration visible.
“They said that once they get there, the wife changes her mind because she doesn’t want the husband to go to jail.”
Lynette rolled her eyes. “I guess somebody has to be dead first.”
Her words sent a shiver down my back and the chill remained with me as I steeled myself to make my way back to the only place I could call home.
With more free time at his disposal now, Franklyn spent his days lounging around the house in close company with his old friends from the village who were glad to welcome him back to their fold after his stint at the church. He had never managed to convert them in his Bible-preaching days. My meagre income from my clerical job with a government ministry was hardly enough to feed five people, so I proposed a solution to him.
“Why don’t you open the shop again? I’m sure that business will pick up soon. You’re the only mechanic in this area and people will be glad to support their own once again.”
“Oh gosh woman. Why it is you could never be satisfied with what you have?”
“But the little bit of money I bringing in is not enough to feed all of us.”
“Well, just find a way.”
“Frank, you are still a strong young man. It ain’t good for you to be home doing nothing whole day.”
“You does be home to see?”
“You think I don’t know that you cook for yourself when I not home, and when I come home you pretend that you starving?”
“Woman, you nagging me.”
“I made up my mind: I will spend the money I working for on me and my children if you can’t find a job.”
He rose in a fury and slammed me against the wall. He grabbed a chair and jammed it again the wall, trapping me in a cage. I stared defiantly at his hardened, gaunt face, not backing away from the evil that was etched there. No longer did I see the attractive man that I had exchanged vows with ten years before but eyes void of tenderness, soulless pools.
“If I don’t eat, nobody here will eat,” he hissed. He held me in his prison a little longer and I smelled the alcohol on his warm breath. He let the chair fall to the ground and walked out. I flinched when he slammed the front door, but I did not cry this time. I inhaled deeply and breathed out a prayer of thanksgiving to God. I realized that I was gaining a sense of boldness and in that moment I resolved to get away from him.
If I was ever going to free myself from Franklyn I had to gain some financial freedom so I saved every cent that I could. Instead of taking a taxi I chose to walk to most of my destinations. I did not realize that I had taken it to the extreme until the day that I fainted from sheer tiredness.
Even though I was able to save some money in some places, I had to spend it in others. I had to pay strangers to help carry the groceries that my children and I could not carry. These good Samaritans refused to take money when they saw the baby in my arms, but when they saw Franklyn sitting idly in the verandah, their kindness immediately turned to indignation and scorn for me who had apparently taken advantage of their sympathy.
“Lady, you mean to say you have a big hard-back man doing nothing up there, while you toting all this load like a jackass? You making joke, yes.”
Shortly afterwards, I stopped doing Franklyn’s laundry. I wanted to shake him from his laziness in the hope that, if he started on one project, it would build his self-esteem, and maybe he might have a more meaningful existence. Of course I received several blows for being a wicked woman, his favorite description of me, but when he realized that it was useless, that I was unshaken in my resolve, he gave up. I was a ‘deceitful woman’, a ‘lazy wife’ and a ‘whore’, but his verbal assaults did not deter me.
One night he returned home at 3:30 a.m., intoxicated, and proceeded to open all the doors and windows in the house.
“Frank, what you doing? It’s late,” I protested. “And the children sleeping. They will catch a cold.” I got up and started to close the windows.
“Leave my blasted windows alone,” he bellowed.
“But Frank, the children.”
“I don’t care about your damn children. I want a man to come in here and rape you.”
I felt like a gutted fish. I had to sit down for fear of falling. I had never felt more unwanted than in that moment. Even the time when he told me that he would bring someone else to sleep in my bed so the world would see how much he hated me paled in comparison with what he had just wished upon me. I felt like my bones were beginning to rot and at that moment, more than ever, I regretted ever being born.
“I can’t take it no more, Lynette.” I wailed on my friend’s sofa later that day. “I just can’t take it.”
“Marlene, I know this must be hell for you, but in times like these God promises to carry us.”
“I wish he would take me and my children to heaven instead.”
“Stop it, Marlene,” she said sternly. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. You’re stronger than that.” Then she added, reassuringly, “God can still use a bad situation and make good come out of it. You have to trust him.”
But I did not want to listen to reason. “Why can’t I have an easy life? What did I ever do to deserve this?”
“Marlene, one day God will give you a better life, if not here on earth, then certainly in heaven. Just be faithful.”
I whimpered, still feeling sorry for myself. Lynette sat in a companionable silence.
“Did I tell you that he started smoking weed?” I said after my tears had run dry. “I think he has another woman, too.”
“Then you have to get out of there, Marlene. Don’t let the devil kick you around like a football no more. I’ll help you look for a place.”
Half-heartedly, I agreed. I wanted more. I wanted someone to deliver me from this valley of darkness. I wanted a prince to rescue me and to carry me away into the sunset where I could live happily ever after. But princes on white horses only lived in fairy tales.
My skin tingled and the hair on my arms stood up at attention when I got home and found the house in complete darkness. As soon as I switched on the light in the living room, fear rushed in and overtook me. Everything in the room was turned upside down. It looked like the aftermath of a hurricane.
“What happened, Mommy?” Laura, my second child, asked.
“I don’t know, baby.”
“Why did he have to mash up the place? He’s always making our lives so miserable,” said my seven year old in his mature way. He was brave and tough and was often my source of strength. I did not respond. I did not have an explanation and any feeble words of comfort that I might have offered them would certainly be too shallow. I went from room to room, children in tow, flicking on the lights and the result was the same: the hurricane had not missed a thing.
Quickly, I pulled clothes out of the wardrobe, stuffed them into as many bags as we could carry and made a hasty getaway to Lynette’s home. The next day we got an apartment and, escorted by some muscular men from the church, collected the rest of my belongings. When Franklyn saw them he did not challenge them. Two days later he had a woman living with him.
“Well, he always used to say he’d beat me out of his life,” I said to Lynette after she told me the news. “At least he won’t bother me now that he has somebody else to terrorize.”
But I was so wrong.
“Mommy, Mommy!” My children ran inside screaming one evening barely a month after we had settled into our new home in another village far from where Franklyn lived. They clutched my waist as they tried to hide behind me.
“What happen?” I asked, but they only sniffled. I headed for the front door, certain that something outside must have frightened them. The tried to restrain me, but I shook their hands off, reassuring them that whatever it was, we were going to be fine. As I opened the door, a volley of abuses assaulted me.
“You nasty woman,” Franklyn screamed from across the street. “You have me where I is today. I’ll do for you. I’ll beat you like a snake till you dead.”
I could see the shock on the faces of the neighbors as they gathered to witness the commotion. I was sure that they were thinking that it was impossible for this saintly-looking frail woman, who was aloof yet pleasant to everyone, always saying, “Good morning” with a smile, had an ugly past.
I shut the front door in his face, locked up the house and turned up the volume on the radio so the children would not hear his nasty words as they crept through the spaces under the door and windows. We all huddled on the bed in my room and remained there the whole night, sleeping in a cluster.
After that day, Franklyn made it his business to verbally assault me on the street. He cursed me in the nastiest ways and often threatened to kill me. My neighbors averted their eyes. They no longer greeted me and did not respond when I said hello to them. In the shops and at the market, I felt eyes on me as I selected my produce; I heard voices whispering and tongues abruptly turning silent when I approached.
“Why, God?” I continued to ask. “Did you turn your back on me?”
I had to find a way to escape my estranged husband. My children were jumpy and preferred to remain behind the protection of the four walls of the house than to risk an encounter with him while playing outdoors. I came up with a solution: we left the house at six o’clock in the morning and returned at night. There was no way we would run into him unless he had made it his mission in life to intimidate us. Our light bill was down to two dollars since for the short time we were at home, I took pains to make it appear as if we were out. We moved about quietly, lit one room at a time, and used dark heavy sheets over the window.
When Franklyn realized that his plans to unhinge me were derailed, he started showing up at my work place to abuse me. My employers were on my side, if only to guard their own good name, and they helped me to get a restraining order. I found another apartment to rent in a different village and life settled down to a relaxing, comfortable pace once more.
When the restraining order expired, I felt an inexplicable urge to fast and pray. I engaged the help of some of my sympathetic Christian friends and for two weeks we prayed for total deliverance from Franklyn, for safety, peace, and most of all, we prayed for the children – that they would not inherit their father’s violent traits.
For three nights after that a Christian neighbor and I held prayer vigils and this time I included Franklyn in my prayers.
“Lord, Franklyn needs to be born again. Draw him to you so he can see his sin. I pray that he would be sickened by it, Lord. I pray that he would cry out to you to save him.”
I went to bed after midnight on the third night, and before I dropped off to sleep I heard a noise at the back door. I ignored it. Later, I awoke to the sound of splintering wood at the back of the house.
“These drug addicts,” I muttered, getting out of bed. (Earlier that week one had broken into my apartment and I found him rummaging through the dresser drawers.) I approached the door and as I reached out to grasp the doorknob to make sure that the door was locked, I felt a cold iron bar pressing against my neck. I reached up to pull it away but my attacker pulled it tighter against my throat. As I gasped for air, I reached my arms around to try to get hold of whoever was trying to kill me. I dug into his ribs but my fingers were no match for his solid form. His hold on the bar remained firm.
I felt the blood crawling through my veins as I slipped from consciousness. My eyes grew heavy, my body started to go limp. I did not have the energy in me to fight. Slowly, I slumped to the ground and with my last conscious thought I prayed, “God, don’t let him kill me.”
He let me fall to the ground with a thud. Air rushed back into my lungs and instinctively, I raised my hands and rubbed my neck.
I yelped and arched my body like a fetus. I held my forehead where I felt the metal pound my flesh. Then I felt it again—thwack!—against my fingers and I pulled them away.
Above my own pain I heard the children’s cries, for their mother, for their God, for their Aunty Lynette.
I felt the warm blood spouting from my forehead, landing on my face and trickling down to my neck.
“I ain’t going to kill you,” I heard Franklyn say. “I’m only softening you up.”
The hammering moved to my legs and soon I felt the sharp end dig into my flesh. He pulled the hammer back and my flesh ripped open.
In between the pounding on my chin, elbows and shin, I heard Franklyn fighting the children off. I heard them shouting, frightened, and then I heard them no more. I tried to open my eyes but blood had pooled in them making it impossible to see. I did not have the strength to wipe it away.
I heard the children sniveling in a corner. Franklyn had stopped hitting me and I panicked, thinking that he would go after them next. I opened my mouth to tell him to leave them alone but only groans came out. I heard the hammer drop with a thud to the ground, followed by retreating footsteps.
“Mommy, are you all right?” my third child, Amelia, asked. She touched my arm and I winced in pain.
“God, I forgive him,” I moaned hoping for help to arrive soon. “I forgive him, Jesus. This man can hurt my body but he can’t hurt my soul.”
I was surprised by my own thoughts.
Franklyn was charged with attempted murder but when the case was called he was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Apparently when the police officers, who were his friends, took me to the hospital, they left the hammer and crow-bar behind for some unknown person or persons to spirit away. The children were not reliable witnesses on account of their ages, their obvious prejudice against their father, and the darkness of the room.
I am amazed at how God has turned this situation around for good. When I finally left Franklyn my relationship with God soared. I pray more fervently and see answers to my prayers. I always have a song on my lips and I understand the Bible more clearly. I actively participate in church which was something Franklyn never allowed when he was a minister.
Many women are drawn to me and pour out their hearts to me not knowing that I had been a victim of domestic violence myself. With the exception of a few scars on my legs, I have no visible evidence of what happened to me on that dreadful morning.
There are two things I always advise these women. First, find a supportive friend with whom they can share their troubles without feeling judged. Secondly, I tell them to stop crying and to start acting, for tears are not enough.
Vaughn T. Stanford was born and educated in Trinidad and Tobago. He is the author of Tales from Mysteria, a young adult fantasy collection, and Unseemly Behavior: Stories.
Stanford has written and directed public service short films on HIV/AIDS funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). His play about family dysfunction, Conflicted, was performed at the historic Little Carib Theatre in Trinidad and was later televised on CNC3. He is a high school teacher.
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Please visit your favorite e-book retailer to discover other books by Vaughn T. Stanford:
Tales From Mysteria
Mysteria is magical, a land where humans and animals live in harmony, a place of beauty and innocence—until something sinister comes along and darkness begins to spread across the land.
—Fabien the Fish teaches himself to walk, but instead of winning the admiration he craves, the ridicule of his family rains down on his head.
—Little Bird goes to war with Big Bird over a meal, a mission that could end only in disaster.
—Sana the cow jumps to conclusions and into mortal danger.
—Dart the horse challenges the gods—and Mysteria will never be the same again.
In this collection of animal stories, readers of all ages are drawn into a fantasy world where difference, acceptance, loyalty and betrayal are explored.
Unseemly Behavior: Stories
These tales are set in the Caribbean – not the scenic Caribbean of sun, sand and carefree living but a Caribbean beset with troubling realities born of a bloody history and nurtured by generational trauma. In these tales, Stanford selects diverse strands of his society and paints them in their stark realism. A school teacher must confront a student who attempts to rape another; an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse faces her tormentor; overbearing parents drive their son to madness; young men take extreme action to deal with runaway crime on their island. There are simmering racial tensions, crises of faith and betrayals on a grand and intimate scale. Yet here and there, like tropical sunlight filtering through a rotted roof, the human spirit triumphs.
Desire is the story of Everyteacher as he faces the students whose youth, beauty and promise are constantly at war with the damage inflicted on them by their toxic, convulsing society. Teacher Adrian Greene is one of the nicest guys at a secondary school on the island of Trinidad, but when one of his juniors is attacked by a senior he loses his famous cool. Things get out of hand when he confronts the boy about the incident and the two end up in a scuffle in the schoolyard…