His voice rose again and I flinched. Flashbacks of tainted memories swirled around in my head like an intense smog. He stopped and looked at me, his eyes wild. He was speechless, aware of my fear and took a step back.
“What,” he demanded in more of a statement than a question. I let out a small breath as I realized I’d been holding it since he first yelled. My head pounded, a rhythmic pulsation of infectious pain that spread across my entire skull. His cold face stared into me so I looked down at a scrape on the hardwood floor. Anything except his presence towering over me.
I had been a traveller before him. He was what made me settle down, become a “typical American wife”. I was my own boss but I threw it away by letting his oceanic blue eyes take me under his current. I wanted him to. He gave me something nothing else could give me: stability.
But standing here in front of this wall he’s made of himself, I wanted to be away. I wanted to see new places and be anywhere but this house. Being here at this time instilled a fear. At first I assumed it was the monotony of everyday life in America, but I learned soon after our wedding that it was not the life that scared me. It was him.
He scared me, looking down with an expression of disgust. He scared me, and so my hands shook. He scared me and I could do nothing but wait until the next day when he would buy me flowers and tell me it’ll be okay and I believed him every time. He never meant to hurt me. I knew that and he knew that. No one else did.
They didn’t want me to give up my former life for him but they were all supportive when we moved in together and got married. Six months after we exchanged our beloved vows, I told my mother I was contemplating divorcing him.
“Absolutely not,” she told me, “You have a duty. You made a commitment to your husband and to God. If you divorce him, the weight of your sin will hang on this family.” She proceeded to motion the cross on her forehead, chest, and shoulders. I sat in silence and accepted my fate.
And so here I was, in the dark house that was once so bright, exciting, and new. Twilight entered in through the windows and cast fearsome shadows onto the floor. His was the largest, stretching across the floor and swallowing my feet into darkness.
“Did you hear me?” he exclaimed and took a step forward. My arms automatically rose to protect my face from his nonexistent violence.
“Oh, stop that. You know I won’t hurt you. Now are you going to bed or not?”
“Soon,” I answered him as confidently as possible. My voice shook and I could feel red-hot heat spread through my face. He huffed and stormed up the stairs. As soon as he shut the door, I ran to the kitchen and frantically searched through every drawer as quietly as possible. I couldn’t find them: the keys. So I left out the front door in my bare feet and long skirt. My feet pounded in the grass on the front lawn, which changed abruptly to concrete as I ran out to the street. It was empty. The sun was setting almost completely behind the trees. Sounds of dogs barking in the distance, as well as a neighbor taking out the trash, drew my attention. I approached the older man struggling with his trash bin and assisted him. He thanked me, but stopped short when he looked up. Worry spread across his face and I feared he would not help me.
“Is everything okay miss?” he said slowly. I opened my mouth, but was interrupted by footsteps behind me. There he was, tall and dark. He only wore his sleeping pants and shoes, but no shirt. When I turned back to the man, he was entering his home hurriedly. So I ran. I wasn’t faster than him, especially not in bare feet compared to his sneakers. He was so close, reaching out to get me. I didn’t stop running and I didn’t turn around once. Not until I realized I crossed the highway outside our neighborhood. I’d woven between cars, horns blaring and people shouting at me. When I turned around, he was on the other side, unable to follow me due to the flow of traffic continuously rushing by.
Staring him straight in the eyes, I lifted my hand out and stuck up my thumb. Panic registered in his face, spreading until he was attempting to run between cars. He quickly gave up. The only other thing more important to him than the need to control me was protecting his own life.
My attention was taken away from him when a pickup truck slowed down. I lowered my arm, shaking in fear that he was safer than what I was about to do. I did it anyway, raising myself into the passenger seat and as I shut the door I looked to my left to see a petite, smiling young woman in a Stetson* hat. Her hair was long and blonde, a curly blown mess cascading down her back. Her smile was wide, but her teeth were crooked and could hardly be considered white. She was small, and an unpleasant sight.
“Where ya headed to?” the smiling woman said in a southern accent. I smiled back tentatively.
“Nearest airport,” I answered, my eyes glancing across the highway. He looked like he was giving up. “Quickly,” I added. She put her truck into drive and sped off, an odorous gas smell emitting and filling the vehicle.
“Runnin’ away is never the answer y’know,” she said without hesitation. I turned sharply on her.
“What makes you think I’m running away from home?” I questioned. She shrugged.
“I never said from a place. Could be from anythin’. I run from my feelings lots a times.” She popped chewing tobacco into her mouth and started chomping on it hard. My stomach quivered at the obnoxious sound.
“How did you know I was running away?” I asked as I swallowed the bile coming up into my throat.
“Sweetheart. You’re running around main roads without any shoes on, hitchhiking, and don’t even have your belongin’s. I’d say you’re either fresh outta the funny farm or runnin’ away.”
“Feels like both,” I mumbled.
“Name’s Catherine,” she said after a couple seconds of silence. “It means pure but don’ get me wrong miss. I ain’t any purer than the sun is square. What’s your name?”
“Louise,” I answered in a haze. It wasn’t until then, sitting in a dirty old truck next to this repulsive farmgirl, that I realized what I was doing. I was leaving behind the life I’d built up for myself. But I wasn’t going back. Not unless I wanted him to hurt me again.
“Now tha’s a pretty name. Know what it means?”**
“Probably something strong. Like you. I could never do what you’re out here doin’”
“And what is it that I’m doing, Catherine?” I turned on her. The chewing got louder, other cars on the road got closer, the stench go stronger. My senses were overloading.
“You’re doin’ what’s best for you rather ‘an what’s best for everyone else. That ain’t selfish sometimes. That’s brave.”
My face got red, I could feel it. I felt bad. Everything was still spinning around in my head, but one thing was clear. I could have been in a more dire situation without her. Someone with intention of harming me could have gotten me. Or worse, the road could have cleared.
“Thank you,” I responded quietly. Catherine smiled, but soon turned and opened the window to spit. I looked back out the windshield and tried not to throw up.
Ahead, we were approaching a large grey building, busy with people running about and cars winding through parking lots.
“We’re here!” she shouted. Startled, I jumped and remained on the edge of the seat, both in anticipation and because I didn’t know all of the substances on the seat. We pulled up to the front of the building and I unbuckled my seatbelt.
“Catherine, I’m so sorry. I left everything at home. Even my money. How will I repay you?” I said to her, worry pounding in my heart as I realized what I could not do for her..
“Repay me by takin’ this money for an airplane ticket. My farm is makin’ me more money than I know what ta do with.”
“No, no. I can’t do that.”
“You deserve this. Do it for yourself, but do it for me. Do it for all the girls and women that can’t get away.” She smiled and I nodded, questions flooding my thoughts. She handed me a wad of cash and I took it, slipping it into my skirt pocket. I thanked her again and exited. Nervous, I stepped into the airport. My feet were cold on the hard ground and my heart pounded against my chest, eager to get away.
Only an hour later, I was boarded onto a plane. I didn’t know where it was going; I asked the lady for the soonest flight and bought that ticket. She looked at me like she had just seen a ghost. I ignored her.
I stared out the window as the airplane started up, anxious and excited. The movements of the plane were all too familiar, and taking off didn’t startle me one bit. I missed the excitement of adventure, the self-love of becoming independent, and the feeling of invincibility of traveling the world. So, I found myself in the sky. Again.
*Stetson hat is a cowboy hat
**fun fact: Louise means warrior or fighter