No. Not Ever.
I could feel my body start to contract into itself, shrinking, freezing. My head fell, my chin pressing against my chest. I vaguely noticed my feet press down and anchor themselves to the floor. I wondered if it would be a punch or a slap this time. Even if I had thought of moving out of the way, I wasn’t capable of it.
I slowly raised my eyes. I watched crimson rage creep up T’s mottled skin — up his neck, over his face, seeping up to his hairline. I was riveted, fascinated/terrified/paralyzed.
To be fair, he only hit me twice in the whole ten years we were together. The first time it was a slap to shut me up. I got a black eye, chipped tooth and two weeks of headaches.
The second time, he threw a baby bottle at me. I ducked. It went through the window glass behind me, leaving a hole the perfect twin of its shape.
But the body remembers. When I see the twitch of the arm and subsequent rising of the hand, my body goes into alarm-mode. After ten years of relentless verbal abuse, my self-esteem was in shreds.
His shoulders gathered in, hunched. He tilted slightly, put weight on his left foot, angling, his right arm rising up from his hip. His fisted hand began to open — ah, it would be a slap, the heavy palm on my cheek, a black eye…
In the back of my head, I wondered
how long it’d take to heal this.
T’s arm stopped its rise, dropped back down to his side — he never hit me in front of the kids.
“Yes honey?” I answered, hearing my voice weakly emerge from my throat, trembling.
Mother instinct set in. My body’s alarm-mode switched into wait-mode, unfreezing. I could move now. I turned to see what my 5-year old wanted, his small body silhouetted black against the yellow glare of the hall light.
“I can’t sleep. You guys are too loud,” he complained, running over to grab me around my waist, holding tight, looking up at his father, wide eyes.
T, silent, did a sudden about-face, stomped into the bedroom, slammed the door. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last time I’d see him at any length for 33 years.
Putting my son back to bed, I crawled in and curled up beside him. No way would I sleep with T when the Monster was so close to the surface.
He was gone when I awoke. It was late. I wondered where he was — I was confused, because I had been supposed to take him to the airport early that morning.
A note on the kitchen table — he’d called a surfing friend to come take him. He was off to India for a month’s spiritual retreat.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony.
I wondered if he’d allow the Monster to surface there. Oh no, of course not, he was the Nice Guy with everyone else. Of course not.
I closed my eyes in relief — a whole month without derision, being afraid of each thought, each word, each movement being criticized, scorned, mocked.
As I daydreamed how our life together could be like it had been before the kids, I never once thought to leave him. I somehow imagined that one day the love we had been so blissed and blessed with would surface again.
I spent the next few days concentrating on playing having-way-too-much-fun with my boys, two and a half and five years old.
We played in the studio, making little pots, bisque firing and decorating, glazing and hard-firing them.
Going to Salt Pond beach, body-surfing, diving and splashing in the little lagoon, pretending we were dolphins, swimming with our arms against our slick bodies, legs together, undulating as if we had fishy tails.
We built sand houses and castles and dragons and dams and forts. We shouted and danced and poured sloshy buckets loaded to the brim with the foamy sea over each one, melting it all back to sandy oblivion.
It was the most fun I’d had in 5 years. I wished it could last forever.
At the end of our first week through this glorious month of freedom, we were standing on the front porch as I locked the door before leaving for errands, when my old friend, Lani, drove up.
I finished locking the door and turned to see her and a tall blond man come up the front steps.
Now, I don’t like blond hair on men. I have no idea why. But as I turned to greet them both, something sweet clicked in my belly.
It was like the Universe was telling me to pay attention. So I did. I wondered — was I in danger? Would this be an attack? Or maybe a nice surprise? I knew Lani would never hurt me, so I opened to it being a nice surprise. Whew — little did I know!
The sun spilled onto the porch, encasing all of us in a sudden glow.
I felt my awareness expand out into the air.
Lani said, “Angela, this is Steven, Steven, this is Angela.” Such a simple sentence! One that would alter our lives forever.
Steven and I extended our hands to greet each other. As our fingers touched, a spark the size of a grapefruit burst into the atmosphere at our fingertips.
Already in motion to shake hands, we did — briefly! — jumping back — shocked! As our hands moved apart, the spark, instead of going out, simply stretched itself, getting longer and longer, until at 6″ it was a line of energy that looked like a power line on fire. We both just stood there, staring at it.
Stunned, I could feel the entire Cosmos come grinding to a halt around us.
“Nothing will ever be the same,” a silent voice within me cried.
I wondered if that was such a bad thing.
Steven’s eyes abruptly felt glued to mine across the arm-length distance created by our sparky shake. I fell into the light icy blue of his, he fell into the dark stormy blue of mine.
For a flash-fast/eternal moment, everything else disappeared. Lani, kids, house, the whole of Kaua’i — nothing else held our attention. We knew without a shred of doubt that We Were Meant to Be Together.
“Come on Ma, let’s go!”
The moment shattered, tinkling around us like shards of glass. I shook my head, already disbelieving the enormity of the last few seconds.
But Steven knew, and put his hand on my arm to slow me down. “Can we go to the beach with you?” he asked.
Dazed, taking a breath, I said yes, of course!
We spent that day and the next week completely intertwined on every level. At the beach, at home, playing with the boys, shopping for groceries, going for walks under the moon — everywhere. I had never felt so close, so loved, so seen, by anyone. Even the kids liked him. I thought.
A week to go before T was to return, Steven
casually turned to me and asked, “Why don’t you and the kids
come to California and live with me?”
That old house will probably never get over the flurry with which we sorted and packed and shipped all of our goods off. T would return to his clothes, his surfboards, and the echoes of an empty house.
The day before he was to arrive, we set off on our own journey to a new life in California.
Where no one ever hit me or mocked me or treated me with scorn or derision again.
The body remembers, though. Thirty-three years later, at my son’s wedding event, I was in conversation with someone when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw T’s arm twitch and rise in a most familiar gesture in front of the woman he was with.
I was all the way across the wide lawn from him, yet I could feel that old fear response tear me into pieces yet again. I was dumbfounded — he was going to hit her, in front of all these people?
Maybe he wasn’t about to. Maybe I read him wrong, only seeing him through the filter of my own past experience with him, with that twitch, that arm rising….
I took a breath and decided this was
the last time he ever even began to raise his hand to anyone.
I stalked over to him and stood between him and this woman. I just stared at him. Glared at him.
Now that push came to shove, I found myself unable to say it out loud, so I shoved the thought to him in my head: “Do. Not. Ever. Do that again.”
Fiercely, savagely, like a hunter heaving a long, wicked, pointed spear.
He got it. His eyebrows leapt up on his brow. He stumbled back a step, surprise and a flush of fear flashing across his face.
His arm lost its tension, fell to his side.
As swiftly as I’d flown to be there in front of him, I found myself at the other side of the lawn again, catching my breath, bent over and heaving my guts out into some bushes.
I unbent and stood straight, wiping the corners of my mouth, thinking, I did it! In one loud, scathing, intensely powerful thought, I had given him back all the energy of the pain and the fear and despair and the powerlessness I’d felt as I’d endured his abuse for ten long years.
I felt utterly triumphant.
I doubt if he remembers what happened. But I do. It’s seared into my heart like the burn from a cattle brand.
NO one has the right to strike anyone. NO one.
P.S. Normally I try to find a way to add the line, ‘keep on keeping on’ at the end of my stories. I couldn’t figure out a way to do that here without destroying the power of the triumph I felt.
So, I’ll add it here: Keep on keeping on! Being your best you, doing your best, and knowing that even on your worst days, even though you cannot see it, you as a Being have tremendous value.
Does Your Partner Have the Right to Strike You?
© Angela Treat Lyon 2023
Image: The Goddess of Life Blesses Us with Her Every Breath
© Angela Treat Lyon 2021
What people say:
Beautiful! Kudos! for your triumphant action, dear Angela! And Kudos! on your writing! It has escalated to a fine tuning of just the right words and tension, raw emotion and clear sight. It vividly brought back my three years of an abusive relationship, long long ago, and your triumph became my own. We are survivors. And thrivers too. Thank you for sharing.
~ Nancy Lyn Cotter
Thanks for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it, and that it inspired you to make improvements in your own life.
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