I was married.
Sometimes that does not seem a real or possible statement.
But I was. I was married.
I often think about this. I shared a life with another human being. We met and fell for each other the way people do every day. We shopped, ate, made love. We shared a home, a bed, furniture and a dog. I knew of his drug-dealing, criminal past and he knew I didn’t have any such experience to speak of. Looking back, I now know how green I was. I was too inexperienced and unsophisticated to understand the intricacies of love, relationships and the permanency that marriage implies. I fell in love with him because he paid attention to me. He noticed me. He spoke to me. I misinterpreted his rogue intentions to be flirtatious and romantic. I thought I could rule the world then but it turns out I could not even begin to understand what was ahead of me.
I graduated from University. I had no career plans to speak of. I thought it would be ideal if I could just spend my time around books and get paid for it. While I was deciding how to make that happen, a friend’s then fiancee had purchased a deli and offered me some work at a fair wage. I was still living at home and thought this would be a safe, wise option. I was in no rush to make copious sums of money and so I took him up on the offer.
I worked in a Kosher deli on the south shore of Long Island . I was told to stay at the counter, take orders and money and only handle hot dog orders. Everything else would be done by the guys who made sandwiches, doled out salads and the waitstaff that served tables. I thought this was great! No thinking involved, very little contact with food and working the register which I felt comfortable with because of previous work experience in retail.
One day, my future husband was cutting a sandwich. It was his habit to slam the knife down on the wooden chopping block as a way to clear the knife of straggling bits of meat and bread after cutting a sandwich. He had huge, wild, crystal blue eyes, a permanent pink tone to his cheeks and a few blond hairs left on his mostly bald head. When he slammed that knife down on the counter, I shook like a rabbit. He smiled at me then. I remember feeling the confused sensation of fear and delight. Did I think that was hot? Sexy? Masculine? Macho? Dangerous? I have no idea. All I know is I returned his smile and thought he might be just a touch insane. But I liked it.
The deli’s owner, my friend’s fiancee, felt a certain sense of responsibility toward my future husband. You see, just a few months before, my future husband was released from prison. Apparently he partook in a Bronx pharmacy robbery with one of his cronies. They broke the pharmacy window and proceeded to rob it of pills, cash and other sundries. Of course they were caught and my future husband served 6 months in jail on Riker’s Island. This is the way I remember it. I also remember he once told me he robbed a dry cleaning establishment of police uniforms and conducted a fake drug bust to rob a competing drug dealer of cash, weapons and product, but I’m not sure if this was what he went to jail for. Either way, he was definitely in jail, it was definitely in Riker’s and he got out just a few months before he began slamming butcher knives on greasy wooden chopping blocks in that sleepy south shore Kosher deli.
When I heard the jail story, I was again, turned on and terrified at the same time. I know it flashed through my mind that if I could just love him enough he could turn his life around and be an honorable man with an interesting story to tell at some future time. This may be the instant I went skipping down the long, impossible road that followed. I really thought I could save him. Love him enough and in turn he would love me.
We had a very innocent first date. He asked if I wanted to take a walk on the local boardwalk. I thought this was so adorable. I thought he revealed the little boy inside himself for just a flash when he asked me out. He was hesitant but tried to be cool. I responded. We walked along the beach that night, the air heavy with a salty mist and the sexual tension that hovers over potential lovers. I held his hand when he reached out to me. I could still smell the pastrami smells on my shirt, and felt very unsexy. But those eyes. Bold, blue, and looking straight into me. We talked about things that might have been red flags for me but I ignored. I ignored the way women do when they don’t want to be right. I let him kiss me as we sat on that cool wet sand, the blackness of the horizon ahead of us and the bright lights from the boardwalk behind us. We walked back to my car and I drove him home. I drove twenty five minute drive back to my mother’s house seeing only those crazy blue eyes ahead of me and darkness behind as I drove further away from the shore.
Three months later I was moving my books, clothes and bathroom items out of my mother’s house into my car and driving back to the south shore to the small apartment that would become my home with this ex-con boy-man.
Are you still with me? This is when things really start happening.
I moved in with him and remember nothing about the first few nights. I’m sure there was some serious love-making and sporadic eating and maybe some work too. I’m sure I had a constant throb between my legs that kept me wanting him more. The throb kept me going and ignoring my mother’s incessant phone calls which I either ignored or answered and then – abrupt hang ups. At the time I remember thinking that sex was wonderful, amazing, incredible. Of course, I hadn’t had much sex up to that point. He was muscular, much bigger than me, and though I was the heaviest I’d ever be in my life, I was much smaller than he. I felt like a Fay Ray to his King Kong.
A few weeks went by an I got the job I wanted in a high-end bookstore in a North Shore pedestrian mall. The store was a real stunner. Upon entering I was met with deep green marble floors, thick brown wooden bookcases that went on for miles and a center table that was adorned with a large stone vase and a spray of exotic flowers. One end of the store housed the music section; selections of Euro Pop, Jazz and Opera imports that were difficult to get in your average music shop. Opposite the music section was a small boutique containing artsy items like scares, jewelry, candles and bottle stoppers made from colorful frosted glass. The other entrance of the store greeted you with a small Italian coffee bar. Only espresso and cappuccino were served. The coffee aromas lingering in the air mixed with the soft Italian pop voices and together they lingered into the air, over the dark green marble, those stately wooden bookshelves and convinced you that you had entered an Italian Palazzo. This was heaven for me. Indeed it became my haven.
When I first began working at the bookstore, I continued on at the Kosher deli just one day a week. Partly for the money, but mostly to be close to my then future husband. Although we were living together, we really did enjoy working together one day a week. It was fun to flirt and grab each other in secret behind the counter, stealing kisses in between customers and whispering all the naughty things we would do when we got home. For the first time, I was in love.
There was a third party in our relationship. At home it was the future husband, Budweiser and me. At first, I did not realize that drinking a six-pack a night was not normal. Really. I grew up in a home where no one drank alcohol. No wine at dinner, not really even on special occasions. There were no nightcaps taken, or fingers of scotch to ward off a cold. No hot toddies on cold winter nights. There was just no alcohol around. It never occurred to me that a six pack was excessive. I had no way of gaging what was normal and what was excessive. Until one day I asked him. Is that normal? I didn’t grow up in home where there was drinking. His response was defensive, I work hard and pay my bills. If I want to come home and have a fucking beer, I will. There’s nothing wrong with that. It felt strange to me. Even as I heard the words, it felt wrong that someone should drink that much every night. Beer cans were always present and became a fixture like furniture.
A few months went by and I dropped my day at the deli. I was loving my time at the bookstore and started making friends. Things were going great for me there and I was moving up fast. I had found my little niche doing something I loved and felt great every day. few months into the relationship I began confiding in a friend at the bookstore. I acted as though everything were great, and perhaps I was being silly but wanted to know if that was normal. Not really, she said directly. I knew she was right, but at that point my mother stopped speaking to me because I was living with him and her strict religious beliefs prevented her from being capable of maintaining a relationship with me if I was going to live in sin with that animal. I really felt I had nowhere to go. I questioned why I was even turning that phrase in my head somewhere to go but I knew I didn’t want to stay. I don’t know why, but I really didn’t want to leave.
His drinking increased and with it his impatience and foul language. Sex felt forced and unenjoyable but I never refused him. I was afraid to turn him away. It was as if I knew there were repercussions. I was in bed, sleeping one night, when he came home at one in the morning and started to make advances. Rubbing my ass, kissing my neck as I lay there stirring from sleep. He was clearly drunk and in the mood. He smelled of cigarettes and beer. He tried to take me, tried shoving himself inside me but I wasn’t ready. Just as quickly he became angered. He accused me of cheating on him, named people in our lives that he was convinced I was fucking and when I finally couldn’t take his accusations anymore I shouted back in defense. That’s when he straddled me on the bed, pinning my arms down under his legs and wrapped his hands around my neck trying to squeeze the life right out of me. I strained for breath and felt my self slipping, tears running down my face and wishing he would just do it. Just kill me. But something inside me rose up and fought. I squirmed under him. We ended up on the floor and he was on top of me again, choking me and slamming my head against the wooden floorboards. There was a pounding at the door. The landlord who lived below us was banging and screaming. My future husband ran to the door and said we were having a fight but everything was ok now. I said nothing. I went into the bathroom with my cell phone and called the police. My face and neck were red. The fingerprints were redder and pushed their way to the surface of my skin, forcing themselves to be seen. My first thought was to wonder how I could possibly show myself at work the next day. It was Spring and a turtleneck would have been out of place. When the police arrived they asked me a few questions. Then they asked me whose name was on the lease. His, I said. Just then my future husband came outside and told them nothing happened and they could all go home. The cops laughed, realizing who it was. I kept telling them to look at my neck, that he ad done this to me. They said His name is on the lease. If you want someone to go, it should be you. But as you all now know, I had nowhere to go. I felt mocked and small and weak. All I wanted to do was sleep and dream of something better. Instead, I entered that apartment, him behind me even more upset. The climb up the stairs felt like a death march. When we got upstairs he muttered a few more degrading comments in my direction, I grabbed some clothes, packed a small bag, and got in the car driving into the darkness. I remembered there was a small hotel near the bookstore, so I drive directly to it. The sun came up, he did not return and I went to my safe haven, the bookstore. The phone calls began shortly after my arrival at work the next day. He called and yelled at anyone who answered. By the time he got me on the phone I was so embarrassed about his behavior toward my colleagues that I gave in to his pleas to come back home. I apologized for calling the police and assured him I would be home directly after work. I thought my submission would quiet him. Calm him. Make it all go away. Of course, my return gave him permission to continue the drinking and physical abuse toward me. I had made my metaphorical bed.
Living with my then future husband from that evening on was like walking on glass. Every move I made had to be carefully calculated, and despite my wide-eyed innocence, I now grew paranoid and questioned myself if I even looked in the direction of another man or if I caught myself being friendly with male customers at work. One evening, a few months after the choking incident, I came home from work to find he lost his job at the deli and he was consoling himself with a case of beer and watching T.V. On the way home I was craving Chinese food and did not feel like cooking. He told me to grab money out of his jacket pocket so I could pick up the food he ordered. I reached into the black leather abyss and a shiver went down my spine when I saw what my hand produced – a bag of marijuana- about an ounce of ripe spelling marijuana. I had never seen it like this but its color and odor were distinctive. I smoked a joint once in high school and threw up shortly after. Didn’t enjoy it and never tried it again. The shock and horror of finding that weed might sound overblown to someone reading this account but to me it was a nightmare. I shoved the bag in my purse and ran out the door. I was shaking now and headed straight for my car. I drove, in a panic, thinking of what I should do. Throw it in the ocean? Throw it in a trash can? Smoke it? Flush it down the toilet? None of these made sense. Nothing made sense. I had nowhere to go, no safety place. How did I wind up with an alcoholic drug addict? This was just the beginning of what would be a six year long nightmare.
Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts. Describe the ghosts that live in this house: Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic