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The Ghost never gave me anything he didn’t take back and sell.  There was one gift he gave me that he never knew about.  At first, neither did I.

I forgave him as he beat me on the last night I’d ever seen him.  That was July 4th, 1999.  With each blow I asked God to forgive him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  I could tell his pain was worse than mine, in fact I was numb to his blows.

I knew his story.  He told me about how his childhood was stolen from him.  He told me about the pigeon coop.  How he use to train pigeons and built a coop for them on the roof of his building with the help of his stepfather.  Dick is what he called him.  I never found out if that was his real name – short for Richard – or just what he called him.  Dick did what all pedophiles do; gained this nine year old boy’s trust  – seduced him as it were – with the lure of pigeons.  Building a coop and teaching the young, blue eyed boy all about bird flight training.  These were not “street rat” pigeons, mind you, but flights, tiplets… those are the only names I remembered from what he told me.  There are a whole group of bird flyers and trainers all over NYC, the outer boroughs – and the world.  Apparently flying pigeons is a thing.

The Ghost grew up in The Bronx.  In his neighborhood it was not uncommon for there to be coops on the rooftops of buildings.  He told me how he used to run up to the roof every day after school to clean the coop and feed the pigeons.  He spoke about it with such pride.  He use to compete with the other kids on the buildings across the street and a few blocks down.  He’d brag about how he had the cleanest coop and the nicest birds.  One day while he was up there cleaning the coop, Dick came up to have a chat with him.  He stood there with his Brill Creamed hair, thin lips and his pen protector holding always exactly three Bic pens.  He smelled of Old Spice and Doublemint gum.  The Ghost always got a strange feeling when he was around Dick.  He told me something about Dick creeped him out and gave him the chills.  The instincts of a child are powerful.

So, he endured sexual abuse by his stepfather.  Of course he told his mother immediately.  She just stared at him and then told him to stop telling lies.   Accused her golden haired blue-eyed cherub of lying.  Lying and trying to ruin her happiness.  Again.  She’d blamed him for everything since he was three.  He was the bad one and Mickey was the good one.  It had always felt that way, at least.  The Ghost was always trying to win back her love, but his attempts were futile at best.

She blamed him for everything.  You see, when The Ghost was three years old, his mother told him to draw a bath for his brother and himself.  Bathing together was not uncommon, as the boys were only a year apart.  Irish twins, everyone called them.  Proud to take on this big boy job, he marched into the bathroom plugged up the tub with the rubber stopper, and turned one of the handles.  He couldn’t reach the  second handle but he turned the one closest to him.  The one with the letter “H” on it.  He’s seen his mommy do this many times.  She had tossed her finger under the tap but he wasn’t sure why, but he did that to.  The tub began to fill and he gave the Mr. Bubble bottle a squeeze.  He watched the bubbles grow a bit.  He left the bathroom and went to find his brother, Mickey.

Mickey, short for Michael, was in their room.  The Ghost announced it was time for their bath, and as the boys undressed the Ghost pulling his shirt of his head, Mickey shouted, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”  and ran out of the room.  The Ghost wanted to be first in the tub.  He fumbled with is shirt, but got it off.  He started looking for his Popeye doll to bring to the tub.  In the background he could hear the tub filling and his mother talking on the phone in the kitchen.  She was cooking dinner.  Irish stew.  Mickey’s favorite.  The smells were wafting through the small Bronx apartment.  The Ghost was getting hungry.  He found his Popeye doll and turned toward their bedroom door.  Before he could get to the bathroom he heard his brother screaming.  A scary sound unlike any he’d heard before.  The Ghost froze.  He peered out the bedroom door and saw his mother running.  He walked slowly toward the bathroom, the dark wood floorboards creaking under his feet and stopped when he reached threshold of the bathroom.  His mother was screaming “Why did you do this?  Why him?  This is all your fault!”  She cradled Mickey’s shivering body, fell on the floor and rocked her scalded baby in her arms.  Mickey was screaming and crying.  His wrinkled red body was shiny from the water and he had Mr. Bubbles shiny foam bubbles in his hair.  It all happened so fast.  All The Ghost could see was the bright red wrinkled skin on the right side of Mickey’s face and neck.  He looked like a monster from one of the comic books at the corner store.  He’d later learn the monster’s name “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  It scared him.  That wasn’t Mickey?  What was wrong with him?  I was looking for Popeye.  What happened?  Mommy, what did I do?

Mickey never healed completely.  They were able to do a skin graft, but he spent his life feeling self-conscious and fought off stares all through his adolescence.  Eventually he married and had children of his own.  He grew up hating his brother.  Resenting what he had done to him.  He blamed The Ghost for his disfigurement.  So did their mother.  By the time The Ghost encountered Dick, there was no one to listen.  No one to help.  No one who believed him.

It was the beginning of the end and this child was doomed to a life of mistrust and misfortune.

When he told me this story, I knew The Ghost had given me a gift but I could not identify it at the time.  It took some time for me to come to this realization, but I came to understand that the gift he gave me was gratitude.  Because of his story, I was able to truly appreciate my happy childhood.

It was my happy childhood that saved me when The Ghost’s damaged childhood came to visit him in the form of drugs, alcohol and the abuse he inflicted on my body.  There came a time when I could no longer take his blows.  I could no longer let his words penetrate my spirit.  For years I would tell my story saying I had no choice but to leave.  I had no choice because he beat me out of our home.  The truth is, I knew I could not take one more moment in his presence.  The love was gone long before that night.  I don’t know what made me stay.  If I stayed I knew he would kill me and I wasn’t ready to be dead.

So I left with nothing but the clothes on my back – not even shoes on my feet – and the gift he didn’t even know he had given me.

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Finding marijuana instead of money for Chinese food in my future husband‘s leather jacker scared me more than the memory of being choked by my future husband.

I had nowhere to go.  With tears streaming down my face and the one ounce bag of marijuana in my purse, I firmly pressed the gas pedal to the floor and drove.  I drove without a destination.  I drove to get away from the south shore town, from my future husband and from this life that was spinning out of control.   I drove for about twenty minutes before it occurred to me that I could get randomly pulled over by police and they would see me as a criminal.  I could not go to my mother’s house because I was no longer her daughter.  My brother was not an option as we had almost no relationship.  By this time in my relationship with my future husband, I had pushed most of my friends out of my life.  I was too embarrassed to continue explaining my future husband’s erratic behavior.  I grew tired of making excuses, so I suppose it was easier to isolate myself.  I decided to go back to the apartment.  I feared that he would hurt me physically if I got rid of the drugs.  But I turned the car around.  In doing so, I was accepting what was to come.

When I arrived he said what I was thinking, what I expected to hear.  So you decided to come back?  You have nowhere else to go…. you’re acting like a baby and overreacting.  It’s just pot, not crack, Maria.  Everyone smokes pot.  I didn’t smoke pot.  People I called friends didn’t either.  In fact, I turned away friends during high school who did smoke pot.  People I worked with didn’t smoke it…did they?  What if they sensed I was too much of a ninny to tell me?  Not everyone smoked pot.  He couldn’t be right.  Could he?  I didn’t say anything for a while.  He kept mumbling things about how fucking ridiculous I was being and asking me questions I had no answer for.  Why is this such a big deal?  What is your problem anyway?  Can’t you just fucking relax?  I was beginning to believe his ridicule.  No I couldn’t relax.

Eventually things simmered down that night and of course he rolled himself a joint, cracked open a can of Budweiser and began smoking and drinking in the living room.  The skunk-like smell of the strange cigarette disgusted me.  The T.V. was on and I wound up in the bedroom and tucked myself into the bed.  My eyes were wide open for a long time.  I was keeping watch over myself thinking of what to do when he eventually crawled into the bed next to me.  Tell him to sleep on the fucking couch.  Pretend you are sleeping.  If he touches you, just go with it so the fighting will stop.  I didn’t know how I would handle things and all the scenarios played themselves out in my head.  At one point I even hoped he would slide into the bed next to me, wrap his arms around me and tearfully ask for forgiveness.  No such luck.  I heard him on the phone talking in his loud Budweiser beer voice as though everything were just fine.  I couldn’t tell who he was talking to, surmised it was one of his cronies and eventually there was silence the familiar beeps of the phone dialing and a new conversation began.  He ended the call with Alright, I’ll see you in a few.  The next thing I heard were his feet clomping down the stairs and the door closing behind him.  He left the lingering odors of marijuana ashes and open empty beer cans for me to stew in alone.  My heart was racing.  Where is he going?  Will he be right back?  Can I fall asleep now?  In the morning I woke up alone with no sign of my future husband having returned to the apartment.  I cleaned up the mess he left in the living room, got showered, applied my makeup and drove directly to the bookstore where I worked.

The sun was shining and I found my regular parking space.  I pulled open the heavy brass-handled door to the smells of coffee lingering in the air and the sweet melodic sounds of Cole Porter‘s Night and Day pouring out of the speakers.  Good Morning! One of the girls at the register called out to me.  I gave her the biggest smile I could muster and returned the greeting.  I was pretending to be cheerful.  I pushed aside my pain, put my purse in the back office and walked out onto the sales floor straightening piles of books as I walked toward my post.  I made small talk with my colleagues and cheerfully greeted customers.  I joked with the guys in the stockroom and checked for special orders in the UPS delivery.  I went about my business and loved every minute of it.   I was beginning to live a double life.

I left work a little later that evening so that my time at home would be shorter.  When I arrived he was waiting there, apologetic and told me he went down the block to visit his friend and hang out.  He said he was sorry that I got so upset but that he wasn’t going to give up smoking pot because it was not a big deal and I would just have to get over it.  He told me it was cheaper to buy an ounce that buying dime bags all the time and that he was actually saving us money.  But he said out of respect for you, I won’t do it in the house.  I said it was ok, that I understood.  But I didn’t understand.  And it wasn’t ok.  I don’t know if I was trying to convince him or me.

A few months after this, I received two significant phone calls.

The first was from a Literature professor I became close with while doing my undergraduate degree in Literature.  The phone call, despite coming just shy of a year after graduation, was certainly unexpected and caused me to recall a rush of memories. This particular professor taught a class called The Art of Autobiography which captivated me.  We focused on the genre through readings by Jean Jacques Rousseau, Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Wole Soyinka.  The lives of these writiers fascinated me and made me want to experience life at its fullest, richest possibility.  Always having kept a journal, I fantasized about the many lovers I would hope write about later in my life like Nin, or zooming in on a tender memory of my mother singing and soothing me as in Proust’s Swan’s Way.  In general, I longed to romanticize things about my own life, and things that never really occurred but seemed so nostalgic and romantic in the way only great writing and art can be.  Words, thoughts, artistic expressions leaped off the page and grabbed me in the chest and demand that I was present in that moment.  I recall over the course of my life, beginning in my undergraduate years, crying real tears for the frustration of not being able to express these emotions myself.  Despite beginning my studies three years later than my peers,  I was very young then, having the soul of an artist and the heart of a poet.  Nothing agonizing had happened to me yet, though I desperately hoped it would.  I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined how my life would turn out just a few short years from that very safe, over-romanticized period of time.  I worked hard and wrote well and suppose I stood out for being knowledge-hungry and enthusiastic.  I suppose, too, that starting a few years later and being one of the older students in the small private university made me stand out a bit for this particular professor.  While I was in her class, she asked me to be her assistant at a conference which she was heading, focusing on the life and works of Anais Nin.  It took place at the Southampton Campus of our University.  I accepted her invitation, feeling very self-important and flattered all at once.  I  helped with everything from picking up guest speakers at the train station and delivering them to the dorms they would occupy for the weekend-long conference, to distributing programs and basically schmoozing with professors in between speakers. I made sure lunch was served on time and handed out bottles of water.  I felt star-struck when meeting professors from all over the country who had written books and delivered papers on Nin.  I met and listened to Benjamin Franklin V (yes, a direct decendant), deliver a paper on his research for an upcoming cook he was writing about the life of Anais Nin.  There was even a group from Japan who studied the implications of Nin’s work in Japanese feminist culture.  I was invited to an after conference party at my professor’s vacation home in Southampton.  The evening played out like a Woody Allen film.  Gossip amongst the professors about who was sleeping with whom, gossip about promotions within teaching departments and who’s book was rejected by publishers.  I drank some white wine and got a little tipsy and had the most interesting conversation with a professor from a big university in California.  She had similar observations about the crowd, loved my Woody Allen analogy,  and asked me about my future plans, which of course included getting my Ph.D. in Literature.  She shared some sage advice and we laughed a lot.  I was very intimidated by the crowd and at one point thought my Professor’s husband might have been flirting with me a little while he was playing the piano.  He probably wasn’t but at the time I thought he might have been.  He taught at Barnard and later wrote a posthumous biography about a great American Poet whom shall remain nameless.  It was on the bestseller list for something like three years, and wound up on our “New York Times Best Sellers List” shelf years later while I was the Manager of the bookstore I would begin working in after graduation.  My attendance at the party also afforded me the opportunity to meet, speak with and exchange recipes with my professor’s mother – an internationally recognized scholar in the field of Comparative Literature, Symbolism and Surrealism, in addition to being a regular contributor and reviewer for the New York Times Book Review.  I remember she had a mustache (as did my professor) of impossibly black hair and a giant bun atop her head and a big round belly that made me believe I was standing before Gertrude Stein herself.  The longer I spoke to her, the more beautiful her face became, the more I wanted to be like her… the memories all came in a flash when I heard my professor’s voice on the other end of the phone call.  She inquired as to where I had started my Master’s and where I would be doing my Ph.D..  I was silent at the other end of the phone, feeling very disappointed in myself because of my current circumstances.  Should I confide in her and tell her about my abusive, alcoholic drug using future husband?  No I decided almost immediately.  I told her things were going well, that I had decided to take time off before beginning my Master’s and that I had met a fantastic man whom I moved in with.  I could detect a bit of disappointment in her voice, but she was non-judgemental, and got to the point rather quickly.  She wanted to know if I would be interested and available to be her sole research assistant for a book she was beginning to write on literary perspectives of Anais Nin – a body of work that would be a direct result of the conference I attended and assisted her with the previous year.  My heart leapt when she asked me!  She explained that she could not afford to pay me, but that I would get a mention in the acknowledgements page which would apparently be a great thing to add to my resume and applications to grad school.  I remember looking around the small apartment, scrambling for what my answer would be and recalled difficult and happy moments with my future husband – my name in the acknowledgements page  – my name in a book and the chance to do research for a conference I had attended and….. and I accepted the offer.  She said she would call again at the beginning of the following week to firm up what she would need me to do first, and suggested I gather and review notes I may have taken at the conference. I hung up the phone, overjoyed and called my future husband…. he was not nearly as excited.   Why would you do anything for free?  What kind of hours does she want you for? You don’t have time for that shit, you need to work and make money.  I started to think about it.  His cool reception to my offer made me think like him – yeah, why couldn’t she pay me?  Was she taking advantage of me?  Maybe I should just say no since he’s so upset about it. When he came home later that evening, he continues to rant about what a ridiculous idea it was.  She must’ve thought you would be her nigger bitch and do all her work for her for free, he said.  I don’t know why it was so easy, but I started to believe believe he was right.  I started thinking my professor had bad intentions of taking advantage of my time and skills…. the next time I spoke to her I told her I was simply too busy with my full time job and dedication to my relationship at home to give her the time she was asking me to devote to the project.  I shut my eyes tight as I lied these lies to her.  She said it sounded like someone was making me say those things – she was smarter than I could have imagined – and asked me if I needed help.  I told her no, and everything’s fine and this is all my decision.She asked me if I was sure, and that she would have another teacher’s assistant currently her student, available to do the research work, but really thought I would put the passion into it.  No, I said, I’m sorry but I just can’t right now.   And that was the end of that.  I would hear from her again in four years time.  i arranged a book launch and signing at the bookstore after I became the manager.  She and her writing assistant, the student teacher that took my place, arrived all smiles.  The professor’s husband, who I swear flirted with me at the party in The Hamptons, was also in attendance.  I swear he just had that look flirtatious look about him again.  A week before the event, I admit I tore open the box of books from the publisher, plowed through the acknowledgments and forward to search for mention of the teaching assistant’s name.  When I found it I found myself reading three whole sentences about her over and over, and rereading it replacing her name with mine to see how it rolled off my tongue.  The hours of work necessary to complete this book were made shorter and more bearable by my faithful research assistant, and assistant in all things academic ________ _______”   Your love of literature and determination to see this work through until its completion has been much appreciated and admired.  From the bottom of my  heart, I am so glad I found you. Thank you!   Damnit, that was four sentences.  My name was forever omitted from any historical connection to my professor, the conference and Anais Nin.

The second phone call I received around the same period of time was from a former friend of mine whom I had not spoken to in nearly ten years.  I knew her from summer camp which I attended in Sag Harbor, Long Island from the ages of eight to sixteen when I became a Counselor in Training (CIT’s for short).  We were only acquaintances during my younger years at camp.  She was definitely one of the “cool” girls at the all-girls Catholic camp located in the sleepy former whaling village nestled in the heart of The Hamptons.  She had, I heard, a reputation for being wild since she was from New York City.  There were only a handful of girls from The City that attended.  One of them was the daughter of a director who I hadn’t heard of at the time.  One year Yule Brenner’s adopted children attended camp with us, though they were much younger than I.  I was curious about my friend before I met her until it finally happened; she spoke to me first and we became friends almost instantly.  She dared me to steal ice-cream from the kitchen after hours, and together we plotted with other girls to stick one of the younger girl’s fingers in a glass of cold water while she was sleeping.  Apparently there was a rumor that poor girl had a bed wetting problem and we wanted to make that happen, for sure. I ran into that poor bed-wetting girl in London nearly six years later when I was entering a theatere in Victoria to see Me and My Girl.  I was shocked to see your beautiful blue eyed face and golden blonde ringlets as she got up on her tip-toes to call out to me.  I tried to hide from her vision, embarrassed by my past sins against her but eventually my mother saw hers and we all stopped to chat for a bit.  I felt so small, so horrible.  She was lovely and sweet.  How could we have done that to her.  She never knew I was involved.  This ultra cool trouble-causing friend also got us to sneak off camp grounds to wrangled us into a local club on Reggae Night where dred-locked Jamaican men were dancing and openly smoking marijuana on the dance floor.  We were very much underage and not supposed to be there anyway, but somehow a Rolling Rock beer wound up in my hand and I began to drink it.  Eventually another came into my posession and by the time I started feeling my knees go warm and weak, I was deathly afraid of getting caught by the nuns at camp more than getting kicked out of the club but figured if that were to happen, it better be for a good reason.  Some of the other CIT’s puffed away happily, dancing to the lazy Reggae beats.  And then round about one o’clock in the morning out came Rick James – Rick James as in, She’s a very Kinky Girl (SuperFreak).  He was dressed all in gold, chest exposed and both shoulders flanked with platinum blondes with highly glossed red lips and not much else on.  I could not believe my eyes, or the effect his performance was having on me… so naughty so dirty, so freaky but I liked it!  I danced along with my stoned friends.  When my Former Friend called me, all the memories rushed back.  I was excited to tell her of my new life, living with a man and working at the bookstore as an Assistant Manager by that time.  I thought I might sound impressive to her.  She told me she was coming out to Long Island and could she come stay with me for a night or two?  Of course!  I said, what fun!  I had to explain all this to my future husband, but he said a visitor made no difference to him.  As it happened, his old friend from The Bronx would be moving into an apartment down the block from us, so he would be busy with helping him anyway.

I had no idea how poorly the stars aligned themselves that night.  My former friend did not leave for another three years.  When she did, she left with my future husband’s crony,both Crack addicted by then, her belly swollen with his child and five thousand dollars of my money.

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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