by Dawn Van Beck
I clasped my hands together, leaning my elbows on the wooden railing. Swirling ripples formed beneath me as a dragonfly skimmed across the water. My chest heaved deeply in time with the warm, subtle breeze rustling through the pine trees as my fingers found their way to my neck, delicately tracing over the muted, brown spot. I watched the sun begin its slow descent behind the crest of the mountain as glimmers of orange and yellow quickly turned to crimson. Although the beckoning of the stars was peaceful, I was anything but.
The wound was now smooth. It was no longer red, splotchy, or painful to the touch. The doctor said, in time, it would heal completely. I couldn’t believe it had been nearly one year. Not soon enough to erase somber reminders continually toying with my self-worth and my pride. Looming doubt still hovered over my fragile ability to trust–my courage to love again. The brown spot was fading. My memories were not.
I was young and foolishly naive when I first met Jack. He was good-looking. His cunning charm was mesmerizing. He had a crafty ability to lure me into his webs of deception, whether showering me with compliments or paralyzing me with bitter threats. Like a spell, all I could do was drink him in. He was either a sweet dream or a wonderful nightmare. I had walked through the fingers of his fire willingly, and I knew it. How could I have been such a fool?
“Relax, Miss Roxanne. You look as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs!” I recall how the police officer with the southern drawl detected my shattered nerves.
I was a household name with law enforcement. I had called several times before. Trembling hands held a shaky phone while sniveling through broken sobs how Jack twisted my arms behind my back and threw me up against a wall. I’d whimper explanations of the moments eventually leading to Jack’s fist meeting my jaw. Yeah, I had called many times before. I had also retracted–every time. Surely, Jack would change, wouldn’t he? That was the empty promise he continually pleaded through profuse apologies.
This particular time was different. I had been praying. I was gaining momentum. I was getting stronger. This time, I vowed to take action.
The officer fumbled with his pocket notebook. The tightness in my chest grew as my mind drifted. Heat flushed through my body as Jack’s words echoed back to me. Biting words that robbed my joy and eroded my spirit. He would motion me closer, always in public, as if to share a secret or playful exchange. Instead, I’d fall victim to the assault of calculated, demeaning, verbal barbs.
“You are so ugly. Your face disgusts me. I don’t even want to be seen with you.” I would stare forward, motionless.
“I’m so sick of your sappy goodness. I intend to slap the sweetness right outta you when we get home.”
Tears burned my eyes. Salty drops trickled down my cheeks as my mind scrambled for any means of revenge. Escape. Jack would force me to meet his gaze. His cold, penetrating eyes always burned through my defenses.
“So, what’d the snake in the grass do to ya this time, Miss Roxanne?” The officer snapped me back to attention as he rolled a toothpick between his lips.
I swallowed hard and cleared my parched throat. Trembling hands gathered my long, brown curls, pulling them back behind my neck. Tilting my neck to the side, I exposed the searing damage.
“Dear God in the mornin’!” The officer’s hands went to his hips. “That aint purty, Darlin’!”
“Curling iron.” The words escaped me in a weak breath. I straightened my head, pursed my lips and repeated my words with a firm tone. “It was a curling iron.”
Jack had demanded to have a turn with my hair as I got ready that morning. He stood behind me, locking eyes with me in the mirror. With a sly grin on his face, he carefully twisted a lock of hair around the iron. He leaned in close to my neck with the pretense of a whisper and pressed in. He held significant pressure, despite my writhing. Amidst my screams, the severity of the inflicted harm became obvious. Jack begged forgiveness, as always.
Once Jack was satisfied that I’d composed myself, he took me to a walk-in clinic. He spun a wild story about the curling iron mishap, which I wasn’t sure the staff bought. It didn’t matter. He knew I wouldn’t defy him. I silently begged for the nurse to read my heart’s cry as my eyes repeated the plea–please help me. I was treated for my blistering skin and Jack took me back to his place. He left me alone the rest of the day.
There was not enough room in the entire world for my pain. That day, I made the phone call. That day, I resolved to stand up to my abuser.
I remember trying to slow my breathing as I obtained the restraining order. As difficult as the whole process had been to make the phone call, sign the paper–to leave; the aftermath proved even worse.
Chilling threats concealed themselves in anonymous letters. Shivers shook my spine as the isolated sound of heavy breathing taunted my phone line. Ominous phone calls came from Jack, periodically identifying a store I had just walked out of. I had been followed. He had been watching me.
Eerie letters eventually stopped. Creepy phone calls ceased. I no longer looked over my shoulder everywhere I went; however, I still scanned parking lots out of habit. I seemed to have escaped Jack, but nightmares continued to clutch my soul.
“He no longer has the power to wound you, Roxy.” The recollection of Michael’s comforting whispers reverberated into the silence as the pale glow of the moon began illuminating the lake.
Now, here I was, in another state, far away from Jack. A small, quiet town I affectionately termed, “St. Elsewhere.” It really didn’t matter where I was, as long as I was no longer where I’d been.
Michael entered my life as delicately as a feather. He was kind, humble, and fearless. His bright blue eyes carried the glint of the sun. His warm smiles reassured new beginnings. How long will it take? The unsightly spot on my neck was gradually fading, but I had a memory like a well-ordered cupboard. How long before the evil dreams fade?
Tears prickled my eyes as Michael approached the dock. Ice tinkled against glass as he moved toward me with slow, steady steps. He handed me a drink and leaned his hands on the railing, snuggling his shoulder against mine. The stars winked as night gradually deepened.
Michael turned his gaze to me. A flush crept across my cheeks as he studied my face in the moonlight. I knew my thoughts were ridiculously transparent. A weak breath escaped me and a faint smile found my face as I acknowledged Michael’s soft, silent expression.
Michael took both of our drink glasses and set them on the railing beside him. He turned to face me, cupping my hands in his. I flickered my eyes up to meet his. With the gentleness of the wind caressing a flower, he released one hand and slowly took hold of my flowing hair. Keeping his eyes fixed on mine, his strong fingers moved long strands of brown curls away from my face–away from my neck. Almost instinctively, I tilted my neck slightly to the side. Michael placed his lips on the remnant of my scar with a slow, deliberate kiss, and whispered.
“My sweet Roxanne . . . not all dreams are nightmares.”