She tried unsuccessfully to swallow the lump that was building in her throat. Nathan was her husband. Her protector. So how did he become the person she needed the most protection from? The thought troubled her as she stepped gingerly off the bed. Maybe today was the day she would run away....or better yet, end it all. The pressure of being the perfect wife under these circumstances was becoming more and more soul crushing every day. She padded over to the mirror and looked into the large vanity mirror as she sat down on the eloquent velvet chair. What a ridiculous name for something that enhanced every flaw she believed she had. The thin brown hair. The stress lines that ran across her forehead. The eyes that appeared hollow and lifeless. Noticeably absent were the smile lines caused from years of joy, stretching your face as a response to the little moments of elation in life, or those large surprises where your face almost cracks as one attempts to show every tooth in their mouth.
She gingerly touched the bruised flesh where Nathan’s fist had connected with her face. All this time she thought she had mastered denying that any problems existed in her life, her marriage or even her body. She used to be haunted nightly with dreams of her mother’s death. The day she discovered the numbing effects of alcohol finally ended all of that. From then on she plied herself with what she truly felt was “liquid courage”, as it was the only thing she truly felt she could depend on. At one point that was Nathan, but yesterday taught her the painful truth. She had no one. Everyone changed. There was no way to put confidence in any human. The thought saddened Ella, and before she knew it, tears cascaded down her face and landed silently on her hairbrush in front of her on the tray of the vanity table. She stared at the object, and remembered the times her mother would brush her hair, making sure every strand of hair was in place, as not to upset her father with an unkempt appearance.
An unfamiliar anger boiled up from the pits of her stomach. She had done everything her mother taught her, and here she was, a complete wreck and a repeat of her mother’s shortcomings. Her mind flashed back to Nathan berating her for her outfit choice, and when she opened her mouth to explain, she was given a punch that made her see stars and then temporarily blinded her. She knew that as time went on, he was resorting to violence earlier and earlier. He had never punched her. A slap, a squeeze, maybe a hard pinch in public, but a punch was unfathomable. It seemed the harder she tried, the more she failed. The weight of disappointment was beginning to permanently sag her shoulders. Her eyes darted over to clock. Realizing Nathan would be home soon, Ella leapt up and ran to the closet. Today she would do everything right. She reached for a gray pleated skirt as she heard the garage door open. The familiar feeling of dread crept up and settled, her anger dissipating to be replaced with fear. She rolled her eyes heavenward. Her mother had tried too. And ended up dead trying to please a man that couldn’t be pleased. Ella let her hand fall from the skirt. She did not have the strength to try anymore. She could not keep up with his rules. She could not be perfect at all times. She heard her mother’s laughter, and felt a sense of peace come over her for a moment.
Suddenly the door swung open. Nathan walked in, briefcase in hand and a scowl on his face. “You must take some kind of joy from disobeying me.” He said as he dropped the briefcase. It landed with a hard thud on the marble floor as he strode across the room towards her.
All of a sudden Ella felt tired. Mentally, emotionally. She was becoming undone. She stared wordlessly as Nathan charged her. And then it clicked. The dreams were a warning. Her mother hadn’t had the courage to walk away. In a desperate attempt to keep her family together, she had stayed until the fists killed her and closed her eyes forever. And unknowingly, Ella had become her. Her mother was trying to warn her. To have the courage to do what she hadn’t been able to do: leave. Alcohol wouldn’t solve this. Nor sleeping pills. This would require her realizing who she was, and who she could be. Without another thought, Ella darted out of Nathan’s path, and the act infuriated him even more. He picked up the decorative crystal candelabra and hurled it across the room. It hit the wall with a smash, and the glass shards caught Ella on the side of the face. Numb from the glass feeling along with the still fresh bruise from earlier, she staggered but steadied herself as Nathan charged again. In the moment she decided it was now or never. She reached for the vase of lilies on her side of the bed and threw it with all the might she had. The unexpected move seemed to shock Nathan as the vase connected with his face head on. Adrenaline coursed through her veins as she realized things would never be the same after this. Nathan crumpled to the floor with a heavy thud. Ella stared at him, chest heaving as she struggled to gather herself and control the hard breaths coming from her body. She wanted more from life. And she wouldn’t live to see it if she spent one more day trading her happiness for stability. And then she began to run. A glorious run that took her down the stairs. It knocked photos of her dysfunctional relationship to the ground. It took her out the front door and down the street of the neighborhood that had once been her jail cell. She never stopped once to glance back at the house and life she was leaving behind. She had never felt freer. The more she ran, the better she felt. She didn’t want to call a cab. She didn’t want to run to the neighbor’s house. She knew where to run. The building had been calling to her months, a promising beacon of hope in her dreary, dismal life. People stared at her but she didn’t care. She hadn’t experienced happiness like this since...she couldn’t even remember. So she ran. And she didn’t stop until she saw the small, illuminated sign that read “Open Arms Women’s Shelter.”
Ella smiled. For the first time in months she smiled. She knew every journey started with a single step. She pushed open the door and felt as if she was pushing open the door to a new life. She closed her eyes and saw her mother. And she was smiling too.