The first time I had to walk away, leaving her as it was – I was bleeding through my nose, I had lost a tooth, and every time I went to use the bathroom, I bled profusely. I had to use sanitary napkins for a month after I left, but all that blood, all the pain, all the loss, it was nothing compared to losing my Marley.
The paper crackles under the pen’s pressure, and I can’t seem to stop crying. Since leaving my beautiful little girl alone with the monster, I’ve cried every day. The pain is different; it’s not the sharp stinging slaps or hollow sounding thuds of fists on my body. This pain comes from inside, and twists my guts, hurting my stomach.
I used to wake up screaming in terror. The first week I spent with a dear friend far away, deep in the mountains, I couldn’t eat. My mouth ached, my jaw was so swollen, and I didn’t realize I had lost a tooth until the swelling came down. I also think my jaw had been cracked, but with no money to actually check, I just gritted and bore the pain. In time, I got better. Although breathing still hurts, the pain has dulled. I have a slipped disc from when the monster would kick me. Now I can’t sit properly, and my back hurts constantly. But all aches and pains pale when I think of my baby girl.
My friend had been to pick me up when I ran away, and I could see the question in her eyes, “Where was Marley?” She never asked, but I have always felt it lying between us, sometimes suffocating me with its heaviness. I know if the shoe was on the other foot, I probably would not have kept quiet. But thank goodness for small mercies, she never asked.
And why did I not take my baby girl with me? I say baby, when in fact I had left an 18-year old – but still, she was my only child. I reason with myself that I didn’t take her because I didn’t have anywhere to take her. Nowhere was safe for us, and even though my friend was kind, I didn’t want to burden her with another mouth to feed. No, that’s a lousy excuse. I had one selfish moment, one moment where it was stay and live maybe one more day with my daughter, or live long, heal, and try to repair the broken relationship – or at least, die trying. I had to live, since I married the monster when I was 16, all I have known is pain, hurt, confusion and abuse.
I was 18 when Marley came into my life. Everything I had experienced before was nothing. The new creature in my arms made every blow, every painful sexual experience (or rape) fade into the background. All the insults and hurtful words he threw at me, they fell on deaf ears when I saw her. My life changed completely; it became all about Marley. So yes, leaving her was heartbreaking.
I tried calling her before, but all she would do was scream, asking why? She believed that I no longer loved her; she didn’t believe my sorry excuses. Why would I blame her? I held back from calling since. I gave her my number, but never expected her to call.
It’s been two years. In two years, I have found myself healing physically. I have put on weight, and even though I can’t sit properly, I find that everything else is just fine. My battle scars, they’re fading away. It’s amazing what the body can handle. My doctor said I should be dead. At one time, he (the monster) had dragged me by the hair, and using fistfuls of it, managed to smash my head against the door. I passed out after the fourth knock, but I am sure he didn’t stop at that. When I came to, a headache was the least of my worries. I was in a pool of blood, and the smell of urine and feces filled the air. I had lost complete control. I don’t know how it is I can tell you this now – for so long, it was a shameful secret that I was allowing someone to control me so. I did not know my baby had seen all this happening, until she started screaming in the night. So after walking out two years ago, healing, getting better, having a friend and her husband help me get back on my feet and taking care of me when no-one else would – I was finally ready. I have been dreaming of seeing my girl after these two long years. I don’t know what I would tell her. I fantasize that she understands, that she has grown a little more forgiving, and that she accepts me. I want to call her again, I am not sure where she is, but I know she is no longer with the monster. I am so proud of her for getting out too. I also am glad that he let her go – I don’t have a reason to appreciate anything he has or ever will do, but that’s something I can give him.
When the phone call comes, I am elated. The number isn’t familiar, but only a few people know to reach me. The voice on the line disappoints me, it’s not Marley. The voice continues speaking, but I don’t hear anything else after the first shock. There is no reason to continue listening, I cannot hear another word. My dear friend takes the call and she too crumples into her chair. But she has the strength to hold up and remain awake through the call. I am not so sure what happened after, but all I know is that I will never be able to ask Marley to forgive me. I will never hear her voice, or see her shy little smile underneath her curls. It’s over. She’s dead.
No-one tells you how much you have to deal with when someone dies. My baby was killed, which makes it even more intense. I have to go back to that island where it happened. He is thankfully being held in jail. I don’t have to deal with him, although dealing with my dead baby hurts more than the worst beating I ever took. The policewoman who called is meeting me at the dock. I don’t want the boat ride to end. I want it to continue, following the endless pattern of the waves on the ocean. Touching shore would mean it really was over.
I stand by the dock waiting for the victim’s mother, wondering who she is. The number on the back of the notebook I had found in Marley’s apartment led me to her mother. I don’t know what to expect of her; if Marley was anything to go by, this would be a broken woman as well. But I also find myself rooting for her – hoping that someone strong and willful shows up. I squint and see the boat nearing the dock…I exhale the breath that I didn’t realize I was holding in.
The policewoman is waiting for me, but I don’t see any uniformed woman around. I look out through the window of the boat; the smell of the ocean envelops me like an old friend. I realize I have missed this place so much. I remember the walks on the beach with Marley, on my way back from work. She would accompany me all day sometimes, struggling with the heavy towels when she was little, and slowly, helping me carry heavy items after a particularly brutal night. I guess I took for granted all these little moments with her – all those times when she would look at me, straight on, with a face so full of wisdom and knowledge – I never took her aside; I never told her to run.
The boat docks – and I can already tell who the policewoman is. She reminds me of me. She has on huge sunglasses, she holds her head low, looking up while her chin is tucked in – it comes across as coy to most, but I remember doing that for so many years. Keeping my head down meant my bruises wouldn’t show as much. Sometimes, I would have marks on my neck from where his strong fingers would wrap, trying to crush my voice box, strangling my screams before they could be heard. After he’d silenced me, he would punch me, or whip me.
I felt so humiliated the first time it happened. Using a rope that he had soaked overnight - a rope just like the one the deckhand was using to dock the boat I stood on- he whipped me. The rope bit into my flesh, across my buttocks, all over my back. I couldn’t scream for the shock of the pain. I cried, until I could cry no more, and he still continued. When he finally walked away, he left me tied up. When I woke from the shock, I could feel the blood running down the backs of my legs. I couldn’t sit for days, and sleeping on my stomach was the only way to feel any relief. Why did I not leave? Well, I finally did, didn’t I?
I tell all this and more to Grace. The policewoman’s name is Grace, and she is very understanding. I know that she is listening, and instead of envisioning me going through the punishments I speak of, she’s put herself in my place. I know, I see the bruises, I see the pinched, hunted look she gives me when she thinks I am not looking at her. We’ve been through all the technical details of my baby’s death, and I thought I had cried enough tears to last a lifetime. For someone in the law, someone who I thought would be cold and callous, she has been remarkably kind. I could never assume to be like her, or she like me, but we have something in common.
I speak to her at length, long past the time allotted for official papers and details. I meet her after her devastating reality of dealing with the death of her child. The woman I finally saw, after all I had imagined – was nothing like I expected. Small in stature, she walked with a noticeable limp, her nose had been broken (perhaps numerous times), and her facial structure had been reshaped through brutality. Yet she still could smile, and there was still life in her eyes. Here, after all those years of dealing with women who gave up, or who simply lay down and died, here was someone who had made it against all odds. If she could, so could I.
How she went about leaving, who she left behind, and the mess that became of all that – I don’t want that for me. I understand how she had to run when she could. Leaving Marley may have been the worst thing she ever did – or maybe the hardest – and she will pay for that decision the rest of her life. But she has a life to live now…
…I can’t stay on the island any more. There is nothing drawing me here, and the pain is too much. I walked a little bit on the beach the morning I decided to leave. It is just as beautiful as it was when I lived here. I can see the waves lapping on the sand, and through my haze of tears, I see my baby girl as she was when she was eight. She’s running away from me, heading to the water. I hear her laughter and I see a flash of blue (the color of her first bathing suit). I remember how I had just sat on the beach chair watching her, wanting to run after her, but hurting so much I could barely make it to the chair. Instead I let her run into the salty waves; I let her get in the water alone. I let her enjoy being away from me – I let her be on her own.
I will never forgive myself for leaving her, for having lost her to him anyway. I will never be able to tell her I am sorry. But I will live the rest of what’s left of my life loving her, cherishing the little bit of time I had with her. And maybe someday I will forgive myself.
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