Not so long ago, Rosa had been reliving her own wedding, feeling the rush of emotion that she often gets when she thinks about the man she married. The stranger who has come to be the closest friend she knows. In thinking of what could have been, she is grateful that her God was looking out for her. She is happy, and the only thought that mars her memories is that her grandmother was not.
She had been raised to be an obedient, meek, quiet girl. She was slight, with rich black hair and smooth brown skin further tanned by the long hours spent under the sun. Her parents were older than those of the girls her age. She had been the surprise baby, nearly fifteen years after what her parents thought was their last child. Somehow, this created an environment of nearly overwhelming love, from all her brothers and sisters, plus her doting parents.
There were still a lot of lessons she had to learn – hard work, obedience, diligence, housewifery. But somehow, her training as a young woman was never the hardship that some of her friends complained about. Handled as a delicate girl, she never knew the true extent of the real world, and the reality of others’ cruelty.
Her beauty and humility reached the ears of one man in particular. He was a virtual stranger to their little village, having just arrived a few months before. He was particularly handsome, and he seemed genuinely kind. He had invested in property, so it was expected that he would remain. In looking to settle down, he set about to finding a wife. Having heard of Ix’chel, he was intrigued, and set forth the motions that would change her life forever.
Ix’chel’s father was initially put off by his forward manner. He was old fashioned to the core, wanting to know much about his daughter’s future prospects. The fact that he had just moved to the village meant that he knew nothing about his past. However, he seemed innocent, kind, genuine. Flowers were brought in abundance for Ix’chel and her mother.
The home sang with unbridled giddiness, a measure of unknown happiness permeated the very air inside and outside. It seemed that he could only bring happiness into their lives. Ix’chel and her mother were smitten from the first moment he stepped foot inside the home to begin the courtship ritual. Her father gave in by the second visit.
Routine changed for him. Dinner was had a little later, when ‘ visiting time’ came around. Even though it was not customary, he was invited to partake in the meal, rather than show up when everything was over and the usual bible reading and mending took place. He was greeted like a member of the family early on, and it seemed that he had been with them forever.
There was no question that Ix’chel was smitten. When the question was asked officially, all three said yes. He smiled, satisfied.
The wedding was a large affair. A pig, several chickens, two deer, and a young bull were slaughtered in honor of the bride and groom. She was radiant, as any bride should be on her most special day. She shone with an inner happiness. The shimmering lace veil covered her like a mantle, and the large, poufy confection that floated around her tiny body threatened to strangle her. No bride had been so beautiful, everyone agreed.
With tears in their eyes, her parents handed her to her new husband. He gripped her hand with a strength she’d never felt, and when their vows were spoken, her voice was tremulous. He looked at her sharply when she spoke so faintly the pastor strained to hear. But for that small moment, it seemed they were golden.
Their celebration lasted well into the evening, having started early in the morning. No alcohol was consumed, but the high of happiness floated everyone through the hours of celebration. It was not long before it was Ix’chel’s time to remove her wedding garb, preparing for her first night away from her family, and in the arms of a man she truly did not know. Her mother had not spoken to her about what to expect, but with older sisters and sisters-in-law who were mothers many times over, she was given a graphic version of what to expect. Armed with second-hand knowledge, and dressed in a simple white dress for her wedding night, she stepped out of her parent’s home as a maiden for the last time.
Her husband awaited on his horse. Not ungracefully, she clambered onto the beast and wrapping her arms around his waist tentatively, she was on her way to her new home.
It hurt. She felt as though she was on fire, and the fact that there was no loving embrace just brought fresh tears to her eyes. Nowhere was the love that she had been experiencing before tonight. Instead, she felt as though she had been violated. From the moment she had jumped off the horse, and stepped inside his (their) home, she had felt a change. For once, there was a nervous fear at the pit of her stomach.
He hadn’t even taken her to their marriage bed. Instead, and as she relived the humiliating memory, he had made her do unspeakable things on the floor. She lay there now, praying for guidance, praying for some kind of strength. Her dress had been torn in many places, but it never came off. She tugged vainly at the hem, trying to cover herself. Her hand came away sticky with blood. The sight of the very real scarlet smudges made her nauseous, and once again, she was racked with sobs.
“Li’kēn.” (Get up) His harsh voice silenced her crying, and a new wave of fear came over her. She clumsily got on her knees and as she made to get up, she cried out. His hands fisted in her hair, pulling her up to face him. As she looked into his stranger’s face, she grew silent. Fear, as she had never known in her life, choked her cries, dried up her eyes, and blew out her spark.
Ix’chel could never face the truth of her marriage, choosing instead to live in denial. She chose to live his lie as well. When her family visited, she was a happy, smiling woman of fifteen. She wore clothes that covered her bruises well. Once she sat down to talk to her mother, and when she leaned backwards, her dress stuck to the open welts on her back. She flinched slightly, but when questioned, she brushed it off, saying she had clumsily bumped into something and was sore. Her mother stayed for a few hours that afternoon. The entire time, her clothes stuck to her back, and Ix’chel sat for a long time enduring the pain silently.
As the months passed into years, he made her more and more submissive. He inflicted pain on her, actually whipping her. She never understood why he felt the need to do so, but it seemed he was more aroused as her pain increased. She could do nothing but submit to his will. Even when she grew big with a swollen, distended stomach, a baby on the way, he found ways to defile her. And the whipping never stopped.
The years passed, and not a day went by when she did not have to endure the humiliation he insisted on making her live. Child after child was born, and while they never saw what happened when the beatings ended, they were witnesses to their mother’s tears.
Then suddenly, one day, he didn’t touch her. He came home from the forest where he had been hunting for deer, and he darkened the doorway. His children, fearful of him, fled to the corners of their bedrooms, trying very hard to be invisible. He was not cruel to them, but he was known to hand out liberal amounts of discipline. That night, he only ate what was presented to him. He was ominously silent, and Ix’chel braced herself for another night of suffering.
Imagine her surprise when he simply walked into the bedroom and lay down with a sigh. She had sat on the edge of the bed, half naked, waiting for the usual. Her shirt was off, her back to him, and the leather belt folded beside her. She knew the routine by now, and she simply braced herself not to cry out and frighten the children. When nothing happened, she dared to turn and look at him. He had his back to her, and he was drifting off to sleep. More afraid than anything, she got up from where she was, and walked over to his side.
He opened his eyes and simply looked at her. She stood before him, back bent slightly with age and years of abuse. She held out the belt to him, a look of complete and utter fear in her eyes. He looked at her chest, saw her sagging breasts, the stretched out skin on her stomach from all the babies she had carried. She wore a half slip, but he knew that beneath that, she had welts covering her legs, welts that would never fade. He took the belt, and set it on the floor. Again he closed his eyes.
Ix’chel stood looking at him, not knowing what to do. Confused, she picked up the belt again. Rather than disturb her husband, she walked over to her side of the small bed, and bending over with one arm to brace herself, she used the other to flay herself. The leather hardly stung anymore. She hit herself, once, twice, three times…more, and more. She had started to lose count when he finally shot his hand out and grabbed it away from her. In one more exercise of power, he slapped her hard in the face and made her lie down.
She did as she was told. He did not touch her again for the rest of the night.
The next day, he went about his routine, and once again, decided to go hunting. Up far in the mountains, he pushed his horse to go deeper and deeper in the thick of the rainforest. When he felt he was far enough, he set up his gun, and closing his eyes, pulled the trigger.
Ix’chel never told her elderly parents what had been happening to her. Instead, she mourned her husband as expected, crying pure tears of loss. She was a broken woman, through and through. For her, the only love she had known, other than that of her parents and siblings, had been a cruel, sick perversion that nothing in life could have prepared her for. Her love story was nothing she was proud of, yet it was all she knew, and it was what she clung to.
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