One of These Days…
BY A VOICES CLIENT
Beth listens to the words of her favourite song one more time, mindless of the passing minutes and the work she should have already finished by now. A broken-hearted lover sings that one of these days, the subject of her torment will look for her and suddenly find her gone. Beth blinks away the tears misting her eyes as the last notes of the song fade away. She can’t afford to dwell on thoughts of how her husband would feel if she left.
She doesn’t have time to mourn the loss of her faith in him or wallow in the pain of unrequited longings. Such thoughts never do her any good. She might be past the first blush of youth but a naively optimistic heart still resides defiantly within her, despite the brutal reality of years gone by. But the music stirs her jaded soul and unbidden yearnings catch her unawares, and she longs again for the life she once dreamed she would have.
A loud shout from the lounge makes her stomach clench in panic. She hadn’t heard him come home. Beth feels silly for jumping out of her skin like a naughty schoolgirl. She isn’t really that scared of him anymore. The threatened violence rarely materialises these days, but her self-preservation instincts still react to the ever present anger in her husband’s voice. The stifling tension between them does her more harm than a physical attack ever could. Sometimes, she wishes he would just get it over with and give her a slap. Anything seems preferable to another night of put downs, threats and soul crushing insults. Her bruises will have faded and been forgotten long before the damage he has done to her spirit begins to heal.
She calls down the stairs to tell him she is on her way and wonders what happened to the handsome, carefree young man she married. Or at least, the man she thought she’d married. Beth opens the door into the lounge and is greeted by the cold, unforgiving face of a man who makes no effort to return her conciliatory smile.
“Steak and Kidney pie okay for dinner?” she says. Her heart gives a little flutter. These first few minutes when he comes in from work often set the tone for the rest of the day. He looks away and shrugs. Beth lets out the breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding and hurries to the kitchen. So far, so good.
She cooks their dinner, still quietly humming the tune that’s been haunting her for days.
“What have you got to be so happy about?”
Beth jumps at the sound of his voice so close behind her. She didn’t hear him come into the room. Where is her head these days?
“I guess those of us who don’t have to go out and earn a living have got plenty to sing about?” His voice takes on a belligerent edge and Beth silently curses herself for letting down her guard. She needs to be more careful or he is going to guess something is wrong.
“Sorry. I just heard this song earlier and it got stuck in my head.” She turns, plate in hand, before he can say anything else. “Okay, dinner’s ready.”
He holds her gaze for a nerve-wracking second or two, but appears to let the matter drop and takes the plate from her. Feeding him has always been the only way to shut him up and, strangely enough, her food is the one thing he has never complained about. He loves to eat and she loves to cook. She loves him too, despite all that has happened, and the thought of life without him causes a sudden pang of longing.
Beth had heard at the Freedom Project sessions she’d been sneaking out to for the past few months that it was very common for women to be in love with their abusive spouses. The project had helped her clear the fog clouding her mind and untangle her jumbled thoughts. She found the strength to truly look at her life as it really was and had given herself permission to mourn for her losses. Now, she had not only the courage to make the changes she needed to but had also developed a deep conviction that she had a personal obligation to demand the kind of life she deserved.
So many times in the past, she’d asked herself what the hell was wrong with her that she clung to a man who seemed to hate her. Beth had learned over recent months that it wasn’t her fault that the love she had for her husband had been used against her. Learning it was one thing, believing it was another. But in a moment of clarity a week or so ago, when she’d been apologising one more time for something she couldn’t have been responsible for, she suddenly got it. Nothing she could ever say or do would ever make him happy! Her husband didn’t treat her with respect because he had no respect for her. Why had it taken her so long to see it?
Forgiving him for his abuse had been easier in the past because the good times had still outweighed the bad. But recently, the only good times were when he was at work. The crippling loneliness of an empty house was preferable to time in his company, spent walking on eggshells.
He had ensured she gave up her job in the bank soon after they got married, so she had nothing else to do all day but sit and dread his return. Children would have made the situation more bearable but she was secretly thankful that her husband had refused to try for any more children after the miscarriage she had suffered early on in their relationship. Beth used to believe that he carried a lot of guilt over the drunken attack he’d subjected her to the night she lost her baby, but not anymore. As she sat in the sessions, listening to so many others tell their own, no less shocking stories, it suddenly dawned on her that the only time he ever mentioned that night was to tell her what a lousy mother she would have made. Beth had been breathless with shock and pain the first time he’d said it, but he’d overplayed his hand and had used it to hurt her too often. She is as numb to that these days as she is almost everything else.
Beth clears the table and takes her time washing the dishes, heart in her mouth, as she waits for him to watch the news and then clear off down the pub. When the music for Emmerdale starts and she still hasn’t heard the bang of the front door as he leaves as usual without saying goodbye, a hard knot of fear forms in her chest.
She walks from the kitchen to find him sound asleep in his chair. His face has lost all of its hard lines and he looks for just a moment like the eighteen year old boy/man she fell in love with all those years ago. She resists the urge to reach out and smooth his hair away from his brow. The thick blond mass is tinged with grey now and his once firm body is soft in the middle, but her husband is still every bit as handsome to her as he ever was. A lump forms in her throat and his image becomes blurred even as she tries to etch it into her mind.
She fights conflicting urges as she stares down at the man she has lived, loved, laughed and cried with and for. Part of her is sad for him while another is furious. Why did he have to ruin their lives? He is no happier than she is and Beth cannot understand how two people who loved each other as much as they once did could end up like this.
He opens his eyes and finds her watching him. For a moment, just for a fleeting second, his expression is open and warm and Beth feels her resolve weaken. But then he glances up at the clock and an ugly frown scars his handsome face once more. “For God’s sake, Beth! Why didn’t you wake me? You know I always meet Jeff on Tuesdays!”
With that, he is on his feet and out of the door before she has a chance to mentally bid him goodbye. Beth’s heart clenches in pain as she realises that the beginning of the end has come. She will miss the man she thought he was every day for the rest of her life, even though she knows now that man never truly existed.
Upstairs, in the back of an airing cupboard her husband has no reason to ever look inside of, is the holdall she stuffed there days ago. Beth checks it again, although she has looked inside the bag so many times that she could recite its contents by heart. She has the papers the support worker advised her to gather, the small amount of money she had managed to withdraw from the bank without making him suspicious, and a change of clothes.
She goes into the bedroom and takes the CD out of the player, slipping it into its case and clinging to it even as she puts her jacket on and steps into her shoes. Beth picks up her bag and presses her fist to her mouth as she suppresses a sob. He is going to be so angry…so hurt…so lonely without her.
She stands in the centre of their bedroom, the scene of so much pain and humiliation, and searches for the courage to put an end to the relentless torment her life has become. Beth puts the CD back in the machine and sits on the bed, pushing all thoughts from her mind as she listens to the words of the song. She takes a deep breath and leaves the room.
The tune echoes through the house as Beth opens the front door and stares out into a blustery winter evening. She stands on the threshold of what used to be her home and listens to the dying strains of the music playing behind her, then, before she can change her mind she shuts the door on her old life and surges out into the night.
Beth focuses on walking down the street as fast as she can, putting one foot in front of the other and heading towards the train station, her pulse pounding in her ears. Her heart lurches at every sound and movement in the shadows, but she reassures herself that the last thing her husband will be thinking about right now is her. How ironic that his predictable neglect of her made her escape possible?
Beth ponders if she might buy a CD to replace the one she has just left behind. Maybe she won’t need the song to give her strength any more. ‘One of these days’ has become today… right now…this very minute.
As she walks, Beth thinks of the women in her group sessions – the sometimes lost and lonely souls, struggling to find the love and dignity they deserve. She will miss their support in these first few days on her own. But she knows that every one of them would be with her now if they could – urging her on towards a new life – and vowing to follow their own paths to freedom…One of these days.