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As I lie here, clutching my side, the blood trickles down my chin, dripping onto the cold slate floor.
I try to figure out how my life got this way. What I have done so horribly wrong to be living in hell.
Fresh tears blur my vision while I listen, making sure the monster I once thought was my loving husband has left. In the moment everything went wrong, I could barely hear anything above the sound of my ribs cracking. The ringing in my left ear is starting to subside, but I’m still unsure if it’s safe to get up.
I have to clean this blood off the floor before it dries. Tidy house, first and foremost, or he’ll just get angrier.
I have to figure out how to leave, get as far away as possible. This time, it has to be more carefully planned. I need to disappear, but faking my own death won’t work.
I’m Clarissa Ava Fields, one of the biggest Internet moguls in the United States. I start web-based companies, grow them until they are large enough to sell, then turn a big profit. The businesses are not what I want, but I’m good at it.
Spending most of the day on the computer, I’m able to spare some time to make an important video call that needs to be done.
I have a whole routine of things I have to do before I actually can connect the call. This consists of deactivating the IP address tracker for the other caller and myself. Since I am sure this house is completely bugged with voice recorders, I wear my headphones so only I can hear. I also play music as loud as I can without being suspicious, trying to drown out my words.
The call is to figure out what steps I need to take in order for me to finally break free. I can’t go to a meeting anywhere because I know my phone GPS is tracked, and the last thing I want to do is bring more risk to an already risky place.
I wait for the call to connect. My legs are shaky, and my fingers hover over the button to disconnect. Holding out because I know there is nothing I can do without the help from someone who knows what they are doing.
The call connects, and I suddenly feel extremely shy, and want to hide.
“Hi, Clarissa. My name is Susanne, are you alone?” she asks.
“I am, thank you for taking my call. I don’t know where to start, but I’m sure you are the person I need to talk to,” I say in a hushed voice.
“I’ve been told about your situation from Jason, who referred you to call me. If it’s as bad as he has told me, you really can’t spare much time. I’m aware that you have already filed multiple restraining orders?” she asks, writing things down on a notepad in front of her.
“I have, several of them. They do nothing; they are just pieces of paper. What do I need to do to get out of here? Every time has been unsuccessful. They always find me.” I keep my voice down.
“They, who are they?”
“Well, Steven, and his goons.”
“Ok, so you’re not only concerned about him finding you, but others too? Do these people have names?” She continues to write every time I say something.
“I’m sure they do, I just don’t know what they are.”
“Ok, I’m going to give you a number to call. You need to call as soon as possible. They will know what the next best step is for you. I’m going to inform them now about your call, and hopefully this will be the next and last step for you.”
“That’s it?” My stomach clenches. “You aren’t going to be able to help me?”
“I’m just here to figure out what needs to be done, and you need to call that number. I wish you luck, Clarissa. Bye.” And she abruptly ends the call.
I’m left feeling confused and hopeless.
After the call it takes me a moment to snap out of it, I see it’s 9:15. I have to start my daily chores around the house. My checklist is completely etched into my brain so nothing is missed. Everything has to be done a certain way. Even the cleaning solution has to be lemon scented. I once tried to substitute with a citrus scent. That was met with a blow to side of my face and a warning never to mess that up again as I mopped the now blood-splattered floor.
Vacuuming has to be done in a certain pattern of going forward straight, and back in a diagonal line. This is too much, even for a clean freak like me. I would consider this one of his marvelous traits of OCD.
After everything is exactly the way it needs to be, I start making dinner. Steven requests dinner to be made every night at a specific time. I wait daily for his text to know the time he will be home so I can have it served and ready for him on the table.
I usually take this time as I do my chores and cook, to think back to where everything went wrong. What made him snap? What was it that I did to make him hate me so much? It’s a daily struggle to keep trying to find the triggers, learning his behavior, although it’s never predictable.
I shuffle my feet as fast as I can, back and forth to and from the kitchen to the dining area, setting everything, checking my watch several times to make sure everything is on schedule.
My nerves make me the clumsiest person around, so I watch every step carefully. Sometimes that doesn’t even matter.
The door knob rattles, signaling he is home, and I rush to get the last thing on the table just as he walks in.
My stomach drops and I instantly go into my robot wife mode, something I hate. Pretending I’m happy to be at his beck and call, standing by the table ready to do whatever he needs, not because I want to.
I’m in survival mode.
“Hi, how was your day?” I ask as he enters, closing the door behind him.
He walks around and checks the house, making sure things are in place. Once he approves, he wraps his arms around me like it’s his God damn given right to touch me after everything he has put me through. I internally cringe and bile climbs in my throat.
This is how it is. You would think I would’ve gotten used to this repulsive feeling by now, but I just can’t.
“Long. I’m starving. I have to head out in a little while to meet some clients, but I won’t be gone too long. So don’t get any crazy ideas,” he warns, and I nod.
We sit down at the table. I make sure to have a smaller portion on my plate, due to my diminishing appetite. I spread it around, making it look like it’s full. That’s not a conversation I ever wish to revisit.
Sadly, I have learned some tricks to avoid conflict, and make things as peaceful as I can while I am stuck here.
We eat in deafening silence, except for the clicking of my jaw as I chew, thanks to a previous blow to my head. Every bite reminds me of the importance of escaping this hell.
Once we finish, I quickly get up and remove his plate and start to clean the table off, making sure every crumb is removed. I reset the table the way it was before, then go to clean the dishes. I’m on autopilot as I like to check out of life while he is around.
“I’m going to head out. Make sure you are good and ready when I get home. Don’t fall asleep on me,” he whispers in my ear, dragging a finger down my cheek.
I try to keep it together, swallowing past the lump in my throat. Dread takes over, but I can’t let him see that.
“Of course. I’ll see you soon.” I scrub hard on a stubborn dish, crusted sauce smeared in a circle, hoping if I focus enough it will distract me from thinking about later.
I finish cleaning, then head to the bedroom and take a long, hot scalding shower. I get the water as hot as I can, the spray tingling my skin as it hits, showing me that I’m still alive no matter if I’m dead inside. Once I’m done, I stand in front of the mirror, trying to find the hidden thing that is wrong with me. I search every night, but never find it.
My reflection stares back, nearly unrecognizable. The features are there: my strawberry blonde hair, lifeless green eyes, and freckled pale skin that shows the dark circles under my eyes. No sign of life whatsoever.
I open the medicine cabinet and pop in a pill to make me numb. It’s the only way I can manage to get through this night. I pace the floor, waiting for the door to click open so I can get this over with.
Time drags for what seems forever, and I wait. Sitting on the edge of the bed, flipping through a magazine, trying to keep myself awake. It’s getting late, and I’m barely able to hold my eyes open any longer. I sit back with my head against the pillow, thinking of things I can do to get out of this life. My eyelids flutter closed and I eventually doze off.
The front door slams shut, jolting me out of my sleep, followed by a slew of curse words. I quickly sit up, hoping I don’t look like I was sleeping, and attempt to not shake, but fear wins out this time. I’m trembling, wondering what has happened, not because I care, but because whatever did, just sealed my fate for the night.
He comes barreling through the bedroom door and stands there staring at me. This is going to be a sparring match once again. Those usually consist of me ducking or dodging many swings until he finally connects, leaving me dazed and unable to protect myself.
Flashes of my living nightmare start playing in my head, which makes the monster in him stand out even clearer.
Fighting for my life was something I never imagined I would be doing daily. I wish every day my parents lived out here. They are the kind of people who would drop by unannounced. Maybe, just maybe, they would be able to help me, but it’s to the point where I am in so deep, there is nothing they would be able to do. I refuse to tell them, fearing that dragging them in would only make things worse, and dangerous for them. I know my phones are tapped, so there’s no way now for me to tell them carefully.
I’ve waited too long.
The system infuriates me; the laws that are supposed to keep me safe and free have kept me captive, fighting to stay alive.
I have always been a strong individual: graduated a year early, moved out and went to college halfway across the country all on my own, providing for myself. I haven’t had to ask my parents for money since I started my first company.
The random times I do get to talk to them, they tell me how proud of me they are, and the shame I feel is just as bad as the way I am living. The lies start to overlap and I forget what I have told them, as my mind is never fully in the conversation. All they seem to want to know is when we’re going to give them grandkids, the thought of that now makes me sick to my stomach.
“Are you even listening to me?” Steven snaps at me, startling me from my thoughts.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” I say, hoping I won’t get asked what he just said, because I didn’t hear a damn word.
“This is exactly your problem right here: You’re so wrapped up in your own head that you forget when people are talking to you. You’re lucky I married you, because nobody else would put up with this crap,” he spits, his tone getting angrier with each word.
“I said I was sorry. It won’t happen again.” I try to stay calm.
“You know what? Go to bed. I don’t want to talk to you right now, and I certainly don’t want to touch you.” He storms out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
He has these fits a lot, so by now I shouldn’t jump when the door slams, but old habits don’t die. I don’t think I will ever get used to it, the second he leaves the room, my muscles relax a bit.
I get as comfortable as I can with my nerves on edge, counting backwards to lull myself back to sleep. It’s proving difficult as all I can do is wait for him to come barreling through the door again, looking for a living punching bag.
After a while I finally relax a bit and drift off, knowing this day is over. I’m one day closer to getting out of here.