While Calleigh slept peacefully in her room, I woke, slipped into my pink fluffy bathrobe and slippers, and headed into the kitchen to make Brad some breakfast before he headed off to work. This isn’t my norm, but maybe my measly attempt will show him I care. I shuffled through the utility drawer under our oven and pulled out a small frying pan. Perfect size for eggs, I determined.
Heating the stove, I fetched some butter from the fridge and greased the pan, cracking three eggs onto the non-stick surface. Oil sizzled and popped along the yolk’s runny edge, cooking on contact. “Hey there, Hot Stuff!” Brad flirted, breezing into the kitchen. “Are those for me?” He sidled up behind me, kissing the back of my neck.
“If you want them to be,” I answered. I’ll act like they’re mine, though, if you’re offended by the gesture.
“That would be lovely,” he approved. “Think I could get some OJ with that?” He moved to the end of the counter and pulled out a stool.
“I think there’s some in the fridge. You can find a glass in the cupboard above the sink.” I scraped the bottom of the pan, flipping the eggs then lowering the heat a notch.
“Oh, I thought you could bring it to me, like a dutiful wife,” he winked, chuckling with a sanctimonious air.
“I’m guessing you don’t want burnt eggs,” I countered.
“You’re a woman. Multitasking is what you do. Bring it to me along with the eggs,” he said. “I can wait.” He sat on the stool, adjusting the tie around his neck.
Turning my face away from him, I bit my tongue and released a deep breath. “Well, you seem awfully loving this morning,” I observed, flipping the eggs again. “Your back feeling better?”
“Oh, yeah. Feels great,” he bragged, tucking in his elbows and rolling his shoulders in a swag dance move.
“So, what are you taking?” I pried. “I’ve never seen ibuprofen work so well.”
He unleashed a cocky laugh. “I told you, already. Something the doc prescribed. You should try some. Maybe it’d loosen you up a bit.”
“I’m glad you’re feeling better, but I’m concerned about what you’re putting into your body.” I pretended not to hear his insult. “Some of that stuff can be addicting and have serious side effects. How much do you really know about the drug you were prescribed?”
“It’s not your body, and you’re not qualified to judge me, so keep your opinions to yourself,” he snapped. “I know enough, so stop bitchin’ at me.”
Reasonable concern gets me attitude? I refrained from speaking.
Removing the pan from the burner, I switched off the heat and dumped the eggs onto a plate, placing the dish in front of Brad. Digging deep in my heart, I searched for kindness. “Would you like some toast with that?”
“Don’t you mean charred cardboard?” he huffed. “Yeah, don’t bother. I obviously didn’t marry you for your cooking, but thanks anyway.”
Heat crept up my neck, and I swallowed hard, forcing down hurt. I may not be a gourmet chef, but I’ve never burnt your food. I crossed the kitchen and opened the fridge, retrieving the few remaining ounces of orange juice. Setting the jug in front of Brad, I handed him a cup. “Here. I’ll let you pour it, so I don’t mess it up.” I verified the knob on the stove faced the off position then exited the room.
A few days later, everyday life with Brad became volatile.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
You know that monster in your mind? The one you run from in your dreams? Mine stood in front of me, even larger in life—bulky, flesh and blood, trembling from head to toe, seething in anger, boiling with rage. His arms violently shook by his sides, ending in two tightly fisted hands. They would deliver a painful blow at any given moment—I just knew it—all because I had fed Calleigh leftover pizza for breakfast. How is that so bad? The pantry is bare. I couldn’t let her go hungry.
Wadded into a fetal position at the kitchen table only a few feet away, Calleigh shielded her eyes with her hands, protecting herself from the perceived danger. You’re right. Daddies aren’t supposed to hurt mommies, and if I make it out of this alive, you will never grow up believing this kind of behavior is OK. I will make sure of it. Peeking through her tiny fingers, horror widened her eyes as guilt shrouded her face in disbelief. I sucked in a deep breath and waited to feel the pain.
As Brad’s hand reached out to grab me, I flinched, stepping back into the wall. The fury in his eyes flared, causing the hairs on the back of my arms to prickle. His anger expressed itself through a venomous sigh. I had never seen him so mad—so out of control. My mind whirled with thoughts of survival: Don’t make him angrier. Tell him whatever he wants to hear. Protect Calleigh at all costs. I fought to focus, realizing Brad dwarfed me in size next. Lord, please help me. I need Your strength. I’m too small to conquer this giant on my own. If You don’t intervene, he’s gonna bash my head into the wall. Please don’t let him hurt me!
Spewing a plethora of expletives, Brad postured over me, inching uncomfortably close to my face, his face growing redder and redder. I held my breath. Spit sprayed the side of my cheek as I cringed, turning my head to avoid his closeness. “You are the poorest excuse for a human being I have ever seen!” he yelled into my ear. “I don’t know why I ever married you. You don’t know how to be a wife, and you definitely don’t know how to be a mother. Feeding her pizza for breakfast, Hope? Really? What were you thinking?” His hot breath plastered my skin, causing me to withdraw into myself. “Do you know how unhealthy that is? It’s no wonder she’s always sick. You don’t even know how to feed her!”
I cowered near the wall, nearly choking on the emotion that welled up in my throat. “I’m doing the best I can. It’s kind of hard to cook without food. You haven’t allowed me to use the car in weeks, so I haven’t been able to get to the store. The pantry is empty. What would you have me do?” Whininess in my voice made me sound pathetic as I begged for understanding. “I can’t feed her something we don’t have.”
“And whose fault is that?” he bellowed, his body continuing to tremble. “I bet the next thing you’re going to try telling me is that this is my fault, too.” He hit the wall next to my left ear with his fist, making me jump at the sound. A whimper peeped out of Calleigh from across the room. I’m sure she’s fine. Brad’s focus is on me, not her, I consoled myself.
Overwhelmed with anxiety, I fought to find the right words. “I’m not blaming anyone. I’m telling you why things are the way they are. I need money to buy groceries, but you haven’t transferred any into our joint account. How am I supposed to buy food without money?” The more I tried to reason with Brad, the more irate he became.
“I don’t care if you have to go pimp yourself out on Orange Blossom Trail. You need to get off your lazy ass and find yourself a job!” he exploded. “Stop expecting me to pay for everything! God gave you a brain. Use it!”
“I have a job. I’m raising our daughter,” I answered. “Finding work outside of home doesn’t make sense, right now. I wouldn’t make more than minimum wage, at most, meaning whatever I earned would go straight toward paying a babysitter. There wouldn’t be any money left over for helping with bills. I’ve done the math.” I inched to my right, but Brad blocked my movement with his body. “Look, we didn’t have a child so somebody else could raise her,” I stared up at him. “You and I both knew there would be sacrifices with starting a family, so please stop making me out to be some bad guy. Staying home with Calleigh was a joint decision—yours and mine.”
Depraved indifference hardened Brad’s glare, his chiseled jawline jutting forward. A death grip of fingers encircled my biceps, pinching my skin and drawing me to him. “Do you think I actually care about your distorted perception of life? You can’t possibly think I’m impressed with your little smear campaign against me! This family needs more money, so start being an adult and FIND. A. JOB!”
Calleigh screamed as a loud thud resounded from my back hitting the wall. “Daddy, don’t hurt her! Please, don’t hurt my mommy!” she begged.
Caught between his hate for me and the innocence in Calleigh’s voice, Brad pushed me harder against the wall to control my escape. Finally, he exhaled. “You’re not worth the air I breathe,” he hissed in my ear. Shoving off my shoulders, he stormed from the kitchen and into the garage. The laundry door slammed in his wake, rattling the pictures on the living room walls. He didn’t even give Calleigh a sideways glance.
As my knees to gave way, I slumped into a kneeling position on the kitchen floor, cradling the deep bruises on each of my arms—ones I knew no one would ever see.
Calleigh hopped down from her chair and scurried across the tile floor into my embrace. “I was so scared!” she declared, wrapping her arms around my neck. “I didn’t want Daddy to hurt you. He scared me!” She squeezed tightly against her fear.
“I was scared, too,” I admitted, trying not to choke inside her hold.
Pulling out of my hug, Calleigh stared into my eyes and studied my face. “Why is Daddy always mad? He liked our pizza last night. He said it was the best pizza he’d ever had. What’s wrong with it this morning?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “but don’t go thinking for one second that yelling at someone and scaring them with your words or actions is OK. It’s not—not even for mommies and daddies. Understand?” I looked her in the eyes.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I will be kind like Queen Esther—like in the Bible story you read to me last night. Queen Esther was afraid, too, but she prayed to Jesus, and the king didn’t get mad at her. Remember?” Her eyes lit up with child-like faith.
“I remember.” I blotted at a tear forming in the corner of my eye.
Calleigh touched my cheek, her words soft and tender. “Maybe, if we pray for Daddy, he won’t be angry any more.”
Tears began to run aimlessly down my face. “It definitely wouldn’t hurt.” Wrapping her in another hug, I kissed her cheek. “Would you like to pray right now?”
A positive smile replaced her fear. “Uh huh. May I say it?”
“Thank you. That would be nice,” I replied. “Jesus loves hearing from you. Remember, it’s just like talking to your best friend. He wants to know what’s on your heart. You can trust Him.”
“I know, Mommy.” We both bowed our heads and closed our eyes, and Calleigh began to pray. “Dear Jesus, I don’t know why Daddy is so mad right now. I try being a good girl so he will be happy, but it’s not working. Thank you for keeping Mommy safe today. She doesn’t like Daddy being mad, either. Please help Daddy to forgive Mommy. She didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. Maybe he just needs a hug. Will you give him one for me, please? I’d give him one, but he’s not here right now. Thank you. Amen.” I swallowed my emotions. Opening her eyes, Calleigh gazed into mine. “Mommy, why are you crying?” She wiped a tear from my cheek then rubbed it across her pant leg.
“Because you remind me there’s still good in this world,” I answered. More tears streamed down my face, and I swiped at them with the back of my hand. “Whatever you do, don’t ever let go of Jesus! OK?”
Calleigh squeezed my neck, even tighter this time. “I won’t, Mommy. I promise.”