Dumbfounded and in shock by the news of Brad’s actions, Val’s concern resonated through the phone. “Did you call the cops? Do the authorities know what’s going on?”
“And tell them what? That my husband scares me? That I don’t feel safe in my own home?” I released a deep sigh. “What are they going to do? I can’t prove he’s laid a hand on me. No broken bones. No bodily bruises. No blaring black eye. It’s not like they could arrest him for anything. The only thing involving the authorities would do is enrage Brad and put us in danger. Who knows what kind of harm would come to us then?” Hopelessness fell over my heart. “Val, he’s a master at this. He knows nothing will stick, because his abuse is covert. Untraceable. Almost phantom. No one would believe me. He’s a charmer. The outside world thinks he’s a saint—the ideal husband, the perfect father. No one has ever witnessed this side of him we see at home on a regular basis. They’d be blown away—would probably even dismiss it as a one-time deal—you know, because of having a bad day at work or something.”
“So, what are you going to do? This is no way to live,” Val reasoned. “Think what kind of message you’re sending Calleigh. Staying with Brad is teaching her this kind of behavior from a man is acceptable. Is that really what you want her growing up believing? She will carry what she learns now into future relationships. It will follow her the rest of her life.”
“But I can’t just leave him. We’re married,” I emphasized. “I committed to make this work, ‘For better or for worse,’ remember?” I ran my fingers through my hair, tucking a lock behind my ear. “I keep wracking my brain, trying to put my finger on what I said or did to set him off, but I can’t come up with a single thing. There had to be a reason, though, right?” I paced back and forth across our Florida room’s impact-textured carpet, unable to make myself sit.
“My guess is he’s not mentally well,” Val responded. “He needs help. I don’t care what you did or didn’t do. No self-respecting man would ever beat someone up—physically or verbally—and call it love. Maybe you need to hear me say it, but you deserve better, Hope. You deserve someone who will love you, who is kind and thoughtful, and who values you as a person—and not just when it’s convenient. True love sticks with you during the ups and downs. It helps relieve the heaviness from life’s burdens. It doesn’t add to it or make it worse.” She chuckled to herself. “You know, God’s timing is interesting. During my personal devotions this morning, I read 1 John 4:18. Simply put, it says there is no fear in love. It got me thinking about 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. When we hang up, I want you to go read it and then do something for me. Compare your marriage and your current situation with Brad to what God’s definition of love is. Get out a pen and piece of paper and start writing down what comes to you. Think you can do that?”
“Sure. I’ll make it a priority,” I promised.
“You have plenty of friends and family nearby who will take you in and help you out. Whatever you decide, you’re not going through this alone.”
I let out a steady sigh. “I know. I’m just not ready to take that step, yet. It’s so…final.” I sighed, slumping onto the edge of one of the patio chairs near the back door. “It would change everything and destroy my marriage. There would be no coming back from leaving Brad or giving him an ultimatum. He would never forgive me. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
Val’s voice grew tender. “But do you trust him? I mean, will you ever really trust him after what happened in your kitchen in front of Calleigh this morning? He put you in a very dangerous situation, Hope. You know I’m speaking the truth. The outcome could’ve been much different. It’s a miracle I’m talking with you right now.” I allowed her words to penetrate my doubt.
“No,” I answered. “I don’t trust him. He has no remorse.” My shoulders sagged, defeat overwhelming my heart. “I don’t know if there’s any fixing this kind of broken.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Hanging up the phone, I remembered my promise to Val and went into my bedroom to find my Bible. I pulled it out of the nightstand, along with a lined notebook and blue ballpoint pen. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I folded back the cover of the notebook and drew a line down the center of the first page, creating two columns. On the top left side, I wrote, “What the Bible says.” On the right-hand side, I formed a header, “My relationship with Brad.” I opened my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and started comparing God’s definition of love to my reality with Brad. My findings read:
- Love is patient. Brad is demanding and entitled.
- Love is kind. Brad puts me down and calls me names.
- Love does not envy. Brad wishes for more money and a prettier wife.
- Love does not boast. Brad brags about being smarter than everyone else.
- Love is not proud. Brad never says he’s sorry.
- Love does not dishonor others. Brad raped me before marriage.
- Love is not self-seeking. Brad treats me like his personal maid.
- Love is not easily angered. Brad flips on a dime and yells at his family.
- Love keeps no record of wrong. Brad showcases my flaws every chance he gets.
- Love does not delight in evil. Brad relates to a serial killer.
- Love rejoices with the truth. Brad is secretive and lies through omission.
- Love always protects. Brad doesn’t pay our bills, leaving us sweltering.
- Love always trusts. Brad deleted personal texts messages from my phone.
- Love always hopes. Brad’s paranoia has everyone walking on eggshells.
- Love always perseveres. Brad told me, “You can leave whenever you want.”
Love. Never. Fails.
I underlined “never” three times. Tears rushed to the surface, offsetting my pain. There’s nothing redeeming about this list, I cried. My relationship with Brad is failing in gargantuan proportions. There’s no saving our marriage; because, truth is, he doesn’t love me. Not even a little. My breath stuttered as I exhaled, conceding my loss. I guess it’s time to move on.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My cell phone rang a few moments later, interrupting my discovery. “Hello.” I forced a pleasant tone, despite the great turmoil tearing up my heart.
“Hope? Hope Moore?” The familiar voice caused my heart to catch in my throat.
“Gavin, is that you? Oh, my word! I’d recognize your voice anywhere. What do I owe the pleasure?” Heat rushed to my cheeks, my pulse accelerating.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he answered. “How have you been?”
“I’m hanging in there,” I answered. Barely, but you didn’t ask how well. “What has it been? Five? Ten years?” I pressed forward.
“Something like that,” he concurred.
“So, why are you really calling?” I probed. “This call wasn’t by accident, was it? Did someone call you?”
He chuckled. “Well, a little birdie did tell me you could use a friend,” he confessed. “Figured since I still had your number, I’d call and find out what’s going on.”
“And does this birdie have a name?” I laughed.
“I didn’t ask,” he snickered. “Didn’t seem that important at the time.”
“I get that.” I tried rising above my shock. “So, how are you doing? It’s been a while. What are you up to these days?”
“I’m fine, but I didn’t call to talk about me,” Gavin deferred. “How are things with you and Brad? Did I hear correctly? Things not going so well with the hubster?”
“In all honesty, not really,” I admitted. “It appears I’m the only one who’s not ready to admit it’s over, though. Reality hasn’t sunk in.”
“I’m not here to judge, just thought you might be able to use a listening ear—even if I have been MIA from your life the past few years.”
A smile warmed my face. “Guess that guarantees a fresh perspective.”
“You have a point,” he agreed. “So, catch me up on the latest. What’s weighing on your heart?”
For the next thirty minutes, I highlighted the demise of my relationship with Brad: Brad’s obsession with smoking, drinking, narcotics, and eventually becoming addicted; being isolated from family and friends while Brad controlled our money, went out gambling, and spent late nights at the office. “Then there’s all the dishonesty when I question him about his whereabouts,” I said. “He’ll twist and distort details until they morph into convenient tales which rarely match reality. I can pretty much guarantee verbal abuse will follow any interest I may show in his life. That’s a constant,” I said. “It’s embarrassing to admit any of this, because I’m not a dumb or ignorant person. I’m educated and smart, but I never saw any of this coming.” I shook my head in disbelief. “I feel like an idiot.”
“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this, but you are not an idiot,” Gavin sympathized. “Nothing you’ve shared makes me think less of you, either. I know your heart’s in the right place.”
“It’s not your fault. I’m the one who was taken as a fool,” I cringed. “How could I have not known? We dated for more than a year.”
“Yeah, but it was young love,” Gavin pointed out. “You didn’t know any better. You believed the best in him, because that’s what love does. Sounds like he took advantage of that. Don’t ever regret being vulnerable and sharing your heart. That’s what makes you authentic and real…and you. You don’t ever have to apologize for that!”
“Maybe,” I shrugged. Great guilt weighed on my shoulders. “When Brad’s not around, we don’t have to wonder who’s entering the room. Is it Jekyll or Hyde? I don’t miss him when he’s not home, because his mood flips on a dime. Of course, he doesn’t believe he’s a part of the problem. It’s always someone else’s fault, so there’s no talking about it.”
Gavin’s voice sounded forlorn. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Just pray,” I answered. “I’m still not sure how God wants me to proceed. The coming days and decisions are not going be easy ones. It’s a very lonely feeling.”
Understanding flooded Gavin’s words. “Most definitely! I will move you to the top of my list.”
“Thank you,” I answered.
“Hope, I know this apology is long overdue, but I want to take responsibility for my role in where you find yourself right now.” Gavin’s sentiment caught me off guard.
“What do you mean?” I caused him to pause. “You didn’t know Brad before I married him. You couldn’t have warned me about anything he’s done or what he’s doing now.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I set the stage while we were dating for how you would view all other relationships with men in your life. That’s what I’m apologizing for. I did such a poor job setting a positive example; and, for that, I am truly sorry! I wish I could I have a redo. I’d do things so differently! I never meant to cause you pain.”
If I hadn’t been sitting down, I might have fallen over. “You really mean that, don’t you?” I didn’t know what to say.
“Of course, I do. I never meant to hurt you—not for one moment. I hope you know that.” Sincerity coated his words.
“I believe you,” I answered. “I just have one question that’s lingered all these years, and only you can answer it.”
“I’ll tell you anything you need to know,” he promised. “I want you to have closure. I owe you that much.”
I released a heavy sigh then mustered courage to ask the one unanswered question I believed would always remain unanswered this side of Heaven. Here goes nothing, I waded into the unknown. “Why did you kiss me?”
Gavin chuckled. “Somehow, I knew that was going to be your question.” He released a slow sigh. “I kissed you, because I wanted to know what it felt like to be real. You were the one true thing I had going on in my life; and, at that time, I craved the connection.” He paused. “I don’t know how to explain it. You were just different. Everyone else wanted something from me, but you…you just let me be me. You didn’t demand my time or require me to act a certain way in order to have your approval. You accepted me as is, no questions asked. I could be completely open with you. So, when the moment presented itself, I kissed you, because—like I said—I wanted to know what that connection would be like.”
“So, I wasn’t crazy! You and me? That was real. I didn’t imagine it.” The unveiled truth settled into my reality like a long-awaited, welcomed guest.
“No, you didn’t,” Gavin admitted. “I felt it, too. I just wasn’t ready to be in a relationship or settle down. I knew I couldn’t give you what you needed—what you deserved—so, even though it hurt, I let you go. You deserved better.”
I stared blankly at the wall, trying to let all the new information soak in. “I would have waited,” I finally spoke. The words fell effortlessly from my lips, like they had been waiting for this moment to be released.
“I know you would have,” Gavin acknowledged. “ That’s why I had to break all ties with you—why you haven’t heard from me all these years. It wasn’t fair for me to ask you to wait. I just never imagined how much I would hurt you by walking away or that your path would’ve lead you to someone like Brad.” He released a pent-up sigh. “Hope, you deserve someone who will treat you like a queen—someone who won’t break your heart or make you cry. If I’ve played any part in your inability to believe that, I am truly sorry!”
“You did play a part,” I responded, “but I’ve chosen not to live in the ‘what ifs.’ I accept your apology, and I thank you for the closure your honesty has brought to my life. It’s probably one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. Truly. It’s nice knowing I didn’t invent what I felt between us.”
“That’s awesome!” Gavin replied. “Maybe, now, some healing can begin.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Returning my Bible to my nightstand, I turned and found myself looking into Brad’s and my bedroom mirror. I stared long and hard into the eyes of the stranger staring back at me. Her face is gaunt, and her complexion’s pale, I observed. Yet, the emptiness inside her eyes is strangely familiar and deeply disturbing. I stared a little harder. Sadly, I understand where that hollowness is coming from. Reaching out, I touched the reflection with my hand, half expecting a human to emerge. Instead, cold glass met my senses. Something needs to change, I agonized. I don’t even recognize myself.