Ray climbed the stairs and walked down the hallway toward our bedroom. He opened one side of the French doors and sat next to me on the bed.
“What are you doing, Hon?” he asked, trying to sound cheerful.
“Nothing,” I said, looking up at his thick six-foot frame. “Just sitting.”
He gently placed his hand on my leg. I must have winced, because he asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said, thinking, no, no, no, I’m not okay.
There was something shocking about Ray’s hand on my thigh, muscular from his hands-on management style at a fiberglass manufacturing plant. Tonight it was swollen and bruised. I put my hand over his, tenderly. I was going to ask what had happened, how he’d injured himself when it hit me. The impact of his fist on my leg injured him too. It looked painful. A wave of sympathy washed over me.
“Oh, Ray,” I said and started to cry. The memory of the night before was too fresh.
He put his arm around me. “I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” Then, quietly, “I won’t
do it again. I promise. I don’t know why I do it.”
“I know,” I said. “I know.” And, like so many times before, I comforted him. And once again I
* * *
Five years passed between that night and New Year’s Eve of 1976. We’d argued about
something too small to remember but large enough to ignite Ray’s anger.
In the dining room, he pushed me from behind before knocking my feet out from under me
with his leg. I tucked into a fetal position, steeling myself for the blows I knew would come.
“Please, Ray,” I pleaded. “Please don’t.” He kicked the small of my back over and over again before bending over to put his hand over my face. And punching it. This was a “technique” he’d explained to me once as we saw it demonstrated in a movie by the actors. It was supposed to prevent telltale face bruising.
He screamed, “You’ll never be anything without me. You’re nothing! Nothing. I don’t need
you.” I covered by head with my arms, waiting for it to end.
His yelling awakened our son who stood, frightened, in the entrance to the living room, crying and stomping his feet, “Mommy, Mommy!” Then to his father. “No, Daddy, no! You’re hurting her.” And to me again, “Mom-meee!!” He looked so helpless, like the “Little Ray” everybody called him. I wasn’t able to go to him. I lay on the floor as still as possible, waiting for the beating to end. I knew from experience that if I tried to get up, Ray would throw me against the furniture. Or against a wall.
Gritting his teeth, Ray kicked my back one last time, then yelled at Raymond to “Get in your room. Now!”
Raymond, looking much younger than twelve, ran crying down the hallway and closed his
door. He was tall for his age, slim, and he hadn’t yet entered puberty. When we moved from our townhouse into a new home in Diamond Bar, California, I made sure we transformed his room from a child’s to a boy’s. We picked up two wood-framed twin beds, and we replaced his colorful plastic toy boxes with a book case. Raymond himself picked out a dark plaid bedspread to replace his car-motif bed cover. He was growing up. But this night, he looked like a little boy once again. It isn’t right he has to see this, I thought. This isn’t fair. Nothing was right or fair.
Ray stomped away to the back of the house, toward our bedroom. When I couldn’t hear him anymore, I slowly got up, assessing the damage. Every part of me hurt, so it was difficult to tell how bad it was this time. I was exhausted and emotionally spent.
I walked through the living room and down the hallway. I quietly opened Raymond’s door to
peak in. He was lying awake in his bed. I kissed him on the forehead and told him good night. He wrapped his arms tightly around my neck and didn’t let go. “It’s okay, sweetie,” I told him. “It’s okay.” As I walked out of Raymond’s room and into the hallway, Ray appeared before me, as if materializing out of thin air.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.
“To the bathroom,” I said quietly.
“No, you’re not!” With that, he grabbed my hair and dragged me to the entryway. What I
remember most is that I moaned, not because my hair – long at the time — was being pulled, but because my body ached. He opened the front door and shoved me outside, all 120 pounds of me. “Leave!” he yelled as he slammed the door behind him. Then I heard him turn the lock.
I sat down, gingerly, on the concrete step, then whispered, more into the night than anything else, “Happy New Year.” Raymond was in his bedroom, frightened by what he’d just witnessed, his dad inside with him, full of anger, and me locked outside, not knowing what to do.
I don’t know how long I sat out there. It could have been an hour. Or two. Or it could have
been ten minutes. The brand-new neighborhood of mostly large houses was quiet. I was
barefoot, wearing slacks and a light sweater Ray had given me for Christmas. Across the
street, I looked past the houses to the golf course greens behind them. It was a sea of
darkness. The calmness helped me think. I knew the abuse was getting worse with each
instance. It was almost 1977, before there were women’s centers, before there was an
understanding about battered spouses, before I understood it myself.
I put my hand on the wall of our house, braced myself, and pulled myself up. I walked to the front door and knocked. After about thirty seconds, Ray opened the door, he didn’t say
anything, and then he turned and walked away.
It was at that moment that something inside me clicked. It had taken me years to reach that point, but I finally got it. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do or say to change it. I knew he couldn’t help himself, because he didn’t accept that something wasn’t quite right with him. Instead, he blamed me.
At the same time, I knew that no matter how contorted and red with rage his normally
handsome face was, he didn’t mean to hurt me. I knew he couldn’t will away his anger. It was borne years earlier, from a childhood of hurt, of dejection, rejection, and neglect, from a too-busy mother and her cruel boyfriends and multiple husbands, and a father who gave him up, at age five, with his four-year-old sister, to a Colorado orphanage for a year, telling him his mother was dead. That manifested into an out-of-control anger that was unpredictable. Ray was damaged.
It was at that moment when I finally knew what I had to do. The more time that passed, the
worse it had gotten. When Ray lost control, there was no stopping him, no reasoning with
him. I had a sinking feeling that one day he would go too far, hit or kick me too hard, or throw me one too many times.
In the front bathroom, I rinsed off my face. My nose was swollen. The skin on my back tingled, as if from a bad sunburn. But that was it. Nothing is broken, I reassured myself. But I knew at a deeper level that everything was broken. In the past, Ray had given me cracked ribs, a blood clot, and black eyes so severe that my eyes were swollen shut for a week. Tonight, I thought, I was lucky. This time. But I was also sad.
I knew what I had to do. With that new-found realization, the tears began to flow, almost
uncontrollably. I cried for our son for him having to see the violence, but more profoundly, for having to live it, and for his future for having to overcome it. I cried for Ray for whatever was broken inside him. I cried because I couldn’t fix what was wrong with him and with us. I cried for the love that could no longer be and could no longer grow. I cried for every bad thing that ever happened to me, to him and to Raymond. I cried for what was about to happen to our marriage, for the future I knew we wouldn’t have together. I wept for the us that was no more.
Within a week, a moving van was at the house and I was gone. I’ve never looked back.
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