Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
The railroad crossing was clear as I drove home from work. No train to delay me. But it was late, so I had hope. Maybe Nate would be asleep. I couldn’t hope for him to be gone since he was watching the kids, but who knows, maybe he called someone over to watch them and he took off again. That would be the easiest out, because if he took off again, I would too this time. In the opposite direction. Head west. Somewhere I’d never been. Find a new place, a new town, a new life. I’d keep driving now, but I wouldn’t leave my babies. Not an option.
Still, I knew I was close to making my break…and close to breaking. I was afraid the breaking would happen before I had enough money to go, though. How much is enough when you need to run with three kids? And how far can you go before it’s far enough? I could never go home again, not back to Florida, back to Mom. He’d find me there. And I couldn’t live again where so many bad things happened, where I heard my own mom gossiped about my life.
Nate was asleep in the living room when I got home. I tiptoed to the bedroom, climbed into bed with my uniform still on, afraid any noise would wake Nate, and turned my thoughts to happier ones of John at work, immediately feeling guilty all over again. Within moments Nate slipped into bed with me. He pushed himself against me, naked. I shivered with disgust. I couldn’t pretend and just let it happen. Not again. I couldn’t stand the idea of him even being so close to me.
I curled up into a ball, pulling away, hoping he’d think I was asleep.
“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you love me anymore?” he asked.
This is it, I thought. The breaking point I feared. The moment when I wouldn’t be able to pretend, to go to a safe place in my head, to let whatever he wanted happen just to keep the peace.
“No, I don’t love you,” I said, bracing myself. “And I want a divorce.”
Here it happened, the moment insanity took over, the moment he would finally deliver on his promise to kill me if I ever tried to leave him. I was his forever, after all.
I held my breath, steadying myself for the blow, for the yelling, for the fight. But he didn’t touch me. He tore up our home, ripping pictures off the walls and tearing them in half, tossing and ripping my clothes, but he didn’t touch me. He left, but I knew better than to think it was over. That would have been too easy.
He called the next day, begging me for another chance. No, not again. Then he asked me to come to him and he’d give me money to help. I said no, not again. But he insisted, and the place was public, so I agreed. I loaded up the kids and drove to the flea market where he had set up shop, and as soon as I parked, he said, “Hold on, let me move my truck.” And by moving it, he meant to block me in. He parked right behind me so that I had no where to go, his bumper shoved up against mine, no room to even wiggle out of the spot.
He kept us trapped there for hours, the kids in the backseat, first loving the adventure, then hating every second that passed. Between customers, he jumped into the passenger seat and asked me over and over why I wouldn’t want to be with him. I laughed (in my head) about how much denial he must live in to even have to ask.
“Just let us go,” I said, trying to be calm. “You said you would give me money. If you’re not, we have to go.”
“Not until you tell me why you don’t want to be with me anymore.”
I sighed. I already told him. There wasn’t going to be any answer that he would accept.
“So there’s someone else, right?”
I shook my head. In my heart, yes, there was someone else, but he didn’t matter. I wasn’t leaving to be with him. He just woke my dead heart up. I was leaving because I couldn’t stand Nate. But saying “I hate you and that’s why I want a divorce” wasn’t smart. I’d had time to rethink the night before and realize how lucky I was not to have the hell beat out of me, or worse.
As the kids grew more restless and the baby started to cry, he finally moved his truck and let us go. People were stopping to stare at us and it was bad for business, not to mention attention he didn’t want.
It was a Saturday, and I was due to work that evening. Nate called when I got back home and begged me not to go. I needed more money. I should have just left, but I didn’t think I’d get very far anyway.
As soon as I got to work, I let the managers know there might be trouble. A few hours into my shift, sure as I expected him, Nate walked in looking and smelling like 1988. He sat in my section, and I was torn between ignoring him and serving him so he’d leave.
“I got this for you, baby,” he said, shoving a ring box and card at me.
I took the small box into my hands for a moment, glanced at it — not considering but trying to tap into some place in my heart that might still feel something warm for him — and then set it back on the table.
“Marry me again. I love you.”
It was a week before our eighth wedding anniversary.
“No,” I said. I pushed the card back across the table to him without reading it.
“You can’t just throw away all our years together. You promised. You never break your promises!” he said, slamming a fist on the table.
The restaurant grew quiet as everyone stopped to watch. Only the jukebox continued to belt out loud music.
“You threw it away years ago.”
I turned to walk away and he grabbed my arm. “Bring me a beer, then!”
I yanked away from him and refused to serve him, but one of the managers thought maybe he’d drink his beer and leave, so she served him herself. After a second beer, he did indeed leave, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
But I knew better. He’d be back. He always came back. He wouldn’t just give up.
Less than an hour later, as I took a phone order, he walked in, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked me to step outside to talk. I refused at first, afraid of anything he wanted, but as I hung up the phone, he said, “Just come out and talk or things are about to get real ugly in here.”
I stepped right outside the door where everyone could still see me from inside.
“Please go for a ride with me,” he said, changing his tone and holding my hand gently. He smelled like POLO cologne, a lifetime ago when I would have done anything for him. No doubt that was what he hoped for.
“I don’t trust you,” I said.
“I wouldn’t hurt you.”
My heart reminded me of all the times he did hurt me. My gut told me to run.
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“You go with me, baby, or else I go in there and find the little fucker I know you’re cheating on me with!”
He switched from gentle to rage with such ease, it terrified me. I knew he could — I’d seen it before — but this felt so much different.
I shook my head again just as a family of regular customers approached the door. The man cocked his head and looked at us, and then looked away. He seemed conflicted, unsure what to make of the scene before him.
Nate grabbed me by the shoulders and tossed me aside. I hit the ground, and immediately jumped to my feet and tried to pull him back as he yanked open the restaurant door. I was no match for him as he shoved me away from him like I was nothing.
“Call 9-1-1!” I screamed, running in after him.
He walked directly to the kitchen area, shoving past my manager, and tried to yank John over the counter.
“Oh my God!” I sobbed seeing the surprise on John’s face. It was all my fault. John hadn’t done anything. I don’t know how Nate could have known I cared for John, but then I realized he really couldn’t. The only thing Nate could figure out for himself was that if I didn’t love him anymore, it must be because I was having an affair with the only guy I worked with. Surely it had nothing to do with anything Nate had ever done to me.
I cried, louder and louder, calling for help. Many of the men in the restaurant walked toward us, and then our manager, a woman bigger than Nate, grabbed hold of him, pulled him away from John, and tried talking calmly to him. She pulled him toward the same door he’d come through, encouraging him to go right back out it.
“I’ll kill you all,” Nate screamed, and the men who came forward formed a circle around him.
Nate started swinging right away and connected first with the man who had just walked in with his family. I screamed, scared and overwhelmed with the scene playing out. People coming to my rescue, fighting for me. One of my coworkers grabbed me and tried to bury my face in her shoulder so I wouldn’t have to see any more. But I couldn’t stop looking.
The men backed Nate into a corner, and he fumbled around, trying to get his hand in his pocket. Just as it looked like he’d grabbed a hold of something, the manager pushed the door open and told him to go.
“You better run now, man,” she said, afraid someone was about to get killed. “The cops are on the way.”
Nate took advantage of the opening and ran off into the night.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!