I had never tasted blood before that day and its metallic bittersweet twinge has never left me. I lay face down as our beige carpet changed to dark maroon in front of me. “Wait”, I said to myself as I choked in pain. Motionless, I stared at pieces of broken vase and coins scattered about. I felt blood drying into the cracks of my broken lips. “Wait. Stay down or you’ll again feel his ringed hand upon your face. Wait. Play dead or die.”
I do not have one good memory of my father. He spent most days drenched in scotch. Alcohol seeped from his pores and its effects masked whatever sense of a man he once was. What my mother ever saw in him, I will never know. She did her best to shield me as he attempted to beat life out of her. But ultimately cancer caused her demise when I was twelve. Even cancer-ridden and stripped of self-worth, she stood ready to protect me.
After mom’s death my father dove deeper into every bottle and basically ignored me. For two years he was lost in his inebriated world. Little did I know that as I grew more independent and defiant, so too did his disdain for me; and I no longer had mother to shield me.
He turned his ferociousness on me when I was fourteen. The physical abuse was almost tolerable in comparison to the beatings my mother endured. Verbally, he tried to break my spirit and squashed any attempt I made to find my own voice. As I began to see things as an adult it threatened him. His answer was to steal my innocence sexually, and that almost killed me. With every invasion, I retreated deeper into myself. I knew I had to leave before hatred consumed me.
It was Monday afternoon when a loud “CRASH!” shattered the silence in our house. My father was in his near comatose state in the living room. I heard him awake and slur, “What the hells goin’ on?” I ran to the living room and saw him stagger from his recliner toward the fireplace mantle, where my cat Rosie was perched. The shards of broken vase strewn around the hearth crunched under his oafish steps. “Get the hell off there!” he shouted. Rosie leapt to the end of the mantle and bumped a glass jar filled with coins. The jar exploded on the brick hearth and coins rolled across the living room. My dad charged at Rosie with his empty scotch bottle in hand.
Grasping the open end, he wound up and delivered a strike, landing the bottle squarely on Rosie’s left eye. Her mew faded quickly as she flew from the mantle. I shrieked in horror, “Noooo, Rosiiiiieee!” and rushed to help her. But he cut me off with a backhand to my right cheek. There was rage in his eyes.
“I hate you!” I shouted. He hurled the bloodied bottle at me hitting me in the left shoulder. I winced and scream at him, “You bastard!” In a flash, he was on me with all his fury. His left hand throttled my throat and I reached and scratched his face. Backed off for only an instance, he erupted and lurched toward me with a clenched fist cocked back by his right ear. He swung at me with all his might. His fist made contact with my face, his two rings lacerated my lips and shattered three of my upper teeth. I landed hard upon the coffee table then rolled off ending face down on the carpet.
Time crept like the blood stain appearing before me. I dared not move. My only move was to wait. Wait for him to go back to his recliner. I was in pain, but for the first time I had clarity.
I waited. The fifteen minutes I lay there bleeding were my new beginning. And surprisingly, strength washed over me like a tsunami. Clarity came at high price, but I welcomed it. When he was out again I struggled to my feet and left. I took nothing and I walked until I could no more. Cold, bleeding and in pain, I collapsed outside a small flower shop.
Margaret worked one day a week pruning flowers. I was lucky this was her day. She found me unconscious and beckoned for help. Others came and helped transport me to the hospital. I spent eight days recouping with only this stranger Margaret by my side. I could barely speak but learned her name on day three. Oddly, she did not ask me mine or any question for that matter.
It wasn’t until my discharge that Margaret asked, “Where will you go?” I replied, “I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to it.” She smiled wryly as she handed me an envelope, hugged me and then exited without turning back. I cried.
I opened the envelope and found fifty pounds and the note: “I did not know your mother well, but always wanted to help and never mustered the strength. I believe in second chances and you should too.”
Margaret gave me my second chance. I wondered London streets homeless for two years searching for peace. My only friend – a stray kitten I affectionately named Maggie.
Eventually I found my peace, became a mother and wife of a loving gentle husband. I am seventy-three now, but in reality I am merely fifty-eight because life did not truly start for me until I walked out and left that monster in my wake. I waited. And my years of waiting gave me strength to wait when I needed it most.
I glance at the frail fifteen year old in this photo occasionally. It reminds me of Margaret and Maggie, and I smile. Something I could not do back then. I got my second chance and luckily, I have never had to choke on that metallic bittersweet taste again.
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