“When I awoke from the dream…”
NOT FAR ENOUGH
When I awoke from the dream I was confused and scared. My eyes drifted over the yellow walls and delicate lace curtains, not recognizing them as my own. The nightmare felt so real; I thought I was still there, trapped, living through the terror all over again. I curled up in a ball, shivering, and waited for the next blow to land. After long moments, clarity returned to my mind, and I realized I was safe in my own apartment.
Safe. It was a word I hadn’t learned to trust yet. I slipped out of bed, and went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water and two Tylenol. I’d had this dream before, and knew it was the precursor to a monster headache. Maybe I could ward it off before it planted a foothold in my brain. I swallowed both pills together, grimacing at the faint chlorine taste of city water.
The water wasn’t the only thing bothering me about city life. I missed everything about country living, from waking up to the lowing of cows to the rattle of a woodpecker’s beak on the tree outside my window. I missed the smell of cut grass and horse manure on a warm evening. Until I ran away six months ago, I lived my entire life at the end of a winding dirt road, where my closest neighbor was a mile away and the water flowing from the taps was cool and odorless, instead of dribbling out in a tepid trickle that smelled like a chemistry experiment.
Maya, my daughter, would never know that world, but she’d never the agony of a fist in her face, either. We were alone in this strange city, but we were safe. I’d told no one – not even my best friend – where we were.
I wanted to feel angry when I thought of all I’d lost, but I couldn’t. I was worn thin from the drama of it all, and all that was left of me now was an anxious, brittle shell of the woman I used to be. I lost my old life to the man of my dreams, dreams that morphed into a walking nightmare. It took years, but I found the strength to run when I realized I was going to have a baby. I ran away, but every day I wondered if I ran far enough. At night his face terrorized my sleep, and during the day his eyes stared out at me from my own daughter’s face. Every time I looked at her I lifted up the same prayer: that she would never know her father.
I decided to shower, hoping to distract my thoughts and ease the tension from my body. The hot water cascaded over me, and I willed my fears to wash away from me and follow the suds down the drain. When I stepped out of the shower, I could hear Maya babbling to herself in her crib, the noise wafting through the open door of her bedroom. I toweled off and put on a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, hurrying to get ready before her contented gabbling turned into cries for my attention. I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. I wouldn’t make it to Maya’s nap-time with my sanity intact without my daily dose of caffeine.
A knock on the door interrupted my morning routine. I glanced at the check stuck on the refrigerator with a magnet shaped like a banana – the check I’d forgotten to drop off at the rental office yesterday. My landlady was a friendly soul, but she didn’t tolerate late payments. I grabbed the check and trotted to the door. I was already making my excuses as I turned the knob.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Ashley, I forgot to…” my voice trailed off as my eyes locked with the icy stare boring into me. I threw the door at him, but he inserted his arm into the room, preventing its closure. I backed up at once, instinctively seeking shelter behind the couch.
“Get out.” My voice was steady, but the finger I pointed at the door shook with fear.
“Is that any way to greet your husband?”
His eyes swept over the room, taking note of every detail of the life I’d built here. His next words hit me like a punch in the gut.
“Where’s the baby? I think it’s time she met her daddy – don’t you?”
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