It had finally happened that afternoon. She knew it was coming, she'd been expecting it for months now.
Thirteen years ago their marriage had started out happy. Both were free spirits and society misfits and they found solace and companionship in each other. But things had changed. It had been different for several years now.
She tried often to figure out just when and where things had gone wrong, but she never could. She knew the drugs and the partying that come with being in a rock n' roll band were a big part of it. But there was more, anger and resentment from early in his life buried deep within him. The drugs were self-medicating, except when the supply ran out or when he had to clean up to pass the drug test to find yet another job. With them he was reasonably mellow, if at times withdrawn. Without them he was contentious, mean, threatening, and prone to unreasonable demands.
In recent months things had gotten worse. Money was disappearing and she suspected he had turned to harder drugs. Everything seemed to set him off and she felt like she was walking on eggshells. His habit of throwing things and slamming things when he was angry had reached new heights... holes in walls, door frames broken... shattered pictures and keepsakes - everything within his reach was fair game.
One night last week he had grabbed her ring of keys from her when they arrived home after a ride in which she expressed her unhappiness with the way things were. Yelling at her, he had slammed them across the kitchen, deeply scratching the brass key ring tag that was inscribed with her nickname, the key ring her daughter had given her that she loved so much. Nothing was sacred anymore.
She didn't realize how bad it had gotten until a friend came to visit for the weekend and remarked on how controlling he had become, and how unhappy she seemed. She thought she'd been hiding that pretty well from everyone... her friends, her family, her coworkers. She had been deluding herself into believing that she had the situation under control. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that she had come to accept the hostile, abusive environment she was living in as normal. She'd long forgotten what it was like to be in a truly normal relationship, what it was like to love and laugh, and look forward to spending time together. Now going to work was her refuge, her safe place from his rage.
Long ago she had drawn a line in her mind, the point where she would have to say "enough" and leave him - for her own safety - the point where she would finally admit that all hope of restoring the love between them was lost. That time would come when the verbal abuse, the attempts to belittle and intimidate her, became more physical. He was solid muscle, brute strength, and she knew if it ever reached the point of altercation he would hurt her bad.
This afternoon, reality came crashing down on her. He had crossed the line and her life was in danger now. She knew the abuse was only going to escalate from here on out. She had said something innocuous, she didn't even remember what. He came across the room to within inches of her face, and shoved her with all his might into the corner. She slammed hard against the wall, crumpling, nearly falling to the ground.
"Don't push me," she said defiantly, trying to sound brave. He shoved her again and she raised her hands defensively to push him away.
"Go on and hit me", he taunted, "You know you want to". Oh God yes, she wanted to, but she knew better. That's what he wanted her to do, anything that would enable him to beat the hell out of her and call it self-defense when then sheriff came.
So she did what she had always done, and began to talk him down in a soft, low voice. Soothe him, distract him enough that she could slip away from her vulnerable position. Give him time to calm down and let the fury subside. It worked, and she breathed a silent sigh of relief as he headed to the practice room to collect his band equipment for the gig that night.
He didn't have a clue that she was done with it, done with him. Had he taken one moment to look into her eyes he might have known. Instead she made her plan and bided her time. He left later to set equipment up at the club where they'd be playing that night, and she made a call to her boss, explaining that she needed some days off to go and stay with her daughter. She told him there were problems at home. She didn't elaborate and she was grateful he didn't ask.
She made a trip into town to the ATM for cash and to the store to pick up a few things she needed. While there she ran into a coworker friend. She smiled and made polite conversation, as she was so very good at doing, noting that she'd be gone a few days, and never once letting on why, being so careful to conceal the terror that was building inside her.
When she got home she hid away what few remained of her small personal treasures, out of sight and out of range of being smashed when he returned. Carefully, she packed a bag with clothing and necessities, and slid it underneath the bed.
Picking up a book from the coffee table, wrapping herself in a blanket to conceal how badly her body was shaking from the adrenalin rush of moving forward with her plan, she curled up on the sofa to await his return.
Soon he arrived home to shower for the gig. As usual, he suspected nothing wrong , and acted as if nothing had happened between them earlier in the day. She played along. It seemed to take him forever to get ready to go, to eat the supper she had made him, and to make some phone calls to the groupies who were sure to show up and cheer him on. She used to do that, attend his band gigs, way back then, when they were in love. He used to delight in her being there... but that was long ago.
Finally she heard the truck keys jangle in his hand and a mumbled "see you when I get home" as he headed out the door.
"Ok" she responded with the most normal voice she could muster. She heard his truck head down the driveway, and she knew he would not be back before 2:30 in the morning at the earliest.
It had felt like an eternity since she'd first made her plan to go that afternoon. Now, it was finally time to put it into action. Her heart pounded in her ears and she struggled to breathe as she placed her suitcase in trunk of the car.
Returning to the house, she took a sheet of notebook paper and left a short note on the counter... "Have gone out, will see you later." She shuddered, imagining how he'd react to that.
Running on the pure adrenalin of fear, lest he should return home for something and discover her escape in progress, she gathered up her beloved cats one by one and tossed them into the backseat of the car where a litter box and food dishes already waited on the floorboards. They cats were afraid of travelling in the car, since it always meant a trip to the vet. Picking up on her state of terror, they meowed pitifully and incessantly, as if asking what was happening, and knowing everything was wrong. She couldn't leave them behind, she feared he would neglect their care... or worse.
Leaving the porch light on for him when he returned, trying to imagine how he'd react when he saw her car gone, she took one look back and headed out onto the dark highway, driving fast to ensure that she'd be far away, at least a couple hundred miles, before he discovered her note when he got home. This time there would be no turning back. Tears streamed down her face as she realized it was over, and it was long since time to go.