Exhausted from six hours as a cashier in the grocery store after putting two hours earlier in cleaning the church, the young mother took a deep breath before she entered her home. Some that knew her would wonder why she would still call it a home. Sandy had actually referred to it as hell’s den in her head. The only good thing she found in the two-year-old home was her children. The man Sandy thought she married almost nine years earlier turned out to be lazy and considered her his property. As the knob on the front door turned she could hear the television and her eyes fell upon him sleeping in his recliner. The recliner and television were the only pieces of furniture in the bare living room. Ashtray and beer can next to the chair on the floor. She quietly slipped through the living room and into the adjoining kitchen. How she had hoped there would be some dinner from her mom after the long day. She so appreciated those rare times that her mom cooked too much and dropped off the left-overs. Her finger quickly raised to her mouth to signal her small children to stay quiet as they played at the end of the kitchen.
Sandy barely above five feet tall and dark dull hair pulled back in a tight pony-tail, opened the refrigerator door. As it squeaked, Jack leaped up to his feet and shot into the kitchen. “Well, how long till dinner?” She knew better but through clenched teeth she responded, “May I have time to look what I can fix you after I worked two jobs today, or would you like to do it?” Her body tightened as the kitchen chair made it’s way through the doorway, across the living room and came to rest against the wall. Followed by him storming out and the sound of shaking windows as he pulled the door shut. Sandy knew she would pay for making him so angry and she began to cry, but then caught herself, knowing dinner better be ready for him when he returned. She took a minute to wipe her face, then hurried over to kiss each of the children on the top of their head and tell them how much she had missed them today. She turned to the refrigerator and she saw he had actually laid out a steak from the freezer to thaw. She had bought two T-bones when they were on sale a few weeks ago with her birthday money from her parents. He had already had her fix him one, now tonight he wanted the other. Next to it was an open package of hot dogs.
The potato scrubbed clean, lightly oiled, sprinkled in sea salt and wrapped in foil was baking in the oven. With a pot of the last two potatoes in the house, cleaned and cut into chunks, and now cooked, Sandy teased her children about what delicious food she was making them special tonight. She searched the cabinet and found a small can of tuna, with a little shredded cheese it would have to do. She pulled out a bag of frozen vegetables and put them in the small pan to heat. Sandy smiled, her children were so easy to please. She finished Jack’s salad, covered it with plastic wrap and returned it to the refrigerator to keep it fresh.
Standing at the kitchen counter, lost in her thoughts for the moment, Sandy almost dropped the glass when the phone rang. She swallowed and picked up the receiver, with all she could muster, she smiled and said as cheerfully as she could a quick, “Hello.” After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually only a few seconds the response rang through her whole being, ” Are you happy? Is it your goal to ruin my life? Is it not bad enough I am laid off work and stuck home with the kids all day. Then I have to put up with your crap when I ask you to fix my dinner, which is your job! Aren’t you suppose to be the wife and mother? Do you have an clue what it is like being stuck home all day with those kids?” With all the strength she could find from deep inside her churning gut, she responded with, “You’re right, please come home and forgive me. I have your dinner almost ready.” The phone went dead, he could be five minutes or thirty, all she knew was that dinner better be ready when he got there. She turned the oven from bake to broil and put the steak in. Sandy didn’t have the luxury of dreaming what she would like to have told him. He had been gone long enough to get over to his girlfriend’s house. If he was there he might be there awhile, but he would be tired and leave her alone for tonight. When the steak was still very pink in the center she pulled it out and left it sitting a the edge of the open oven in hopes to keep it warm.
Twenty-seven minutes, possibly twenty-eight passed when the oldest boy ran from the front window, “he just turned down our road.” Her precious babies all took their places back at the end of the kitchen on the playrug. Jack came through the garage door directly into the kitchen with his hands behind his back. Sandy’s body began to stiffen for the blow as the six-foot two-inch man made his way around the small kitchen table toward her. Her eyes involuntarily closed as he swung his right arm around. No squeeze, no punch, she jerked open her eyes to the worse nightmare for her, a single flower from the convience store. Jack’s way of saying sorry and letting her know at the same time she was going to pay for it later. In his left hand was a super-sized Blue Ribbon Beer, a brand he considered his contribution to tightening the belt for finances since his lay-off almost four-years past. He smelled of friend and he didn’t care. His hair was messed and his shirt untucked. She wanted to vomit, but swallowed, and smiled.
Jack settled into his recliner and Sandy carried in his dinner on the tray and placed it next to him. In her mind she checked over everything like a child checks for school supplies: napkin, fork, steak knife, butter and sour cream on potato, salad, salt, pepper and steak sauce. He turned on the television and she left the room. Sandy quickly pulled the small plastic plates from the cabinet and filled them for her children. She poured them milk and called them to the table to pray. The boys were thrilled with this new meal mom fixed for her little ones. Sandy began to clean up the kitchen while the children ate. Tonight was little sister’s bath night so it would be easier than fighting the boys. When the children had all they wanted, Sandy cleaned up the last spoonfuls from the pan, her dinner, as she washed the dishes. While she did she began to imagine life without him, from there she prayed. Divorce was wrong and praying to be a widow definetly was wrong. That would be murder in the mind and spirit. She sought forgiveness and strength.
After the house was cleaned back up, children read to and in bed, and a load of laundry finished, Sandy snuck into the bedroom through the laundry room in hopes of going to sleep before he woke and came to bed. For that night she was safe, he had been with the number in his shirt pocket, now he was passed out in his chair. She would deal tomorrow with the outcome of leaving him there. It was her day off and she had a busy day planned. She called her mom early and ask her to call her back to check the phone’s ringer. When her mom called back a few minutes later she grabbed the phone, she managed not to say bye as she hung up. Her hand on the receiver hook, she said loud enough for him to hear, “If you need me to I can bring the kids and be there soon.” She hung up the dead phone.It appeared to work, Jack didn’t know. Before he could raise a fuss, she handed him breakfast on his tray, promising to clean up soon as she returned. She hustled the children into the old car, and backed out of hell’s den for the last time. It had taken her months to scrimp and save, when they found her old car, they wouldn’t find her or her kids. She already had a new used one. With only the few things she could sneak out of the house without raising alarms and to a dear friend for safe keeping, Sandy was starting over. First thing was to stop at her friend’s and cut the boys hair and change her and baby sister’s hair color. She would let the baby’s grow back natural, but she was thinking she would have to keep her’s darker, almost black. Within the next few hours Jack would begin his search for her. It wouldn’t be that long till someone would find that old car she had hid in the back of the cornfield down that old lane, just over five miles from hell’s den. With any luck, it wouldn’t be till they finished the corn field. She knew she was called to put her husband first, but this time she had to put her children first and they were headed west to make a new life. She couldn’t think of the loved ones she couldn’t say good-bye to.
Then Sandy felt jolt of the bed as Jack fell onto it waking her from the dream of escape that held her. “What reason did you have to leave me in the recliner all night? It’s after six and I’m hungry, do you think your sorry butt might fix me something to eat, or should I go out? Give you a day off work and you act like there is nothing to do around here.” She rose to make breakfast, but not before he grabbed her arm to make sure she knew who was still in charge. As always, with a sideways smile, he whispered, “I love you, my wife!” Someday she thought, someday.