imagesSharon stood in the dim hallway, trying not to scream into her phone.
“You shouldn’t have f***ed with me” Carl’s menacing voice taunted on the other end of the line. “We got that s*** for our wedding, I can sell it if I f***ing feel like it.”
It made her teeth grind together hearing him talk that way about Grandma’s beautiful silver tray.

“You knew it meant something to me” Sharon hissed, “so you made sure I couldn’t have it.”   When was she going to learn that this was victory to him, letting him see her hurt or need or exhibiting any human frailty? When would she anticipate his reaction of disgust, punishment and cruelty beyond imagination and just keep her big mouth shut?  His last attack had been particularly awful, hocking something that reminded her of childhood summers spent at the Jersey Shore.  It was pancakes and Fourth of July fireworks, sitting on her mother’s lap, perfectly toasted marshmallows filling her belly.  He had gotten $18 for it.

He used everything she cherished against her so deftly she regretted everything she ever loved, starting with him.  He would poison the planet’s water supply if he thought she liked tea.

Carl savored and enjoyed each new insult as their divorce plodded on, and she hated him so profoundly it doubled her over at times, manifesting as actual, physical pain, but worse was her contempt for herself. Smart, beautiful, and successful women couldn’t whine at shareholder meetings about the sociopath at home, and powerful women didn’t cry over coffee about snapping like a twig.  She was a stranger to herself, so she became a stranger to everyone.  The isolation was a dry cleaning bag over her head, suffocating her in plain sight.

She steadied herself against the wall, closing her eyes to soak in the quiet and leaning her forehead on its cool blue surface.
“Go, go, go” she said, barely audibly. It took strength she didn’t have to keep standing, she wished fleetingly she could crumple onto the cold floor of the hallway and sleep. She took two, long breaths.

“Go, go, go” she whispered again. It was the mantra that got her out of bed and moved her feet to work and the grocery store and anywhere else she had to go regardless of the screaming in her head. It got her here, up the front gray steps of this brown apartment building and onto the  elevator. She didn’t risk giving herself anymore time to think. She rang the bell.

Premila’s eyes surrounded her like a delicious Hot Pocket of love and pulled her into the apartment with gentle telekinesis.
“You’re Sharon” she declared happily, “I’m so glad you came, come in, comeincomeincomein. Pammy, come meet Sharon, Dr. Bowman told her about us” she called to a petite blond who smiled broadly and walked across the carpet.
“Hello. Welcome.” Pam took Sharon’s hand in both of hers in greeting, and wonderfully soft bird feathers fluttered up her arms. She was overwhelmed suddenly by the rush of compassion, and her eyes watered in surprise. Pam laughed, pulling close to her and wrapping a supportive arm around Sharon’s waist.
“I know the feeling” she whispered, leading her towards a small, sparse living room with a circle of chairs in the center. “My ex was threatening to take my son, and I wanted to murder everybody. I think I cried my whole first meeting.”
There were three seated women who stood and turned toward them as they approached, and Sharon realized they saw her. They saw her, broken and shaking and without any of the answers she usually had. They saw her, without the tragic looks of pity or the sideways glances of uncomfortable apathy.

Premila floated effortlessly to them and everyone sat, but Sharon could not reconcile what she saw with what she knew. Every woman in that room had survived horrific, soul-crushing abuse at the hands of a partner.  Premila herself had shared only a taste of her own story over the phone, and even that was filled with nightmares of intimidation, manipulation and broken bones. How could she emanate such peace and happiness?  They were all supposed to be somewhere on the spectrum of victim-hood, where was the wailing and gnashing of teeth?
“I found some of Pete’s old cologne in the medicine cabinet, it smelled like furniture polish” a tiny, freckled redhead laughed, “I had to take the garbage out of the house to stop smelling it!”
“If only it was that easy to stop smelling Pete!” Pam interjected, causing a raucous guffaw from the group.
Sharon realized she had not exhaled since her pre-hyperventilation in the hallway, and she leaned back in her chair letting her lungs push the air out.  She didn’t yet realize it, but she was smiling.

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