He wouldn’t change, and I knew that. I forced myself to allow his kisses and hugs and apologies that I didn’t trust or believe. But I force myself to play the part because I don’t want to make him angry anymore. I don’t want to have his fury unleashed like it had been last night.
I secretly loved when his other women would come over. I would put myself in the kitchen and cook all day and night, eating as much as I, and the new baby, wanted. And best of all, I didn’t have to worry about Beau – that was the other poor girl’s issue.
One night while brushing my teeth, the baby kicked out high against my ribs. I doubled over and felt my water break in the same instant. Torn between the pain and anxiety, I did the only thing I thought I could – I ran outside, hailed a taxi, and sped toward the hospital.
They asked me questions I didn’t want to answer. My name, date of birth, social security number. I wanted to tell them the truth so that they could call my parents, but at the same time… I didn’t want Beau to wake up from his cocaine stupor and realize I was gone, then come here and start shit.
And he would start shit. He had many guns and many friends with even more. I didn’t want to chance anything. I pretended to not speak and labored through childbirth without comfort from friends or family.
The baby was born, though, and was shockingly healthy. I think it was mostly due to my healthy eating and pouring the beers Beau pushed at me down the sink when he wasn’t looking.
When I got home, it didn’t take long for Beau to get back into the routine of beating and raping me whenever he could – claiming it was better now that I wasn’t so fat. I took the abuse so that my son wouldn’t have to.
He named my son – not ours, because he did nothing for the boy other than naming him – Fennec.
Fennec was my world and I did everything I could to stand between him and the abuse I faced daily. I knew it wouldn’t last long, though – soon he would see the bruises or the busted lips and know I was being hurt.
Soon he would grow up and be another target for Beau.
Years passed and I was pregnant six more times before I turned 20. The next four after Fennec were all miscarriages – they were beaten out of me. I never made it to the hospital for any of them – I was laid up on the floor of the bathroom, blood sticky and cold beneath me, and praying to die.
But then I would think of Fennec. Of how he couldn’t protect himself if I left. And so I always got up and forced myself to be alive for him. To not give up – for him.
My sixth pregnancy was a successful one – mainly because Beau had been caught with possession and was in jail. I spent quality time with Fennec, teaching him to walk and talk and potty-training. I always wanted to run back to my parents, but too much time had passed. I never saw them on tv anymore – they had given up on me.
Who was I to just show back up and expect them to take me back?
And then a fire broke out in our poorly wired kitchen. I called the firefighters immediately and did my best to keep the flames reduced while they were on their way.
A young firefighter, still green around the gills, turned up immediately, saying he had been in the area. He got to work right away and finished killing the flames.
Right about then, I went into labor for the second time in my life.
“My w-water broke!” I exclaimed.
“Shit,” he whispered, tossing down the expended exstinguisher and grabbing my hands. “Come on, I’ll get you to the hos-“
“It’s coming now!” I yelled, tears in my eyes. I heard Fennec start sobbing in the background.
“Shit,” the firefighter repeated before lifting me up onto the table and spreading my legs. “Push down, honey. We’ll get this baby out in no time.”
True to his word, he delivered the baby quickly and efficiently. The baby girl was pale and small, but she wailed with the best of them.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” the firefighter, who didn’t even look flustered, asked gently.
I put the girl down on the sofa and wrapped my arms around him. Tears sprang to my eyes and I whispered, “Thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough for saving us.”
He held me and even stroked my hair for a few moments. When he pulled away, he murmured, “I’d like to know the name of the lady I just helped out.”
“Ella,” I answered without thinking. I froze for a moment when I saw a flare of recognition in his eyes.
“Ella,” he repeated then nodded. “Beautiful name for a beautiful new mommy. Take care of these little ones,” he added, glancing around the dingy room.
“Thank you,” I repeated and watched him leave.
I spent the next few days cleaning up the damage from the fire. Four days after the birth of his daughter, Beau called me in a rage, claiming that I had ratted him out. He threatened me, said he would come and slit my throat when he got out tomorrow.
I hung up on him, which was a colossal mistake, but… I was tired of it. Living without him had been the most amazing experience of my life. The most freeing.
And then the doorbell rang.
I picked up my daughter, still not sure what to name her, and went to the door. I looked out the peephole to some old man in a sweater. Weird, I thought, but opened up the door.
Once I saw his eyes, so much like my own, I realized who it was.
My father had found me.