SEROTINY

By John Thomas Tuft

The first time he hit her the earth stopped spinning. No angels came to her rescue nor whispered in her ear that all would be okay. He fell on his knees in tears, begging for her forgiveness. He promised to never do it again, he’d rather die. She forgave him the pain, the humiliation, the hole in her soul. Then he hit her again. Now he’s asleep in the bedroom. And she is in the kitchen, lost and alone. Her hands trembling on the cup of tea she cradles, one eye black and purple, as she grapples with a searing sense of worthlessness seeping through the cracks in her heart.

The next day she tries to breezily dismiss the evidence of her clumsiness to her best friend. “It was my own fault. I didn’t watch where I was going and ran into the door,” she insists to her friend, unaware that she echoes his rationale: “You made me do it. If you would just listen to me. If you just did what I said. If you weren’t so dumb…then I wouldn’t have to feel so terrible. If you didn’t make me feel so frustrated. If you just understood what I need…then I wouldn’t have to strike you because you made me angry.” And over the weeks, the months, the years she feels she has no choice but to believe him. Maybe he’s right. Maybe I do deserve it.

One day she summons her courage and knocks on an office door. A pastor ushers her in and invites her to talk. “He hits me,” she says. She gives his rationale. She explains her own. “What should I do?” she pleads. The pastor says, “I will pray for you. And I will speak to him.” Her stomach drops. “No, please don’t. That will only make him angry. How will that help anything?” The pastor throws up his hands. “Then I don’t know what to do!” She bows her head and whispers, “I’m sorry. I love him.” The pastor ushers her back to the door. “Always remember, “ he encourages, “God loves you.”

She returns home. The next time he hits her the earth turns away from the sun. It is dark and cold. No angel came to her rescue nor whispered in her ear that all would be okay. He fell on his knees, begging, “Please stop making me hit you!” She ignored the pain, forgave the humiliation, swallowed the hole in her soul while he sleeps in the bedroom.

Another day she summons her courage and knocks on an office door. A counselor ushers her in and invites her to talk. “He hits me,” she says. She gives his rationale. She explains her own. “What should I do?” she pleads. The counselor says, “I’ve seen this before. The fact that you came to me means you don’t believe everything is okay.” The woman responds, “I’m so tired; tired of being afraid. Tired of feeling empty.” The counselor explains, “You need a plan. Don’t let him control you. Take back your life.” She bows her head and whispers, “But he’s part of my life.” The counselor ushers her back to the door. “Always remember,” she encourages, “to love yourself.”

She returns home. The next time he hits her the earth shakes and trembles until gravity breaks. She is falling. No angel came to her rescue nor whispered in her ear that all would be okay. He fell on his knees, laughing at her pain and helplessness. He falls asleep in the bedroom. She teeters on the edge of her drained soul, hoping it will suck her away to nowhere.

One day she walks alone along the shore of the great sea, high on the cliffs, waves crashing onto the great rocks far below. She comes across a small campfire. Beside it sits an old woman who motions to her to sit beside the fire and watch the waves. “He hits me,” she says. She gives his rationale. She explains her own. “What should I do?” she pleads. The old woman sits silently. The sea moves. The waves  do their crashing against the rocks. The old woman sits silently. The sun sets. The tide turns. The moon rises. The stars take their ride. The old woman adds more wood to the fire. And sits in silence some more.  She is silent until the first hint of dawn breaches the horizon. Finally, the old woman reaches into her leather pouch and takes something out. She presses it into the waiting hands of the first woman. It is a cone from a jack pine tree. “You are his mirror,” she whispers. “When you are ready,” says the old woman, with  kindness, “throw this into the fire.”

She stands to make her leave. “Only then will you grow.” She touches her on the cheek. “Always remember,” she encourages as the sun lights the next day, “that you love him enough to reflect the fire.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.