Hunched low and curved into herself, she didn’t respond at first.
She ducked her chin in understanding but did not move. Instead, she stared down into her crossed legs and considered how she had arrived at this moment, all of the choices and failures to choose that had led her to this place. The woman who had beckoned her stood in the doorway with a friendly smile and an outstretched hand, but she did not get up. Instead, she took a moment to gather her thoughts and her courage. She knew what was going to be said. She knew that she needed to make changes. What she didn’t know was what lay within her that seemed to make those changes impossible. How she hated to have her failures pointed out to her as though the pointing out would give her strength. The pointing out only made her feel smaller and more inclined to hide from noticing eyes. The kindness and concern in the voice of the one who pointed out her failures made her heart and mind and stomach hurt. These talks made her ill in anticipation.
A wave of nausea passed over her and through her, and she looked around frantically; there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to purge herself of the poison that swelled within her. She took a few deep breaths and swallowed the bitter causticity that rose in her throat. She had no choice. She was well-acquainted with having no choice.
She breathed deeply, shook off her nerves as best she could, and drew herself up to her full height.
She walked through the door.
He gestured with his hand, “Sit.”
She sat, sinking into herself, gathering herself up small, tucking her legs beneath her. She tried to meet his eyes as he spoke, but his words hurt her, and she looked away to keep him from seeing her anguish. She was ashamed of herself for avoiding his gaze. This shame added to the shame she already felt, and she was overwhelmed. Her body sank sideways beneath the weight of her unease until she was more lying down than sitting. If only there was a way for her to sink right through the floor and out of this room, out of his sight.
He looked at her kindly, a sad smile on his lips, “How long has he lived with you? Four years? You are too old to put up with this sort of thing.” She turned her face to him, and he reached to smooth the gray that framed her features, “You need to stand up for yourself.”
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the feel of this man’s hand against her forehead and her cheek as he smoothed her hair. She wanted more than anything in the world to make this man happy. When he paused in his caress, she raised her face, almost imperceptibly, to encourage his touch. When she opened her eyes, she thought she saw something flash across his face. Was that disappointment behind the gentle smile? Her face was dry, but something like tears ran down her throat, the taste of ache and sorrow.
She tried to explain that there was nothing to be done. She tried to reassure him that she preferred things this way; it was easier to give in and let the other have what he wanted. She tried to explain that she was not a woman of confrontation, and that even when what was hers was being taken, she just could not bring herself to force the issue. It was simpler to step back, to give in, to surrender, to cede control. The other was stronger than she was. The other needed more than she did. Was it such a terrible thing to give the other what he demanded?
Her brown eyes sought the man’s understanding. All she really needed was this man’s love. Surely he understood that she would surrender everything to the other, but not this man’s love. She pleaded with him to understand.
The man sighed, “I wish you would fight back. He takes everything from you. He hurts you. I have seen him hurt you. Why don’t you fight back?”
She wanted to cry. A moan escaped her throat as she struggled for a way to make this man understand. She had known the other long enough to know that he would never back down. The few times she had tried to fight back, he had only grown enraged and attacked her. She had learned quickly that the only thing to do was to try not to annoy the other and to quickly surrender anything the other asked of her. The alternative was too terrifying to consider. The small injuries and fears she had accumulated in the last four years were nothing compared to what the other had threatened to do . . . what she knew the other would do if she did not cooperate.
Tentatively, she reached for this man she loved, this man she had always loved. She held her breath as she waited to see if her advance would be rejected. Softly, she reached for him, felt the fabric of his shirt beneath her touch. When he opened his arms and welcomed her into his embrace, she thought her heart would burst.
Into his lap she climbed, folding herself to fit within the curves of his arms. Settled and safe, she looked up into his face and stretched to touch her nose to his chin. Another small moan escaped her lips, this one of simple joy.
He leaned to bury his face in her neck, “You’re a good dog.”
She wagged her tail.
How she loved this man.