The Raging Beast
No one with strength had ever stood their ground to protect me –until that moment, with him.
I could feel the pain in her chest clearer than ever, and I knew that this pain ran deep. Still holding the picture frame in my hands, I looked down at the girl smiling back at me. Her hair was curly and bright, almost white, with a yellow Marigold flower stitched onto her overalls. She was a girl on a farm, with love spread across her face; but I watched her change as I felt the story they had told me warm my heart.
“This is Hannah, my daughter,” she began, as she placed the metal frame in my hands again. “She was there… the day her father died. She watched it all happen...”
“And we haven’t seen her since.”
The man in front of me seemed to shrink when he released those six words from his chest; I could almost see the scared little boy he used to be. He had stood strong and firm, in the short time I'd known him –he carried me from an old red barn and held me while I wept from the wounds on my body. He was strong, without a doubt; but at the kitchen table in an old farmhouse, I watched him crumble into a helpless child.
He had watched his father die when he was just twelve years old –brutally mauled by a bull; and through repairing the holes left in their story, I realized they lost two others that day. I looked down at the girl in the photo again, and suddenly she was familiar.
She could not have been older than ten years old, and I saw myself in her beaming face. I thought of when I was that age –looking in the mirror after the accident– and the way I learned my own face again. I remembered the length of my curls and how they bounced when I ran; and I remembered how blonde my hair used to be, almost white on bright summer days. I remembered the face I saw looking back from the mirror, as I fumbled to find my own memories; and then suddenly, at the kitchen table in an old farmhouse, she found me again, gazing through an old picture frame.
I thought back to the words Dot had said when she first handed me the photo, and I finally allowed them to reach my heart: “I think this is you, when you were a little girl.” My mind spun as I wondered if it could really be true, and then I was pulled away from the past I was trying to step back into.
There were three loud raps on the door, sounding eerily similar to the pounding that brought the brown paper package to her front porch. We each flinched where we sat, but when she rose from her seat to answer the knocks, it was already too late.
He came bounding through the house, with the patio door slamming shut behind him. He didn’t so much as glance at the others in the room –his sight was set on me and I could feel him moving closer. I used to be overjoyed, watching him walk into a room; but overtime, it created anxiety, and I had never been as afraid as I was in that moment.
The last time I had seen him, he was sprawled on our living room floor.
He had slapped me around the house, chased me down the stairs and pushed me into the coffee table. My knee buckled under me from the impact of the table, and when I crashed down to the floor, I found a lamp in front of me. It had fallen off the shelf above the fireplace, with its small metal stand toppled over on the rug below it. I felt him grab at my ankle and suddenly the lamp was in my hand –and then smacking against his skull.
He fell down to the floor as he released me from his grip, and I watched him lie there for a moment. I leaned in close, suddenly terrified that he wasn’t moving; and with my face close to his, I watched his chest rise and fall abruptly. There was air in his lungs again, and I watched a few more shallow breathes before I found my feet.
I stumbled out the door, locking it behind me, and glanced up and down an empty road before I began my journey. I limped for as long as I could, never stopping, even when the rain pelted my bruised body. I finally found the sight of an old red barn, and sought refuge in a place that was oddly familiar.
He was racing toward me –with a bandage on his eyebrow alike to my own– and he almost seemed to transform into a raging bull. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jimmy rise from his seat, but again, their efforts were too late. He was in front of me within a moment, and his hand grabbed for my throat; his other found my hair and he began pulling me to the front door.
I thought that I was screaming, but my voice was caught within me; I didn’t have the power to even make my voice known. I couldn’t hear his voice either, but I could feel him speaking to me –he was scared and disappointed, and angrier that I had ever seen him. I heard Jimmy’s voice though, and I knew he heard it as well; we all stopped in our tracks when Jimmy’s words boomed throughout the kitchen: “Let. Her. Go.”
They stared at each other, for just a moment, and I became very aware that I was standing between two big, angry men –his anger was directed at me, but Jimmy was harder to read. He was staring daggers into the man pulling me by the hair, but I also saw flashes of an angry little boy –a boy who couldn’t save his own father, or the man he loved like a father, or even the little girl he loved so dearly. Decades of frustration began pouring out of Jimmy as he lunged toward Adam and released me from his grip.
She found her way to me, as quickly as she could; and she held me while we huddled in the corner of her kitchen. We sat on the floor, as we watched them brawl, and I found myself reaching for a log of wood from the pile next to the stove –I won’t be caught off guard, again.
I had seen many angry men in my life, and I was even victim to their abuse; but as I watched Jimmy fight off the man I married, I realized I had never seen two men fight before. There was only one person who came to my rescue, and her brother would shove her to the floor the way he did with me; no one with strength had ever stood their ground to defend me –until this moment, with Jimmy.
He wasted no time, once I was safely out of the way. Jimmy lunged into him like a protective bull and tore his horns through the threat to his family. Before Adam could cock his fist back, Jimmy’s palm blocked it, and then twisted his arm, to throw his other fist into my husband’s stomach. Adam yelped with pain, and Jimmy gave him another one, and another. Doubling over, he brought his hands to his cracked ribs, and Jimmy wrapped his arm around Adam’s neck. He threw his fists, to no resolve, and it seemed that Jimmy had already tamed the raging beast. He glanced up to us, to verify our safety, but in that brief moment, Adam regained his strength and sent Jimmy falling to the floor.
I tried to stand and run to him, but she held me by the waist and wouldn’t let go. Adam was on him, pounding his fists into his face and chest. Between punches, I watched Jimmy’s head flop to the side, and his eyes closed as he lost all his strength. Pushing against her protective hands, I finally began to shout, “NO! Stop! You’re going to kill him!”
Adam’s hands stopped crashing into Jimmy, and I watched his gaze turn to me. He brought his feet to meet the floor –releasing Jimmy’s arms that were pinched under his knees– and began walking toward me. “I missed you, Annie,” he whispered, trying to find the love in his own voice.
I knew that tone, all too well –I always called it, ‘The Eye of the Storm’.
Whenever he got physical, and I tried to fight back, he’d calm his anger and become very soft. He’d approach me with love and caress my face; he’d allow me to release my breath, and believe the storm was finally over. But it was always a lie –a ruse to make me drop my guard. He’d lean in close, like he was going to kiss me, and just as I’d close my eyes, he’d lay his hand across my face, and remind me that the storm was never over.
I felt it coming, this time though; and I stood in front of Dot the way a mother would to protect her child. “Leave them out of it,” I said to him in response; and I could feel his hatred for my defiance.
“Then he should have stayed out of it,” he spat, as he stepped over Jimmy, lying moaning on the floor. Yet, just as Adam’s foot passed over Jimmy’s head, a hand reached up and snatched him by the ankle.
He crashed down to the floor, breaking a chair with his knee on the way down. His face was flattened into the hardwood at my feet, and I took a step forward to place my bare toes in his hair. He wasn’t moving, but he was breathing, and that’s more than he could have asked for from us. I pushed some of my weight onto his head, and before I stepped off, I spat at his back and said again, “Leave. Them. Out of it…”
She was already on the floor with Jimmy, propping his head up with the knees under her dress. She found the edge of the apron tied around her, and began wiping the blood from the wounds on his face. He barely even flinched, each time the blood-soaked clothe peeled away from his face; but when I crouched down next to him and placed a hand on his chest, he jolted with pain where blood was pouring out.
I swore the room was silent, but her distant voice became clearer as I realized she was trying to speak to me. “You’ll have to take him to the doctor,” she said. Many more words fell from her lips, but I didn’t hear a sound. She told me where to find the keys and the special way to start the truck, but I just sat motionless, with his hand in mine. She paced around, calm yet flustered, and then disappeared without me realizing. I heard a truck start in the driveway outside, and she reappeared in the doorway.
With each of his arms draped over our shoulders, Jimmy shuffled his feet as we dragged him to the truck. Somehow, we managed to lift the strong, injured man, and I found myself sitting in the driver’s seat. She said some more words through the open window, then patted the truck door before walking back toward the house. I looked to my right and found Jimmy in the passenger’s seat –the top of his head resting against my thigh; but I quickly turned my attention back to her.
“What about Adam?” I asked frantically, suddenly remembering his face pressed into her kitchen floor.
Without turning her head, she said in a flat voice, “Don’t worry about Adam.”
To be continued...