22: Remember to Breathe

22: Remember to Breathe

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Remember to Breathe

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

~Maria Robinson

I stared into the barrel of that pistol, and my muscles froze. Lot’s wife must have felt like this when she first looked back at Sodom. My eyes, not yet turned to salt, locked onto the would-be shooter’s face. His tight-lipped grin sent my mind whirling into a “what’s-wrong-with-this-picture” search. The strain of his grin reduced his eyes from spheres to almond slivers, full of nothing but black pupils. Seconds felt like hours as I remained focused on those pinpoints. How long would it be before I stopped breathing? Then I noticed I had already stopped.

I had come into the bedroom from the bathroom and found the lights on in the middle of the night. He was lying on the bed. He looked so comfortable, leaning on pillows propped up against the headboard, with his arms resting gently against his chest and his legs under the blanket. His hands were together as if in prayer, but pointing straight toward me, beneath cold steel, a pistol aimed slightly upward in a trajectory that would have pierced my sternum. He wasn’t breathing either.

Would he shoot me? Would he really do it? I thought back to a day, four years earlier, when we had said to each other, “Till death do us part.” Then I thought about the bruises that had come and gone over those four years, bruises that had gotten increasingly larger and more difficult to conceal with each succeeding incident, harbingers of today. And I remembered the marriage counselor who said, “If you go back to him, he will kill you some day.”

I recalled one time when he had told me about hunting, how he loved the power and how he liked it when the deer looked at him just before he fired his rifle. How after he’d lock on, he’d make a noise to get the deer to look his way. What a rush he got seeing its fear. It was so much better than the actual kill that the execution was anticlimactic.

Then it struck me. He was savoring my fear, prolonging his enjoyment before the anticlimactic event. The more I let him see my fear, the more likely he would shoot me. I couldn’t get his weapon away from him, but I could take away his power.

“What are you doing?” Air had moved up from my diaphragm into my larynx, tickled my vocal chords, spilled across my curling and undulating tongue, and exited between my lips. I used that exhaust to unfreeze my muscles. My feet moved from their set-apart, broken-stride position and came together. My bare heels and toes sank into the plush white carpet. My shoulders reset. I was firmly grounded and breathing again, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I saw his chest fall. He set the gun on the night table.

Whatever inkling of love that had lingered in me for my husband died in that moment. Three days later, after he left for work, I stuffed my clothes into large, black trash bags and squeezed them into my car. I tied a mattress from the daybed onto the roof and moved into an unfurnished apartment thirty miles away. I went back to work the next day as if nothing had happened. Then I went back to school, finished my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and advanced in my career. Eventually, I remarried, and I retired.

This happened to me almost a half-century ago. But if you read the news, you might think it happened only yesterday.

~Marilyn Haight

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