She hung out the window of the grey hound bus. The sun was setting and all you could see was fields for miles. The wind was warm and blew through her hair, and in that moment all she could think was I’m free. She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh summer air, there was nothing in the world that she loved more. She felt new, she felt the air entering her lungs and sweeping out the past. She sat back down in her seat pulling a cigarette out of her pocket and lighting it, relaxing back into her seat as she took a pull. She watched the smoke find its way out through the window vanishing in a swirl as the breeze swept it away. She stuck her hand out the window to ash her cigarette, and noticed the thin gold band on her finger. The sight of it put a pit in her stomach, she felt sick. She ripped it off her hand and stuck it in her pocket, out of sight out of mind.
The bus was virtually empty, other than a man with grey hair and suspicious eyes, sitting three rows ahead of her and a couple all the way at the back that hadn’t taken their hands off each other since they got on. She was able to ignore them for the most part, except for the few wet, lip smacking sounds. She wanted to scream get a room! At the top of her lungs, but she didn’t, seeing as she would be spending the next two hours on a bus with them. She continued smoking her cigarette, blatantly disregarding the “no smoking” sign. She had never been one to follow rules. She had gotten married straight out of high school, that wasn’t necessarily following the “rules”. Neither was running off to Savannah and leaving her family behind. She could still remember her mother’s face the day she left. She hadn’t given her any warning, she had her bags packed and when her mother came home from work, she had kissed her goodbye and walked out the door. Her mother clung to her as she tried to leave, crying and begging her to stay, but she just kept walking. She had managed to hold it together until the car reached the end of her street. The heartbroken look on her mother’s face had taken a knife to her insides.
She shook the thought out of her head and focused on the view out the window. A gas station came into sight and the bus began slowing down to pull in for a pit stop. She got off the bus, it felt good to stretch her legs and get some fresh air. The sun had set and the night air was cool. She zipped up her sweater and walked into the gas station to use the rest room. She took off her sunglasses revealing the large purple ring around her eye. She winced at the sight of it, her body vividly remembering the pain. The sound of the glass bottle hitting her face still rang in her ears. She tensed up with anger, her fists clenching. She disregarded the shooting pain that shot up her right arm, and the bruised knuckles that went along with it. She would never again allow a man to make his mark on her, or anyone for that matter. Her insides were gasoline and he had lit the match.
She remembered the first time he had laid his hands on her. They had been living in Savannah for a year, it was spring and she had been outside gardening. A man had walked by and introduced himself to her, him and his partner had just moved into the house at the end of their street. When she got inside he grabbed her and threw her to the ground, leaving five purple marks on her arm, four on the back, one on the front.
She splashed some water on her face, put her sunglasses back on, bought a bag of chips and some water and got back on the bus. They were on the road again, she closed her eyes and listened to the hum of the bus. She was taken back to their first date, he picked her up and they had spent the entire night driving around, talking and listening to the radio. She knew she wanted him the moment he reached over to hold her hand as he drove and sang the words to her favourite song. They were electric together; she could never quite keep her hands or eyes off of him. He made her crazy in the best sense of the phrase. Running away with him seemed nothing but right, their love would never run out. That is until it did, or that is until his did.
She wiped the tear that began rolling down her cheek and lit herself another cigarette. She never used to smoke, the same way she never used to be black and blue. Her mother hated smoking; in fact her mother hated a lot of things. She hated fast cars, and loud music and people who didn’t go to church on Sundays. However what she hated most of all, was that at the ripe age of eighteen her daughter had run off with a man ten years older than her. Robbing her of her youth and purity. It had been three years since she’d seen or spoken to her mother, and her palms began sweating at the simple thought of returning home.
They had finally arrived in Jacksonville, Florida; she grabbed her bag with the few belongings she had brought with her and got off. She had packed light, only bringing essentials; so that when he returned home he’d think she had just gone out for a little while. She knew by now he would be looking for her. She had only taken some cash along with some spare clothes, and left her credit cards and cell phone behind. She checked into a motel, nearby. It smelled of mothballs, had red carpeted floors and wood panelled walls. She ran a hot shower, got into bed and for the first time in two years she slept peacefully.
She woke up at noon to the sound of waves crashing on the beach outside her window. She pulled on a sundress and put on her sunglasses and walked out to the beach. As she walked to the door she stepped on something. It was the ring, it must have fallen out of her pocket when she got undressed. She picked it up and continued walking; putting it on her finger wasn’t even a thought that crossed her mind. The beach was fairly quiet, the waves small and calm. She sat in the sand and dug her feet into the ground, making two little mounds in front of her. When she was young her mother would take her to the beach. She’d burry her in the sand and watch as her mother suddenly developed super human strength and broke through the sand pile she had formed on top of her. This was a beach trip tradition, and it never failed to make her laugh.
She looked at the ring that lay resting in her palm; she felt it burning a hole in her hand. The broken vows and empty words embedded in it were too much to carry around with her. She wanted to throw it into the ocean, let it sink to the bottom. For it to never be seen again. But she couldn’t and she hated herself for it. When she looked at the gold band she was flooded with empty “l love you’s”, the sound of fists to ribs, his belt to her flesh and cupped hands over her mouth. But deep down there was still a part of her that yearned for his sweet, apologetic kisses, his lips tracing the scars and bruises he’d left on her. It was a sickening romance, but he was all she had, she’d built her world around him.
Three more days passed and there had been no sign of him, either he wasn’t looking or he just hadn’t found her yet. She assumed it was the second. She’d spent the three days working up the nerve to go back home. The motel was only about an hour walk from her mother’s house. She made some instant coffee and sat on the balcony of her room. It was vile and she was tempted to check the package to make sure it wasn’t manure. However it was still less bitter than the taste her mistakes had left in her mouth. She lit a cigarette and slowly inhaled, allowing the smoke to fill her lungs, calming her more and more as it inched its way through her insides. Her cigarette was down to a stub; she flicked it to the ground, got up and walked out the door.
After about an hour of walking she turned the corner of her old street, the familiar sidewalks and shade of the trees sent a punch straight to her gut. She took a moment to catch her breath and then continued walking. The memory of the day she left replaying in her mind. Sobbing uncontrollably as she turned the corner without looking back at her desperate mother screaming on the front lawn. She walked up to the front door; the house hadn’t changed a bit. The third step was still wobbly and the front door was still the same shade of royal blue. A lump formed in her throat and she tried to swallow it down as she knocked timidly on the door. She waited a few minutes and then knocked again, still no answer. The door was unlocked which was strange for her mother. This was the woman who would never leave the curtains open once the streetlights came on. She walked inside; the scent of her mother wafted into her nostrils and sent a longing into her heart that she hadn’t known was there. It smelled like home.
“I knew you’d be here you little bitch.”
Her heart sank to her stomach and the hairs on her arms stood up, she knew that voice. She felt paralyzed. She turned to see him standing in the kitchen with a clenched jaw and hands in fist. How he always looked before he hit her.
“You thought you could just run away from me huh?”
She turned to run but he grabbed her and threw her into the wall. Her head smashed against a picture frame and the glass descended down on her, each tiny shard lashing her flesh. All she could think was this is the end; this is the end of my life. He pulled her in from the front of her shirt and then smashed her against the wall again. She felt her ribs crumpling like a piece of paper.
“You thought you could just fucking run away from me? After everything I’ve done for you, after how good I’ve been to you?”
His palm hit her cheek with such force that it sent her flying to the ground. Her face stung, but she couldn’t focus on the pain because he was now towering over her with a kitchen knife in his hand.
“Baby I’m sorry, I love you. I want to come back home, I should have never left,” she choked out the words, disgusted by how pathetic she was. She knew only to obey him when he was angry.
“You’re not fucking sorry,” he said, kicking her.
“I am, I am. I love you and I was so stupid for leaving. I miss you and I want to come home.”
He kneeled down, grabbing her face with his hand and went in to kiss her. She resisted, causing him to tighten his grip and pull her in with force, smashing his lips against hers. She felt her insides turning; he sickened her. His kisses were hard, wet and violent. She tried her best not to pull away and anger him more. He put down the knife and began tearing off her clothes.
Her body began shaking as she held in the sobs beginning to erupt inside her. Just as he began undoing the zipper of his pants, his eyes shot open and he collapsed on top of her. She felt a warmth ooze over her and looked down to find herself covered in blood. Standing above her was her fragile little mother holding a kitchen knife drenched in his blood. She couldn’t hold in the sobs any longer and allowed them to burst out of her like a volcano erupting. Her mother threw down the knife, pushed him off of her and hugged her daughter as tightly as she could wrap her arms around her. Even drenched in blood, her mother still smelt and felt like home.
“You’re okay sweetie, you’re okay.”
And for the first time, she truly believed it. She was okay. A week later, after the police had come and taken his body away, the blood had been cleaned and her and her mother had reconciled, she found herself at the beach sitting with her feet buried in the sand. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the ring. The gold band shimmered in the sunlight; it’s beauty hiding all it’s hidden evils. She looked at it once more and then with all the strength she had, threw it into the ocean.