The Other Man.
After a few months of frequenting that chat room, I became well known to the other daily visitors. For the first time in years, I felt like I had a social life. Stuart still had no idea about my internet life, I was still careful to wipe my browsing history, and keep my email box empty.
I will always remember one Thursday morning as the day that changed my life. I finished my morning chores, and eagerly sat in front of the computer and fired it up. Logging into my chat account, I saw I had a private message, from a man with the screen name KnightInAmore.
I instantly suspected he was a desperate man seeking attention, and was about to delete his message when he sent a second.
KnightInAmore: Hi, I have been waiting for you to get online all morning. Please don't dismiss me, I have wanted to talk to you for weeks. You always seem so lonely when you chat, so I thought we could be friends. Lonely together, if you will.
I recognised he was just like me, lonely and seeking comfort in strangers. Although I had obviously stumbled upon a kindred spirit, I was suddenly gripped by fear. Fear of being found out, of this man being fake, Stuart trying to catch me out. I hurried to explain.
PennyKeating: Hi, I really can't talk to you here. I only use the public room. If my husband finds out I was chatting to you, to any of you, he will be mad. Sorry. Pxx
I entered the public room and settled down to talk to the people who had become like old friends to me. Trying to forget about the lonely man. I couldn't though, I found myself waiting eagerly for his reply. Finally it came.
KnightInAmore: Please don't be afraid, your husband sounds horrid. I've been paying attention to your messages in the main room, and I suspect he treats you badly. Let me be there for you, let me look out for you.
My heart almost stopped. He understood. Instead of the fear I should have felt, relief flooded through me. I instantly accepted the man as a friend on the site, and we spent the rest of my available time chatting. I told him everything about my life, and felt as though a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. I didn't have to suffer alone any more.
Over time I learned his name was Tyler Copewell, and he lived fifty miles away from me. I told him I had used my unmarried name in my user name, because it made me feel free from my husband's grip for a while.
By the end of the year, we knew everything about each other. We had traded pictures, mine was bad quality, my camera was old. He was tall, around six feet with dark hair and deep brown eyes. He was 34, like me and we had become very close friends.
We never got to chat for as long as we would have liked, I still had my chores to do, and occasionally we wouldn't talk for weeks if I had been hurt or hospitalised, which happened three times that year. Each time Tyler was concerned about me, offering to drive over here and rescue me. Each time I convinced him not to.
For the longest time I maintained the friendship as just that. Friendship. He was my support, the reason I didn't feel alone any more. I needed him to lean on, I had never realised how much easier suffering is when there is someone you know who cares about you.
One afternoon, I realised I loved this man. This man I had never even met evoked feelings in me that I thought had been squashed by Stuart's regime years ago. This kind hearted man, who spent his mornings just letting me talk about my life and all the ways it was terrible. He never diverted the subject, he was there to listen and support me, and with out his affection I could not have kept up my spirits any longer.
Tyler told me one morning that he loved me too, and together we would leave. Fly to the States where we could be free. His words gave me a fresh hope on life, but we would have to wait. Packing my bags would take the longest time, to ensure Stuart didn't find out. If he saw anything was missing, he would question where it had gone and then I would be in a whole world of trouble.
While we were waiting for the opportune time to make a move, I backed out of the plan numerous times. I was too afraid of leaving, Stuart was my husband, I had promised to be there for him in good times and bad. None of this was his fault. I wound myself up so tightly that I spent weeks in tears.
Each time I told Tyler I couldn't do it, he patiently waited until I had told him everything, and cried myself out. Then he reminded me of all the reasons I had to leave. I eventually understood that it was the only way to ensure my life wouldn't end at Stuart's hand.
During this time we carefully planned our decision, down to every last detail. We planned the minimum I would need to bring with me, how we would make the escape and where we would go. After a few months of back and forth we had a plan that it seemed couldn't fail.
The week before we were set to leave, I said my good byes to Tyler, and shut down all my internet accounts, wiping the history for the last time. Now instead of wasting my spare minutes on the computer, I began packing my bag. We had decided on a single bag and I made it the smallest hold all I could find in the house.
I didn't want Stuart to grow suspicious of my behaviour, so I hid the bag under my bed, and added three changes of clothes - everything including underwear - over the course of the week. Alongside the clothes I made sure I had toiletries, and even snacks for the train.
It was during that week I realised I did not care for Stuart any more. It came as a shock to me, but I wasn't uncomfortable with it. The man I had loved had died under that wall at the construction site. This fake in my life had brought me nothing but misery and pain. He did not deserve my love. I flinched at the thought, expecting to feel the sting of another blow for thinking this way.
I only attended the hospital once that week, having been extra careful not to do anything that would attract unwanted attention. Once I got home, and my bag was carefully packed and hidden, I waited. Waited for my chance to escape.