My New Life
A year after his accident, Stu and I were back in the hospital. The difference was it was me being treated this time, not Stu. I had two broken fingers and a split lip. The hospital couldn't help my lip, but my fingers needed strapping up.
The staff had swallowed my story of tripping over at home, without any suspicion - it was my first trip after all. The reality of the situation was that for the first time, Stuart had lost his temper at home.
After work that day, he had gone to the bar. Nothing unusual about that any more. He staggered through our front door at seven. I was supposed to have his dinner ready and waiting for him, but I had been busy.
I was late getting home from work and couldn't start cooking until I had cleaned the dishes and the kitchen. I was just starting dinner when he came home. He looked at the dining table, and finding it empty, lurched into the kitchen - looking for me.
'Where is my dinner?' He demanded, towering over me.
'It's cooking, I was late from work today... I'm sorry.' I told him, returning my attention to my cooking.
'I work all day long to pay the bills here, and all I have asked is my dinner to be ready when I get home. You need to quit your job and focus on the house like a good wife. You barely make any money on that farm anyway.' Stuart's face was red with anger and drink.
'Stuart, I will not be quitting my job, it's the only reason I have to go out any more, and I told you, dinner will be ready soon. I'm just running late. Go and sit down and I'll bring it to you.' I stood my ground, hoping that would be the end of it.
I couldn't have been more wrong. Stuart gripped my arm and spun me to face him. I had never seen him so angry before, it took me off guard and I froze on the spot. I wasn't afraid of him, he had never hurt me in all the time we were together, and I never expected what came next.
Stuart released my arm, leaving me staring up into his face. His once beautiful face was contorted in a hideous mask of rage, I couldn't read him any more. The drink had obscured the Stuart I knew and loved and left me with this drunken fake.
He slapped me then, sending me sprawling onto the floor, splitting my lower lip. Now I was afraid. I don't know how long we stayed like that, me lying on the floor holding my bleeding lip staring up at his unreadbale face; him standing over me, staring into my disbelieving eyes. We could have been frozen like that for a second, or an hour, but all too soon it was over.
Realisation dawned on his face, I could read it clear as day. Relief. He swooped down on me, raining blows everywhere he could reach with his clenched fists. I got my hands up in time to protect my face, and two of my fingers suffered under his rage.
It went on for what felt like an eternity, stopping only when the egg timer sounded, alerting us to dinner being ready. As if the shrill bell signalled the end of some organised sport, Stuart got up, straightened his clothes and went to the dining room to await his meal.
I got to my feet shakily, and struggled with one hand to serve Stuart's dinner before he came back to find out what was taking so long. After I had delivered his plate, I ran up the stairs, to examine the damage.
Bruises were appearing all over my midsection, my lip was split and bleeding. Worst was my right hand, it was swollen and bruising quickly. I knew I needed medical attention, but had no idea how I could get it without angering Stu again.
I slipped into the room that was once our guest room, now my bedroom and sobbed. I stayed there for the longest time, hoping he would go to bed and I could sneak out to the hospital without him knowing. Eventually I heard him coming up the stairs.
'Hey, don't cry. What's the matter?' He said softly as he entered my space.
I didn't say anything, I had nothing to say, he knew what was wrong. He saw my hand and gasped.
'We should get you to the hospital, that needs looking at. Come on, I'll drive you.'
I followed him wordlessly to the car. What was this? I didn't have time to figure it out, as we pulled into a parking space at the hospital, he turned in his seat and looked at me intently.
'It's important you tell them the truth Penny,' he told me, reaching out to take my injured hand in his. 'I keep telling you to keep the kitchen tidier, falling over like that, you're lucky you didn't hurt your head. You'll have to give up work to keep on top of the housework, you obviously don't have enough time to do everything while you are working.' He was talking softly, but squeezing my hand tightly.
I felt the broken bones grinding together under the force of his grip. Tears slid down my face and I nodded in agreement. We left the car as a happily married couple, a clumsy wife and a concerned husband. I told them I had fallen over, and after we got home, I phoned work and told them I was going to quit working as soon as possible.
My boss was sad to see me leave, but willingly took my resignation, and allowed me to take my final two weeks as holiday, I would have been taking them anyway, I couldn't work with a busted hand. That was that. I was officially a prisoner in my own home. Once my hand was better, Stuart came and sat beside me on the sofa.
'Penny, now your hand is better, it's time to get to work sorting your jobs. I expect you to keep the house clean and tidy, and keep my clothes clean. You will have my dinner on the table when I return from work. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will not leave the house without me, and you will not speak to anyone if I am not here. Do you understand?' He told me all of this in a flat, deadpan voice, it was clear I shouldn't argue.
So this was how we went on. I would work meticulously all day to ensure everything was in order in time for his return from work. I rarely raised my eyes from the floor, and never, ever spoke to him. If any job - no matter how small - was not completed to his liking, I was beaten.
I had to ask permission to use the toilet if he was here, and I had to ask permission to eat. I was never allowed to eat with him, and if I had really upset him for some reason, I was not allowed to eat at all. My arm was broken once, as he found me trying to sneak downstairs to eat while he was sleeping.
I think the lady who treated my arm knew something was wrong, I'd been admitted to the local hospital for minor injuries more times than I could count. I brushed her off, but I think she knew. Worse, Stuart thought so too.
How had my life taken such a dramatic turn? I was a happily married woman, completely in love with her husband, and now I was nothing but an empty shell. I did my daily duties like a robot. I barely paid attention to anything. I craved someone to talk to, but Stuart had disconnected our phone, so I couldn't use it to call anyone.
He refused to get the internet, he said it would distract me from my chores. His parents never visited any more either, he went to see them every Sunday afternoon, if he wasn't too drunk.
What had happened to my loving husband? A year of this treatment was enough to make me afraid for my life. I thought he would kill me eventually, either intentionally or by accident. I continued to do my endless chores, to avoid the violence and hatred.
I just wanted him to love me again.