“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the savior.”
– Ephesians 5:22-24 (New International Version, Holy Bible)
“And she’s alone, and I’m alone, and now I know it…”
– ‘Brick,’ Ben Folds Five
Monday, September 24, 2018 – 11:25p.m. — St. Rita’s Parish, Lowell, MA
There is no place on Earth warmer and more welcoming than the Catholic church. I’ve always felt at home here, at such peace inside this community, and whenever I step through those tall, wooden doors to find myself ensconced within these four walls, I feel His presence. No man of this world could provide the unmitigated love, undying support, and sense of complete self that the Lord bestows.
I need to repent tonight: to clean my conscience, ease my soul, and find a way to unburden myself from this crushing, agonizing guilt. I’ve always found solace here, found that internal nirvana within the serenity of Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior, and I know I can achieve that purification again.
The priest’s coming over now, thank goodness. It’s late– cheese-and-crackers that’s an understatement– but this is urgent, and Father Paul would never let a parishioner down in time of need. It’s his job, sure, but it also seems his passion to help facilitate the cleansing of each and every soul who sought the Lord’s light. And despite it being nearly midnight, on a weekday evening, Father Paul roused himself from his planned slumber to meet with me.
“Good evening, Patricia,” the priest repeats his earlier hello as he glides down the aisle. “Just give me a minute and we’ll be ready to go. Sound good?” He is so gentle, in his voice and demeanor.
“Of course, Father. Take your time. I know how intrusive and disruptful my arrival must have–”
He raises a hand to stop me, shaking his head. The implication is clear without voicing further, and he disappears swiftly behind the curtain.
My pulse is pounding, sweat pouring from every available crevice. I can feel the goosebumps steadily rising, one by one. They’ll cover my back, neck, and arms soon enough, and the paralysis may win out.
Shoot, that can’t happen. I need to stay strong, stay focused on the letter, the specifics and the truth of the matter. You’ll be ok, Patty, you’ll be fine. You’re where you need to be, doing what you need to do, inside His house feeling His compassion. Submit to His will and let Him take over.
It’ll be fine, you’ll be fine. Breath, just breath, and keep breathing. Don’t forget to breath.
“You can come in when you are ready.” Father Paul’s voice, from behind the humble, burgundy velvet fabric, effectively pierces my runaway panic.
Take a deep breath, Patty. Now another. You don’t need to face this alone, and you know who to lean on right now; let Him lead the way.
The confessional booth is cool, almost soothing, the placid cavern providing instant relief to the physical manifestations of my fear. I kneel down, take another deep breath, and retrieve the creased papers from my breast pocket. I unfold them, the crinkle of the paper breaking the tense silence, and motion the sign of the cross to initiate my reconciliation.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. I have much I need to alleviate from my soul this evening, and have written a letter to ensure I keep myself organized, to be certain I don’t deviate from what I must say and confess tonight.”
I pause, gulping loudly, pushing down the imaginary lump in my throat that was blocking the words from escaping.
“Thank you again, Father, for your meeting with me and your patience throughout this.”
I smooth the stack of papers over my knees, preparing the letter, and take one more slow, heavy intake of oxygen. My nerves steady, just enough, and begin the process of relieving my immortal soul.
* * *
To whom it may concern (but mostly my heavenly Father), here is my confession:
My first reaction as I sat in the doctor’s office, once that initial shock started to wear off, was sheer disgust– in myself, in who I was, and who I must have become to invite such an abhorrent act. I was repulsed to my core at whatever must have occured to bring myself to that place and time, and knew this was His punishment. I had earned this wrath, whatever it was I had done, and couldn’t escape the fair judgement He had decreed. I had caused this to happen with my wicked ways, and was simply dealing with the consequences.
Because how the heck was I pregnant, at the age of 43, two decades after last giving birth (during which I nearly died)? I’m in no physical shape to carry a child to term, and was stuck in a marriage with a man who only tolerated my presence for the accommodations. All life is sacred, a blessing, something to celebrate with unabashed glee…only this wasn’t, not then and there. This was the harshest sentence the Lord could hand down (not just for the obvious reasons I’ve noted), and the potential repercussions of this revelation ricocheted around my mind.
The fact that I would be bringing a child– a new life created in God’s image– into a home completely devoid of love, affection, or compassion was horrifying enough. Those elements existed once upon a time within our domicile, but they had long since departed, lost and gone forever. Decades of neglect, abuse, and vicious vitriol spewed between myself and my husband in our lowest, darkest moments had eroded whatever bliss may have once emanated from our covenant.
The church has always insisted I honor and cherish my marriage, of course, which I wholeheartedly agreed with. I’ve worked myself to the bone to make the spiritual pact between us something that works and flourishes, to keep our contract– one bound by His kingdom of heaven– in tact. It has never been easy, and I recognize my own role in bringing those seemingly excessive and treacherous burdens on our path. Perhaps I was less submissive and deferential than the Holy father expected me to be, and this was the ‘reward’ for my ‘pious behavior.’
Maybe becoming pregnant– taking on another life, one with all the presumed rights and privileges any child of God would be entitled to– at such a difficult and inopportune time was my own darn fault. I have sinned, repeatedly and excessively, throughout my life, and as a human trapped in this body until He deems me no longer worthy, I’m not going to suddenly stop. I’m impure, imperfect, a person doomed to wander the plains of the Earth aimlessly without His unimpeachable guidance, and can only try my best to live a life worthy of whatever brief instances of pleasure He provides, learning the lessons He imparts on our path.
But when you haven’t had sex in nearly three years, as far as you know, what can be derived from learning you’re pregnant? It wasn’t just the why part I was exploring around this pregnancy; it was the how part that vexed me so.
Because, despite discovering I was with child, I hadn’t (knowingly) had sexual intercourse in over 1000 days, not with my husband or– I suppose it must be said, even though it cuts me to my core to even consider it– anyone else. It didn’t make a lick of sense. This wasn’t the New Testament, I’m not the second coming of the Virgin Mary, and I wasn’t the chosen one to receive a modern immaculate conception.
No, I was impregnated by a living, breathing male, someone I thought I must have known (but could very well have been some stranger I didn’t even realize I had encountered). A human man had decided to take matters into his own hands, and something had happened to me– had been done to me, that I hadn’t consented or agreed to– that I never would have found out about normally.
How could I think of this entity growing inside me, this barely formed mass that could only semantically qualify as a fetus, as a happy instance? Why would God allow this to happen, to allow such an act to be perpetrated and ordain the creation of a new life within that wretchedness? He knew, as He knows everything, just how dangerous this would be to me and the growing collection of cells inside my belly, let alone how cataclysmically this news would be received; had He abandoned me entirely because I was no longer worthy of His love?
I couldn’t dwell on those torturous questions, nor could I begin to envision a contented scenario where this thing inside me was received with anything but aggrieved loathing. This wasn’t a blessing; this was a monster, a demon sent from the depths of hell to taunt me when I felt my life had settled into an unfulfilled, but regimented, routine.
I felt such an uncontrollable animus towards this thing I had just discovered was growing inside of me, largely because of the impossibility of its existence. The fact that something had been done to me that I never dreamed possible– a crime committed against my body and nature that seemed so far outside the realm of possibility that it didn’t show up on my radar– was mind shattering. I didn’t want to admit the reality staring me in the face, or recognize the basic fact that I had been assaulted. It was incomprehensible, something that couldn’t happen to me because I knew better, and was above it all.
How did I end up just like all the others, finding myself in the corner suddenly declaring #MeToo? These secular women, these morally bankrupt females who wanted to whore it up without reproach, were either weak, liars, or both. We all know how men are, and we all know exactly how most men of this world will behave if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When you wear the hooker heels, put on that eye shadow; when you take that extra shot in public or decide to smoke that pot, well: what did you think would happen? Boys will be boys, after all, and it’s on you as a woman to ensure you don’t end up in a situation where you’re at any risk.
I’ve never felt any connection with the so-called ‘Time’s Up’ movement before this, or what these women were lamenting. It always seemed clear that this was just a case of loose women regretting their lecherous behavior, and forming a lynching mob to destroy men who, while not innocent in the eyes of the Lord, were certainly not guilty of the legal crimes of which they were accused. Women sharing their stories of men’s ‘predatory’ behavior was an excuse, a crutch the heathens and the liberals could lean upon to try and prop themselves up against our virtuous belief system.
Yet as I sat on the antiseptic paper in my doctor’s office, being told I was pregnant by means I couldn’t recall, the truth was unavoidable. There were no applicable words, or any other way to massage the situation into something else:
I. Was. Raped.
It was so surreal that this could have happened, to me, like a nightmare had broken the barriers of my dreamscape and willed itself to life. I didn’t understand it, or want to accept it, or, maybe most of all at that exact moment, admit it at all. If I didn’t utter the words aloud, if I kept this reality under wraps, perhaps I could sweep it under the rug permanently. With constant prayer and reflection, it seemed plausible that I could lock this secret away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden from the light for the remainder of my mortal existence.
My doctor didn’t know any of this, of course, and fully assumed it was the result of Thomas and I’s doing. I could push this facet of the situation to the side without concern it would interfere, and deal with the most pressing issue– the pregnancy– while I was there.
Because I couldn’t safely keep that child, and while it jarred me as a true believer in the sanctity of life to hear my doctor discuss ‘options,’ I’d known immediately the no-win scenario I was in. Those previously unimaginable gears had already begun turning in my mind, and it was clear that I would need to commit an act I had never contemplated in my wildest dreams. The idea of options wasn’t ordinarily an option at all, because when a life is created, a life is brought to term and delivered to the world. Thou shalt not kill applies to all forms of human, no matter the stage of being.
But is it murder– ending one heartbeat to spare the other– if the alternative is the death of mother and child?
Both of my daughters came into this world as brutishly as they could, creating a level of incomprehensible physical agony. Their time in the womb was plagued by health problems (for me, not them, thank goodness), and I was bed ridden for the final three months for both girls. During my youngest’s parturition, I lost so much blood, and my blood pressure dropped so steeply, that the doctor gave my husband the hushed news that I would likely perish.
I couldn’t go through that again, and knew, just as my doctor did, that my overall health would never allow me, or that ‘baby,’ to survive the next eight months. There was only one avenue to walk at that point, and it was crushing, no matter how justifiable the decision was for me given the circumstances.
You may remember, Father, years ago, when Thomas and I consulted with you about my need to go on birth control. We knew the church’s stance on the matter, and even though I required it medically, we were terrified we’d be committing a mortal sin, jeopardizing our eventual entry into paradise. You assuaged our fears, as you always seemed to do, and illuminated a reality that has helped shape who I have become.
“There are clear exceptions to the rules, both within our religion and the world at large.” I didn’t realize that then, and I didn’t quite believe it when you initially said so. How could that be the case, I wondered? Rules are rules, and they exist in a rigidly set manner for a reason. Otherwise, they’re meaningless, just an empty set of declarations that only suggests order where its meant to be enforced.
But good golly, that’s a naive perspective, isn’t it? Sometimes, given how exponentially we learn and grow throughout our life, I can’t believe who I was five years ago, let alone twenty. You can’t really understand that, though, can you– that living will teach you lessons and continuously inform your view of the world– until you actually persist through those years. It’s a truly ineffable process, whether you want to grasp that reality in your youth or not.
After a few moments alone, praying to the Holy Father for the elusive energy to move forward, I made an appointment for later that week. I departed in a haze, unable to grasp what I had made an appointment for, trying desperately to keep myself focused on the bullet points that mattered. Abortion is wrong and immoral, but there are clear exceptions to that rule, and most issues are often less black-and-white than we may expect them to be. Because theoretically, no matter the cause of inception, the early termination of a pregnancy is always an incalculably horrid transgression; but, just as true, theoretically, it is perfectly acceptable to terminate a pregnancy early if the risk to the mother’s health is too vast to proceed.
(To say nothing about RAPE being a crystal clear concession, within the pro-life belief system, to any proposed abortion ban as well…)
We aren’t living in a theoretical world, unfortunately, and the very real situation stared back, taunting me with the drastic sadness of my current lot. It is one thing to know you’re making the right decision, and it is a whole other one to truly accept that. We don’t always believe the truth, especially when it flies so starkly in the face of what we want to believe, and those are the times we need to lean on Him heavily. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have always been there and will always be there, in times of struggle and prosperity.
I spent the next few days in constant prayer, begging for the strength to move on with the dire necessity I had to go through with, and avoided Thomas entirely. I couldn’t worry myself with him until things were done, as much as that may have defied his authority within our home. There was only one Man (and His Son) I had any concern with at that point, as only His guidance, and His eventual judgement, were of any value to me right then.
I understood, rationally, why I needed to end my pregnancy, but on a spiritual level? I was devastated beyond words. The Lord is there to support us in those moments of confused sorrow, and His eternal light was perilously vital to ensure I survived the next week. I wished I could have poured my burdens onto my husband, too, that we had any capability of supporting each other during tragic times. But he’d be unable to provide any tangible assistance, given that ship had sailed long ago, and it fell upon the Holy Trinity, as it often did, to pick up the slack.
I knew I’d need to discuss things with Thomas at some point, of course, sooner rather than later. I wondered, when I would grant a fleeting moment of introspection, just how he would react when I informed him I had no idea who had injected their seed into my womb. Would he be sympathetic, feel sorrow for the untold violation I had imposed on me and provide comfort and solace? Would he even believe me, that I was unaware of how this had happened, and instead insist I must have strayed from our marital bed in lust? Or would he care at all, about the child, about a planned abortion, or whether this happened through choice or force?
My relationship with my husband was so much more formal and business-like than I had been led to believe a marriage would be. I was there to ensure his house was clean, his meals were prepared, and his clothes were pressed and ready when he needed them. I recognized, even embraced, my role as the subservient member of our household, because as my husband, he was the head of our home. There is no debate and no place for wiggle room on a wife’s role to her husband: she submits to him, as the church does to the Lord.
But how do you make a marriage work, and thrive, when there is nothing there but bitter animosity? Can you squeeze water from a stone? Because while our vows were sacred– something we would never consider sullying in the Lord’s eyes by even mentioning the D-word– it had become impossible to extract anything but sullen rage from Thomas. Maintaining any semblance of cheer, with this deeply despondent person who seemed content to subside amongst misery and despair, had been nigh impossible.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate,” was His holy declaration in Matthew 19:6, and He isn’t ambiguous on this matter. I’m no fair weather Catholic, and the bond we shared, which was born from our decision to be joined as one, couldn’t be broken. There aren’t any options, after you’ve been joined in holy matrimony, to make the marriage work beyond, well, making it work. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, you can’t just decide to tear it apart on a whim. We aren’t owed any happiness or joy in this life, after all, and being miserable with your partner isn’t a reason to blaspheme the Lord by spitting on the entire concept of marriage.
‘‘Til death do us part’ is not just a batch of words we say on our wedding day; it’s a command from on high, a philosophy that demands your full respect. And when you live through the treacherous slog of daily life, face that neverending grind towards salvation with someone who neither loves, respects, or even likes you by your side? Well there’s nothing to do but analyze yourself, and seek what you must have done to offend Him to deserve such misery.
Thomas and I tried numerous times to fill the void, reached out to the church and to our peers for guidance. We’d attended individual and combined counseling sessions, were regular fixtures at prayer groups and bible study, and made every attempt to ameliorate the feelings of malaise and displeasure that had aroused through the years. But they remained, remained ingrained in the fabric of our relationship, had seeped down into every individual fiber and drenched our very essence.
The situation only got thornier once our daughters left the house for college. When they were home, when I had my children to focus on and a clearer set of domestic expectations, things were simpler. We had a central force keeping us tied together, a tangible rationale for our continued pairing beyond just ‘God’s will,’ which helped remove any potential lingering strands of existential doubt about the purpose of it all. I know He has a plan, and everything happens for a reason within His infinite wisdom, but sometimes, just sometimes…that knowledge doesn’t feel like enough.
But with our daughters gone now, each of them off at school for the past two years, we had nothing keeping us tethered. Outside of the church and our religion, we had nothing in common, no shared interests whatsoever. There’s only so many prayer sessions you can kneel through in a given day, and all the inner peace in the world hadn’t helped remove the external pressure I’ve felt crushing me for far too long.
Again, our matrimonial bond is not something I’ve ever considered breaking, even if, at times, it feels like an elaborate trap designed to squeeze us to mush. It’s just so challenging to demonstrate constant repentance when there is no other explanation– in Heaven or hell or within this mortal coil– for living life in a melancholic fog beyond His holy sanction. Is a marriage really supposed to become that, just two people sharing the same space, unhappy with each other and unwilling to even attempt to connect further, until the day they die?
I really can’t stress this enough, but: I never considered disobeying, or dishonoring, the bond I had to my spouse under His eye. I just didn’t love, or even particularly care for, my husband any longer, and it was a never ending quest to prove my worth to Him by enduring this hardship until either me, or Thomas, were no longer breathing. I’ve prayed, too many times to even consider, for anything to return to me beyond abhorrence towards my husband. But nothing ever came back, and the cold hard fact is we were bound by nothing but His insistence…
The procedure was rather quick, and only somewhat uncomfortable. I was in and out of the hospital in just over an hour, and remember thinking, as I sat in the recovery room: thank goodness I live in Massachusetts. I shuttered even considering being in Georgia, or Alabama, or somewhere else with such terrifyingly limited access to what I required medically. I love my God, obey and respect Him and His will as much as anyone, but nothing of this world is absolute, and I thanked Him for allowing me to live where I did during this time.
I returned home that afternoon and laid on the couch, sleeping away the next few days. My lack of enthusiasm for the weekend would have appeared odd to Thomas, under normal circumstances, but our disassociation from one another was so complete that my withdrawn demeanor barely raised an eyebrow.
This morning, after he departed for work, I listened to a playlist of early 90’s soft rock from my high school days, and tried to prepare a speech, something organized and concise (like this letter), to deliver the necessary news to Thomas later in the evening. I drank several glasses of wine as the day went on, hoping to stoke some creative fires, but most of my notes had been scribbled off into anonymity. I desired a chance to release my information unabated, without interruption, but knew that, regardless of having a prepared explanation, my husband would interject whenever he’d feel compelled.
I had nearly polished off an entire bottle of Malbec, and discarded over a dozen pages of canned dialogue, when I heard his truck pull into the driveway. My pulse instantly quickened, the hairs rising on the back of my neck in conjunction with the inevitable goosebumps, and I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes, folded my hands, and prayed to the Lord above, prayed as intensely as I ever had before, to receive the continuous strength I would inevitably require to make it through the ensuing conversation.
When the door creaked open, and I heard his footsteps clomp through the entryway, my body stiffened, as though I had been placed in a coffin of nails. I regretted the decision not to take another Xanax, even if I knew it was most likely for the best. I couldn’t risk losing track of the cohesive thoughts I had assembled, and while the benzo would have alleviated some of the physical pain, it would have likely scrambled my precarious organization.
“Onto a second bottle already, Patty?” Thomas seethed, strutting into the kitchen area and immediately noticing the empty wine on the counter. He assumed I’d migrated to a second, which wasn’t an unfair assumption, and his tone reflected that. His voice was soaked with antipathy, too, a common theme for how I was generally greeted upon his return home.
“Not quite, Thomas. I’m still finishing the remainder of the first.” I swirled my full glass towards him, a gesture he surely saw from his peripheral vision, as he didn’t want to look at me. That was another recurring habit: his refusal to acknowledge me, by ever looking at, or speaking to, me directly.
“Well, it’s still quite early to have finished one. I’m not surprised, just disheartened.” He spoke flat, one of only two emotive projections he’d provide towards me (anger the other). “Regardless, it was a long day, and I’m starving. What’s for supper, Patty?”
“We need to talk, Thomas.” There was no use in dragging my feet, and emboldened by the alcohol in my bloodstream, I decided to jump right to the point. “It may be beneficial, for us both, if you had a drink as well. Maybe open that second bottle, after all.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, can’t this wait? I shouldn’t be bombarded by your feminine hysterics the moment I step inside the house, at least not before I’ve gotten a decent meal in my stomach. You can’t expect me to drink on an empty stomach, like some kind of lush because, I don’t know, you feel bored around the house all day.”
“This can’t wait, Thomas. We need to talk and–”
“Wait, wait. So if I have things correct, you don’t have anything prepared, or even planned, for dinner tonight? This is unacceptable, Patty, it really is. This is an egregious oversight of your spousal duties, completely disgraceful.”
“Thomas, please, please–”
“You really dropped the ball here, considering His expectations for you as my wife. You’ve got nothing to do all day but clean the house and cook my meals; how can you fail so gravely in submitting to my authority and fulfilling my needs?”
I lowered my head in frustration, in shame, and in deference to the biblically-ordained leader of my household. I had to admit, as much as it hurt, that he had a point about my wifely duties (at least from his perspective), and I nodded in recognition of my perceived failures for that day.
“I’m sorry, Thomas, I truly am. But please, please, I beg of you: come sit and let me speak.”
He grumbled, shook his head aggressively, and stalked towards the wine cooler beside the fridge. He slid open the top drawer, grabbing a bottle of cheap Chianti along with a corkscrew, and carried them to the table. I instinctively stood up as he grabbed the wine, and shuffled to retrieve a glass for him.
We met back at the rectangular table, sitting across from one another in the middle as opposed to the long ends (as was our custom), and he filled his glass slowly. He glared towards me after turning the bottle to complete the pour, denoting he would not offer me any at that point. His message was clear: if I wanted more, ‘if I wanted to drink like a fish,’ as he’d been fond of proclaiming, I would have to do so myself.
Thomas lifted the glass to his nose, inhaling the aroma of the $12 red wine like the sommelier of a fine dining establishment. He’d always had an inflated sense of his skillset, and the obnoxious manner with which he began to consume the beverage would have annoyed me, had I not been so accustomed to the process. You can steel yourself to some pretty brutal things during your lifespan, if you’re determined to.
“Maybe you can order something for delivery before you launch into your spiel. Is that really too much to ask, Patty?” Thomas finally sipped his wine, slurping it, unwilling to move past my failure to provide daily sustenance. “Where’s your phone? Hop on Grubhub and order some pizza– maybe a salad, too– and then we can get to what’s bothering you. And are there any snacks, maybe some chips and dip I can nosh on while we wait for the food?”
“You can’t expect me to perform my duties as your husband– supporting you financially, working all day and ensuring your needs are met– if you don’t perform your duties, Patty. I need to eat, a man needs to eat and requires food in his system to survive. We can talk all you want, but I can’t think clearly when my blood sugar is so out of whack. Can’t you get me something to nibble on? Have you even started ordering takeout for me? Good gravy, what are you waiting for?”
“What are you still droning on about when you should be TAKING CARE OF MY DINNER?!? I don’t care, not one iota, about your little problems or whatever the heck it is you’re trying to divulge to me. There is no possible way anything is more pressing, or important, or imperative, than figuring out my DINNER!”
He stood as he finished his sentence, the chair squeakily sliding behind him in turn. He loomed over the table, over me, exhibiting in practice the dominance bequeathed to him from the Lord. I was there to follow his command, to keep him fat and happy, and if my husband felt my efforts were missing or lagging, he would reestablish what was expected from me in my role.
“I’ll get my own snack, for Pete’s sake.” He stumbled towards the pantry, flustered that he was fetching food for himself in his own home. “But I swear to everything I hold dear, if you haven’t followed through on a plan for getting me dinner by the time I get back to the table, I–”
“I found out I was pregnant this week, Thomas.” I blurted it out suddenly, almost unexpectedly, whether I was ready to say the words or not. I couldn’t wait any longer, and even if my interruption appeared to defy my husband, it had to be done. The longer I waited, the more I was berated and beaten down verbally, the less likely I was to push on through to where I needed to go.
“Excuse me?” His voice was lined with such confusion, as he froze in the pantry, his back to me. He didn’t speak more, or turn around or move at all, allowing his brief query to hang in the air.
“I hadn’t been feeling well lately, and went for a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday. I was worried it was the flu, or worse yet, pneumonia again, and didn’t want to end up in the hospital by leaving things untreated for too long. I certainly never expected that, though, because, I mean…”
“You’re pregnant, Patty? You’re carrying another child of mine?” He spoke lightly, a flicker of unexpected joy present. He didn’t sound surprised, and, more disconcertingly, he didn’t exhibit any doubt that the child was his; what made him so certain was baffling to me. “Maybe I’ll finally have a boy, a man to carry on my legacy and to carry on the family name.”
I eyeballed Thomas heavily, searching the back of his body and head for further clues. His whole essence appeared lighter, less bogged down by pressures both internal and external, as though the sudden news was celebratory rather than heartbreaking. Again, I had to wonder: how was he excited, and fully convinced the child was his?
Suddenly he snapped around, just as quickly as his jubilation arrived, and shot frenzied daggers my way.
“Aw, pretzels, Patricia: the WINE?” Thomas stormed back into the dining room area, and snatched my glass, along with the bottle on the table, away from me. He took a step back from the table and caught himself from tossing the liquid into my face (which was a favorite technique of his, when he felt the urge to criticize my alcohol intake and put me in my place). “WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU THINKING?!?”
I flinched when he picked up my glass, a force of habit, and took a few seconds to unclench my entire body. It was immensely difficult to remain even-keeled when my husband was upset, even though he rarely attacked me physically, and I took several breaths before providing the answers to his demanded questions.
“I’m not pregnant, Thomas, not anymore. I had a procedure this morning, and there’s nothing left inside me.” My voice barely registered a whisper, only able to provide this earth shattering information timidly.
“Wh– what did you say?”
“It wasn’t safe, Thomas, for me or for the baby. You know how things went before, and I’m twenty years older now, in poor health, and I could–”
I was abruptly blinded, accompanied by a warm stinging in my eyes, as my husband violently tossed the wine from my glass at me. It stopped me dead as he desired, and I gently wiped away the dark red liquid that blurred my vision. I was careful not to clean myself up too much, since I had been shamed by him, and the evidence– the wine dripping down my cheeks, off my chin and staining my blouse– had to remain.
Thomas stood there, his body quaking, his incandescent mood radiating throughout the dining area. He looked down at the now empty glass, his eyes darting around with seemingly nothing in focus, before he whipped it against the wall to his left. It shattered, splintered into as many pieces as our marriage had been fractured, and fell to the floor with the clinkling of an off kilter wind chime. A dozen or so jagged shards remained amidst the fray of glassy debris.
“Who do you think you are, Patty, huh? Where do you get off committing such a despicable act without consulting me first? The audacity on display tonight is just, it’s just so- I mean, I can’t even, Patty, I can’t eve- WHERE DO YOU GET THE NERVE?” He fumed, struggling to articulate his thoughts at that moment.
All I could grasp, right then and there, was his anger at the abortion…and a complete lack of concern about how I had gotten pregnant at all.
“This is a mortal sin, an unforgivable act, no matter the gosh darn circumstances that you think ‘justify’ your ‘choice.’” He made air quotes as he spoke two of the final words, insinuating a falsehood had led to my dishonest and immoral action. “How am I to square this knowledge now with the Lord’s teachings, and willingly provide my support to you through His guiding light? Now, after you’ve made this decision, without consulting me at all?!?”
“I should have spoken to you ahead of time. You’re right, as my husband and the head of this house, you should have been involved and informed. But–”
“You’re darn tootin’ I should have been informed! This isn’t your decision to make, it wasn’t, and I don’t know how in the Sam Hill I’m supposed to consider forgiving you, Patty. This may be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, because you have been a horrible homemaker, spousal partner, and child of God for too long.”
“That’s not fair, I–”
“Oh, it’s not FAIR? Jiminy crickets, is that a load of hogwash! I bust my hump six days a week to make sure you’re comfortable, and sheltered, and have everything you need to be a faithful, devoted wife to me. You have every tool in your arsenal to fulfill every single obligation that He has declared you’re responsible for. And, yet, you still falter, time after time.”
I listened obediently, subtly licking my lips where a pool of wine had gathered, in the upper crevice just below my nose. He was frightening, intimidating only with me, and in a way he would utilize to his advantage whenever we would quarrel.
“I can barely stand the sight of you, you know that, don’t you? You disgust me, Patty, you’re fat, and lazy, and not the wife I was promised when I was young. You don’t honor me, or fawn over me, or do anything but drink and pop those pills that secular doctor of yours ‘insists’ you need. ‘I can’t handle the attacks otherwise, Thomas,’ yeah, you’re a piece of work alright. What happened to a wife submitting to her husband, as is fitting in the Lord? Paul’s letter to the Colossians could never envision such a nauseating woman: someone who tricked a noble man by pretending to be a devout Catholic, dooming him to a life of endless hostility because, in reality, she only follows His word when it suits her.”
“What about the second part of that verse, Thomas, huh? ‘Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.’ What about that, my darling husband?” I dramatically wiped my face with the sleeve of my stained blouse, no longer willing to be treated so harshly when the Lord’s word demanded I be respected.
“I’m not the heart of this house anymore, am I,” I continued, “even though He bestowed me that authority. You’re the head, but I’m the heart, Thomas, and the head can’t survive without the heart. The two are supposed to be inseparable, working together for time eternal, never faltering in their quest to keep their body whole, and connected, and functioning normally. There is supposed to be a balance, but that’s not what we have here, Thomas, is it, because one party refuses to cede an inch of their power in this dynamic.”
“Be careful with your tone, Patty. Tread lightly here.”
“Or what, exactly? What will happen if I tread heavily here, Thomas?” I rose from the chair to match my husband, and leaned onto the table. I locked onto his hectic eyes, which raged with barely contained fury, before I continued. “When was the last time we were intimate, Thomas?”
“What?” He was taken back for some reason.
“You didn’t question for even a millisecond whether you were the father of that now-defunct child. Why was that when, in my estimation, we haven’t had sexual intercourse in nearly three years? I haven’t…I haven’t had s-sex with anyone else in that time, at least as far as I know, so…” It became increasingly harder to speak, the proper words trapped in my throat and mind.
“We had sex last month, Patty.” He spoke matter-of-factly, dropping the information so casually that it didn’t register right away.
“We had– wait, how, I…we wh– last month we…” Nothing coherent came out. I blinked, rapidly and uncontrollably, as I searched my mind for the time and place. We had had intercourse last month? That wasn’t right, not at all, and the fog of confusion thickened at his declaration.
“We had sexual intercourse, or at least I did with you, last month. It doesn’t surprise me you don’t remember, given you’re usually too boozy and drugged out to participate much. I guess I should’ve expected that you were blacked out when it’s happened.”
The content of his last few sentences barely registered, the words ringing in my ears but not sinking into the flesh. The gap of interpretation, between what I had heard and what I understood as having actually occurred, was vast. The dots to connect were there, but I still couldn’t see them clear enough to grasp the entire picture.
My knees buckled, from both the arthritis flaring up from standing too long, and the realization finally hitting home. I slumped back down as my body gave out, and fell limply onto the wooden chair. It felt as though every ounce of blood was draining from my insides, flowing outward until there was nothing but a sack of skin and bones remaining.
“What do you mean, exactly?” I couldn’t muster anything further, and even those words were barely audible.
“I mean you’re my wife, my spousal property; just because you no longer willingly provide me an outlet for my physical urges doesn’t mean I’m no longer entitled to it.” His easy going demeanor surrounding this subject sent a chill down my spine. “I prayed that the Lord would illuminate a purpose for your turn towards the secular world, in your enthusiastic embrace of all things modern medicine when dealing with your various afflictions. It was all an excuse on your part to shift the culpability for your overwhelming self-reproach. You’ve never just accepted that your guilt is justly felt because you’re a sinner, Patty. But I always knew, and He did, too, because, after much discussion between the Holy Father and myself, He finally showed me the light.”
I was thunderstruck, completely dumbfounded by the unforeseen utterance from Thomas. I gawked at him as he went on, a fixed expression of bewildered despondency. I couldn’t respond, not yet, not quite ready to fully confront what was being revealed.
“Don’t look at me with that stupid face of yours, as though this is so incomprehensible. As He states in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: ‘When you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ If I’m bound to you for the remainder of my time in this world– or, preferably, until you’re no longer alive– then I’m owed something to keep me sane. There are certain desires I can’t control, as I am weak without His eternal presence, and what am I supposed to do? Masturbation is not even open for discussion, and it is your duty to keep me fully complacent so I can fulfill my duties in turn.”
“You…you’re saying you…Thomas– you’ve been having relations with me, with my unconscious body, for, for…my goodness, how long have you, you be- been…” I couldn’t complete the sentence, wasn’t able to say the word aloud, not yet. My husband was telling me he had been RAPING me, with no compunction, for what sounded like years.
What was I supposed to say, or feel, or do in that moment? I was in shock, stunned into completely silent submission by the appalling summary Thomas was laying out for me. It was true that I had signed my physical body over to him when we were married, and, for a fleeting moment, I wondered if he was right. I was aware already that this whole, horrid affair was my own doing, and everything that had happened was His penance for my sinful behavior. But, regardless of what I deserved, I knew my husband had NO RIGHT to act as that avatar for my punishment.
“Does it really matter how long it’s been going on, Patty? For as long as I’ve felt it necessary to keep me sane, and in line with what He dictates is natural and acceptable. I have never faltered from His teachings, or from the word of His only Son, Jesus Christ, and there’s no room for debate here. I’m entitled to keep myself pure in His estimation, especially when a path away from sin is available right in front of me. I’m not some crazed, wicked teenager too amped up from hormones to follow the righteous word He has written.
“‘What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight.’ Genesis 38:10, Patty, have you forgotten? I’m not going to pleasure myself and spill my seed on the ground, defying His creed. He expects me to stay celibate and dedicated outside of the lifelong outlet He has seen fit to reward me with, which is you. I tell you, I’ve laid awake many nights, struggling to comprehend just what I’ve done to deserve you, Patty. Because I must have done something truly ghastly for Him to stick me here.”
“I hate you, Thomas.” I couldn’t stop myself as the words slipped out.
“I hate you too, Patty, have hated you for so many years. It’s more of a pipe dream, a fantasy, a vision from above that a time ever existed where I wasn’t repelled by your entire essence. I find you, your face and body and the odor wafting off of your hideous frame, repugnant. Everything about you dismays me, from the way you walk and talk, to the way you just slothfully sit there, all day and night.
“What have I done to deserve this, I’ve asked the Lord on so many occasions. I’ve conversed with Him, and with Jesus, for countless hours, searching in vain for a rationale, for any logical explanation that could inform me as to what monumental sin I must have committed to end up here. You’re no reward, Patty, you’re His retribution for whatever horrible acts I must have perpetrated.”
“Then why did you rape me, over and over?” I felt so low, so small after Thomas’ unrelenting verbal assault. This was not the first time he’d been so ferociously cruel, and I tended to demure during those times. But I couldn’t concur his insults with the news that he had been using me, and my body, so perversely and unrepentantly, without any shame.
“Oh, give me a break, Patty, with that. Rape? Please, it’s not possible within a marriage.”
“Yes, it is, Thomas, and–”
“Should I go grab a copy of the Catechism for you to review, Patty? Maybe you haven’t been as engaged with your recent Bible study, or perhaps you’ve forgotten the sacred principles that we agreed to when we sealed ourselves under His watch. It’s been many years, hasn’t it? Jeepers, has it been a long time. Thank goodness we have eternity for our spirits to thrive in His kingdom, because when I consider how many years have been wasted with a complete waste like you, Patty, it makes me question my faith. That’s how putrid you’ve been as a wife, Patty, you’ve made me question my entire faith.”
My gaze stayed downward as he spoke. I didn’t want to look at him, to see his undeniably smug expression that implored he was in the right when, I knew in the depths of my heart, he wasn’t. Not this time. And I knew, as he went on and on in desperation, that I had to leave, right then and there, possibly forever. I had to go, as soon as possible, before he decided his verbal manipulations were no longer sufficient.
“I can’t do this. I need to go.” I slid the chair backwards, screeching along the floor, and leaned onto my knees. “This, I can’t, Thomas, I just can’t.” As I stood upright, he shuffled quickly to his right, positioning his body on the far end of the table, cutting the distance to me in half.
“What do you mean, you need to go? Go where, Patty? I don’t believe you ordered my dinner yet, have you?” He grinned an evil smile, hoping I would immediately back down and return to my perch.
“I’m not ordering anything right now. I have to leave, now, just for a little bit.” I lied. “Maybe I’ll just go for a drive around the block.” I took a couple quick steps to my right, away from him, deciding to shuffle over the shards of wine glass still on the floor.
“You’re not going anywhere, Patty.” He leaped back to his left, nearly dashing around the table, until he was blocking my path to the front door.
“Please move, Thomas.” I stepped towards him, slipping slightly on the glassy dust below my feet, and he caught me, holding both of my arms just below the shoulder. He held me upright in front of him, dropping his sinister smirk, before slamming me into the wall. It hurt like heck, and I gasped in pain as he pressed me into the drywall.
“I issued a command, Patty, are you deaf now, too? You are completely useless!” He pulled me back, squeezing my arms so tightly that circulation was cut off, before thrusting me back again.
“OWW, Thomas, stop, please!”
“I’m not the one who’s mercy you should be begging for right now, is it?!?”
My eyes were pressed shut, holding back tears of all shades and refusing to grant him a window into my soul. I prayed for the strength to escape, to free myself from the literal hell-on-Earth I was trapped in, when my leg suddenly jutted upwards and my knee collided, full force, with his testicles.
“Oh, hamburgers,” he exclaimed, as his grip loosened. He doubled over, both hands over or near his crotch, and took a half step away from me.
I caught my breath, as rapidly as I could, noticing him beginning to regain his bearings simultaneously. I knew he would chase me if I chose to simply run right there, and feared he would kill me if I he caught me. I doubted my ability to get away from that house, or him, if I didn’t obtain a substantial head start. And as his attention turned from his tender area back up to me, I mustered every ounce of strength within, and kicked him, once more, squarely in his testicles.
The surprise follow-up shot and, I assume, the intense pain, sent him tumbling forward, face first, onto the floor. He didn’t brace himself on the fall, which seemed peculiar, but I didn’t have time to wonder why as I had to leave as soon as possible. Thomas groaned and wheezed after a few seconds on the floor, and I glanced back as I reached the door, just for a moment.
There was Thomas, slumped on his side, with the bottom end of a wine glass sticking to his neck. The circular glass was pressed on the skin, with the stem nowhere to be found, and blood oozed from countless shards of glass stuck up and down his chest. Thomas limply reached at the glass on his neck, pawing at it for several attempts before his fingers latched.
He pulled, once his grip was solid, and yanked the glass from his neck. A stream of blood squirted from the gaping wound, gushing really, like a scene in a horror movie, and his eyes quickly glossed over as his spirit departed. After less than a minute, his body lay motionless, a pool of sticky, maroon liquid growing around his frame.
My mouth had dropped, fully slack jawed, as I witnessed the swift death of my husband. I panicked, turned around, and continued my departure from the house as I had planned. I locked the door behind me, left my husband’s corpse on the kitchen floor, and walked to my car. I drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, went inside, ordered a coffee, and began this letter…
* * *
“For these sins and all that I cannot remember, I humbly repent and ask for absolution, counsel, and peace.” I sigh in relief, having completed the letter without fail. My conscience is clear, at least with the Lord.
“You went straight to Dunk’s after leaving the house this evening and then came right here?”
“Well…” The priest pauses, just briefly. “Well, Patricia, I strongly believe you should return home– to your husband, whatever state he is in– and deal with the, um, the situation at hand there. I would suggest you head home and call 911, promptly.”
“You shall complete three decades of the Rosary,” he continued, “so you may regain your virtue within His light. Now please make an Act of Contrition.”
I recite the common prayer, profusely apologizing to my Lord and promising to be better in the future. Once I finish, Father Paul finalizes my reconciliation.
“I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go in peace, my child.”
I stand up, rather slowly, my lower body crackling at the joints, and slither out of the booth. I shuffle methodically over to the closest pew, stoop inside, and begin the recitation of my requisite penance.