by Cheryl Vollmar
By the time I turned eighteen, I was more than ready to never step foot in my parents’ house again. I had graduated high school and was ready to move on to college, but even then I disregarded my own desire to major in Music Composition and followed in my mother’s footsteps by majoring in Music Education. Despite thirteen years of piano lessons, six National Piano Guild gold medals, over seven years of band and choir classes, and the numerous pieces of music I had already composed, she said I would never make a living writing music. And while I did see the logic behind her argument that it’s difficult to succeed financially as a composer, it felt more like she didn’t believe in me or my talents. As if all the competitions, performances, and accolades I had received weren’t enough to strive for what I was passionate about. Even though she frequently nudged me into experiences like college level symphony and stage performances as a high school student, it rarely felt like she supported me in my musical and theatrical efforts. She even told me I was on my own when I received an invitation to the Miss Missouri Pageant, leaving me alone in a huge dressing room buzzing with excitement as mothers helped their daughters change for the next act of the show. I’m not sure if it was because she was just too busy with her own schooling or if it was just a general lack of interest. Some have even said that there could have been a bit of jealousy behind her words and actions. To this day I haven’t the slightest clue why she was so unsupportive, but it placed another small bit of self doubt in the back of my mind that told me I simply was not good enough.
Although I was expected to attend church with my parents as a teen if I wasn’t working, I bounced back and forth between “the ways of the world” and God as I gained a little more freedom. The Fire and Brimstone sermons I sat through were like a form of brainwashing that contradicted the God is Love sermons. The church members were like a biblical cult, looking down their nose at you while quoting “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” to anyone looking their direction. The worship services were like a mind numbing drug, allowing everyone to get their dose of the warm and fuzzies for the week. I loathed attending church, but at the same time felt shameful for wanting to pull away. I hated feeling that way, and often questioned my faith. It was nearly impossible for me to believe that there was a Divine Being in the sky that had a plan and purpose for every single living thing on earth. I’d see tragedies like a classmate committing suicide, and wonder how anyone could believe that God intended for a fifteen year old boy to hold a shotgun between his knees, muzzle in his mouth and pull the trigger with his toe. What kind of caring and loving God is that? Maybe that was the fire and brimstone God. My own experiences left me feeling all too familiar with that God. I was angry at Him and would become indifferent to the religion I was being fed, like a child refusing their vegetables. But eventually I would hit a low and slink back into church with my tail between my legs and cry away the guilt until I once again was drunk with those damned warm and fuzzy feelings.
After a brief hiatus in contact with Allison through the last two years of high school, I was spending more time than ever with her. We attended the same college during the day, worked evenings in the same nursing home and spent the nights together. Of course I still had to check in with my mother to let her know where I was and what I was doing, and constantly butted heads with her over needing permission to do anything now that I was grown. It was the most freedom I had ever experienced in my life and I was wild with it. We would stay up late talking about anything and everything that came to mind, cracking jokes and planning Allison’s upcoming wedding. She was more like family to me than anyone blood related.
When Allison got married, I reserved a room at the reception hotel. I intended to get completely drunk and fully enjoy myself, and had invited the guy I recently started seeing to attend with me. Prior to the reception, I smoked marijuana for the very first time. I had never seen it or smelled it before, and thought what my date was handing me was a cigar. It wasn’t until he told me at the reception what I had done, that I became aware of it. Dizzy with the new high I was experiencing, I drank heavily and danced the night away. When the evening was over, my date offered to help me to my room before he went home. Once the door closed, he immediately began to grope me, pulling my dress up with one hand and my panties down with the other. I was no stranger to sex by this time in my life, but I had no intentions of allowing him to have me just yet. The roughness in which he handled my body encouraged me put up a fight. But the intoxication was his ally as I lost my balance, fell, and hit my head on the nightstand next to the bed. He picked me up, threw me on the bed and proceeded to rip my panties off. I slipped in and out of consciousness as he slipped in out of me, his hand around my throat.
The next morning I woke naked on the bed, my clothes a crumpled pile on the floor. My body was covered in bruises and hickeys, and my so-called boyfriend nowhere to be found. I rolled out of the bed, dressed and went to the honeymoon suite to join my friends for brunch. Allison took one look at me, immediately knew something wasn’t right and pulled me to the side. I told her what had happened as tears ran down my face. She in turn told her husband Stu and cousin Shawn what had happened. They proceeded to round up a few other guys and left to hunt down the culprit with the intent of hurting him for hurting me, but were unable to locate him. I had attempted to file a police report, but the police were callous, telling me they couldn’t do anything about it since I had allowed him access to my room key. Rather than fighting for what was right in the situation, I chalked it up as something I deserved, since once again I was going against what my mother had taught me.
To this day I’ve never told any of my family about this. It is a small piece of the huge disaster that is my life, and I’ve never felt like I could trust them to not judge me or say something hurtful. When counselors bring it up as a topic of conversation, I just shrug it off as if it were no big deal. I say it happened, my body healed and I’m fine. After all I was unconscious for most of it, so there’s no memory of it beyond the initial struggle. But sometimes I wonder if I’m just lying to myself, when a scene or story of sexual violence brings my own experience to the surface. I wonder if the ease in which I gave myself to love interests after this was a subconscious way to keep it from happening again.
It was at this point Shawn stepped in to support me. We really hadn’t had much interaction previously, and had really only met a month prior while working on decor for Allison’s wedding. But Shawn was enamoured moment he met me. He proceeded to pursue me, leaving notes and flowers on my car while I was at work and spending a lot more time at Allison’s house just to see me. I talked to Allison about this, and decided to begin dating him when she reassured me he was a stand up guy. Within a matter of a few months, Shawn proposed as we made love in the guest room at Allison’s house, and I enthusiastically accepted. I was in love with the idea of being a wife and an official member of Allison’s family, and never really stopped to think about if I was in love with Shawn. We set the wedding date for a year out, giving us plenty of time to plan the wedding I had always dreamed of, but immediately started looking for an apartment together. When we went to my parents with the news and to let them know I would be moving out in two weeks, my parents were less than thrilled. Not because I was getting married, but because I would be living with Shawn out of wedlock. In an attempt to call our bluff, my mother insisted we get married before we moved in together. Without hesitation I agreed to it, giving up my dream wedding to once again appease my mother.
Obviously unhappy with my choice to go ahead with the marriage, my mother was less than cooperative in helping me plan the wedding in two weeks time. I spent countless hours with my soon-to-be family members arranging the location, decor and food on a miniscule budget. Shawn’s mother purchased my wedding gown for me; my mother refused to even join us for to look for one. Shawn’s aunt offered her services as a photographer as a wedding gift, his sister played DJ and several family members stepped in to prepare the reception food at his uncle’s restaurant. It was refreshing to see a family who loved and cared for each other and would go to such great lengths to help each other. The wedding was lovely, the reception a true party, and for the first time in my life I did as I pleased at my reception, not worrying about what my mother thought as she left without even saying goodbye.
The day after my wedding, Allison’s father passed away. He had been ill with cancer for months, and it was said that he held on just to see Shawn and I get married. Shawn had been close with his uncle, and requested several days off to be with his family for the wake and funeral. His boss denied him all but two days, which resulted in Shawn becoming angry enough to walk off the job. At first, this seemed like a reasonable reaction for someone distraught over the death of a loved one, but it wasn’t long before I began to see a pattern in his attitude toward work. Within a matter of months, Shawn acquired and quit job after job. His reasons ranged from having to get up too early to not wanting to get sick from the patients whose cars he valet parked. The only thing he seemed committed to was his role as a volunteer firefighter for our town. I tried to be patient with him as he transitioned in and out of work, doing everything I could to support us financially. But Shawn seemed more interested in pursuing frivolous money making opportunities and spending time with the boys. On more than one occasion he had gone to the bank, withdrawn the bill money and hit the bar with his buddies while I was either at work or left at home alone because I was still too young to join them. I dropped out of school to work two or three jobs at a time, sold my drums, piano, and computer equipped with an expensive composition software just to keep us out of the hole.
Despite our financial difficulties, I was elated to find out I was pregnant about ten months after we married. I hoped that this was the change that Shawn needed to push him to be more responsible. My mother even seemed excited about the idea of a grandchild when she presented me a little pair of baby booties. The universe had different plans however, and just two days after finding out I was pregnant I suffered a miscarriage. Allison came to sit with me, bringing comfort food and a joint. Shawn would have disapproved of my smoking with Allison, but he wasn’t around to console me, and I was angry with him for it so I smoked it out of pure spite. And although the situation was tragic for me, it was my first positive experience with what was to become one of my ultimate vices.
A year into the marriage I found myself working a nearly full time job at his uncle’s restaurant, a full time job as an assistant manager at a local gas station and helping the family take care of Shawn’s ill aunt (Allison’s grandmother). I was exhausted, but found myself coming home to clean up messes made from poker nights or jam sessions. I was the only one worried about what bill needed to be paid and when. I remember thinking to myself, this must be what a single mother feels like. I attempted to take refuge in the arms of my husband. I needed to be held, romanced. But Shawn wouldn’t touch me. He was always just too tired to put forth any effort in our love life, but had no trouble leaping out of bed to answer a fire call in the middle of the night. Annoyed by the fact that he wouldn’t give me the one thing I needed most despite all the giving I was doing in every other aspect of our marriage, I confronted him one night after he had once again declined to make love. He told me he just wasn’t attracted to me at the moment and couldn’t be bothered. It was like a slap to the face. I left him lying in bed and went to my parent’s house. The next morning, Shawn called and begged me to come home. He swore he would be more attentive to my needs and find a job, so I went home. In the week that passed, nothing really changed. It wasn’t until his aunt had passed that I began to feel truly resentful toward him. I laid blame upon myself for not realizing that she was losing a ridiculous amount of blood in the bruise she attained from a rough landing in the recliner she slept in. I know now that blaming myself for her death was an unnecessary burden; I wasn’t a doctor or a nurse, I was a Nurse’s Aid who only had a couple years experience in a nursing home. But because I held guilt about what had happened, I felt as though Shawn’s indifference towards me was his way of blaming me for his aunt’s passing.
The day Auntie passed, I had to work at the gas station and Shawn went out with his buddies once again. A friend of mine had come into the gas station for a purchase, took one look at me and said, “What’s wrong with you? You look like you’ve lost your best friend.”
I told him what had happened and how hopeless I was feeling. He suggested I go home and seek comfort from my husband, to which I replied, “I can’t. He’s out with the guys again.”
He invited me over to help him destroy a 12-pack while we watched a movie, and I accepted, happy to have someone to keep me company while I grieved. When I arrived all the lights were off in the house. Only the glow of the television illuminated the room when he greeted me at the door with a beer. We sat on the couch, sipping the beers and staring at the television for a while before he prodded me to talk. My emotional flood gates opened, and all the tension and stress I had been holding in came pouring out of me. Trembling in an effort not to cry, I allowed him to pull me into a hug. We sat this way for a while as I let go of the tears, then he tipped my face towards his and kissed me gently. I breathed a sigh of relief and allowed myself to sink into the comforting caress of his lips on mine. He coaxed me to the floor, removing my shirt as he kissed me with more fervor. His lips grazed mine, then my cheek and neck as he laid me down on my stomach. He disappeared into the next room for a moment, returning with a bottle of oil. He warmed some in his hands before he began kneading my shoulders and back, vanquishing the hesitation I held as I felt a warm tingle spread from my center. I rolled over to face him and watched the intent on his face as he worked the button to my jeans and slipped them off of me. He crawled toward me, one hand touched the side of my face; the other hand slipped to the arch of my back. He kissed my neck when my head tilted back with a gasp as he began making love to me. The way he moved was almost methodical, as though he were trying to take my pain from me.
I left Ron’s house that night a changed person. I felt no guilt in what I had done, and decided once Shawn got home I was going to end our marriage. I would have rather been alone than to continue on unhappy. When I sat him down to tell him I was done, he immediately flew off the handle, asking if I had cheated on him. Believing I was somehow that transparent I told him I had. This revelation sent Shawn into a blind fury unlike anything I had ever seen before. He went out and took a baseball bat to my car as he screamed and cussed. His face beet red, the veins in his neck bulging, he got into his own car and left to confront the person he felt was responsible for his ending marriage. While he was gone, I packed a bag and left to stay with a friend.
After spending the whole night talking about my current situation, I decided the best option was to have my friend move in and split the rent and bills. I grew increasingly irritated as we discussed the cost of living in that home and realized just how badly I had allowed Shawn to take advantage of me. Determined not to allow him to continue to rule the situation, I returned home and told Shawn he needed to go because I was the one who could financially manage to stay in the home we had been renting. Shawn proceeded to beg and plead with me to try again, but I was done and stood my ground. Sobbing like a butt-hurt toddler, he went into the kitchen and returned to the living room with a steak knife. As he pressed the blade to the inside of his wrist, I promptly walked across the room and removed the knife from his hand.
“Just let me do it!” He blubbered through his tears. “I don’t want to live anymore!” Unaffected by the pathetic nature of the moment I threw the knife out the front door and coldly replied, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t get blood on my carpet.”
I gathered some clothes into a bag as Shawn sat in the living room with a blank stare on his face. As I handed the bag to him I said, “You can come back in a few days to get the rest of your stuff. I’m sure you’ll be wanting the bed and the living room furniture since it was given to us by your family, so you can take it too.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, looking at me with a mix of desperation and anger. I turned from him, opened the front door, and said, “I’m certain of it.”
Sometime in the few hours after he left, I spoke with Allison over the phone. I explained what had happened, and Allison was not nearly as upset with me as I expected her to be. She knew what life with Shawn had been like for me. The understanding was lost however, when I explained that I would not be attending her grandmother’s funeral. I told her it just wouldn’t feel right to be there because Shawn, his parents and sister would all be there. I felt like it would be too awkward and could potentially cause problems. I thought the most respectful thing I could do was allow the entire family to grieve their loss without any drama. Allison rebutted, stating that I was family and that she wanted me to be there not just to pay my respects to her grandmother, but to support her as well. But I held my ground. I couldn’t stand the thought of potential confrontation with anyone who was close with Shawn, especially at a funeral where everyone is vulnerable and emotional. Unable to see it from my point of view, Allison told me if I didn’t show up, she never wanted to talk to me again. Numbly, I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe she meant it, and thought surely after some time had passed she would call again if I just gave her some space.
Days became weeks as my routine went back to some semblance of normalcy and I waited for Allison to contact me. But when her grandpa died, it was not Allison who called to tell me, it was Shawn. The conversation was not lacking for awkward silences and fragmented thoughts. He expressed not only his comprehension of my choice to avoid Auntie’s funeral, but his gratitude. He told me enough time had passed and if I felt the desire to attend his uncle’s funeral he would ensure there were no issues. He told me he knew he was mostly to blame for our failed relationship and wished there was some way for us to make it right. I told him I was sorry it didn’t work either, but that it was too late to fix it. I expressed my sympathy for the family, then told him I wouldn’t be attending this funeral either because Allison had cut ties. When there was no response on the other end, I said, “Give my best to everyone, okay?” and hung up the phone.
With that one click of the phone not only did I finalize the end of my marriage, I cut myself off from my the support system I had with Allison and her entire family. This was the first time I would sever ties with others who had a large role in my life, but it didn’t take long for it to become the go-to avoidance habit. Little did I know how big of an impact that would mean for me in the weeks, months, and years to come.
Cheryl Vollmar is a red-headed hot mess, specializing in bad decisions since 1979. She has held well over fifty job titles in twenty years, and decided on a whim to choose Writer during the 2013 National Novel Writing Month. She is the proud mother of a kind-hearted fifteen year old boy and a precocious five-year-old Yorkie, and resides in southwest Missouri. As a homebody, she loves to cook and bake, and, much like her job experience, has too many projects crammed in her crafting closet thanks to her addiction to Pinterest. Born into a musical family, she also sings, plays piano and drums, and likes to think she has an eclectic taste in music. But her favorite past-time by far, is riding behind her ole man on their Harley Fatboy, where she swears the wind sings harmony to whatever tune she has playing in her head.
She believes with enough coffee, anything is possible.