I want to start this post by saying that I know how hard it is for a woman to extricate herself from a marriage that is abusive. I know it. Leaving is often harder than staying. It is much more complex than people on the outside can imagine.
Knowing that, however, does not make it any easier to watch signs of the abuse begin to resurface.
My sister promised me. She PROMISED.
When people promise me things I believe they mean what they say. That they have considered the ramifications of that promise. That they are not just throwing promises around willy nilly as a form of appeasement.
My sister was held at knifepoint by her alcoholic husband. He said in the police report made the following day that he wanted to kill her. They separated for a few months but they got back together. It has been over a year now and apparently, allegedly, he hasn’t had a single drink in that time.
Apparently, allegedly, they are happy.
I beg to differ.
My sister hates the fact that I am a writer because she says I notice things other people don’t. But it doesn’t take a person with an eye for detail to see the warning signs, believe me.
It’s the little things that become the big things.
My sister has a bad foot as a result of a skiing accident. It makes it difficult for her to do mundane things like balance on chairs and change lightbulbs. Round at her place the other day 8 out of 11 light fittings had no bulbs in them. I changed the bulbs, asked why her husband hadn’t changed them. He’s been too busy, was the reply. Too busy to change a lightbulb? Looks like he’s been too busy for months.
The second little thing was the box of empty beer bottles under the sink which I found when I was looking for the lightbulbs. My sister doesn’t drink beer. Never has.
The third little thing was cake. Or should I say cakes. Those cheap sponges you get from the supermarket filled with mock cream and too sweet strawberry jam. Six cakes in the pantry stacked on top of one another like library books waiting to be read. My sister always binges on cake when she is upset.
So I asked her. Point blank. If he was drinking again.
The silence between us should have been visible, it was so fraught with anguish.
Yes, she said.
I barely heard her reply. I wanted to pretend I hadn’t. God knows I’m sick of situations where one word changes everything.
You promised, I said.
I know, she said.
She did promise. I wasn’t imagining it. She promised that she would leave if he started drinking again. Immediately. She promised she would be strong enough not to sit and wait for him to start hitting her again. She promised for me and my Mum – so that we wouldn’t dread the phone ringing at three in the morning. She promised so her sense of self would remain intact.
I knew without even asking that she wouldn’t keep her promise. Not to me, not to my mother, not to her friends, not to herself.
Please don’t tell Mum, she said. Promise me.
She was burning a stick of incense on the kitchen counter. Lavender. The scent of it rose imploringly. The space between us was full of promises that were never meant to be kept.
I won’t tell her, I said. For now.
So the burden comes back to me as it always does. Of knowing and not saying. Of holding on to promises that really should be thrown away.
If I tell my mother may not be able to handle the stress. If I don’t tell my sister may not be able to handle the rough hands and threats.
The sky is completely blue. Unflawed. I am astonished how clear the air is. I bet that sky has no truck with promises, kept or unkept. I bet it knows how dangerous the promise-making process can be.
I bet it always means what it says.