This part contains references to emotional and physical abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
Sherri rose from her seat by the wall and gripped the left side rail on Renee’s hospital bed, her hands trembling. Her mother-in-law’s whole body was shaking in anger.
“Do you realize that you are ruining your marriage to David?” Her voice was unnervingly quiet.
“You’re going… to… kill… me…” David sobbed into her sheets, one hand grasped the right-side bed rail so tightly, his knuckles were white. “Don’t… leave… me!” He turned his tear-streaked face to her, his eyes blazing with anger. “Don’t you… care for… me at all…? Don’t you… want to… relieve… my suffering…?” He stuttered. “Can’t you… tell… I’m upset?!” He cried at her, his face contorted as he ugly sobbed.
“How dare you lay there and say nothing!” Sherri glared daggers at Renee. “Don’t you care about your marriage at all?” She snapped in a whispered voice.
“Get… out…” Renee managed to voice quietly. “Leave… my… room…” She could barely get the words out; her breathing was so short.
“I’m just trying to help you, Renee.” Sherri’s voice turned sickeningly sweet as David continued to sob into her sheets.
“I… don’t… want… you… in… here… anymore…!” Renee gasped for breath as she tried to raise her voice.
“Don’t talk to my mom like that!” David’s tears had dried up. He glared angrily at his distraught wife.
“How dare you treat me so!” Sherri berated. Renee felt herself shrinking as far as she could into the bed, glancing back and forth between the two of them as they scolded her at once.
“Why are you trying to hurt me?!”
“Your marriage to David is in danger and it’s your fault!”
Panic rose like bile in Renee’s throat. She lay with her head pressed against the pillow on her half-raised hospital bed, her mouth agape as she drew in pinched breaths, the air wheezing in her throat. The two standing over her did not seem to care and carried on with their tirade. She inched her hand towards the panic button and discreetly pressed it with her thumb under the blanket.
Within a minute, her room swarmed with nurses.
“I’m just going to take her vitals again.” The forced cheerfulness in the young man’s voice broke the agitation. Two female nurses escorted David and Sherri out of the room.
“The social worker would like to come in and ask you a few questions.” The male nurse addressed Renee. She looked up at him and nodded. David heard, and grabbed the door and stood fast.
“You want me to stay, right?” He looked pointedly at Renee. She just looked at him, not saying anything, and shook her head.
“You said you wanted me to stay in the room with you when we got here!” He almost shrieked.
“You need to leave now.” The nurse escorting the two out held her arm in front of David, attempting to get him to leave the room. Her hand hovered over a red button on her pocket that said “security” on it. After a second, he relented and left. The nurse closed the door.
“Now, I’m going to ask a few questions.” The social worker sat on the rolling stool and drew up near the bed, a tablet in her hand. Renee just nodded.
“You just got married recently?” She asked.
“Yes… in… June…” Renee nodded.
“Do you have enough food to eat at home?” She looked kindly at Renee.
“Yes… I… have… plenty.” She nodded again.
“Do you have access to the whole house?”
“Yeah…” Renee voiced the affirmative but shook her head.
“Can you see whoever you want whenever you want?”
“Sure…” She again shook her head.
“Do you feel safe at home from emotional and physical violence?” The lady’s voice was calm and kind.
“Yes…” For a third time, Renee shook her head.
“Okay.” She stood and finished her notes. “You can contact me at any time if you need. Don’t be afraid to leave home if you ever feel unsafe.” She pressed a card into Renee’s hand. By this time, she was feeling so much calmer. She drew in a somewhat deep, cleansing breath, without any wheezing. When the social worker left, the male nurse re-entered the room, allowing Sherri and David back in as well. Renee lay still as the blood pressure cuff was secured around her left arm.
“I’m going home.” Sherri gathered up her things. “Ben is picking me up.”
“Okay.” David said calmly. “We’ll be home as soon as we can.”
I’d like… to go to… the bathroom.” Renee sat up and slid to the edge of her bed. Her breathing was still somewhat short, but much better than it was.
“Do you need help?” The nurse rushed to the side of the bed and lowered the left rail.
“No, I can stand now.” Renee stood up.
When she returned, David was holding some papers. Renee climbed back into the bed and he sat on it next to her.
“The doctor said that it was most likely a panic attack.” David caressed her knee. She gave him a small smile. She was still feeling a little bit afraid of him.
“That’s good news, right?” He grinned at her. “You can eat gluten now.”
“I would prefer not to.” She quietly voiced. “I want to stay on my gluten-free diet. I’m pretty sure it was the gluten.”
“Okay.” He seemed unconvinced. “The doctor said we could leave. You’ve been signed out.”
“I want to wait until my parents get here.” Renee placed her feet onto the floor.
“But they can just turn around and go back home.” David protested. “You’re better now, so it’s unnecessary for them to come. It’s really late.”
“They’re almost here.” Renee pleaded. “They’ll be here any minute.” She yawned. It was extremely late. She glanced at her phone. It read 12 AM.
“Alright, but you should get dressed.” He turned to the empty chair where his mom had been sitting. Sherri had been holding Renee’s clothes.
“I suppose I’ll have to go home in the hospital gown.” Renee looked up at the nurse, who was entering information into the computer.
“Yeah, you can wear it home.” He smiled calmly at her.
She and David exited her room and started down the hallway. As they reached the waiting area near the front doors, she saw some crumpled clothes laying on the floor next to one of the waiting room chairs.
“There are my clothes.” She hurriedly picked them up. “Why didn’t your mom bring them back to the room when she realized she had them?” David just shook his head.
“You were rude to her and so she didn’t want to come back.” He said sternly.
Renee did not say anything in return and entered the restroom to change. When she emerged, David was sitting in one of the chairs. She sat next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. They sat there for a while to wait for her parents to arrive. David began talking to her, but she was mostly asleep already, so she just hummed, and nodded off. A few moments later, he shook her awake.
“Your parents are here.” He helped her stand up. Her mom rushed through the doors and engulfed Renee in a hug.
“I’m so glad you’re okay!” She whispered against her hair. Renee squeezed her tight, then released her to hug her dad, then Jay, George, and Bobby.
“We were so worried.” Her mom tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, Dad even sped on the highway.” Bobby’s voice was tinged with relief.
“I’m fine now.” Renee smiled tiredly at her family.
“Well, we should let you get home.” Dad turned to David. “We’re staying the night at a hotel nearby because it’s so late. We would like to take you out for lunch tomorrow after your counseling appointment.”
“I guess that could work.” David squeezed Renee’s hand. “I’ll see what I can do. I’m very busy tomorrow.”
“Okay, well, let us know in the morning.” Renee’s father shook David’s hand, then turned. They all exited the hospital together.
“I don’t think we have time to go out for lunch after our appointment.” David appeared in the doorway of the bathroom. Renee turned halfway around to look at him.
“I really would like to.” She mumbled around her toothbrush. She scrubbed her teeth, then spat the foam in the sink.
“Well, what if I say we don’t have time?” He took a few steps closer, looking down his nose into her face. She faced him fully.
“Maybe I could go out with them and they’ll drop me off after we eat?” She said quietly, looking up into his sharp blue eyes.
“So, you do love them more than me!” He pressed his body flush against hers, placing his hands on the sink on either side of her. The edge of the counter pressed painfully into her buttocks. She placed her hands on his chest.
“I told you, I love you both the differently, you as my husband and them as my family.” She tried again to explain. “It’s two different kinds of love.”
“Tell me, who do you love more?” He pressed closer if that was possible. The counter was exceedingly painful now. She pushed her palms against his chest.
“Please let me go…” She looked up gently. “You’re hurting me…”
“Well, there’s my answer… you love them more...” David released her and despondently left the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Renee sank onto the plush rug and sighed shakily into her hands. Her stomach pained her and threatened nausea. She curled into the fetal position on the floor until she felt a little bit better.
She entered the office room hurriedly and shut the door behind her. Pastor Jeff looked up curiously.
“Where is David?” He asked.
“He’ll be here in a minute.” She felt a little bit shaky. “I wanted to talk to you by myself first.” She then went on to relate to him some of the commanding and controlling things David had said and done and what had happened the night before and that morning.
“Well, it sounds like we have a lot to talk about.” He said, his voice non-committal. He motioned for David to enter and they sat at the table. He had David begin talking first. And of course, her husband began lying to the pastor.
“She is always texting with her mom, barely paying any attention to the people around her, especially me.” He fabricated.
“Is this true?” Pastor Jeff turned to Renee.
“Not necessarily.” She replied. “I do text my mom some, but not constantly.”
“Well, what if you just set up times to visit with your mom during the week and laid off with the texting?”
“Yeah, that could work.” David answered for her and gently patted her hand. Renee felt cornered. If she disagreed, she would probably be labeled as contradictory. So, she just nodded.
“I could try that.” Her voice was quiet and slightly shaky.
“And let’s lay off of the tiny things.” Pastor Jeff looked pointedly at David. “You can just wash the pan yourself if it’s too dirty for you. Why argue over pointless stuff?”
As they exited the church building, they approached her family’s vehicle parked next to David’s.
“So, are we able to do lunch together?” Renee’s dad rolled down the driver’s side window of his truck.
“I guess so, sure.” David glanced at Renee, though more like glared at her. She shrugged. Her stomach gurgled. She was not feeling well, yet she felt hungry too. Before they had left for the appointment, Renee had spent the morning in the bathroom with bowel distress. She was certain that it had been caused by the gluten she had been forced to consume the evening before.
The meal was not unpleasant, other than the fact that Renee’s stomach did not let her eat any more than half of her gluten-free sandwich. She sat quietly, listening to the general conversation. Her parents steered clear of the topic, but she could tell they were concerned about what had happened the night before. She focused on nibbling the salty potato chips, the bag crinkling gently as she took them out one-by-one. Soon, they all rose from the table and exited the restaurant. She rode home in silence, a hand resting on her aching stomach.
When they arrived at home, David insisted that Renee go lay down in bed. She had started feeling nauseous again.
“I’ll make you a steaming mug of peppermint tea.” He said sweetly, placing a comforting hand on her arm.
“Thank you…” Renee replied weakly, gratitude and confusion mixing together. Now he’s being nice?
She slid under the covers on her side of the queen bed, propping her pillows up behind her. Her stomach grumbled painfully, making her wish she had not eating that half a sandwich.
“I know you don’t care for honey in your tea, so I was careful not to add any.” David’s voice was still compassionate.
“Thanks, honey.” She grinned a little at the pun she had just made. David chucked.
“I’m going to work on some paperwork for a little while, and then I have dog clients until suppertime.” He patted her knee, and then left the room. Renee placed her feet on the floor. She opened the bottom drawer of the cupboard on her side of the bed and pulled out her laptop. She could look at jobs while she was laying in bed. Pooh Bear curled onto the fuzzy blanket next to her. Hans padded across the floor to her and laid his head on the bed. He was not allowed on the bed because, being an eighty-pound German Shepherd, he was too big. Renee patted his head and then opened her laptop.
Several hours later, she heard the door open. Glancing up, she saw David enter the room. He approached her and sat on the edge of the bed.
“How are you feeling?” He inquired.
“About the same.” She placed a hand on her laptop lid and closed it. “I’ve been looking at jobs.”
“I’m so proud of you.” He smiled fondly, his blue eyes sparkling. “We really will need that second job after my parents move out.”
“Yeah.” She was getting a little bit tired of the search.
“So, would it be alright if I went to the barn for a little bit tonight?” He seemed to voice it more as a statement than a question.
“Yeah.” Renee picked up her tea and swallowed the last few drops.
“Okay.” He paused, “I’ll go ahead and make a sandwich for myself for supper and take it with me.” He patted her hand laying on the covers. “If you want anything, just text my dad and he’ll go get it for you.”
“Okay.” She smiled up at him. David bent and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, then stood and left.
Over the next two days, Renee remained in bed and slowly started feeling better. David’s behavior towards her remained gentle and caring. She wondered if the hospital visit had scared him. If it had, she was incredibly happy. Maybe he would stay this way for good. She slid her feet from under the covers and stood up.
“I’m going to go take a shower before we leave for church.” She moved around the foot of the bed and stood in front of her husband. He wrapped his arms gently around her for just a moment. She lifted her face for a kiss.
“When you’re done, I’ll get in.” He smiled down at her.
The service had been very pleasant. Renee had sat with a couple she had made friends with at the church while David sat in the back running the livestream. Her emotions had been moved as she sang the spiritual songs. She hoped no one had seen her swipe a few tears. When the pastor finished praying, she headed towards the back to find her husband. Before she got there, Sherri rushed up to her with a young woman in tow.
“Hey, Renee! This lady is a homeopathic doctor.” Her mother-in-law introduced Katy. “I told her about the emotional issues you’ve been having, and she would like to help you.”
“Um… O-kay.” Renee felt aghast. What in the world? What is wrong with her? What kind of person did this?
“Great!” Sherri turned. “I’ll leave you to talk then.” She walked away.
“Well, that was really awkward.” Katy grimaced.
“Yeah. I don’t have emotional issues.” Renee replied.
“Well, I guess I’ll just give you this and call me if you need anything, okay?” The nice young woman smiled as she handed Renee a card.
“Thanks.” She returned Katy’s smile.
Renee’s thoughts swirled as she rode home. She glanced at her husband. She had told David what Sherri had done. He had replied that his mom had gone to him first and he had approved her plan of action. Why would my husband do this to me? She sat in silence the rest of the way home. Immediately after setting foot inside the house, she sought Sherri out.
“I would like to speak with you alone, please.” Renee asked her. Her mother-in-law followed her to the dog room.
“I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t go behind my back and talk to people about issues you assume that I have.” Renee’s voice quivered with nerves. “If I feel I need help, I’ll seek it out on my own. I don’t even mind if you talk to me about your concerns. Just, please don’t talk behind my back again.” She tried to keep her voice as pleasant as possible.
“I’m only trying to help you with your issues.” Sherri rebutted in a cold, hard voice.
“You mean, what you perceive to be my issues.” Renee quietly returned. “And I would prefer if you came to me first.” She turned and left the room before the older woman could continue the conversation. She was tired of being run over.
A few moments later, David entered the kitchen. Renee stood at the counter, spreading bacon slices onto a plate covered with paper towel. He sat next to her on the kitchen stool.
“You were not nice to my mom. I just found her crying in her office and had to comfort her.” His voice was not pleasant. “You need to apologize to her.”
“I did not say anything wrong.” She looked up from work. “I don’t have anything to apologize for.”
“Yes, you do, and as your husband, I command you to do so.” He stood up and turned her around. “Now, go.”
“It wouldn’t be right to apologize. Your mom is the one who needs to apologize.” She tried to be brave, but it backfired.
“You must apologize now.” David turned her and pushed her out of the kitchen. “I will take you to her myself.” He forced her to go up the half-flight and into Sherri’s office.
“Do you have something to say to me?” The woman’s voice was cold, a small hitch in her voice from her crying a moment before.
“If my tone was rude, I apologize, but I cannot apologize for what I said, because it was needed to be said.” Renee’s voice quivered again.
“Well, I guess that’s the best you can do, huh?” David let her go. Renee glanced at him briefly, and then returned to the kitchen.
“So, Jennifer asked if we would like to go for a trail ride with her next Sunday afternoon.” David approached Renee at the piano. She removed her hands from the keys and raised her eyes to meet his. They held no trace of the disapproval from earlier. The blue depths held only kindness with a slight questioning look.
“Sure, I’d love to.” She hoped that it would be nice. She did not know. Whenever Jennifer was at the barn at the same time they were, David talked mainly to her and pretty much ignored Renee unless to instruct her or if she needed something.
Then next morning, her phone dinged with a text message. Renee opened her mom’s message and read it. Well, she needed to ask David about this. She hoped he would say yes.
“My mom wanted to know if I could come spend the day with them tomorrow.” She sat next to her husband as he was filling out forms for his horse clients. “Since you’re busy all day with both dog and horse clients, I thought maybe it wouldn’t be a problem?”
“I suppose it would be alright.” He turned towards her. “Though perhaps next time your mom could ask me directly instead of inviting you behind my back?” His tone was as mixture of calmness and sharpness.
“O-kay.” She gave him a small smile, then began typing on her screen.
The timer on the stove went off and Renee hurried to press the off button. Then opening her mom’s oven door, she pulled out the last batch of chocolate chip cookies. She had spent the day before with her parents, and after asking David, he had agreed to allow her to spend one night at her parents’ house and return home the next day. Renee had been happy to have extra time to play with her niece. Carol also had some amazing news for her.
“I’m going to have another baby!” She had announced. The new baby would be due the following spring. Renee was happy, though felt a twinge of sadness. She and David had not talked again yet about babies. After the last two and a half weeks of his weird behavior, perhaps she would leave the topic alone.
“The cookies are done baking for Bible study tonight.” She called to her mom, who was sitting on the couch in the living room. Renee was going to return home after the service.
“Thanks, sweetie.” Mom entered the kitchen. “I don’t suppose we can try one early, right?” She winked at her daughter.
“Sure, we can!” Renee picked up one that had cooled already and broke it in half.
Bible study at her old church had been exactly what Renee had needed. She had trouble keeping back the tears as she listened to the discussion around her. Her voice did not feel stable enough to participate herself, though she had thought of many correct answers to the pastor’s questions. After they partook in the various snacks, Renee and her family piled into her dad’s truck and they headed for Grand Rapids.
“I’m so glad you’re back.” David wrapped Renee in a hug, a grin stretched across his mouth. “You were gone so long!” Renee squeezed him back. She loved him dearly, even though she was slightly afraid of him. I don’t know if he’ll ever change.
The trail ride had been very pleasant. Renee had been involved in the conversation, for once. The last several days, David had only been kind and caring. She reveled in the return to “before marriage” behavior, though she was skeptical that it would last. She slid the saddle off Cinnamon’s back and returned it to the rack in the tack room.
“I’m so glad we got to do this.” Jennifer approached her. “I’m really enjoying getting to know you.”
“Thanks.” Renee grinned at the blonde-haired barn owner. “I’m enjoying getting to know you too.”
The ride home was very pleasant. Renee was happy again. She squeezed David’s hand and looked lovingly up into his face. He returned the look. Maybe with some more counseling, we can turn this around.
Another ding sounded from Renee’s phone. She picked it up from the arm of the couch. It was her mom again.
“May I see?” David leaned over to look at her screen.
“Sure.” Renee handed him her phone.
“Your mom wants to know if we can come over for supper some time this week.” He handed her phone back. “She said they still have the top layer of our wedding cake in the freezer. They forgot to give it to you when you were there last week.”
“So, do we have time to visit them?” Renee glanced up at her husband’s unreadable face.
“Absolutely not.” His face contorted a little, as if he were trying to keep his emotions in check. “I have dog clients and horse clients back-to-back all week long.”
“Oh.” Renee did not dare to ask if she could go. David seemed to be in a bad mood again.
“Why do you enjoy making me feel inferior?!” He stood up and paced the room like a caged animal, then returned to sitting next to her.
“I don’t…” She began.
“Yes, yes you do.” His face was now inches from hers as he spoke, deadly quiet, through clenched teeth. Renee shrunk back into the couch cushion, and he flopped onto the couch, laying his head on the back.
“Do you not care what you’re doing to me?” His voice was choked with tears. Renee just sat there, stiff and afraid to move or say anything.
“How dare you not reply to me!” He sat bolt upright, getting in her face again. Sherri walked into the living room just at that moment.
“Have you planned out what you’re having for supper yet?” She inquired, ignoring the fact that David was verbally assaulting Renee. David turned to her, placing a hand on Renee’s arm.
“Yes, I’m going to make sausages on the grill.” His voice suddenly turned pleasant as he spoke to his mom.
“Alright.” She continued towards the kitchen. Renee scooted towards the edge of the couch.
“Can we…” She started, thinking to ask David if they could talk somewhere more private, but he interrupted her.
“We’re still talking!” He hissed in her face, pinning her back against the couch cushion. His fingers pinched painfully around her arms.
“Please…?” She tried to talk, but he just got angrier and began berating her again. He maintained pressing her down, so she could not have gotten up, even if she struggled her hardest.
© 2021 Tori Leumas