There are times in life when you stop coasting along, stop dead in your tracks and realize that things are out of control. You take a long, hard look at what your life has become and ask yourself, how did I end up here? This is not my life, this is not who I want to be. But then what? Change is difficult, and scary. Fear of the unknown paralyzes you and sometimes it seems easier to keep being miserable because at least it is familiar territory. My story is about what happened to me when I finally took that leap of faith, and decided to change my life for the better. While they were happening around me, I had no idea how significant these events would eventually be. This is the story of the best decision I ever made, the decision to take control of my life, to stand up for myself, and to love again…
It seemed a day like any other day. I walked into the back door of the restaurant, ready to start my shift. It was hard not to notice the new guy- he was six foot five and bald, with a presence about him. As he introduced himself, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about him that was so intriguing.
I was a server at the nicest restaurant in town, which wasn’t saying much considering where I’d ended up. My hometown had a population of over a million people, and I had attended an elite private school, followed by earning a bachelor’s in photography at a prestigious art college. Then I’d married a closed-minded idiot, who had moved us and our daughters to the place he’d grown up- a bustling town of 26,000. I asked myself on a daily basis what the hell I was doing here, and had yet to come up with an answer in the five months that I had been there.
The restaurant was not a bad place to be, all things considered. Before I started working there I had become convinced that the town consisted only of old people and children. When I started I was delighted to be amongst my peers. So this is where all the twenty-somethings were hiding. Many of my coworkers were in college, which led me back to my unanswerable question- waiting tables was an occupation for people who either hadn’t been to college or were in college- so what the hell was I doing here in this graveyard of a town waiting tables with my bachelor’s degree? At least at the restaurant I made a few friends- and one really good friend- but we’ll get to that.
The new guy, Josh, was our new chef, and he was really nice. As an added bonus he knew what the hell he was doing in the kitchen, unlike some of the other staff. Gradually we became friends, having occasional, then more frequent conversations over Camel Light cigarettes on the benches behind the restaurant. He wasn’t flirtatious like the other guys that worked there- who were so direct as to sometimes be grotesque. But the way he looked at me, I could tell he liked me, and it made me feel pretty for the first time in a long time. As we got to know each other and grew closer as friends, things were getting worse at home.
In the time that he had been away, my husband’s little hometown had discovered meth. At least it seemed that all of his friends had. Although they were not your stereotypical junkies, many of them dabbled in its use. So eventually he started dabbling too. He had always had a hot temper, had always been somewhat of an asshole- excepting the first six months of our relationship, when he had put on the act of appearing like a normal guy. But the drugs were like a magnifier. Every few weeks he would get some and I would brace myself for the coming storm. He would stay up all night playing video games, and when I got up in the morning he’d still be on the couch watching TV, or playing the same game as if eight hours hadn’t just passed. His face was gaunt and his eyes were sunken and hollow. He looked like the living dead. Then he would be an irritable son-of-a-bitch for at least three days. Our worst fights happened then.
He especially resented my working at the restaurant. Not at first, but over time, he couldn’t stand the thought of my being out at night, he was sure I was going to the bar next door with my friends every night before I came home.
In the mornings, as soon as he woke up, he would ask “Are you working tonight?” If the answer was no, then things were cool for a bit, until he found something else to bitch about. But if I said yes, the arguing would start right then, at 6:30 a.m.
The day I decided that I liked Josh was when I came to work and his funny glasses were gone. He had gotten contacts. Who knew that those glasses had been hiding big, dark, beautiful brown eyes? We still weren’t openly flirting, but we talked every night, sitting on those benches, smoking Camel Lights. We talked about TV shows, our dream vacations, and who knows what else- it’s hard to remember because all we were really saying- not with our mouths, but with our eyes- was I like you. I like you a lot and what a shame that we are in such circumstances that we cannot be together. I do remember clearly however- when he mentioned the night my husband had come to pick me up from work- how disrespectfully he had talked to me where others could hear, how unfitting a couple we were. I tried to explain it all away, but he saw right through it. He knew I was unhappy.
About a year after he started at the restaurant, Josh broke my heart. He said he was moving away, moving to the city where his father and sisters lived. I pretended to be happy for him- he was getting out of this place- but I was in agony. My only refuge was leaving. I wanted to keep him for myself, even if it would only ever be nightly conversations, seeing him was the only thing that kept me going as things got more chaotic at home.
His last night in town he wasn’t working, but he came up to the restaurant to say goodbye to everyone. He and I walked outside together for the last time, but we didn’t stop at the back of the restaurant. We walked through the parking lot behind it and down a set of stairs that led into a pretty courtyard behind the art museum. We sat on a bench across from a fountain and talked a little while. Then it was time for him to go, and me to get back to work. He leaned in and gave me a sweet goodbye kiss- that sent me briefly to heaven and broke my heart all at once. Goodbye. I love you, but I will probably never see you again.
I was afraid to give him my phone number but I gave him my email address. He said he would be in touch. He also told me if I ever realized how unhappy I really was in my marriage, if I ever got out of that little town and went back home- he would be waiting. He would only be a few hours away and would come see me on the weekends and would treat me better than any man had ever done. It seemed like a fantastic dream that I would never realize.
A few weeks later, I did get an email from him, and we emailed back and forth occasionally. He gave me his number, and we talked from time to time, flirtatiously, but with no real hope of being together.
Things between my husband and I got progressively worse. The fighting was incessant. He was always yelling, always angry, always putting me down, cussing, name calling, controlling. I hated and feared him but felt trapped at the same time. He was violent, and he was mean.
They say the night is always darkest before the dawn. And January 16th was the darkest day. As he was getting ready for work he became angry at my oldest daughter and began screaming at her in a rage. I couldn’t stand to hear him berate her that way, so I jumped in.
“You don’t scream at my daughter that way!”
Then began the worst fight we ever had. Thankfully she had the sense to go into her little sister’s room and shut the door so neither of them had to see what happened. Most of it is a blur now but what I do remember was- my dresser, the top of my dresser was where I kept a collection of jewelry boxes and trinkets, arranged in the same way for years, some of which I had owned since I was a little girl. With his arm he swept it all off, sending my things smashing to the floor. Then I jumped on him…then we were in the living room, where he dragged me across the floor by my hair, skinning my knees on the carpet…then in the bedroom, where he had his knee pinning my chest to the floor so hard I couldn’t breath…smashing my face down with his hand…his finger got close to my mouth so I bit down as hard as I could- I was trying to bite it off…then a few minutes later in the kitchen, where he slapped me in the face. And at that moment, I had had enough. We had fought before, he had struck me before, but never had I been so afraid as I was that morning. And I wasn’t going to be afraid anymore. I wasn’t going to live in denial- he won’t do it again. He would always do it again, worse every time, unless I stopped him. So when he wasn’t looking, I grabbed the phone. And I called the police.
No, I didn’t have him arrested. The cops came, interviewed, took pictures, and then he went on to work. Then I called my parents- get a u-haul, come and get me.
And the next day, after I was all packed up, my kids were riding with my parents and I was in my own car, driving down the highway- I called Josh.
“Guess where I am?”
“Driving down I75 South.”
“I did it. I left. I’m going home.” I will never forget what he said then.
“I am trembling at the thought of being with you.”
We talked for a long time. And every day after. And he began to come see me after a few months. And we fell in love.
Recently he moved to my hometown, and we got a place together. It is a nice little home and I have never been so happy. It has been a year since I left my old, tragic life behind. And I contemplate often how I made bad decisions and remained in a dangerous situation as long as I did.
But I am grateful every day for the courage I finally had to take back control of my own destiny.
And I have all the love in the world to show for it.
About Rebecca Coppedge:
Rebecca Coppedge is a mother, an artist, and a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Florida. She loves being outside, going to the beach, and spending time with her loved ones
Stay connected with Facebook or Twitter.
Leave a Reply