Relationship woes drives a woman to take back her life.
| “Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back,” Bono began as U2 launched into their rendition of “Helter Skelter.”
“If this isn’t an appropriate song for the last year of my life,” Karen Alvarez said aloud to herself.
She took her eyes off the snowbound road to look at clock on the car radio. It was 10:30 p.m. Her English instructor held the class over fifteen minutes later than usual to discuss what was expected for the mid-term exam. Between the snow and Dr. Conrad, she was going to have to pay the babysitter another five dollars she didn’t have. She wondered briefly if it was possible to take out a loan to pay the babysitter. Not likely with my credit history, she thought.
She hadn’t had much cause to smile in the last year or so. Her abusive, possessive boyfriend, David, had forced her to move as far away from her hometown of Victory, Michigan as she could afford. Unfortunately, she could only to move an hour north to Ridgefield. It still wasn’t far enough away from the ass for her liking. David found out where she was from a mutual “friend.” He would drive up to wait outside her apartment in the mornings. Another of his games was to call in the middle of the night just to hang up when she answered. Either that, or he would threaten her unless she let him back into her life. Karen had changed her number three times, yet he still kept calling. She slapped a restraining order on him and changed the number one last time. The calls stopped, but fear still played on Karen’s emotions. Not so much for her, as for her daughter, Cassie.
The spirited six-year-old personified what little was right and good in Karen’s life. Karen had become pregnant right out of high school. She had planned on marrying Cassie’s father and living happily ever after. That is, until he joined the Army. Now he was happily ever after in Germany, and she was just living.
The DJ’s smooth voice replaced Bono’s screech, jolting her out of her reverie.
“That was U2, and before that we had Journey and a little Boston for ya,” he said. “The official WRKR weather forecast is brought to you by Hampton Ford. If you need a car, or in this case, a four-by-four, go see Hal. We’re going to see more snow, up to seven inches tonight, with lows in the upper ‘teens. It’s now a balmy 23 degrees. Here’s a little Jimmy Buffet and ‘Margaritaville’ going out to Ken in Ridgefield. Think warm thoughts everybody.”
“Seven inches,” Karen groaned. “At this rate, I’ll be lucky to thaw out by June. I wish I was in Margaritaville.”
She drove for another five minutes, the radio the only noise in the car. Karen came to a stop in from of her apartment building. The dingy, red brick captured little bits of snow, making the building look like it had been flocked. It wasn’t much, but it was better than living on the streets. She ran as fast as she could from her car to the door. The dimly-lit stairwell to the third floor wasn’t big enough to accommodate her and a backpack stuffed with books. It forced her to climb at an angle. Karen was winded by the time she reached her apartment.
“I’ve got to take aerobics next semester,” she huffed as she put the key in the lock, turned it, and opened the door.
Angela, her babysitter, was asleep on the couch. Cassie sat in front of the TV with her back to the door. Karen recognized Disney’s “Aladdin” being played on the VCR. The Genie turned into a little blue sheep. Cassie giggled when the sheep said, “You baaad boy.”
Karen smiled in spite of herself. Strawberry-blonde hair fell in silky waves down the middle of the girl’s back. The ever-present smile and sparkling hazel eyes lit up any room she was in.
“It’s way past your bedtime young lady. Why are you still up?” Karen said.
Cassie turned, squealing with delight. “Mommy!” She ran over to Karen and jumped into her arms. Karen squeezed her tight. “I missed you,” Cassie said.
“I missed you too, Punkin’,” Karen said. “Now why are you still up?”
“Because she ran me ragged,” Angela said from the couch. She rose into a sitting position, stretched and yawned. “She beat me four out of five games of Uno, then took my glasses and made me chase her for about twenty minutes. She’s a fast little bugger.” Angela smiled as she rose to leave.
Karen frowned at Cassie. “That’s not nice. Why did you take her glasses?”
“She said I could see them,” Cassie said mischievously. Karen rolled her eyes. She walked Angela to the door, apologizing profusely for being late. She pushed the deadbolt across and attached the chain after the sitter left. Cassie brushed her teeth and went to bed, after much fussing. Karen finished watching the movie. She cried at the end. Happy endings always made her depressed.
A banging on the door woke Karen with a start. She took a deep breath and willed her heart rate to return to normal. She glanced at the clock as the pounding began anew. 3:32 in the A.M., waaay too early for visitors.
Karen rolled out of bed, grabbed her robe and headed into the living room. The pounding became more insistent.
“Alright already. I’m coming, I’m coming,” she muttered, more to herself than out loud. A moan escaped her lips as she looked through the fisheye. A young man, about 6’4, with green eyes and shaggy brown hair leaned against the door.
She sighed as she unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door as far as the chain would allow. “It’s 3:30 in the morning. What do you want David?”
“I just thought I would come over for a visit,” David slurred drunkenly. “Can’t a guy visit his girlfriend?”
“I’m not your girlfriend anymore David,” Karen said, exasperated. “We broke up six months ago.”
“But that doesn’t mean that I can’t come and see you any more.”
“Actually, it does,” she said. “That’s what breaking up means. It means we’re not together any more. It means I don’t want you in my life any more.”
“But I miss you,” he whined.
“David, we’ve been through this more than I care to count. I don’t want anything to do with you. Which part of ‘Get the hell out of my life’ don’t you understand?”
“But I love you,” he cried loudly. He reached through the opening to grab at her. She slapped his hand away.
“Quiet, you drunken idiot,” she shushed him. “If you wake Cassie up, I’m going to kick your ass. Now get away from here before I call the cops.” She tried to close the door, but David was leaning against it sobbing.
“Let me in,” he said softly.
“Let me in!”
“NO!” She struggled to close the door against David’s dead weight. “Go away.”
“DAMMIT, LET ME IN!!” He put his foot in the opening and rammed his shoulder against the door. The force knocked Karen back, but the chain held. She moved to close the door again, but David had taken a running start. His headlong rush snapped the chain, throwing it violently open.
Karen walked into it. The door caught her on the side of the head and launched her backwards.
“When I say let me in, I mean LET ME IN!” he growled menacingly through clenched teeth. Karen focused unsteadily on the figure silhouetted in the doorway. Stars flashed all around
Cassie’s sleepy voice brought Karen back to reality. “Mommy, what’s going on?” Maternal instincts took over.
“Cassie, go back to your room now and lock the door,” Karen said without looking. Too tired to argue, the little girl closed the bedroom door, snapping the lock quickly afterward. Karen sighed inwardly. Whatever David was going to do, Cassie would be relatively safe.
David approached with deliberation, grasping at his belt. He smiled ominously. She smiled back innocently as he approached, until he stopped to stand over her. She continued to smile as her leg shot up and her heel connected with his crotch. Karen crab walked backwards as David fell to his knees.
“You bitch,” he gasped as he crumpled into a heap. To make damn sure he couldn’t do anything more, Karen stood and grabbed the closest hard object, a lamp. She yanked the cord out of the outlet and slammed it as hard as she could on David’s head. The ex-boyfriend went unconscious.
“Hello,” a voice called from the doorway. “Everybody okay here?” Paul, her neighbor across the hall, stuck his head in the doorway. He looked from David’s inert form to Karen and back to David. He fumbled along the side of the doorway until he found the light switch and snapped it on. “I guess you don’t need my help.”
Self-consciously she ran her hand through her hair, wincing as her fingers ran over the goose egg on her scalp. Paul smiled. He was only a couple of inches taller than Karen with bright blue eyes and a shock of unruly blonde hair poking up in back. In the background a police siren screamed.
“I called the police, but I don’t think you need it,” he said.
Karen smiled back. “I’ll take any help I can get. Thanks.”
Paul winced appreciatively as he glanced pointedly at David. “Remind me not to piss you off.”
Footsteps sounded up the stairwell. A police officer stood next to Paul. “Are you alright Ma’am?”
“Yeah,” Karen said. “This jackass forced his way into my apartment.” She pointed at David’s inert figure. “Plus, he has a restraining order against him.”
The officer walked in and cuffed David, who was beginning to regain consciousness. He asked Karen to accompany him to the bottom of the stairwell while he dragged David along. The officer shoved him into the back of the police cruiser. He walked back to the stairwell to take statements from both Karen and Paul. After about 30 minutes he drove off, leaving Karen feeling very alone and very vulnerable.
“Are you alright?” Paul asked as they climbed the stairs her apartment.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Right now, I just want to get back to sleep. Thanks for coming over.
“If there are any more problems, come bang on my door,” Paul said.
“I will. Thanks,” she said as they reached her apartment. She half waved goodnight to her neighbor and shut the door. The deadbolt slid back in place, but the chain was a lost cause. It hung awkwardly by one screw.
“The hell with it,” she muttered. Karen unlocked Cassie’s door with her key and checked on the girl before heading to her own room. Karen’s baby-girl snored softly. “I wish I could do that,” Karen said to herself.
Her head hurt and the knot that was forming felt like it was the size of a softball. The thought of the sport gave Karen an idea. She opened her closet and pulled out a duffle bag. Inside were a pair of cleats, two pairs of batting gloves, a first-baseman’s mitt and a 26-ounce aluminum softball bat. She slid the bat out of the bag and leaned it against the wall between her bed and the night stand.
She laid down, willing herself to sleep. Sleep was not an option.
Four hours later she was awake to greet the sun.
During the next couple of weeks Paul stopped by periodically, sometimes staying until the early hours of the morning talking with Karen on her couch. One evening he was unusually quiet.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Why?”
“You’re really quiet. Is something on your mind?”
“Wellll,” he hesitated for a second, then continued. “I was just wondering if maybe you would like to go see a movie sometime. Er, with me that is.”
“I’d like that,” Karen said.
“Really?!” Paul seemed surprised by the answer. “How about next week Friday? That would give you enough time to get a sitter for Cassie.”
“Sure.” She smiled.
The next Friday arrived quickly. Paul picked Karen up at 6 p.m. so they could make it to a 6:30 movie, a Kevin Costner flick. “This is one of his shorter ones,” he joked. “It only lasts eight hours.”
After the movie the couple went to one of the two local clubs. They danced until they were exhausted and held hands the whole way home. They stopped in the hallway between the two apartments and talked quietly for several minutes, neither of them wanting to be the first to turn away. Karen broke first and turned to put her key in the lock. Paul stopped her.
“Wait a sec, I have something for Cassie,” he said. He unlocked his door and ran inside. When he appeared again, he held an old, beaten-up, stuffed lion. It was clearly past its prime. One eye was missing and half the mane was gone. The tail had the marks of at least two separate stitchings.
“What is that?” Karen asked.
“This is Leo,” Paul said. “He’s my sleeping buddy.”
“You sleep with a stuffed lion,” she said.
“Sure,” he said. “Doesn’t everybody? My grandma gave it to me when I was twelve. It was the last thing she ever gave me.”
Karen took the beaten up lion from his hands, giving Paul a kiss on the cheek in the process.
He smiled. “What’s that for?”
“Nothing, you’re just adorable, that’s all,” she said. “Do you want to give it to her?”
“If it means I get to spend more time with you, sure.”
They entered the apartment to the sounds of Disney’s “Jungle Book.” Angela was sleeping on the couch. On the floor in front of the TV Cassie sang “The Bear Necessities.” Karen cleared her throat.
“Mommy!” Cassie shouted as she turned around. She ran and jumped into Karen’s arms. “Why were you two outside in the hallway for so long?”
Paul blushed slightly.
“Paul has something for you Cassie,” Karen said, quickly turning Cassie’s attention back to her to save her companion some embarrassment. He held out the lion to her daughter.
“He sleeps with me and keeps bad dreams away,” Paul said. “Would you like to borrow him for a while?”
Cassie nodded excitedly, taking the offered animal and hugging him close. “Thank you.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome.”
Karen mouthed thank you to Paul as well, receiving a wink in return. “Alright rugrat, off to bed with you,” she said to Cassie while putting back on her feet.
“But Mommy, the movie isn’t over with.”
“It is now. Brush the fangs and hit the sack, kiddo.”
Cassie pouted all the way to the bathroom. The sound of water running and an electric toothbrush spinning came from the room. Karen woke Angela up, paying her for her time. She thanked the sitter again as she walked her to the door.
“No problem,” Angela muttered sleepily. “G’Night.”
Karen locked the doorknob and the deadbolt. She ran the new chain into the guide. After a quick double check, she turned to Paul. “Have a seat on the couch while I get Cassie to bed.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Locking me in, are we? Am I staying the night?”
“Don’t get your hopes up lover boy,” Karen chided. “And definitely not on the first date.”
Paul held his hands up. “Hey, I was just joking,” he said, smiling.
Karen walked slowly up to him and laid a gentle hand on the left side of his face. “I wasn’t,” she said softly with a smile. She patted his cheek, then turned toward Cassie’s room. After some joking around and a little snuggle time, Karen emerged from the room and shut the door quietly. Paul was on the couch with his back to the Karen. His head bobbed in time with King Louie. She could hear him singing softly to himself.
“You’re still a big kid aren’t you?” she asked. He turned and smiled sheepishly.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” He patted the cushion next to him. “Have a seat.” She smiled as she sat, making herself comfortable in the crook of his arm. The couple watched without speaking.
“Thank you,” Karen said, breaking the silence.
“For making me feel safe,” she said. “It’s something I haven’t felt since David broke in. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since.”
Paul gave her a slight squeeze. “I’ll be your Leo tonight, if you want.
“Just until the movie’s over,” she said as she made herself more comfortable. She snuggled deeper into his embrace and yawned. “Then you’ve got to go.”
“Of course,” he said. He smiled as he looked down at her. Her eyes were already closed. Within minutes she began breathing deeply. A slight snore escaped. Paul finished watching the movie.
Karen’s eyes shot open at the noise. She laid perfectly still in the bed, barely daring to breath. Awareness hit her. She was fully clothed, except for her socks and shoes. A quick glance around told her Paul had put her to bed and let himself out.
A shadow in her doorway made her heart stop. The smell of bourbon permeated the air. She swallowed. “Paul?”
The shadow chuckled menacingly. “Not hardly,” David said. “Who’s Paul? Your friend from across the hall?”
“Nobody you need to concern yourself with.”
He raised his right hand. Karen’s eyes went wide as David wagged a pistol at her like a parent chastising a child. “Are you cheating on me? You know I’m the only one for you.”
Karen’s mouth opened in horror as she saw a tiny hand reach out and punch David in the thigh. He turned quickly and snatched at Cassie on the other side of the doorway. The girl struggled as he pulled her into view.
“Leave her alone,” Karen cried.
David’s attention turned back to her. “You know, she used to like me,” he said. “You’ve poisoned her…OOOWWWW!!” Cassie’s teeth bit into his arm. He released his grip, stumbling as he turned. Karen saw her daughter disappear out of sight, heard the bedroom door slam shut and lock. Cassie’s quick departure didn’t prevent David from firing at her door.
“NOOO!!” Karen shrieked. She leaped at David. With more speed than she thought possible he turned, backhanding her into her nightstand. The little table tipped over, spilling the lamp and clock radio. Karen’s bat bounced off her head, dazing her slightly and landed over her shoulder. From the open doorway came a call.
“Karen?!” Paul called out. David whipped around, pulling the trigger. The gun fired. A heavy object hit the floor. David walked into the living room to look at his handiwork.
Karen’s fear turned into rage. She drew the bat like a knight unsheathing a sword and held it in front of her in an unwavering two-handed grip. David was standing over Paul’s inert body when she emerged from the room. In his drunken state, he didn’t hear Karen’s approach. Her swing connected with his right shoulder. He dropped the gun and cried out. He tried to retreat but his feet tangled with Paul’s, sending David sprawling on top of the gun. He grabbed it and tried to take aim. Karen rushed in, planted, and swung. The bat connected with David’s wrist, snapping it. The gun went flying.
“You broke my hand!” he cried. He struggled to his knees, cradling the wrist in his other hand.
The bat felt good in her hands. She planted her back foot and stepped into her swing. David’s nose flattened against his face. He cried out again and fell back, whimpering. Karen brought the bat down again. And again. And again.
She didn’t hear David’s skull crack. Didn’t even register the droplets of blood and gore splattering her clothes. Pent up anger and rage released. Anger at hurting a friend. Anger at trying to kill her daughter. Anger at a year’s worth of abuse, of threatening phone calls, of drunken visits.
The bat’s relentless movement ended when David’s blood pooled around Karen’s feet. It fell from her shaking hands, splattering her with more blood. She stood for a couple of minutes, looking at the bloody heap on the floor.
Suddenly, it was too quiet. She spun around. Bloody tracks followed her to the radio.
“….at WIRX,” the DJ said. “Now, here’s the Beatles with ‘Helter Skelter.’”