Fort Bragg, NC - 1994
I back up slowly as he steps through the doorway. I knew this was a possibility. I knew they wouldn't believe me and let him leave. But I had to try. For my son, I would do anything.
"What did you do, Patty girl?" His voice bellows through the room.
I can feel his anger coming off him in waves. The muscles under his shirt tense along his shoulders and arms. His fists clench over and over. I know from past experience I can't lie to him, it only makes the beatings worse. I'm so tired of this. Tired of taking his abuse. Tired of the threats to my life. I want to give up but I can't, not as long as Joshua is alive. There was a time when I loved this man, but I can't remember when that was anymore.
He reaches behind him and pulls a gun from his waistband. I slowly back up to put distance between us as he advances on me more.
"I had to. I can't do—" He slams the barrel into the side of my face. The force throws me off and I fall to the ground, landing on my arm, and my wrist buckles. My cheek hurts but I know it's not broken. Yeah, I know what a broken cheekbone feels like.
Thank God he missed my nose, I can't stand to have it broken again.
"Stop whining, you lying woman. Tell me why you lied to my commanding officer."
I told his commanding officer he was drinking again. It's not a lie, but I've never told on him before. Him threatening last night to kill our son made me do it. He told me he would kill him if I ever left him.
He kicks at my arm, his heavy boot connecting with deadly trained accuracy. My arm snaps, the bones still healing from the last break four months ago. The hospital is going to question a second break. He's either too drunk to realize this or he's going to end us all tonight.
I cradle my arm to my body, the thumping of blood through it about causes me to pass out. I need to answer him, or he'll kill me right here and kill Joshua where he sleeps. I push off the floor with my good arm and square my shoulders as I finally stand up to him.
"I can't do this anymore. You said you were done with us, so I was going to leave in the morning," I say the words and pray they’re enough. Pray he will let us go and finally be done torturing us.
"You'll never be done with me. I've told you many times, Patty…you're done when I kill you."
The cocking of the gun and him pointing it at my face is all the motivation I need. I drop my head so I'm not looking him in the eye, and lower my arms to my sides. The throbbing in my broken arm serves as a reminder of what I've already survived, and what I will continue to do for my child.
"I'm sorry, Nathan. You're right. I made a mistake." The words slip out, a rote memory I've said over and over. I hear movement, but I don't look up. I know I need to stay in this position for him to calm down.
"Oh, you'll be sorry all right." He delivers a crushing blow to my cheekbone and I fall back. My scalp burns as he grips my hair to keep me upright. The next hit slams into my face and I feel the crunch of my nose, broken again. The stars before my eyes want me to succumb to the bliss of unconsciousness but I can't do that. I bite down on my tongue to keep myself awake. The coppery taste of blood makes me gag and my eyes flair wide. I look up at him and wait for the next hit.
"No. Please stop. I… I won't leave you." I'm not above begging for my son's sake.
"You're damn straight you won't leave me."
My body flies through the air and I slam into the wall. Pictures fall off their hooks and onto me, each corner another cut to my skin. Glass from one frame cuts into my face and another my upper body. I can barely see through my eyes. One is swelling closed and the other has a black spot in it, obscuring my vision.
"Mum, no! Leave her alone."
Oh God, no! Joshua!
I try to push myself up but I keep slipping on the blood and my arm buckles from the pain. The dizziness is getting worse.
"No. Please. Don't hurt him. He's just a boy," I beg.
Through my hazy vision I watch in horror as Joshua slips under the coffee table and grabs Nathan's gun. Oh God, I never noticed him put it down.
"I should've killed you when you were born. Your mom saddled me with a child that probably isn't even mine," he yells at Joshua. I've heard those hateful words every day since he suffered a brain injury shortly after I got pregnant. Nathan swears Joshua is someone else's son. The doctors keep telling us there is nothing wrong with him, but I know the day he was hurt he became a different man. A hateful, cruel, and angry man.
"Ace, don't point that at me 'less you mean to kill me, 'cause I'll kill you when I get to you." His words are slurred.
"No, please, don't hurt him. He's still a little boy." I continue to beg. The tears running down my face mingle with the blood.
"Shut up, Patty, he's almost a man. He's twelve." He spits at me as he kicks me in the ribs. He stumbles, and I pray he'll fall over and pass out before he hurts Joshua.
"Stop hurting my mum. I'll kill you," Joshua says in a voice I've never heard before. It's full of anger and deep pain. He's becoming a man and protecting me, just like his grandfather would want. I've allowed my son to become this person. This is why I was leaving Nathan. I found a shelter that would help me, but I didn't make it out on time.
"Okay, Ace, try it." Nathan turns to him and lifts his arms out to his sides, taunting him.
If I can gather the energy, I can hit him in the back of his knees and drop him so he won't hurt Joshua.
Before I can get up the gun discharges. Nathan falls back and slams his head into the side table. Blood blooms from his chest and head. I look around for Joshua and feel his body slide on the blood by my head.
"Mum. Mum, I'm calling 911."
"No, Joshua. You can't." I look around me and see he set the gun down beside him. Reaching for it, I do what I must to protect my son. "I shot him. Not you." The tears continue to flow down my face. My words are garbled through my bloody lips.
"But, Mum, why? I was protecting you. Grandfather said it’s my job."
"Joshua, if I shot him, it's self-defense. If they find out it was you, you can be charged. Is he…" I can't say the words that I pray for.
"No. I don't know, just a moment." Joshua moves away from me and I pray Nathan is out cold. "He's not dead. It was in the shoulder. Sorry I failed you, Mum. I wanted to kill him for you."
"911, what's your emergency?" The dispatcher’s voice comes across the phone in Joshua’s hands as someone bangs on the door.
The neighbors usually ignore us, but the gunshot must have attracted someone's attention. The door bursts open and military police storm the room. I rub my hands all over the gun and clench it close to my body. No one will ever know what really happened here if I can help it.
"Drop the gun, ma'am," they say as they point their guns at me.
"He was going to kill me." It's not a lie, he would have if he'd had more time. I place the gun down in the pool of blood surrounding me. I look at the blood in horror and try to figure out where it's coming from as I close my eyes.
"Call my grandfather, Admiral Taylor," Joshua tells them while I lose my battle with staying conscious.
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