An Interactive Twilight Experience.
The wedding was planned and executed, and on December 19, 1917, I became Esme Anne Evenson. We didn’t honeymoon with Christmas so close, but there were promises of travel to come. Since Charles had only been renting a room to live in, we stayed at the farm with my parents. Charles insisted we take a room at the opposite end of the house and on the third floor, away from my parents to allow us some privacy. We did spend the first two nights at his rented room. Mama had talked to me about the marital bed obligations and I knew what to expect.
What I didn’t expect was the abuse that started just after the holidays. It was little things at first, mostly verbal. He would berate me for some little thing, a spot on a shirt, the wrong amount of starch to his shirt collars. Steadily it escalated from yelling and belittling me to throwing things. Then one night as we got ready for bed, he hit me. I was so shocked I just stood looking at him. There was no feeling of betrayal, or pain. Just a shock that he would strike me. He was not apologetic in the least. As a matter of fact, I saw a look of triumph in his face, as if he had just discovered he was bigger and stronger than me. He didn’t say another word, just turned out the lights and got in bed.
He was brutal that night with me and I kept quiet. My silence seemed to egg him on and he was rougher. Each night it was a battle of the wills, and in the morning it was habit for him to hit me. Ashamed, I tried to avoid letting my parents know and was successful until he flat out punched me. He ate his breakfast and was long gone by the time I made it down to the kitchen. Papa was in bed, and he was fading fast. I knew now he had held on to his life to see me married, thinking it was going to make me happy. Mama saw the black eye and swollen cheek. I couldn’t look her in the eye.
“Did Charles do this?”
“Yes Mama. He’s been hitting me for months. I-I didn’t want you or Papa to know.”
Mama hugged me tight and let me cry it out. Once the tears passed she wiped my face gently and looked at my bruised eye. She slipped out of the room and returned with her make-up kit and worked on concealing it as best she could. She frowned as she worked on me, and I wondered what she was thinking. Would she demand Charles leave the house and see about a discreet divorce? I felt a little hope in my heart until she finished and sat back to look at her work.
“You cannot let anyone know. Charles is within his rights as your husband and we can’t upset your father with this. For him, for me, please, don’t tell anyone.”
My heart fell in my chest, realizing that there was not going to be an escape. I had to endure his abuse. I was thinking ahead, how was I going to truncate the abuse. If he thought I was subdued and meek, it wouldn’t be as bad. He was trying to exert his authority and if I let him think he had it, he would not get as severe.
I nodded at Mama and stood going in to sit with Papa and read him the paper, our daily routine. He was very pale and quiet, studying me, but never said anything. I smiled and chattered, fussed about his bed and tidied. He drifted off to sleep and I slipped back to my room, wondering how I was going to survive.
My relief came at the end of March when Charles got his conscription letter. World War I was raging overseas and now it had touched our farm. I tried to put on the face of the distraught wife for the public, but inside I was thrilled. I would have a respite from his brutal treatment of me, the mental abuse. I had given up on my teaching dreams, and was spending more and more of my time alone or with Papa and Mama. He shipped out and I breathed a sigh of freedom and relief. I didn’t know if and when he would return, and didn’t care.
Papa passed away a month later, and Mama and I settled into a routine, finding that there were people who needed help. We offered rooms to soldiers home who may be traveling home or food to families who needed a helping hand. We made clothes and blankets, afghans and pillows, donating them. It felt good to be able to do something for those less fortunate than we were. Papa had always made donations to charities, but getting in and being hands on gave me a new sense of purpose. I taught some of the women to read and do a little arithmetic, just enough so that they were not dependent on others. Many of the war widows had let their husbands run the house hold, and they were easy prey for disreputable people after their money and homes. I had come to consider myself a war widow, since there were no letters from me to Charles or from him to me. I had no idea where he was or how he was, and had, in fact, almost forgotten he existed.
Then, one year after he had left on the train out of Columbus to New York City, I opened the door to find him walking up the porch steps. He strode right towards me, slapped me on the cheek, grabbed my arm and dragged me to our rooms. He had returned.