An Interactive Twilight Experience.
With Charles’s return home, my world became gray and bleak again. His attitude hadn’t changed, if anything, it was worse. He had learned in his time away how to hide what he was doing to me, making sure not to leave a visible mark. Although he didn’t realize it, there were visible marks on me, noticed in my demeanor.
Knowing it would be suspect if he returned and we suddenly shut off our charitable work, he allowed us to continue. He was a smart man, and realized that Papa’s business was now his business, not that he owned the company, but in the reputation of the family. He made wise decisions where that was concerned and often did things in the way Papa would have, if not in the spirit.
The people who came to the house to give or receive help noticed the change in the atmosphere, but didn’t question it. On more than one occasion, I heard the whispers and the clucking tongues. I tried to smile and be cheerful around them, but it was forced and came out strained.
In August of 1920, Mama had a sudden stroke and died. There was no warning and I felt as if I had been stripped naked, inside and out. Now, I was alone with Charles, with no buffer. He saw the opportunity to end the charity at the farm with her passing, playing it off as her pet project and dream. I was confined to the farm, never allowed to leave the house without Charles as an escort. The help lived in fear of his temper and obeyed his edicts regarding me. No one could afford to lose their job if they allowed me to disobey him and leave.
I sat, day after day in Papa’s rocking chair, lost for what to do. I lost weight and inspiration, finding no joy in anything. My books sat unread, my needlework unstitched. I developed a heavy sigh that I had to hide when he was around, since it sent him into a rage.
“You should be grateful you have me to take care of things for you. Why is that so hard for you to accept? I work dawn to dusk to keep you in this house with a staff, to make sure you have nice things, and all you can do is sit and cry and sigh!”
He took no more care in leaving signs of his abuse on me. I didn’t dare call Dr. Mayes and learned to treat the wounds Charles left on me when necessary. As August faded into September and my birthday passed unnoticed, and the leaves of October began to fall. I started to become more fatigued and sick. Nancy couldn’t bear it any more and called on Dr. Mayes. After a brief exam and few questions, he sat back and smiled.
“You are going to be a mother. Congratulations.”
His news shocked me, and seemed to awaken the deep fire that Charles tried so hard to extinguish.
“Oh yes, I have done this enough times to tell.”
“Don’t tell anyone. Not even Charles.”
Dr. Mayes’s eyes widened, then narrowed. He took my hand and patted it.
“Esme Anne, I have been your doctor since the day you were born. I know what he does to you. Perhaps if you tell him you are with child, he will stop.”
“No! It would only be for a short time if he did. He can’t know until I figure out what to do.”
“You won’t have much time before it becomes obvious you know.”
I nodded and smiled. He gave me a hug and Nancy escorted him out. I lay back in the bed, thinking about what I could do. I remembered Mama had a cousin that lived in Milwaukee. If I could get there and hide, maybe I could keep myself and the baby safe. I called Nancy to the room and together, we worked out a plan. I knew that the other staff would tell Charles as soon as they got a chance, but Nancy had been my nanny. She was going to travel with me to Chicago, where she would stay with her daughter.
Over the next month I planned my trip, contacted my cousin who was more than happy to have me, and saved some of the household money. Nancy gave me her salary and in no time I had what I needed to leave. Early one morning before Charles woke, we crept out of the house to the train station. We would be well on our way into Michigan before he knew we were gone.
For the first time since he had returned from the war, I felt a little spark of hope.