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23 January 2012 @ 04:31 pm
Real LJ Idol: "The Grace In Letting Go"  
The Grace In Letting Go
real lj idol | week 11 | 1563 words
Open Topic


The hall closet had a stash of secret things, no Whys or Whens but always If, because there were some things Lily couldn't bring herself to say out loud. Pride might be the death of her, but she liked to think she'd realize it if things ever approached the line where anger became fierce enough to kill.

"You can always come here," her mother kept saying, as if Lily might have forgotten. It was getting harder and harder for Lily to say Thank you to the accusations underneath the offer, and there was always someplace else she was in a hurry to be: making sure dinner would be ready when Wayne came home, or cleaning the house, or brushing her teeth over and over to hide the fact that she'd been throwing up all day.

Her mother's words would come to her when she was mopping the floor or buying beer for Wayne and his buddies: Where are you in all of this?

Most days, Lily couldn't even pretend to know.

She didn't go out much, but when she did she always seemed to run into someone from high school. Even ordinary questions were hard to answer. "What are you doing these days?" was a post-feminist pitfall, because nobody stayed home simply to take care of the house anymore. Wayne didn't want children that might take Lily's attention away from him, and she got tired of having to be evasive whenever that topic came up.

Sometimes, just talking about it hurt too much.

Nothing she did seemed to make Wayne happy, at least not for long. "You used to be pretty," he'd say, watching her until her skin prickled. "Jesus, what the hell happened?"

She swore to herself that she'd try harder. Maybe she'd start wearing lipstick again, or do something about the way her clothes just seemed to hang on her these days. But there was never enough time. As soon as Wayne left for work each morning, she'd clean up the kitchen. After that, it was straightening, vacuuming, laundry, ironing, groceries, and odds-and-ends kinds of chores. Lily usually missed lunch unless she got together with an old friend, but that rarely happened. Wayne got jealous if she spent too much time with other people, and it wasn't worth the risk of making him angry.

Besides, she hated the questions people asked: What's that bruise on your wrist? or How did you hurt your shoulder? or worst of all, Do you have someplace safe you can go?

It was hard enough just trying to make it through any given day. She had no energy to respond to those questions, and she was so tired of making things up.

So much of her time was spent cleaning and tidying, because Wayne liked everything just so. She made sure the contents of the pantry and the medicine cabinet were lined up properly, and dusted shelf after shelf of knickknacks that Wayne's aunts and uncles and grandparents had passed along.

The house was full of artifacts from someone else's life, someone Lily hardly remembered being.

Here, on the mantelpiece was a picture from her wedding. She'd been so young then—only a year out of high school—and her future had looked so bright, so hopeful. Those days all seemed so far away, now.

There, by the door where Wayne had carried her across the threshold after their wedding, was the dent from where her head had struck the wall the night Wayne came home and discovered the burnt ruins of his dinner.

Lily's mother kept telling her to leave him, but who did she think Lily was? Lily wasn’t brave or clever or resourceful; she was the women who never got all the streaks off the windows, the one whose hair was always stringy and whose Sunday pot roast was always dry.

People like her couldn't go chasing off after loose-end fantasies that had never even existed in the first place.

One hot late-April morning after weeks of rain, Lily looked outside and realized that something was different. Half the flowers in the yard were blooming, and sky was a cloudless blue. The weather had finally turned for the year. Summer was on its way.

She stripped the bed and put the sheets in the washing machine, then went to get the light-weight summer bedding out of the linen cupboard. She had to wrestle with the contents of the cupboard, just like always. No matter how often she straightened and reorganized it, it was simply too full. Wayne had crammed some of his mother's things in there, and space had been limited to begin with. Lily twisted and yanked at the bed sheets, trying to pull them loose. They jerked free suddenly, falling on top of her and pulling the box they'd been sitting on right along with them.

The box was marked "Lily's Things," in permanent marker. The handwriting was Lily's.

She hadn't opened this box since they moved into the house four years ago.

Lily sat down with the box and removed the lid. Both the box and its contents were smaller than she remembered. There was a threadbare, light-brown teddy bear in there named "Buttons," for his eyes. He'd been hers ever since she was a little girl, a gift from Grandma Bess. Next to him was a dried-out clump of flowers—Wayne's boutonniere from the wedding. Lily had pressed it for weeks to preserve it, but something had gone wrong. The colors were faded and the flowers just looked old.

There was the music box her mother had given her for her sixteenth birthday. It was pink with gold filigree, and Lily still thought it was beautiful. But Wayne didn't like pink, so it had been banished, too.

There were a few other odds and ends—her textbook for second-year French, a couple of CDs, a Girl Scout pin. At the very bottom was her high school yearbook.

Lily opened it, leafing through the familiar pages. She looked at the school's entrance, the quad, the cafeteria, the basketball court, the locker area. There were pictures of the National Honor Society group, sports teams, the Model United Nations, Chorus, and Band. Spanish Club showed Lily's friend, Becky, standing in the front row, and there was Lily herself in the picture for French Club. In the candid photos, Lily and Serena Jackson were goofing around in the cafeteria and blowing the paper sleeves off of straws.

God, she'd been so happy back then. She'd forgotten what it felt like.

In the back of the yearbook were the usual notes from friends: "Love ya, hon!" and "Thanks for not letting me flunk Algebra!" and "I can't believe we almost blew up Chem lab. Science would've been so boring without you!"

On the bottom corner of the last page was a note from Bob Martin, whom she'd known since Junior High: "You're really nice, and much smarter than you think. I hope you get a chance to do something with that after graduation."

Lily caught her breath, and thought about high school for a moment. She'd always gotten decent grades—not amazing, but good. She'd done well enough at projects, and she'd had a lot of friends.

Yet now, just a few years later, she spent every single day feeling useless and utterly incapable. God knew, Wayne made sure she wouldn't forget it.

Her eyes stung and she clutched the yearbook to her chest, like a lifeline to her past. When the tears stopped flowing, she got up and went to the bedroom and pulled her only suitcase down off the shelf.

Toothbrush, underwear, a change of clothes, and a sweater. Lily added in the teddy bear, the music box and the yearbook. It was a strange collection, but there wasn't room for much else anyway.

She zipped the suitcase shut, and went to the hall closet. Taped to the back of a picture frame was an envelope full of cash from her mother, and an open-ended plane ticket to Philadelphia, where Lily's parents had moved a few years back. Lily put the cash and the plane ticket in her purse, and took the key for the Buick off the key ring and left the others on the counter. She wouldn't need them anymore.

Grabbing the suitcase and her purse, she went out to the car before she could change her mind. She didn't care about the house or any of the things in it. They'd never really belonged to her anyway.

She blinked in the sunlight, surprised by the colors, the smells of everything around her. Birds sang up and down the street, and children's voices rose out of one of her neighbors' back yards.

Had it always been like that? All of that noise and energy, all that life, happening all around her?

Lily breathed in the smell of flowers and sunshine, and smiled as she unlocked the car and put her suitcase inside. She drove off down the street, toward the freeway that would take her to the airport, her hands gripping the steering wheel with intent.

She didn't know Philadelphia, or much of anything outside of West Plains. But she finally realized that there was nothing keeping her from her future. She'd forgotten it, but it was still waiting for her.

At long last, she was ready to find it.

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nodressrehersalnodressrehersal on January 24th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Gah! I was so afraid he was going to come home before she got her memory box packed back up! Nicely told - it certainly held my attention.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 24th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
I always fear that, in reading about people in abusive relationships. Their window to finally see the chance for escape is usually so brief that you want them on their way as soon as possible.

I can see her husband coming home to that mess in the hallway and no wife, and screaming himself blue while he wonders what happened (and tries to deny the obvious).
(no subject) - minnesattva on January 26th, 2012 06:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 09:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Danmuchtooarrogant on January 24th, 2012 02:46 am (UTC)
This was a very uplifting story. Nicely done!

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 24th, 2012 06:55 am (UTC)
Thank you! I always think it almost takes a miracle for someone in this position to realize the truth, and to translate that into the action of saving themselves is such an amazing and wonderful thing.

Thanks for reading!
sikander7sikander7 on January 24th, 2012 08:14 am (UTC)
Enjoyable writing.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 24th, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Lovely
Thank you. Lovely picture of you, too!
A Karmic Sandbox: Smotheredkarmasoup on January 24th, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
I'm glad Lily finally found her escape. 22 is way too young for a girl to lock herself away, not that a life should ever be wasted.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 25th, 2012 06:20 am (UTC)
Oh, it is, and for people in her situation it's a kind of Limbo where you're always afraid and always trapped. Years go by around you-- life goes by-- and if you ever manage to step far enough outside to see the truth, count yourself very lucky. You could lose an entire lifetime in that hell.
yuniebabyyuniebaby on January 25th, 2012 05:46 am (UTC)
I'm very happy about the way this ended. So full of hope and promise!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 25th, 2012 06:34 am (UTC)
Thank you! It was hard enough to write a character being in this position, but it would have killed me to leave her there.

None of that was her fault, but she'd lost the ability to see that. Being caught in that position of "If I just tried harder" or "If I weren't so flawed and unlovable" is one of the cruelest prisons there is.

Thanks for reading!
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Anne Boleyn - Thoughtfulroina_arwen on January 25th, 2012 05:51 am (UTC)
That must've been a mighty small suitcase! Even my middling sized case can hold at least four changes of clothes and a week's worth of socks and underwear, in addition to the teddy bear. What she packed sounds more like an overnight bag. Just my .02 cents. :)

Well written otherwise, and I'm glad she got away from that loser.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 25th, 2012 06:42 am (UTC)
I was thinking of those carry on types of things, which are smaller, and the point really was the expediency. Small necessities, important mementos, and then out the door before her husband comes back.

I couldn't think of a way to describe that size very well (especially going down to the wire on the finish), but "overnight bag" seems about right. I don't know if people have those much anymore. My sense for her husband is that he wouldn't have taken her on trips (or "out" much of anywhere), because that might weaken his sphere of control. Whatever suitcase she might have had over from being a teenager was probably pretty much it.

Which is all to say, yes, I did think about that, and ran out of time to do much more about it than I did without running into other logistical problems. I can get really hung up on exactly that kind of detail, unfortunately!

jacq22jacq22 on January 25th, 2012 09:34 am (UTC)
Who cares? she would need to buy new things anyway, and she got away, I loved it and was waiting to see if he came back, almost chewing my fingers.

I so wanted her to spread her wings and fly, a superb story.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 25th, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC)
she would need to buy new things anyway, and she got away
That was my thought, too. Clothes, toiletries, CDs, books... none of that matters when you suddenly realize that you can just leave, and that you should leave. Other than those prized mementos, it's all just "stuff," and that pales against getting out now.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this, and felt so for the character. Thanks so much for commenting!
the middle of the road's fine with no cars aroundnoodledays on January 25th, 2012 06:43 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad she found that turning point.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 25th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Some people never do, and they never realize that it isn't their fault and they don't have to live like that. *sigh*

Thanks for reading!
medleymistymedleymisty on January 26th, 2012 12:56 am (UTC)
I loved this! Go Lily! :)

It's not the same severity at all, because I have a wonderful spousal person and the toxic friend was an online friend, but I can still identify with her somewhat. Took me two years of drama and tears and fights and insults and losing other friends to see the light.

The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 01:45 am (UTC)
Thank you!

Even though it's not on the same level, there are similarities. Getting caught in a situation of abuse (of any kind) that starts out subtly all too often winds up with the victim feeling useless and at fault without ever realizing that it really, really isn't them. So sad-- I'm always happy for anyone who finally breaks out of that.

Thanks for reading!
java_fiendjava_fiend on January 26th, 2012 02:14 am (UTC)
It's most definitely never too late to create a new future for yourself! Glad Lily realized it and seized control for herself. Wonderful story with a wonderful message. Really well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
It's most definitely never too late to create a new future for yourself!
It isn't-- even if she were 80, it would still be worth it to get out of that situation and to realize that she deserved better than she'd had.

Thanks so much for reading!
Kristenpixiebelle on January 26th, 2012 04:30 am (UTC)
I was very happy to see she got away. It was so sad until the end... Nicely done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
That's such an awful situation for a person to be in, especially once they've started to accept that abuse as the "truth" rather than seeing that they are NOT incompetent or hopeless or any of those things.

Getting outside of that mindset long enough to see where you should be... it's everything.
lawchickylawchicky on January 26th, 2012 05:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad Lily was able to get away! I'm a sucker for happy endings!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
Me too! I feel bad enough for the suffering people endure all ready, but to leave them unrescued? It just hurts too much.
whipchickwhipchick on January 26th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
I really liked how you avoided an overwrought tone - so often this subject is dealt with histrionically, and you did a great job keeping it focused and real for the character instead of becoming a polemic on domestic violence. I also liked the little details, and how Lily's realization comes from small things.

If you're interested in concrit - one thing you might take a look at in another draft is the dent by the door - "she burned his dinner so he beat her" has become almost a trope, and while it's certainly a truth, it's less specific to Lily than a lot of the other details here. That was the place that pulled me out of the story a little because it started to feel general instead of uniquely you.

Really strong writing!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 26th, 2012 09:59 pm (UTC)
really liked how you avoided an overwrought tone
I really tried to avoid making this seem like every other story, or rub the reader's "face" in the awfulness of what Lily's life was really like. I went for showing, by implication, how it was affecting her and also how she failed to see that her husband was angry and unreasonable rather than that she was so terribly flawed. The kind of loss of freedom a person in her position experiences uses happens in inches, rather than miles. That's part of what makes it SO hard for them to see being taken from them when that happens.

Thanks for the concrit-- and you're right, that is an event so common that it's almost a cliche. It occurred to me mainly because it's the kind of thing that's easy to do when you first start cooking for someone, and that you'd try to UNdo if only you had enough time... and so well-represented how early Wayne's terrorizing might have started, and how easy it would be for Lily to make simple mistakes that might have disporportionately severe consequences.

All of these fiction areas are kind of new territory for me, so I appreciate the concrit and the encouragement very much!
Jemima Paulerjem0000000 on January 26th, 2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
I, too, was afraid he was going to come home. I'm glad she left; it's such a hard thing to do, and good for her mother for making sure she could.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 27th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
It's such a terrible situation to be in, and even though those offers of help aren't well received (and I tried to explore that through the character's eyes, because it seems counterintuitive), that help can make all the difference in the long run.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
(no subject) - jem0000000 on January 27th, 2012 05:54 am (UTC) (Expand)
la, zeitgeist!: [hp] slytherinzeitgeistic on January 27th, 2012 01:16 am (UTC)
This was such a sad situation, but the end turns it all around. I'm glad she's getting away.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 27th, 2012 01:24 am (UTC)
I'm glad people are feeling the happy ending! Getting to the point where you really see that the violence was never about you is a kind of miracle. I'm happy for anyone who discovers that, because that's what makes escape truly possible.

Thanks for reading!