He came from work, six o'clock sharp, like he did every night. I watched him walk across a clean carpet in his work boots. He tracked mud from the front door to the kitchen. I heard him open a beer. The distinctive "whoosh" of the pop top made me clench my teeth.
"I'm going to take a shower. Clean up. We'll go get something to eat."
I wanted to scream, yell, jump up and down, throw something at him. I just looked at him and nodded my "okay". Nothing I could say or do would make him any different. Well, almost nothing.
I was in college when I met Warren. He was so charming. He would open doors for me, hold my chair for me. It wasn't long before I was in love.
I took him to meet my parents. He was funny and polite. He complimented my mother, talked about sports with my father. We sat in the living room after dinner and he talked. He talked about his family, his job, his life. He talked.
As we were leaving, he shook my father's hand and said, "When Jenny and I get married, I hope I can do as well for her as you seem to have done."
My heart skipped a beat! Married? He hadn't asked me, but the thought had entered my mind. I could see spending the rest of my life with him.
He wanted a small wedding. I agreed to a justice of the peace. We invited immediate family only, although he did invite a few close friends of his. After all, they were "like brothers" to him.
We quickly settled into our new house. I had a long commute to classes, but we were only a few minutes from his mother. She was in bad health, so we felt better living close to her.
One night when he had finished showering, he sat in the living room recliner, directly behind me. I had my books and papers spread across the floor; I was studying for my mid-term exams.
"Move over to the couch," he said, "I want to lean back."
As I picked up my books, I ask, "Why am I moving?"
He gave a slight chuckle. "Because I told you to."
A few days later, we ran into Melanie, my best friend. She and her boyfriend were going to dinner and the movies. I was so glad to see her.
"Where have you been? I haven't heard from you in so long," I said as I hugged her.
"I've tried calling. I left messages. You haven't called back. I thought maybe you had forgotten about me now that you're a married woman and all."
"Oh yeah," Warren said, "I forgot to tell Jenny you called."
"Well, we're all together now. Why don't you to join us for dinner and a movie?"
"I would love to."
But Warren had different plans. "We can't. I promised some friends of mine we would meet them for drinks."
"Who? When? You didn't tell me about it."
"Yes I did."
"I don't remember it."
"I did. We need to hurry or will be late". He took hold of my arm and pulled me away. "Don't ever contradict me in front of anyone! Ever!"
He was in a better mood when we arrived at Snookers, the bar he and his friends frequented. Most of his friends were there. He ordered a round of beers for all of them and walked over to the pool tables, leaving me to pay the tab.
As I sat and watched them play, Warren's cousin, Tim, came in. I didn't like him. He drank too much. When he drank, he became rude, loud, and obnoxious.
"What's he doing here. Can we please go now?"
Warren's head snapped around. With anger burning in his eyes he said, "Shut up!"
We stayed a few more hours. I ignored as much as I could. I shut up. Eventually, I would shut down as well.
When we got home, he turned on me. "How could you embarrass me like that."
"You know, I don't like him."
His reaction was fast. I didn't know he had moved until I felt the sting of his hand against my cheek.
"Don't talk back to me! Tim's family. He'll be around whenever he wants to."
The first slap didn't teach me. "I'm family too."
I don't know how many times he hit me. I know he was holding me by the arm. I couldn't fall, or run, or defend myself. I know he stopped before he killed me.
My mother called the next day. We had planned to meet for lunch. I made some lame excuse not to be there. I could not let her see the black eye, the split lip. How could I explain it?
My situation only got worse. If I tried to give an opinion or express my feelings, he pushed it aside with a wave of his hand. I quit trying. To avoid his anger, I quit school and work. I quit living except to please him. But there was no pleasing him.
On September 11, as the World Trade Towers collapsed, I watched. I wanted to cry. Not just for the lives being lost there, but for myself. I watched a man fall - or jump - from the burning buildings, and thought, "That's my life on television." My world was crumbling around me. I wanted to jump, to end it now, just to get it over with. I'm not that brave.
That's when he walked into the house. That was the night he told me to clean up. That was the night I decided to clean up my life.
As he started his shower, I walked to the bedroom. I took the gun from the bedside table. I walked into the bathroom where he was and sat on the toilet to wait. He finished his shower, turned off the water, and opened the curtain. "Why aren't you getting ready?"
I raised the gun. The rest of what happened is fragmented memories, like snapshots in a family album. A picture of his shocked look as the she first shot him. The anger and his eyes as the second shot knocked him down. The fear that replaced both as the third shot pierced his heart.
Sometime later, I'm not sure when, the police broke in. I guess a neighbor called them. I was sitting on the toilet staring at the mess. I hated that someone was here and the bathroom was so dirty. Well, at least the rest of the house was clean.
I laid the gun on the floor. I stood up slowly. I did what they tell me to do. As the handcuffs clicked into place around my wrist, I realized I was finally free.