The growing pains that go with a growing business can be harsh and need immediate attention or they take the business down. The bartender’s mother lent me money to help during one particularly rough time. His father lent me even more when I thought I had nowhere to turn. I paid them both back and with interest, although his father waived the interest part away like a small fly. It had taken a long time, but his father and I had become friends. I don’t think it had anything to do with the skinny-dipping that followed the use of his sauna, but it might have been what swayed him my way. Everyone knew the family’s island retreats were based on a clothing optional basis – except for me. A round of applause went up the day I finally threw caution to the wind along with my shyness and left my bathing suit behind.
However, in the sixth year of the relationship, I was so involved with my business and trying to get ahead that I spent little time at the cottage. I heard about the different ‘female’ visitors the bartender had over the summer months, but I tried my best to ignore it. When fall came around again – so did the beatings. He again took up residence in the spare room and we avoided each other as much as we could. One day – after a particularly silent meal he asked me why I was still living there. I told him it was because he had asked me to marry him. He said “I don’t remember doing that.” I thought his denials were the last thing I could handle but there was more to come.
One evening I returned home and heard voices coming from the spare room. I stood in the doorway and listened to the high giggles and the low laughter that seeped out under the door and felt a huge pang in my heart. I could tell from the sounds what was going on. The sounds stopped momentarily when I slammed the door, but they took up again as I rummaged in my bedroom for a few necessities before I left again. I slept on a bed of wool in my store that night and my hands shook uncontrollably all through the following day. When I returned to the apartment that evening, a girlfriend of ours was sitting at the table. She had been a stripper at the hotel and we had become friends. She lived a few blocks away and I had keys to her apartment so I could look after her cat while she did the circuit. She sat now with her crossed legs up on our dining room table like she belonged and she greeted me guiltily when I entered. She had always been a little ‘different’ – perhaps a little rebellious – certainly quite disdainful of the male species. As I stood there I instantly recalled her on stage during one of her sets while a posse of the other strippers stood at the end of the runway and threw razor blades on the stage. “Shave those legs!” they yelled.
I couldn’t move as I stood in the doorway and she gathered her belongings and slipped past me and down the stairs. I didn’t care as I watched the color drain from his face and he turned his fury on me. Screaming that this was ‘his’ apartment and that I had no right to judge who he had there or what he did with them – he then attacked. He kicked and punched and slapped. He threw me about the apartment. I fought back but I was no match for him and never had been. He fought me from one end of the apartment and back until he grabbed me by the hair and opened the front door and with one heave – threw me down the stairs and slammed the door. When I could manage, I crawled along the hallway and down the next 22 steps until I reached the bottom. Once I could gather enough strength, I walked across to the parking lot and eased myself into my car. I drove out of the city and on to a back road that I knew led to the highway. When I reached the bridge that crossed the six lane highway, I parked my car and got out. I stood on the bridge for a long time and watched the cars as they sped by below me. I thought of how easy it would be to end it then and there and I tried to get up on the railing, but the metal was slippery and I couldn’t get a grip. That brought me out of my daze and I stood there for another hour as I decided what to do with my life. I spent that night in my store again.
The next day my uncle came in for a visit. He took one look at me and asked me what was going on. His kindness broke down my walls and I burst into tears and told him the whole story. When he asked why I hadn’t moved out a long time ago I explained that I never had enough money for the first and last month’s rent that was required. I had put everything I made back into the store and there wasn’t enough for me. He asked me if I thought I could hang in with the bartender for a little while longer. When I told him that I thought I probably could, he told me he was going to build an apartment in his basement for me. I cried and cried on his shoulder and he patted me gingerly in an effort to comfort – as I was bruised from head to toe.
When I returned to the apartment I found a note that the bartender had gone to the cottage ‘for a little while’. I spent the next three weeks on tenterhooks thinking he would return at any moment, but I was spared that. On the day my uncle called to let me know my new apartment was ready, my girlfriend and her man helped me move. We raced up and down those steps for the little bit I owned, all of us fearful he would show up. When we had everything, I took one last look at the picture of his wife’s legs, threw the key on the table and left without looking back – and without leaving a note.