“Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.” The words of her grandmother were a chant inside Caroline’s head. He can’t get any closer. Caroline pushed gently at the heavy weight of Eric’s arm, hoping for a little freedom as she fell asleep. The sounds of the house at night that normally soothed – tick-tocking of the mantel clock, skittering clicks of Paws the cat up the hardwood floor, humming refrigerator noise – didn’t comfort her.
Emma had stood up to her daddy tonight, even goaded him. “Like you would ever set foot in church,” she said, her little hands hooked onto her hips. “Momma does everything for us, it’s not like you would be there to bring us home.” Caroline’s entire body clenched, her stomach convulsing involuntarily. She swallowed quickly several times. This was her fault. She’d made it safe for the children. They felt safe. Now, Emma was old enough to speak her mind, God help her.
When she thought about what Eric could do, how many ways he could take away her children, she shivered. Good attorneys never lost a battle. Eric was the best in the tri-county region. Caroline had convinced herself that staying with him, glossing things when the children made mistakes, giving them treats to make up for harsh punishment was better than leaving. If she left, she’d have to at least give Eric visitation rights – time alone with the children. The thought made her stomach convulse again and her heart pound in her chest.
Failure and defeat. The emotions weighed her body down like heavy winter clothes. Added to the heaviness of Eric’s arm, possessive on her midriff, Caroline wondered whether she would ever rise up again.
I was confident. I had it all figured out. Tears pooled in her eyes and Caroline swallowed sobs that threatened. She forced herself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. She forced herself to focus on the ticking of her watch on the nightstand, the smell of the chicken she’d fried earlier, the feel of the air pushed down on her by the ceiling fan.
I have a PhD in psychology. I have a good job. I have money in the bank. I have family that loves me. Caroline breathed. All it had gained her was an ability to craft quick, believable stories to hide things. She’d done it just today when the nurse had decided to draw blood for a routine physical. “That bruise? It does look bad, doesn’t it? Our Sunday school cabinets are at arm level – high enough to keep the kids out and to keep our arms black and blue from banging into the open doors. I backed right into the corner of the open cabinet door.”
Caroline didn’t fear Eric as much as she feared the loss of her children to her husband. God had helped her so far. Keep your enemies closer. He’d answered her prayers to help her be strong to stand in the breach between father and children.
Now that Emma was seven and old enough to speak for herself, all of Caroline’s plans were dashed. Eric had never laid a hand on the children, to her knowledge. Emma might push him to it. At four, Gregory wasn’t far behind.
How long until they both feel the need to protect me? Caroline fell asleep chanting a prayer. I’m lost. God help me. God help me.
New morning was just beginning to lighten the sky from dark to gray, tinged with bands of pink and gold, as Caroline awakened. In the seconds between consciousness and sleep, a single word shimmered in her mind. Hope. It lightened her heart and body. Hope.
Fully awake, Caroline recalled a verse she’d learned at her grandmother’s knee as a child. She’d memorized it to the punctuated rhythm of the creaking rocking chair her grandmother had rested in while teaching her scripture, telling a story, or showing her how to knit. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Caroline turned on her side, still weighted down by Eric’s arm. Hope. She breathed the word aloud in the stillness of early morning. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” She breathed in, held her breath, let it out. Yes, hope. Caroline closed her eyes and prayed once again. This time a new prayer.
NIV Romans 5:3-5
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