This is not my story, it’s Chrissy’s story, and you’ll understand why she’s not telling it in a while. And it’s a true story, though I’ve changed the names and places for obvious reasons.
The beginning of the end happened when my wife and I drove, frantically, along NY-68 south from Canton in upstate New York, near the Canadian border, looking for Chrissy. We actually drove right past her, then Jenny called out and made me go back.
It was her. Her body was in high grass near the ditch, and she was barely visible from the road. I have no idea how Jenny even saw her, but I’m awfully glad she did, because I’m not sure Chrissy would have survived otherwise.
We both jumped out and ran to her. She was unconscious, and dressed only in a bra and panties. No shoes.
I didn’t pick her up, but looked her over carefully to see if there was any blood or obvious broken bones, then Jenny covered her with a blanket we keep in the trunk for emergencies.
I was relieved that she seemed to be breathing okay, but noticed that there was severe bruising around her face and neck, plus she had two black eyes.
Knowing that the guy who did this might soon realize that she was gone, and come looking for her, I carefully picked her up, and carried her back to the car. Jenny opened the rear door, and helped me settle her inside.
If that guy got here before we could get away, or if he had the police or his brothers with him, she might never escape, and we could all be in a world of trouble.
He was her husband, and he had been beating her for decades. And I was quite sure he wanted her back to finish the job.
It had all started out innocently enough. I was writing for an amateur fiction website, and routinely thanked readers who were especially attentive to my stories.
I had sent her a note, thanking her for adding one of my stories to her “Favorites.” She also wrote really nice comments to my stories, and seemed always to be one of the first to comment on them as they were published.
I had a fan, which I found gratifying as I wasn’t one of the more popular writers.
So, I sent her a nice note, thanking her for reading my stories, and telling her how much I appreciated it. Almost immediately, I got back a rather timorous reply, thanking me for thanking her, and telling me that she had been following me for months, and had only recently got up the nerve to start writing comments, and…
One thing led to another, and we became friends. I had about two dozen friends or so but was surprised to find that I was her first…and so far, only friend. Yet, I didn’t get a bad vibe. She seemed genuinely interested.
Later she told me she thought I was a kind person based, she said, by how I wrote my characters, and how they behaved. She had read all of my stories, and remembered them better than I did.
A number of times I thought I’d lost her because she would disappear for days, then suddenly reappear, very apologetically. She seemed incredibly skittish, as if she was afraid of me, or life, or… something. I tried to be earnest, open, and as honest as I could, and slowly, slowly, she seemed to start trusting me.
It was like getting a beautiful butterfly to land on your finger. But eventually she settled, and started telling me about herself, yet, I was only able to collect her story in bits and pieces.
When I finally understood it, I got concerned. Reading between the lines, it was clear she was being beaten by her husband, and had been for years. Possibly decades.
I tried to be calm and matter-of-fact in my responses while internally I was going “Oh my GOD!” But I realized that if I made too much fuss, she might well vanish on me.
I called a local helpline for battered women, and they were very helpful. They told me some things that I should, and should not do, and gave me the website and phone number of the U.S. national helpline for battered women.
I passed those on to her, and urged her to contact them to get advice. Meanwhile, I very gently asked questions, trying to learn more about her, and her situation, determined to help her if I could, but knowing I could do nothing if she bolted and disappeared. I didn’t know where she lived, or what her real name was, or really, anything about her.
It took months, but eventually I was able to piece together her story.
Her name is Christina, I think. She grew up and went to school somewhere on Long Island, the youngest of a family of five. Her father was a military-style disciplinarian, but by the time she came along, had lost interest in his children. Her mother was a nurse at a big public hospital in New York City, and worked shifts, which meant long, often irregular hours. As a result, Chrissy, as her brother and sisters called her, was left largely to fend for herself.
She excelled at school because she was smart, and because her father demanded excellence, and could be rough on those of his children who disappointed him.
Chrissy became interested in gymnastics in junior high, and because of her small size and desire to excel, she eventually came to the attention of the USA Gymnastics. She was being touted for the Olympic team, and was training for it when she slipped on the balance beam, fell, and broke her shoulder badly.
That fall ended her gymnastics career. The doctors told her she would never recover full use of her shoulder, and might have to wear a brace for the rest of her life.
Chrissy proved them wrong, working out her own physiotherapy regimen as her parents couldn’t afford it. Yet, while she was never able to go back to gymnastics, she did play tennis, golf, and take up pistol shooting in college. All of these were designed to strengthen her injured shoulder, and she came to excel at each of them.
Summers she worked as a lifeguard on Long Island, the first girl – woman, she corrected them – ever hired for the job, and a precedent setter for the women who followed her.
She was a bright, capable free-spirit with an indomitable will, and always bouncy and fun to be around. She was also perfectly capable of facing down the male chauvinist lifeguards who resented that someone two-thirds their size was being paid as much as they were. Yet, it was she who went out and rescued a heavy-set man almost twice her mass when he got caught in a riptide, and she never let them forget it.
She was blonde, pixyish, and everyone called her the elven queen.
She graduated near the top of her class from SUNY Sunnybrook in biology and genetics, and seemed to have a bright future. Her academic advisor recommended that she go to grad school and aim for research in the biosciences, which was what she had intended.
Unfortunately, in her senior year, she had started dating a guy from way upstate, near the Canadian border. His name was Hank, but his few friends called him Hank the Tank. He was tall, about 6’ 1”, broad-shouldered, heavily muscled, and sullen. He hardly ever smiled, and was avoided by people because he was quick to anger and violence.
He cornered Chrissy in the student union one day, and asked her out. She was astonished, as if a tree had walked up and asked her on a date. Flummoxed, she accepted, then found herself defending her decision to her friends, almost against her will.
The date was not bad. He had a slow smile, and when he wanted to, he could be charming. He almost got into a fight with another student who chatted to Chrissy at the frat party they attended, but she restrained him. He walked her home and tried to kiss her, but she turned her face away. He clouded up, then smiled, and said, “Next time. You’re my girl now,” then turned and walked away without waiting for her to respond.
Somehow after that, no one else asked her out. Or rather, guys would ask her out, then something would happen and they would change their minds, or they would take her out, then she would never hear from them again.
Meanwhile, Hank would show up every Friday and Saturday, unannounced, and take her to a movie, or to get some drinks or something unimaginative.
After resisting for some time, Chrissy finally gave in and had sex with Hank – and that proved her undoing, for shortly after that, she found she was pregnant. Hank announced that they would be married as soon as they graduated, and since Chrissy was a faithful Catholic, he acceded to her request for a Catholic wedding, though he could care less.
During Spring Break, Hank took her up to Pierrepont, where his family farm was, to meet his folks, and show her the community they would make their home. Hank had four brothers, and they all lived nearby.
Hank’s mother was a grey, colorless woman with dead eyes. Her gaze lingered on Chrissy when they were introduced, and Chrissy thought she saw the woman give her a tiny head shake “no”, but it was so subtle, Chrissy wasn’t sure.
After they were married, Chrissy found living in small town upstate New York to be incredibly constricting after being a free spirit in New York City. But she was married and pregnant, and didn’t have many choices.
She also found living with Hank smothering. He started by suggesting things – what she should order at a restaurant, what colors she should wear, what kind of winter boots she should buy – and eventually wound up telling her what to do, and how to do it.
He was also very demanding in the bedroom, asking, then insisting that she do what he wanted, when he wanted, and how he wanted. If she asked for or suggested something different, he dismissed it as stupid.
One day she’d had enough. She was eight months pregnant, incredibly uncomfortable, her hormones were raging, her breasts hurt, and she was fed up with living in what increasingly felt like a cage. When he got home from work that day, and told her what he wanted for supper, she snapped at him and said she didn’t have the ingredients, and had planned something different.
He almost casually backhanded her, snapping her head back, and knocking her to the floor. He walked over, looked down, and repeated what he wanted for supper, then stalked off to watch TV until it was ready.
This began to happen more and more frequently, and her choices narrowed further.
Then she had a beautiful baby boy – and felt completely trapped.
Two years later, they had a little girl, and Chrissy’s heart melted for the second time – and the prison door locked tighter.
She lived for her children, partially because there was nothing else to live for.
When both kids were finally in school she prevailed upon Hank to let her get her teacher’s license, pointing out that it would give them more money. He liked that, and told her to go ahead. She was glad to be able to get a job teaching science and math at the Canton high school, which was next door to the town’s primary and middle schools. That meant she could pick up both kids when she finished work, then hurry home to fix his supper.
As time went on, he got more and more sullen, and started drinking. And he was a mean drunk. He started to pick on the kids, and she always stepped in, taking his wrath upon herself. And he was always careful to hit her where it wouldn’t show, especially her tits, stomach, and ass.
She worried what effect this would have on the children, so she begged him that if he was going to hit her, would he please do it in their bedroom where they couldn’t see. He smirked at her, and said he’d do that, but only if he could hit her twice as hard.
That started him on an even more malicious course. He insisted that if he was going to give in to her on this, she had to make everyone believe that they were the perfect couple, happy in every way.
She agreed, and so no one suspected that she was his regular punching bag. She would often go to work in pain, then tell her co-workers that she had sprained something working in the garden, or slipped off a stool, or some other transparent lie. The worst thing was, they believed her, and concluded that she was just clumsy. She encouraged that belief, and even came to believe it herself, betraying her own gymnastic abilities.
He wasn’t stupid, despite his malicious laziness, and one day hit on the idea of conditioning her, training her like a dog, to behave in certain ways. But whereas a dog might be trained with treats, he used pain.
She was required to stand whenever he came into the room. She was required to look down at the ground when he spoke to her, and never to interrupt. She was required to recite a litany of her faults on demand – she was slovenly, she was ugly, she was stupid, she was incompetent, she would be completely lost without him, he was the best thing that ever happened to her, and so forth.
And the sexual things he required and trained her to do disgusted and terrified her, but she complied.
For their anniversary that year, he gave her a gold choker, which everyone thought was a lovely gift. But she knew it symbolized that she was his trained bitch, and he required her to wear it all the time, only taking it off when she showered or slept.
A couple of times she managed to “forget” it when she went off to work after he did. Then he came home for something once in the middle of the day and found it. He delivered it, and had the school secretary announce that her husband had brought her gold necklace to school for her. Everyone thought it was very sweet. She knew otherwise.
That night, he told her that she was never to do that again, then emphasized his words in a particularly painful manner.
Finally, her kids, who had unknowingly kept her in bondage, grew up, went to university, and eventually left to form their own households.
Chrissy suddenly felt free. She started making plans to leave Hank, trying to keep them hidden from him. But every time he walked into the house, and he snapped his fingers, driving her involuntarily to her knees, eyes down, and was made to recite the litany of her inadequacies, she quailed at the thought of what he would do if he caught her.
Then, one day, he came home with a snootful, and seemed particularly out of sorts. Turned out that someone at the bar had made fun of him, and when he tried to retaliate, he had been sucker-punched. And because he had been made to feel foolish, he decided he had to take his frustrations out on someone.
Chrissy wound up unconscious on the floor as he went off to eat the supper she had made for him. She resolved, when she woke up, that she had to get out before he killed her.
The next day, after school, while he was still at work she went to the nearest battered women’s shelter, and asked for advice. She recognized the woman there as someone she knew from the PTA, and that made her feel more comfortable.
She wasn’t quite as comfortable when the woman expressed surprise that she was there at all. After all, she and Hank were always talked about as the perfect couple.
Nevertheless, Chrissy got some pamphlets, and she and the woman had a long talk about domestic violence, abuse, and what her rights were.
But that night, Hank came raging through the door. How dare she lie to everyone in town about how he abused her. Apparently, the PTA woman had told her neighbour, who told her husband… who told Hank.
He blackened one eye so badly it was swollen shut, and knocked out one of her teeth. But that was all that showed. Below her neck, where it wasn’t visible, was much worse, especially below the waist.
When Chrissy went to school the next morning, she had to try to convince everyone that she had tripped on the front stairs, and fallen on a wheelbarrow full of bricks at the bottom. It was a thin excuse, but people seemed to want to believe it.
At the end of her first painful day back at school, as she was hobbling towards her car in the parking lot, the town’s police car pulled up in front of her. The sheriff opened the door, put one foot on the ground, stood up and leaned on the roof of the car. “Heard you fell down stairs. Chrissy. You might want to keep your mouth shut and your eyes open next time. Right?”
Chrissy recognized one of Hank’s former high school buddies. She dropped her eyes, and mumbled, “I guess.”
The sheriff laughed and said, “See that you do. And you take care, now, hear? Those falls can be dangerous things.”
When she got home, she found that it wasn’t over. Hank decided she could not be trusted, and decided she had to be, in his words, “kept on a shorter leash.” Now, instead of her driving to school, he drove her – and then made her wait until he could pick her up in the evening.
She wasn’t allowed to keep more than $10 in her wallet. He kept her driver’s license, and the keys to her car. And, of course, he started to tell her endlessly that she had gone to fat, that she was old and ugly, and that she was repugnant to him, all of which she had to take while standing in front of him, eyes on the floor, and then agree with him.
He made her add that to her litany of her shortcomings: short, fat, old, and ugly. She repeated it every day, sometimes twice a day.
Over time, he got bored with driving her to and from work, and as she continued to show that she was completely cowed, he gradually gave her more and more slack, until she was back to where she had been before.
Then he started carrying on with younger women. He began a steady affair with another woman from town, going to his girlfriend’s house every Friday, and staying there until he went to work on Monday mornings.
As a result, she didn’t see him from when he left for work on Fridays until he got home Monday evenings. And he made no special attempts to hide his affair from the community, often taking her out to dinner or leftover league baseball games in the park. Chrissy knew she had become the subject of town gossip, but didn’t see anything she could do about it.
Which is about when I came into the story.
By the time I had pieced this all together, months had gone by in our relationship. To say I was agitated would be a vast understatement, but I managed to present a calm face for her. I also consulted one of my friends whom I knew had been a counsellor after she had left her abusive husband. She told me to be supportive, undemanding, and to leave Chrissy to decide her own fate.
It turned out I had vastly underestimated this amazing woman. She had been planning to leave him all along once her children were safe. She was now much more cautious, knowing that she could not count on help from anyone in this small, inbred community.
Over the years, her teacher’s salary far outstripped his workman’s wages, and he had happily dumped the management to their finances on her. As a result, she had been putting money away in accounts he knew nothing about. The house they had bought in Canton was in their joint names, and she had the title deeds. Her car was paid off and in her name. She had credit cards in her name he knew nothing about. And she had a post office box well away from the community where they lived.
But most of all, he’d gotten lazy about checking up on her in the years since he had knocked her tooth out and beaten her up, so she set a date to leave.
She slowly started to gather up the things of sentimental value to her – photos of her kids when they were young, her graduation certificate, letters from good friends, gifts given to her by people she loved. She eventually packaged them up, and shipped them to her post office box.
And then one Friday morning, just before he left for work, he noticed that the photo of her kids was missing from her bedside.
“Where is it?”
She was so frightened she couldn’t come up with an adequate answer on the spur of the moment. He grabbed her by her neck, and smacked her with his open hand, left, right, blacking both her eyes. She almost lost consciousness, and felt dazed.
“I could beat the answer out of you. And I may – later. But I don’t want to be late for work.
“So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to lock you in the bathroom, and leave you there until I get home from work on Monday evening. Then we’re going to have a … full …discussion about this. I think you’re planning to try to run away from me again. That’s never gonna happen.”
She shook her head, trying to clear it. “But you’ve got your slut,” she cried, “You don’t even want me! You haven’t fucked me in years!”
He made a face. “God, no! Who would want to fuck you? But you are going to keep cooking and cleaning for me. That’s not going to change.”
“So, I’m just your servant, then?”
“Yeah, you are. Now, shut the fuck up and get in there. I’m going to work. We’ll continue this discussion Monday night.”
He started to push her into the upstairs bathroom. “Wait! You can’t leave me here without any food!” she called.
He smirked at her. “Can’t I?”
“I…I haven’t had breakfast yet. I won’t have eaten for four days by then, Thursday night to Monday night!”
He thought for a moment. “Okay.”
He shoved her in the bathroom, and locked the door, then went downstairs, got a bag of white bread, unlocked the door, and threw it in. “There. Bread and water, just like in the movies.”
He slammed the door, locked it, pocketed the key, and left.
She lay on the floor, distraught and dazed, feeling like she might be concussed, and devastated that her plans were in ruins. She thought he might kill her, but he would certainly beat her badly, which was worse. She whimpered, feeling lost, then fell unconscious on the floor.
When she woke, much later, she touched her face, feeling the intense ache, then looked around the bathroom, and finally at the small window. If she could fit through that window, jump from the second story, and remember some of her gymnastics moves…
She eventually did manage – just – to squeeze out of the window, then flipped her feet down, and rolled into a landing, knocking the wind out of herself in the process. She had also left her robe, and was now dressed only in her bra and panties. If she had been thinking more clearly, she would have shoved it through the window first. Now everything would be harder. She was also hungry, and had forgotten even to take some bread.
She lay there, panting, for a moment, then got up and moved to a shed where she had hidden a stash of emergency supplies, including a burner phone.
She consulted a list she has printed out earlier, and found my number, which I had given her in hopes that it might be helpful to her in an emergency.
She booted up the phone, then called me.
“James, this is Chrissy.”
I was silent as I tried to figure out who Chrissy was.
“Oh shit! Yes, Chrissy! Oh, my God, girl, I’m sorry, where are you?”
“James I’m on the run and I need your help. The troll figured out I was about to leave him, so I have to go right now! He’s taken my keys and everything, so I’m going to find someplace to hole up until dark, then walk south from Canton on Route 68, then south on 56.
“Look, I know it’s asking a lot, but…”
“Stop it, Chrissy. I’ll get Jenny and we’ll come and find you. Now get moving, girl! Uh, how will I know you?”
“I’ll be the only blonde, 5’ 3” hitchhiker dressed in a bra and panties. Who’s Jenny? Oh, wait! You mean ‘Jay’ is ‘Jenny’?”
“Yes, now get moving! It’s going to take us some time to get to upstate New York from Toronto, so for God’s sake, be careful!”
Jenny helped me get her into the back seat. She was cold, and if we hadn’t found her, she would probably have died of hypothermia. Jenny wrapped them both in the blanket, and used her body heat to try to warm Chrissy up.
I drove away, towards Canton, the nearest big town.
Shortly after I started driving, Chrissy shivered and opened her eyes, then stared at Jenny. “Who are you?”
Jenny smiled, “I’m Jenny, and James has told me all about you. You’re safe – we’re going to take you to the emergency room at Canton.”
She sat up. “No! He’ll look for me there. I need to get away, and he and his brothers will be scouring the area looking for me.”
She stopped. “Wait…you said…Jenny? And James?”
I saw her look at the back of my head. I waved, “Hi Chrissy. We meet at last.”
She just stared at me, then shook herself. “Whatever... I can’t go to the ER. He’ll find me!”
I looked at her again, glancing back and forth at the rear-view mirror as I drove. “Where then? We’ll take you anywhere you want to go, Chrissy. Anywhere.”
She closed her eyes, then opened them and said, “Could…could you take me to Westchester? My son lives there.”
I glanced back at Jenny, who nodded, so I said, “Sure. Westchester, here we come.” I did a U-turn, and headed south on Route 68.
It took us six hours to get there, with only a couple of bathroom breaks with Jenny and I switching drivers, while Chrissy mostly slept off the shock. We stopped in Westchester, and Jenny went in to buy her a dress before we got to her son’s.
But when she was awake, she told me what her plans were.
I was impressed.
Today, Chrissy lives somewhere in the Southwest. I won’t say where in case Hank is still trying to find her, despite a restraining order.
She hired a smart divorce lawyer, one that specializes in battered wives. Turns out she documented her injuries over the years, and stored the photos online. She hired a hypnotherapist to help deprogram herself, and a psychotherapist to deal with the post-traumatic stress.
Her lawyer used her half of the Canton house as a bargaining chip, so Hank settled their joint holdings by giving Chrissy a mortgage.
I’m sure he was planning to stiff her, but she was smarter than he was. She sold the mortgage on to a bank with a nasty reputation about collecting what was theirs, then she took the cash, and used it to buy a condo in the sun.
She retired from teaching, and had her pension paid into an online New York bank, where all of her transactions were electronic and untraceable.
She visits her son and daughter, but they now know what she had to put up with all those years. Her son is 6’ 3”, and massive. When she told him, he wanted to go to Canton and kill his father. Chrissy dissuaded him, saying he wasn’t worth the jail time.
But when his father showed up at his doorstep, insisting that he reveal where Chrissy was, and getting belligerent about it – well, one thing led to another, and the old man wound up in the hospital with a broken arm, and a large number of bruises. He still thought of himself as a tough, young man, but hadn’t bothered to stay in shape. Plus, his son’s wife recorded the whole incident, so Hank wound up in jail for assault.
Chrissy is happy today. She went through a living hell, and now volunteers at the national hotline for battered women three mornings a week. And she is incredibly effective with the advice she gives because she’s been there and done that.
Chrissy, Jenny, and I still chat, and get together occasionally to enjoy each other’s company.
As for me, I got the two things I wanted most from the affair. Her freedom. And her friendship.
She’s a lovely person. And a survivor.