Craving Constellations

By: Nicole Jacquelyn

How could someone make decision after decision attempting to get away from their past and somehow end up right back where they started?

I’d spent the last five years running, and now, it seemed I was going to have to retrace every excruciating step. My heart told me that nothing good could come from heading back to the place I’d grown up, but I knew we had nowhere else to go. Every ache, every pain, and every bruise reminded me that we had to escape. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore; there was one place in the world where he’d never reach us. We just had to get there.

I’d grown up rough. I’d seen more than one woman slapped around by her man, and to be truthful, it had never really bothered me much. It was the way of the world, or at least, it was the way of our world. It was all I knew.

I wanted a different life though, so I’d gone away to college, and later, I’d tried to carve out a life in the beige community where mothers brought their children to school in minivans and joined the PTA. I wanted a husband who paid taxes and would take his car to a mechanic for routine maintenance. He wouldn’t get his hands dirty, wouldn’t raise his voice, and wouldn’t carry a gun.

I’d never imagined the world I chose would be far worse than the one I had left.

I only had three days to get to where I needed to be, and I wasn’t going to hesitate. I wanted to be there and settled before my clean-cut husband came looking for us.

So, for the past week, I’d counted down every minute until his business trip. He had no idea that I was planning to leave, and honestly, I thought he would have killed me if he had. My first order of business was to pack two duffel bags full of things I refused to leave behind: mementos, my laptop, and a necessary change of clothes for each of us. I refused to waste precious space on anything I could easily buy later.

The morning after he’d flown out on his business trip, I raced around the house as fast as someone covered in bruises from neck to thighs could—which wasn’t very fast. I’d spent so many hours planning our escape in my head—organizing items in order of importance and deciding what we would take and what would be left—that it only took me an hour to pack everything we needed.

By the time I was finished with the bags, I was in a cold sweat from both pain and nerves. He’d never come home from a business trip early, but I felt like every moment I wasted was one more chance for him to change his habits, and I was strung as tightly as a violin string.

When everything was packed into our car, I picked my girl up off the couch where she was watching cartoons and got her ready for the day as if it were any other morning.

On Tuesdays, we usually went to a Mommy and Me class at a yoga studio downtown. This meant, as I pulled out of the driveway, the neighbor across the street wouldn’t wonder where I was going. He wouldn’t think about me or even pay enough attention to realize when I left. I also felt comfortable dressing her in yoga pants and a tunic without anything standing out. Perhaps I’d seen too many spy movies or read too many books or maybe it was just my natural inclination toward paranoia, but I was sure that we needed to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Except for Tuesdays, my husband expected my girl to be dressed like an advertisement for some snobby boutique—no jeans, no rain boots, hair perfectly parted into ponytails with elaborate hair ribbons that matched her outfits. She looked adorable, but it was hard watching her sit stiffly on a chair in her frilly dress while other girls jumped and rolled around on the floor in their overalls. It wasn’t normal. I had a feeling he had this obsession with my daughter’s appearance because she looked nothing like us.

When we moved here from Eugene, new people always did a double take when we were together. My husband had light brown hair and eyes, and his skin was a ruddy pink that I’d originally found extremely attractive. It wasn’t until I saw it redden with anger that the pink hue started to remind me of a petulant child’s. My skin was pale with a peaches-and-cream complexion. A stereotypical redhead, I have a few freckles and green eyes. This is why, when people commented jokingly, “Wow, she doesn’t look like you guys, does she?” about my olive-skinned, dark-haired child, he began to imply that she was adopted.

From the beginning, he had known that the child I carried before we were married wasn’t his, but at the time, he’d claimed that it didn’t matter. Once he saw her, the bigoted asshole had changed his tune. It was one thing to pretend she was his if no one would know the difference; it was quite another matter entirely if the truth was written across her beautiful face.