My first job was at Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. One of the best things they did was to have tiny, little pink spoons where you could try a flavor before committing to a whole scoop. Who doesn't like the idea of try it before you buy it? So, this post will contain the first chapter of my book Leave Him? That way you can get a taste of what the book will be like before you buy it- in Baskin-Robbins tradition.
Leave Him? (available at Amazon.com in print for $12.99 and Kindle for $2.99) Also available for local purchase in print at at Willis Jewelry
Company located at 203 Adamson Square in Carrollton, Georgia, the Therapeutic
Lair at 723 E. College Street in Bowdon, Georgia, on the square in downtown
Newnan, Georgia in Gillyweeds at 21 W. Court Street, and at the Wildwood Charm shop at 315 S. Hamilton Street in Dalton, Georgia.
The warm blood oozed out of the wound and dripped onto the wooden slat floor forming a small puddle on the hand-made pine board cabin Harvey Pate had carved out from the Western Georgia woods ten years before in 1904. The sound of dripping and the shooting pain woke Ella Mae. Her head had just missed the rock hearth of the fireplace where a small fire still burned keeping warm a kettle of grits that hung in an iron pot over the flames. After opening her eyes for a moment, she closed them again tightly, hoping not to relive the images just before falling to the floor. Unfortunately, it would take more than closed eyes to make her forget.
Ella Mae’s husband, Harvey had said, “Ella Mae, where have you been? I told you never to go anywhere alone.”
Ella Mae tried to tell Harvey that she had just returned from taking the kids to her parent’s house, but as so many times before, he started hitting her, first with his fists, then the chair. She had turned away to avoid his blows when the wood of the chair landed on the back of her head. This time it was a chair, last time it was a broom. And then there was the time she would never forget when it was a bullet from his pistol that pierced her shoulder.
She dared not stir and let him know she was awake, fearing that there might be more blows, or if he were finished there would be the usual apologies, and he would beg her to forgive him—again.
Then she heard it. A familiar voice was speaking. She strained to hear and then it got louder and very distinct. “Take your children and leave.” Over and over she heard the same words.
Gathering her courage, she tried to sit up and quickly looked around. Harvey was not in the house. He must have gone, he often left feeling guilty after their physical encounters. Where were the children? After a moment Ella remembered they were at her parent’s house. Realizing she was alone, Ella said aloud, “How can I leave? What will everybody think if I leave him and go back home to my parents? I have four kids—they’d be so ashamed.”
The familiar voice repeated what she had heard before, simply saying, “Take your children and leave.”
Her head was pounding and the blood now dripped steadily onto her neck, soiling her dress. Ella Mae wondered if the bleeding would stop this time without the stitches from Doc Flanders. She walked to the bucket of water and dipped a rag into it and squeezed it out. Ella Mae had gotten quite skilled at fixing herself up after their confrontations.
Even the soft wet cloth brought intense pain as she touched the wound. She put all the pressure she could stand on the spot and sat at the table hoping in her stillness the blood would clot.
Leave him…how can I leave him? Just two Sundays ago, on meetin’ day, the preacher had said for them to bear their crosses in life bravely—that we all had our troubles to endure. Ella Mae could feel the preacher’s eyes boring into her as he said the words. Preacher Ellison knew about Harvey beating her. Ella had confided in him years before, asking him what she should do.
Sitting at this same table he had told her, “Mrs. Pate, you know what the Bible says. I know your daddy is a good man. I know he taught you the Word. It says in Ephesians for you to submit to your husband and respect him. It may be hard, but God won’t put more on you than you can bear. ‘Sides that your chil’ren need their daddy and what would everybody think if you left Harvey? It’s just ain’t Christian.”
The words of the preacher caused Ella much more pain than any blow her husband had given. The Man of God said that she had no choice but to live in fear and in pain until, just like he had said in their marriage ceremony, “Till death do you part.” Ella had resigned herself to the fact that it would be her death that eventually ended her pain. With every fit of rage she wondered if this one would be it.
She took the damp rag off the wound on her head and patted it with another spot to see if it was still bleeding. It had slowed down, but the red blood stained the white cloth, encouraging her to hold it tight for a while longer.
To her surprise, tears began to trickle down her face. It had been a while since she cried. There was a time when all she did was cry, then, one day it was as if she had spent her lot. There were no more tears left. What good did they do anyway? Never did change nothing.
Somehow the tears had returned with abandon. Try as she might she couldn’t turn them off. What if he came back and saw her crying? She needed to stop and tried with no result. Then she gave in to them and sobbed. Trembling and weak, she asked, “What am I going to do?”
The answer was the same. Take your children and leave him.
Ella Mae knew God’s voice and didn’t want to disobey Him.
“What about my submitting to my husband? What about bearing my cross in life? Isn’t this just my lot? Everybody’s got something hard to bear.”
From somewhere deep within another voice rose up—a voice she had silenced many years before. It was the voice of an innocent, loved young lady who was her daddy’s treasure. It was strong and clear and full of hope. “I don’t deserve to be beaten. I haven’t done nothing wrong. My children don’t need to see their father kill me in a fit of anger. They need me… I will leave. I will take the shame and leave.”
She knew she had only a little bit of time to gather some things together before he returned. She grabbed the potato sack and began to put the things she thought she needed into it. She got her Bible from beside the bed first, then she reached for the picture of the two of them just after they were married ten years ago. Holding it in her hand she paused, knowing she should be in a hurry, yet she needed a moment to say goodbye…
The blue bird sat on the limb in front of her. His fast-paced chirp seemed to be directed to her. Ella stood there fascinated at the brightness of his feathers. He was sitting on the limb right where Harvey Pate had told her to meet him. Was it a sign? The blue of the feathers were almost the same color as Harvey’s eyes. Those eyes. That was one of the problems she had with Harvey Pate. Those eyes were so blue and deep they seemed to invite her to stay and swim in them for a while. She tried not to stare at them instead she looked down. She knew if she ever fully stared into them without reservation she would lose her soul.
The last time they met at this very spot, he had used those piercing blue eyes, dark hair and his boyish smile to urge her to marry him. Today she was to give him her answer. Why shouldn’t she follow him to the preacher’s house and be married? She knew Harvey loved her. She had no doubt about his love, but something within caused her to feel unsettled. Harvey came from a good family. Ella had talked with the Pates many times when she’d come over for Sunday dinner, and Harvey seemed like a good man, but there was something.
The rock sailed past her and made a big splash in the river beyond her. The bird flew away at the sound of the noise. Harvey ran the rest of the way towards her then reached around her and pulled her to his chest. She took a deep breath and looked up into those eyes. For just a few seconds their gazes locked. Just as Ella had thought, she felt her soul transfer through the warm spring air that stood between them.
No longer was her soul completely hers, she had been tempted to give part of it to Harvey Pate and those eyes. He lifted her face upward and kissed her, then whispered, “I was afraid you wouldn’t come. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ella. I don’t ever want to know what that feels like. Let’s go to the preacher. Let’s get married today, right now.”
The spring breeze blew through her hair causing her to shiver. Was it the breeze or was it Harvey’s kiss? Every time their lips met Ella felt light headed, and she just wanted to give herself to this man. He squeezed her tighter and said, “Well, are we gonna go? Come on, Ella. Don’t you love me? Let’s go.”
Ella felt her head nod, violating her conscience, and before she knew it she was riding with him to the preacher’s house. Standing there before the preacher holding Harvey’s hand, she tried to silence the voice within that was telling her to stop.
Why shouldn’t she marry him? Her reasoning convinced her that he loved her, and evidently she loved him. The two of them should be together, shouldn’t they? Why had she not insisted on waiting until her parents could be there? Maybe her father could marry them like he married many of the area people underneath his big tree. Ella knew that her father would ask her questions. Questions she didn’t want to answer. Questions like, “Have you prayed and asked God if he is the one for you?” or maybe, “Do you have complete peace about this, Ella Mae?” She knew that she couldn’t answer either one of those questions with an honest yes, so they stood before the preacher after sneaking off to get married.
His words startled her as his preacher’s voice boomed, “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband through sickness and health, til death do you part?” The preacher waited for her answer and looked more than a little impatient as she thought about it. Part of her wanted to run away as fast as she could, but Harvey’s eyes and tight grip on her hands told her she had gone too far to say no.
“Ella Mae, did you hear me? Well, do you take this man til death do you part?”
She swallowed hard and said two simple words that would forever change her destiny. “I do.”
She shoved the picture into the sack.
“What else should I take?”
The only thing she really wanted was to get away before he got home and tried to stop her.
“I need clothes and the kids will need their clothes.”
She opened her chest first and shoved her two other dresses in and laid her dress hat on the bed. In the children’s room she opened the drawers and crammed in as much as she could, with the last thing being a little dress that her daughter Sybil had worn when she was a baby.
Poor Sybil. Just touching the fabric caused Ella Mae to feel the hurt that never seemed to go away. Her oldest child, her beautiful little girl, had taken ill two years before, and at the age of eight went home to be with the Lord. Ella Mae could still vividly see the little wooden casket being lowered into the ground in the church cemetery. On cold nights Ella Mae always felt the urge to cover up her little girl, wishing she could keep her warm.
Things had gotten worse with Harvey after Sybil died. The cloud of depression they all were under intensified Harvey’s moods, and his moods always left Ella Mae bruised and bleeding.
At last she felt as if she had all she could carry in the sack.
She took the blood-stained rag and went to the mirror to wipe the dried blood from her face and hair. Quickly, she dabbed away the stains and brought some of her curly brown hair down over one of her bruises. She placed the hat on her head and pinned it in place, catching a real glimpse of herself for the first time in a long while. She tilted her chin up, noticed that her face looked thinner, older. Ella Mae tried to avoid mirrors. The mirror always made her think, ‘This is all my fault. I should have never married this man when I knew better. There is the person to blame staring back at me’.
Today was different. Today as she looked into the mirror, into the eyes filled with hurt and shame, she saw a woman who had found the courage to leave. She saw a woman who would have to face the scorn of Preacher Ellison and all his loyal deacons of the church, her neighbors, and even some disappointed family members. Today she saw a woman who was listening and obeying the voice of God even when many others would say otherwise. She adjusted the brim of her hat once more, turned and looked around the room one last time. Sack in hand, she walked out the door, slamming it, leaving the past behind, walking boldly toward her future.
Ella Mae was going to follow the voice. The wind blew against her, but with dogged determination Ella Mae walked toward the home of her youth, toward a life without fear.
Her father was at the edge of their property mending a fence as she walked toward him. She saw the familiar, but older, more wrinkled face tense up a little more as he squinted in the sun and saw her coming. He reached up and removed his straw hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief. As Ella Mae got closer she could see that he was looking at her big sack of things and the bruises on her face. She looked down in shame as she reached him.
She finally looked up. She could see that he was clinching his teeth together and his eyes were narrowed. She took a deep breath.
“Daddy, I’ve got to come home.” As the words came out, her tears started again. “I’m gonna leave Harvey. I can’t stay there anymore. I know it don’t sound right, but I think I’m supposed to leave him.”
Her father looked down for a moment and then, with tears in his eyes, and with a shaking hand he raked back her hair to see the bruises fully. “Ella Mae, that boy ain’t never been nothing but trouble. I’m a good mind I’d get my gun and kill him right now. I don’t know why that boy can’t see what a good woman he’s got in you and treat you right.”
“Daddy, you can’t kill him. You’d get in trouble and, and I don’t want him dead. I still love him and he’s the kids’ daddy.”
Henry Jones opened the gate to let Ella through. Once she was in the fence with him he hugged her tightly then held her at arm’s length and said,
“You can’t still love that man after all he has put you through. You and the kids will stay here with me and your mama. I’ll add on another room for the boys. I’ll take care of you, Ella Mae. You don’t need that sorry Harvey Pate.”
Ella Mae reached up and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I know you will take care of me Daddy. I just never wanted you to have to. It ain’t your place. I’m a grown woman with four kids. It should be Harvey that takes care of me.”
Her father reached down and picked up the sack of belongings and slung them over his shoulder. He began walking towards the house. “Harvey should be doing a lot of things he ain’t, Ella Mae. That boy ain’t never gonna change. I’m glad you finally realized it before something bad happened.”
Ella walked alongside her father. Matching his stride reminded her of a far simpler time, a time before Harvey Pate, a time before she had been hit. The sun felt warm on her face as she walked beside him. If only she could forget.
Interrupting her thoughts her father asked, “Do you want me to get the doctor to come by and see about you?”
Ella Mae reached up and touched the fresh bruise. It still hurt to touch it, but she knew that there had been plenty of worse times and really all Doc Flanders would do is tell her that it would heal with time if she didn’t need stitches.
“No, there’s no need for that. I’ll be alright.”
It was three weeks since she left Harvey. She sat shivering in the dark bedroom with her children hovering all around her, looking at her with fear in their eyes. Ella Mae was sure that her eyes reflected that same terror. There was no way to hide the feelings that Harvey’s threatening voice evoked in her.
“I just wanna to talk to my wife, Mr. Jones. You know she should’ve never left me. I wouldn’t have hurt her once if she hadn’t made me do it. You can’t blame a man for wanting to keep his woman away from other men.”
Ella Mae heard her father, Chead Jones, clear his voice before yelling back, “Harvey, Ella Mae has never given you a reason to hurt her, in fact, there ain’t no reason to hit a woman. I have put up with more than I ought to outta you. I should’ve shot you dead when you shot her in the shoulder. If it weren’t for my love for God, you’d be a dead man right now. I’m only gonna say this once and I spect you to listen. If you ever come here again or if you ever try to see my daughter again, I’m gonna forget that I’m a Christian and you are gonna be full of buckshot, you hear me?”
Ella could see through the edge of the window the two of them facing off. She then heard Harvey say, “Ella Mae, I know you can hear me. I won’t see you with another man. If it kills us both, you won’t be in another man’s arms.” He adjusted his hat and went out into the night.
Ella Mae had tears flowing down her face. Her mother came into the room and took the children away giving Ella Mae a moment to herself. Her tears turned to sobs as she thought back to the words Harvey had said. She knew that he meant what he said. He would never see her in another man’s arms, besides, what man would want to cross Harvey Pate and touch his wife? At the age of twenty-eight had she forever lost the feeling of a man’s arms wrapping around her? Would she never again have someone to hold her tight? Should she just go back to Harvey? Maybe he would change. She knew that wasn’t true, but it would be easier to just go back. It would stop the voices. The women of the church had been talking. It seemed Harvey had told them that the reason he got into it with her was because she was unfaithful. Some of the women got to wondering about their husbands so badly that two of them asked Ella Mae if she had been with them. Then there was the preacher. Ella thought back to his last weekly visit.
He had said, “Ella Mae it’s your duty to go back home. You know you’re breaking your vow to God.”
Ella Mae had straightened her back in the kitchen chair as she had heard the words of the preacher. “I know you don’t believe me, but I know that God is telling me to leave Harvey.”
“Ella Mae, why would God tell you to do something that the Bible tells us not to do? Don’t you read your Bible? I know you know how to read. Some folks can’t, and I can see them saying something like that cause they wouldn’t know, but you know. You can read God telling you to obey your husband.” He had taken the big black Bible out from under his arm and opened it to the page and had pointed it out for her. “Read right there, Ella Mae. It says wives obey your husbands, and your husband is telling you to come back home.”
Ella Mae had shaken her head. She wasn’t going to give in this time. This time she wouldn’t let the preacher turn her thinking. “I ain’t going back, Preacher. I know what the Bible says, but I also know what God is telling me. He don’t want me to get killed by Harvey. He’s gonna kill me if I stay with him. I don’t think he will mean to, but he will do it eventually.”
The preacher had put his hat on his head and closed the Bible. “Ella Mae, you are in danger of going to hell if you don’t change and go home.”
He had walked out the door and Ella Mae had slammed it behind him. She had started to cry, and reached up and held her head between her hands. She had cried out, “God, if I go to hell for this, then you just ain’t fair. Why can’t Harvey treat me right? Why can’t you make him change?”
Ella Mae’s thoughts about that last visit blurred together with her feelings today. Just hearing Harvey’s voice caused a mixture of love and fear, with both fighting for control of her. In the darkness of the room she whispered, “I have broken my vow, God. I have made such a mess of my life.”