My friend Nora is a tall, lively blonde who has been trapped in a bad marriage. She never actually described it that way -- but it was apparent to everyone who knew her. Her husband was controlling. Nora had no idea how much income the family had, no idea where the money was going -- and was on a strict allowance that did not allow her to buy any extras -- like birthday gifts when her three kids had parties to attend. She said Kyle told her that their income fluctuated -- some years he made six figures; other years not so good. So that in itself wasn't so bad... but Kyle was a drinker, in the habit of stopping off at a neighborhood tavern each night before coming home from work.
And then there was that time a couple of summers ago, when she and the kids came over to our house for a playdate, and Nora's legs and arms were covered with the most horrible bruises I'd ever seen. I immediately suspected Kyle, but pretended to believe her explanation that she'd tripped over some patio furniture.
So I was not surprised when Nora told me she was leaving Kyle.
"He's an asshole," she told me. It was the first time she ever characterized him in anything but a loving way. She told me he had indeed hit her on at least one occasion. I asked if he ever hurt the kids -- and she assured me that never happened. I was happy to know that she was getting out and taking them with her.
But I was surprised when she told me that she was continuing to live in Kyle's house. (It was always his house; he grew up in it and got it from his parents when they bought another one.) Nora comes from a large family, and any of her brothers or sisters living in the area would have taken her in. But she was adamant that she would not leave until she could take the kids and live in a place of their own. She had taken a part-time job at the Lutheran church preschool attended by her youngest kids, and she has been diligent building a little Mary Kay business.
It's been several months now, but last week I received an invitation to a housewarming party for Nora and the kids at her new place across the street from the local park. The invitation indicated that they were registered for gifts at Target. It also mentioned that if we had any bookshelves or other items we were thinking of discarding, she would be eager to take them.
Target's gift registry is set up for weddings and babies - nothing really customized for a woman's new start. I took a guess and looked her up in the wedding registry; and there she was. The printout indicated that Nora needed just about everything: cookware, towels, even laundry detergent. I picked her up a nice Calphalon pan with no-stick finish.
The day before the party, we were in the car and happened to see Kyle and the three kids, walking home from a visit to Blockbuster. Megan waved to her friend Leslie, and Kyle smiled at us. I managed a wan smile back. I've had a hard time being friendly to him since I saw those bruises on Nora.
The street Nora's living on is dense with apartment buildings and condominiums. There was no street parking, so we ended up leaving our car in the parking lot at the park. There's security in her complex, but the door was open and we were greeted by a couple of her sisters. They pointed to a party room/clubhouse area near the gated pool. "The party is in there," they said.
There was quite a turnout of sisters and friends and even some of the neighbors Nora left behind when she left Kyle's five-bedroom house in the hills. Nora's daughter Leslie was playing ping pong with another child; little Kyle Jr. was tooling around on a scooter and toddler Ellie was on her mother's lap. From the pile of gifts sitting in the corner, it was apparent that the Target list had a workout. Nora announced that she was offering tours of her new abode. I followed her up to the third floor of the building.
Nora's new residence is a far cry from Kyle's house. The two-bedroom apartment is clean and functional; it looks a lot like the first little flat I rented when I was in college. She managed to furnish the entire thing with items from Goodwill, and they looked OK, if just a little bit sterile. She's only been there for a couple of weeks; it won't be long before it begins showing some of her personality. But I wonder how the three kids are adjusting to all sharing one bedroom.
I expressed surprise that Nora got the family computer. "You wouldn't believe the trouble I had taking it," she laughed. "It's the only thing I left with, aside from my clothes and some for the kids."
Nora thought it might be fun to have Megan over for a swim, but one of her sisters pointed out that the rules posted on the swimming pool stated that no guests were allowed. "That's OK," I told her. "You guys can come over to our house for a swim. We'll have a barbecue after Memorial Day," I promised.