I watched the sunrise through iron bars. A small window in my cell was all I had left of the world. There was nothing else. Family and friends turned their backs on me after the verdict was announced. Guilty. One word threw into oblivion my sense of self worth and all the people I held dear. Memories were just fading illusions. A group of strangers gathered together and made their decision. She is deemed unworthy to be a part of society. She is the lowest form of humanity walking the earth and should rot in jail. I reached for the plastic rosary beads under my mattress and said a silent prayer.
Michael had his fair share of admirers, but he pretended to love me most. I was driving on a back road one night and he had been drinking. I couldn't believe he flirted openly with Laura without a care in the world. All I could do was stand there and watch. He stared at me from the passenger seat. The rain was coming down so hard. He whispered, "get out." "What?" I asked with shock. He looked at me with such coldness. "Get out now or I will drag you out," he repeated. I pulled over and stepped into the rain, too numb to try and understand why this was happening. I spent the night in the woods under some trees, too frightened and tired to walk alone.
"You!" the guard yelled. I placed my beads back under the mattress. "You've got a visitor," he said opening the door. Greg walked in and grinned. "Are you ready for this?" he asked. I went to my window and said, "sunrise was especially lovely today." He looked confused. "Being in here, you know, makes you thankful for the smallest things. Watching the sunrise, imagining lovers holding hands under a full moon, and the sound of rain tapping at the window like an old friend." Greg listened quietly and nodded. "Mila, I'm gonna get you out of here," he said confidently. I've been locked up now for almost three months. Greg said we'd win the appeal because I had no criminal history, not even a parking ticket. Still, emptiness was the house I lived in now.
Completely soaked and exhausted, a sympathetic driver offered me a ride home a few hours later. I couldn't tell whether I was drenched from rain or tears. I already knew what was going to happen when I got home. Michael would still be fast asleep and then wake up without any memory of what he did to me last night. I thanked the kind stranger for the ride and grabbed the spare key under the fake turtle statue under the rose bush. I slowly and quietly opened the door. Michael was in the kitchen making himself breakfast. He turned to me and said, "good morning. How was your night?" I pretended not to hear and went to take a shower.
I let the soap bubbles roll slowly down my body as the warmth of the water caressed my soul. I was hurt, confused and utterly exhausted. How long am I going to put up with his abuse? Why am I hurting myself to be with this man? The sun shone so brightly through the bathroom window. I found some solace basking in its light as I stood there under running water trying to figure out what my next move would be. "No matter what happens, the sun's still gonna rise and life will go on," I told myself. I've been with Michael for three years. We weren't married but living together. Some women talk about memories of their lovers on a cruise or romantic hideaway in the woods. I can recall the day Michael first hit me. It was a rainy Sunday and I got up early to make him breakfast in bed. After I served him, he threw the tray at me. "You can't cook worth a damn," he stated. The scar on my face is still visible from the solid wood tray. I don't think the jury saw it, though.
Greg laid out his plan to get me out but I was only half-listening. I killed someone, though it was in self-defense, I had ended someone's life. I've lied awake many nights going over all the things I should have done. Before the incident, I was the kind of person who would swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel on the road. But pain brings out the primal being in us. And on that day, Michael met his match.
After my shower, I went into the kitchen and Michael was sitting at the table with french toast, ham and eggs. Of course, he didn't bother to offer me anything. He looked up at me and smiled. I ignored him and went to make something for myself. I heated up some clam chowder soup and joined him at the table. I was famished. He asked if I enjoyed the party last night. "No. I really didn't enjoy myself and I especially hated the theater after the party," I said frankly. I was aware that I was being bold, but I was exhausted from all the abuse. What both Michael and I didn't realize was on this particular day, I had reached the breaking point. To hell with whatever happens next.
He looked at me with a coldness that should have caused me to shiver. But I was too tired now to be afraid. "I don't think I heard you right. Tell me again-slowly-what you said," he challenged. I wiped my mouth with the napkin and looked directly at him. "I said I did not enjoy myself and hated the after party as well." He stood up with his glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, finished it, and then threw it hard at my face. My forehead bled. I stood up and he grabbed me. "You think you're so funny, do ya?" he said as he slapped me across my face so hard I fell to the ground. I was numb now. I knew instinctively he was going to kill me. As I tried to stand up, he kicked me hard on my right side and I gasped for air.
I must have lost consciousness because when I opened my eyes, he was gone. I slowly got up from the floor and grabbed onto a chair for balance. I was dizzy and bleeding. My side was in excruciating pain. I attempted to get some water from the table when Michael returned. "How are you feeling?" he asked. I turned away from him and he grabbed me. "You'll look at me when I'm talking to you," he shouted. He pushed me down and I hit my head against the table leg. Pain overwhelmed my entire body. He sat on the sofa and turned on the TV. I watched him with my eyes half shut and found the energy to rise slowly off the floor. I went to the kitchen and searched for anything that could help fight him off. I grabbed a knife and as I turned around, Michael was standing by the doorway. "What do you think you're gonna do with that, little lady?" he asked smiling.
"Stay away from me." He slowly crept toward me as I made warning after warning. He reached for the stool next to him and threw it at me. It caught me by surprise and he grabbed me by my hair, pulling so hard I thought he'd rip my scalp from my head. He laughed at me and said this is what I deserved for being such a bitch. It was at this point in time when something came over me. I decided that this was not how I was going to die. I grabbed the knife on the counter and stabbed his neck. He went into shock and was slowly falling to the floor. I crawled to the other side of the room and watched as he lost consciousness.
Greg and I waited endlessly for the judges to announce their decision. After the prosecutor and Greg chatted with the judges for awhile, Greg returned to my side looking pleased. The judges made their decision. I would be on probation for two years. Because I did not have a criminal background, and the evidence of self-defense was overwhelming for my case, they overturned the verdict. Ms. Schwarz, we believe that you acted purely out of self-defense, and that the sentence of 30 years is not reasonable nor justifiable in your case. You took a life, Ms. Schwarz, and you will have to live with this knowledge for the rest of your life. You are free to go. The words echoed in my mind but wasn't sinking through. I looked at Greg in disbelief and deep gratitude. I'm free.
All my possessions were neatly packed in a suitcase. I held onto it tightly as the guard opened the door. Greg had given me some money for a temporary place to stay. As I reached the last area of security, I took a deep breath. Greg said it was a beautiful summer day. I could already feel the heat sneak up toward me as I reached my final exit stage. I hesitated for a moment as I remembered something. Searching through my suitcase, I found my rosary beads. The gate slowly opened up and I stepped outside into the sunshine.