Eight hundred thirty-one.
She stared blankly at the register screen.
“Ma’am, will that be cash or charge?”
As Shelly stared down at her ever-evolving baby bump under hideous looking maternity clothes, tears welled up in her eyes and she swallowed hard, “I’m sorry, did you um, run that through, ahem, sorry, my insurance?” Raising her head slowly as to not let one fall to her flushed cheek.
“Oh yes, ma’am that is your portion due.” As he leaned in to feign discretion, “there are no generics for these medicines” he half whispered through air quotes.
Her gut dropped, face hot. These medicines. Anger welled up in her as she grasped the innocent baby growing in her belly. The fear, and sadness, embarrassment, worry and guilt all fell over Shelly again and she was left speechless, so weak from the onslaught of this new life, on these terms she never agreed to. She handed him a credit card knowing all too well the balance in her checking account could never cover this insane amount.
She grabbed the bag full of bottles stuffed with pills the size of horse tranquilizers that would only last the month and he said, “young lady if you have any questions, be sure to call your doctor immediately.” For a quick second, she thought she saw empathy, but then instant pity.
This poor pregnant girl, picking up medicines for such a terrible virus – and they didn’t even know the half.
To say her life lacked good examples of loving relationships was a profound understatement. She guessed that we just kept doing the things we did the day before, and then the order of life just unfolds. Her parents fought, never seemed truly happy, but they stayed together. You date, you get engaged, you make a baby, wait skipped a step, go back, get married, have the baby…. And then just when you think, “this is life”, it all comes crashing down around you. When a doctor you’ve never met says, “Shelly, your husband is HIV positive” and there is this whir like sound and everything is hot and flashy and then your brain just stops on a dime and she stumbles to say, “What about my baby?” And the doctor begins to explain that not only did her husband, who was just a month ago very much not her husband, test positive for this virus, he tested positive for this virus 5 months ago, around the time she was getting pregnant.
And as he is talking tests, and load counts and her inner mama bear starts to roar, furious at the man just outside the door, too much of a coward to face the impending death sentence he bestowed upon her and their baby. Yet, Shelly confusingly decides that she would stick up for her family, and defend her husband because even though this is really fucked up!!! Their baby needs his daddy right?! Between words like life and expectancy, she stifles the rage and propels it into motivation. So, they will fight this, and they will figure this out together, right?! Her brain screams “someone please tell what to do because I am certain I am dying and that I need to keep living for this little human in me, but Oh God! Dear God, what if I have it, and my baby, what about the baby!?!? Please God, let him be ok, you can have me instead, just let him be okay!” And then, she hears words like survival and mortality rate and here is the next person you need to make an appointment with, as soon as they can get you in.
This is Shelly’s story.
We started dating when I was still in high school, full of conviction on right and wrong, and changing the world, together making it a better place.
Looking back and comparing what I know of love now, I was never in-love with him. I honestly do not know what it was, other than a low standard set before me by men up to that point in my life.
We were dating and then there was a ring, and I thought sure I will wear the diamonds, and a month later I got the payment coupons to go along with it. Nice. I don’t think I really ever imagined we would actually get married.
I bought a house and he moved in. We started this life and so we started to share accounts, and then, month in and month out there would be nothing left because he had a drug problem. Funny thing about users and stoners, they all like to use the word “functional” to explain their addictions. “I am a functional user, you know I am better when I am high.” or alcoholics, “shoot, I drive better with a buzz”. Well, back then I bought the bullshit. Quite literally, actually. And it cost me a fortune.
Next came this “happy” faze of the simple life, a few friendly neighbors, settling in and we got a dog. Soon after, there came this discussion about what a wonderful mother I would be and he could not wait to be a daddy. He actually planted the seed, before he planted it in me… convincing me we should try sooner than later. Looking back I realize it was his need to have a legacy on rush-order. “Imagine this other room a nursery, babe! What are we waiting for after all?”
Growing up is the answer to that question. Thinking things through, honesty, reality. Wouldn’t ya know it though, I was pregnant immediately after getting off birth control. Also his idea.
Of course in any good Christian home, there should be no sex before marriage, but since we broke that rule all to shit, our parents thought it best to move along with the nuptials before anyone took notice. So rewind, get married and let them think “ooooooh so she was pregnant then?! I see.” Shotgun wedding, with a pregnant to-be mama in white, gasp!
Then there I was, in the middle of the worst catastrophe I had ever experienced. My life, at just a smidge over legal drinking age, I was now married, pregnant and facing my actual possible death. I was so confused and lost and hushed into automatic secrecy and discretion. I left the doctors office and my husband began to try and explain that he was sure it was from a tattoo he got from the friend of a friend in some kitchen at some party blah blah blah, and I immediately thought of the woman I was sure he cheated on me with, that he would deny for the rest of his life.
Flashing back a few months, I had just found out I was pregnant and planning this impromptu ceremony. All of my pants were beginning to get uncomfortable so on my lunch break I dropped by the mall for something more….well, elastic. Not big enough for maternity clothes, too big for my size 2 jeans. As I left the dressing room to swap the medium for a large, embarrassed that I was mortified to be getting big for such a worthy cause but still body shaming myself, her and her friend walked by toward the same dressing room I had just left. I gather they assumed I was walking out when returning to try on the larger pants her friend said, “that was her right?” To which his side chick responded “yeah, she clearly has no idea still. Thank God, I do not need his drama in my life!” They laughed as my size large fell to the floor. I left without any new pants, or sticking up for myself, thinking how do I marry a man that would be with her? Trumped only by the next question of – do you really think you could do this alone? The doubt in myself answered that when I believed his story over my gut.
I opted to lower my standard and stay than to be a single mother.
Fast forward to leaving the doctors office and here is my life, my man. He lied, he stole, he cheated, and now our lives were on the line. Yet still, I held his hand and said: “we will get through this, together!”. He thanked me for being so understanding and loyal. Two things I thought I prided myself on, the words sliced through my heart. I was young and naïve, but I was committed now. And, that is what you do, that is family. People make mistakes, but we stick it out.
By the grace of God, after weeks of turmoil and fear and all of the testing possible, my baby and I were cleared. We got a second chance, we were negative for every possible test. My sick husband and I had created a miracle, neither the baby or myself were touched by this obliterating disease.
Even still, somehow I had survivors guilt. The baby aside, I felt bad that he had to travel this road alone. The sick one of us, until death did us part. He played on that guilt, manipulated my weakness to his advantage. He stopped working, he drained the accounts needing to numb the pain with his smoking. I was 7 months pregnant, working two jobs and here I stood, paying for eight hundred thirty-one dollars worth of medicine to keep him alive.
Keeping him alive was taking its toll on me. I fought daily with wanting to leave and feeling the guilt of leaving a sick man. Who does that? I imagined having to look down at my little boy and prepare him for his fathers passing. I made excuses for hospital stays and lived a double life between pretending things were normal and the total devastating course my life had taken.
I was spared the illness but lived a life in chains. Broke, broken, weak, failing, flailing, total despair set in. And then, my baby boy came, and he saved my life. They laid him in my arms and I was renewed, given all of the life I would ever need, wrapped in a pink and blue blanket.
That is when the perpetual crash of life was finally silenced. I had a new purpose. He was my why, my heart and soul.
We went every month for the first six months, then every three and then yearly to be tested. My doctor finally looked at me one day and said “Shelly, you and your son are fine. You are not sick, you are not harboring this virus. You don’t have to keep holding your breath.” He could tell after these few years I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The strain continued at home, a life without hope, without real love. The dread looming over us at all times. It took the ultimate toll, and the dam finally broke a few years later. I could no longer breath, buried in debt, a loveless home and the need to provide a better life for my child. The guilt of being the woman who left her sick husband became less important when again, he cheated. He not only risked our lives but was willing to risk our home and someone else’s life. I had finally had enough.
I drew the line and made him leave our home. He had nowhere to go, no money, no help and no one that knew his secrets. But I became free that night. I was not overcome with guilt or sadness. I was relieved.
He called me every name, he traipsed all over that same weakness of guilt, but the callous he created over the years allowed some protection. He cried, and tried and swore he would change, but “for real this time.” He was reckless with his life and mine, he risked my child’s life and I saw it clearly then.
I never realized this was a form of abuse. He used me. He saw his future and perpetuated what he wanted without allowing me a say. He could have faced attempted murder charges, but his wants and needs were more important to him. I weathered this storm, young, afraid, alone. I kept his secrets even when he spread lies about me and made me defend myself to others. When his family accused me of being hateful, I swallowed it. When our friends tried to question my decisions I stood my ground.
He never appreciated that. He never appreciated me. But, he had to live with that for however much longer he had. I no longer did. I made the right decision for myself, and my child. That was enough. I extended grace to myself when I felt guilty. I remained grateful for my life and my son’s life being spared. Through the tragedy of his father, my son will be stronger, wiser. I will be left with the details, the explanation when the truth comes out. I will be left picking up the pieces and dealing with the reality of this survival for the rest of our lives. I will carry this abuse for the rest of my life.
But at least I have mine.
Abuse is not always physical. Mental and emotional abuse can leave scars just as deep as the physical ones. Love should never hurt you, someone who says they love you, should never inflict pain or chaos into your life.
As always, survival is possible.