At home she played her part well, but this cruise threw her for a loop. She wasn’t quite sure of her role here. She didn’t have to worry if dinner would please him or if the towels were hung just so, but there were a whole new set of traps. She spent most of her days looking down, so she couldn’t be accused of looking at anther man – even on accident. She wasn’t sure how to dress. Too modest and he would complain and be embarrassed of her, too revealing and he would call her a slut or worse. That is easy enough at home, but on a cruise everyone wears tank tops and bikinis. Most of her wardrobe consisted of things to hide bruises, but there would be no hiding here.
She read a lot. Just books from the boat’s library and really she wasn’t reading. She was hiding. Books make you look occupied, they don’t invite conversation. She felt safely invisible behind them. He spent most of his time in the casino. Dwindling what little savings they had away. At night of course he would want her. She knew this role and it made acid come up into her throat. She swallowed it down and waited for it to be over. Sometimes she wasn’t sure what was worse, this or the beatings. She was thankful for the thin walls. Surely she would be safe here, at least as safe as she could be.
So far so good. The trip had been uneventful. She wasn’t quite enjoying herself like most of her fellow travelers but sometimes behind her book she caught herself breathing. Really breathing. Deeply and fully taking in the salty air. She didn’t know it yet, but each breathe was making her grow stronger. The days were ticking away and in 2 more days they would go home. Their home with a perfectly manicured lawn and very thick walls.
She liked the quietness of her cabin during the day when most people were on the pool deck and her husband was in the casino she just laid on the cool sheets and pretended to read and kept breathing. At least once a day she would wonder through the gift shop. It felt safe and there was something comforting about all the travel sized toiletries and overpriced t-shirts. She liked to read the postcards and wished she still had friends to send them to. She couldn’t imagine what she would write on them. “Wish you were here” didn’t seem fitting. On the third day she saw the clerk eyeing her closely and it occurred to her that her frequent visits were looking suspicious. She quickly grabbed a plastic magnet and hurriedly paid for it at the counter. It wasn’t until the clerk put it in the bag that she realized what it said. A silly ballerina and cursive writing “dance like no one is looking” in pink and silver script. Complete junk. Someone was always looking.
It was their last port and he wanted to venture out. She was expected to come of course not for the company but because waiting at tables at the Playa de Maya for the last 4 years had taught her enough Spanish to get by. She got them a cab and told the driver to take them to the closest beach. It was nice. The sun was shining on the white sand. The water was almost clear, not like the Gulf of Mexico that she was used to. If she remembered how she could probably have a good time. She hadn’t relaxed in the last 4 years and little white sand wasn’t going to do the trick. He put the little Spanish he knew to good use ordering one Cerveza after another. She brought a book and remembered to turn the pages at the right times. Occasionally she would rub sunscreen on the both of them or wade into the water all while he kept drinking. At home, watching him drink more than two beers was enough to make her tremble inside. The beach and sun seemed to have a calming effect though. He still wasn’t pleasant, pointing out each girl who was skinnier than her or had bigger breasts. She tried to laugh it off and promised to go on a diet. Secretly she wished he would take a liking to one of them instead. On second thought, she wouldn’t wish him on anyone.
The day crept by and at 4:00 she carefully started to pack their bag. The ship had been pretty adamant about their 5:00 boarding curfew. She heard it bellowing over the loudspeaker over and over when they deported. His wallet, sunscreen, camera……when she got to her towel she was extra careful. Slowly and carefully she pulled the corners up and carried it almost 100 yards away before shaking. She folded it perfectly 4 times, just the way he liked. As she added it to the bag, he turned to her. She was expecting a reproach, that she had folded wrong or something, but instead he said, “what’s the rush, aren’t you having a good time babe.”
“Yes of course honey, but we don’t want to miss the boat. They said to board by 5 and that they would be leaving port at 6.”
“six o’clock, we have two more hours then”
He ordered another beer and slowly sipped it. He noticed her looking at her watch
“Trust me babe, they won’t leave us, just go have another dip in the water. We can go after I finish this last beer.”
She resisted every temptation she had to try and convince him otherwise. She would just be wasting her breathe. She obeyed and walked to the water’s edge. She kept looking at her watch, 4:20, 4:37, 4:52, 5:07. She was getting nervous. It was a 15 minute cab ride and she didn’t like being late. This was a quality he had beaten in to her. She had to try to get him to leave even if it meant a fight. She turned back to their chairs and he was passed out.
She tapped him lightly, then harder and he only grumbled. She couldn’t carry him and she started to panic. They were going to miss the boat and somehow he would make it her fault. And then she did something unexpected. She didn’t think about it, because if she had she never would have done it. She grabbed the bag, walked to the bar and paid the tab. She left him there sleeping, sandy, drunk and slightly sunburned. She didn’t look back just quickly got into a cab.
For the first 1o minutes she was calm. In shock. She almost thought it was funny. She had his wallet, credit cards, driver’s lisence and passport. She would really be punished when he got back. But it would take him a while to get back without cash or an id. She was counting on it. And then it sunk in. She got the driver to pull over and threw up twice on the side of the road.
She got back to the port and got in line to board. She was late, but so were a handful of other travelers. She showed her id, walked through the metal detectors. She was shaking and barely made it back to her room before she threw up again. She half expected him to be waiting for her when she came out of the bathroom, but he was hopefully still passed out on the beach somewhere. She tried to remember how to breathe and finally began to at 6:44 when she heard the engines start up. She stood on the deck and watched the land disappear.
She didn’t sleep. Every footstep made her jump. When housekeeping knocked on her door she began to hyperventilate. They were just reminding her that they were expected to dock that afternoon in Galveston, to make sure she was packed and go over de-boarding procedure. Most of the cruisers seemed to be spending their last few tropical hours packing or on the pool deck. She was unpacking. She unloaded all of his clothes and things into the drawers. She tucked his suitcase into the closet and put her things into the smaller bag. The dress he bought for her remained on the hanger. She wanted to take as little of him as possible with her. The last few hours seemed to drag by. The unloading process was laborious and long, she followed directions and left when it was her turn. She kept watching for him around every corner. The sight of police made her jump as well. She half expected them to arrest her or question her even though she had committed no crimes.
Her car was exactly where they had parked it and she thought maybe she could breathe once she was inside and on the interstate. It was only an hour and a half drive to their Houston apartment, but she wouldn’t be going there. She paid the garage attendant and got off the island as fast as possible. She didn’t even turn on the radio until Leauge City. She plugged her cell phone into the car charger and pulled off I-45 for gas. While the gas pumped she opened up her purse. She looked into the small side pocket where she kept two important possessions hidden. One she used daily, and the other she thought she would never use. They were both wrapped discretely in a maxipad wrapper. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t look too closely there. The first item was where she hid her birth control pills and the second was a little card with a phone number they gave her at her last emergency room visit. She said she slipped on some bath water and hit her head on the counter, but they handed her this card anyways.
She threw the pills away and picked up the phone.