THE TRAMPOLINE (Part One)
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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
Things with Mark Marrucini deepened after the avalanche. I couldn't seem to get enough of him—and I think the feeling was mutual. He'd come over and hang out with my four kids while I did homework, and then after I got a job booking flights from home.
When neither of us was working, we'd play card games for hours. He'd take me out to eat or—since he was an amazing cook—he'd buy groceries and create gourmet meals for me and the kids. After the days would nearly end, when the kids were completely tired and sleeping, Mark and I would stand in the kitchen and kiss goodbye, for hours.
It was on one such evening that Mark showed up at the door, holding enough bags of food to feed an army. "Who wants spaghetti?" Mark yelled and all four of my kids came running to the door. My three youngest hugged him, but my twelve-year-old stayed back a few feet and waved. I didn't know if she'd ever hug Mark, even if things got serious someday, but I held out hope.
He asked all of them about their day at school. Even my four-year-old wanted to tell him about preschool. "And all those kids missed me! They hadn't seen me in a long time. They love me—like you love me, 'Arrucini!" she spouted, missing the "m" in Marrucini.
He grinned. "Yep, I do love you, baby girl!"
His words made me blush, and my twelve-year-old looked at me questioningly.
As Mark started removing onions and garlic from the grocery sack, my five-year-old boy asked for my help in his room. "Mama?" he said, trying to yank some new pants from his drawer. "We're going to see Daddy tonight?"
"Yeah. Are you so excited?"
"Yep," he said, then without missing a beat, "Mama, are you gonna marry Mark?"
I nearly fainted. "Oh...baby—no!"
"But, Mama. I like having another guy around!"
I thought of how he has three sisters. "I really like Mark, but I don't want to get married again…for a long time." As I picked up some papers from his floor and set them on his nightstand I said, "Mark is pretty neat though." Then I got an idea—I could distract him, "Why? Are you gonna marry a girl at school?" He turned white. "I bet you do like a certain girl in your class!"
"Listen, Mama. I'm surrounded by girls all the time. At school, I want to hang out with boys."
I opened his door, only to find my two oldest daughters, eavesdropping. "Oh… Hi, Mom." They waved.
"Ummm hmmm! You two eavesdroppers wanna help us cook?" I asked, but it was not a question.
"Sure...." my oldest said drably.
As we cooked, I really watched Mark with my kids. I'd just started cutting up some onions when someone knocked on the door. One of my best friends, who happens to live down the block, stood there. "Gina, do you still have jumper cables?" she asked.
"Sure do. Hey, Mark, I'll be back in a second. Are you guys okay?"
"Yep!" My four-year-old sang before anyone else could answer.
I went outside to grab the jumper cables for my friend. She quickly broke the silence, "You really like this guy?"
"I think so," I said. "There's so much to this, though…. But maybe it's good for me to be treated well?"
"Absolutely. After everything you've been through, you need to know what that feels like. So what's the hang-up?"
"You know how I'm going back to school to be a counselor?" She nodded. "I'm taking a class that deals with issues children may be facing." I opened my garage and began looking for the cables. "One of those issues is divorce. I've heard that over a third of children, with a single mother who's dating, will end up being abused."
"Yeah." I'd located the jumper cables and handed them to her. "I just need to be careful. That last guy I was dating, The Schmuck, he wasn't very good to my kids."
"I hated that guy. And I hate that I know his sister-in-law."
They'd gone to high school together and had talked in the following years. I kind of hated it that they knew each other too—sometimes small towns suck!
"But this guy, Mark, he's good with kids?" she asked.
"Yeah," I nodded.
Before walking down the block to her house, my friend acted as if resolved to say something. "Gina?" she asked. "I don't want to tell you this, but about The Schmuck…. I'm in a mother's group with his sister-in-law. She found out we're friends. Now she, and The Schmuck's wife, have been messaging me on Facebook asking about you, wanting to know if I've seen The Schmuck's truck over here. I know you haven't even talked to him in a long time, but just be careful, thing whole situation could be on Jerry Springer."
"He's still sending me texts every once in a while. I got one on Valentine's Day."
"I thought you blocked him!"
"I deleted his number and I guess that unblocked him. I didn't even want his damn number in my phone!"
"Doesn't he get it? It's over? He's—the biggest creep ever!"
"I looked at his wife's Facebook page," I confessed.
"But I couldn't help it. She goes on and on about how perfect their marriage is, as if he hadn't been with me constantly for months!"
After she'd jumped her small car off of her other dependable vehicle, I walked back to my house.
I thought about my very last straw with The Schmuck.
We'd been in the kitchen, talking about his day at work. "Usually I don't like talking about work, but I can with you," he said. Then when he was just about to say something else, my twelve-year-old bounded up the stairs and interrupted.
"I need to tell you something, Mama! I had the coolest thing happen. When I went—"
Her voice screeched to a halt as The Schmuck stood, tall and menacing. He was a person of size, over six feet and where he wasn't pure muscle, a bit of fat filled in everything else.
He barreled forward, backed my twelve-year-old against a wall and said, "Interrupting me? Try getting away now, kid. Try it. Try it!" He acted manic, then laughed, thinking it was hysterical. But it made me feel sick...helpless as he laughed, chin pointed at the ceiling, mouth twisted into a sneer that made him look far more devilish than I'd imagined he could be.
I wanted to scream, tell him to get out, but I couldn't. "Well, let's call it a night," I tried to keep my voice even.
I walked him to the porch—he had no idea how much he'd upset me. "Gina, I feel so at home with you guys. I just realized it. It's like your kids are my own."
Great. How terrifying was that?
"This just shows, things'll be perfect with us. Remember how you want to live in a small town?" he asked. "I'm gonna start saving. It'll just be me, you, and the kids. You won't have to work. I'll do everything. We'll have a white-picket fence going around our house. We'll have a deck. Everything you want! And you can spend all your time with your kids and my kids, cooking and taking care of the house. You're everything I've ever wanted. This is the first time in my life I've gotten what I wanted...you."
I waved "goodbye" as he drove off in his big, expensive white truck. That man had more money than God. He'd always buy beautiful clothes for me and take me out to nice dinners. With him, I wouldn't have to worry about money.... But the cost was still too high. I crumpled onto the porch and hung my head in my hands. Even if his words weren't filled with empty promises, I was shocked with the way he'd treated my oldest daughter.
For a moment I tried reasoning his actions away. He'd been tired. He wouldn't do it again, not if I asked.
But when I went inside, I heard my poor preteen daughter crying in her room.
"Can I come in?" I asked, knocking."
"Y-y-y-yes," she sobbed. "Mama, he scares me so bad." She shook, and I'd cried too. "Please don't date him anymore…. Please don't marry that man. I heard what he said. Please, Mama. I don't need a big house. I can help with the kids while you work. We'll make it. We just need you." As she pleaded, I realized I'd put my baby—all of my babies—in danger simply by trusting the wrong man. "Please?" She asked again.
That was the end of it for me. I'd hung onto an asshole for my own self-esteem, for promises of stability, in a last-ditch effort to feel worth something if someone could love me after my failed marriage. But the fact remained, I didn't need a man—not really—the people in need were my kids, needing me.
After all of that with The Schmuck, I vowed to never put a man above my kids again—no matter how much I needed validation and love. I also resigned that if I ever caught signs of an abuser in the future, I would leave immediately, no looking back. And my kids would always be safe.
BREAK THE CYCLE OF ABUSE
I sighed, standing straighter, walking back into the house where Mark and the kids were making dinner. Could I trust this man who I'd known so long as a friend and was currently dating? Was he who he'd presented himself to be? Or was I making another mistake?
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