Melanie woke up in a cloud of smoke. Rubbing her eyes, she looked around the filthy surroundings. Empty bottles strewn across the floor. Half eaten crackers thrown clumsily on the table. A pungent smell of rotting chicken filled her nostrils. She felt like throwing up.
Marc was smoking on the porch just as she expected. She opened the windows and started cleaning up the space.
Melanie was a high school student at the public school. Her father Marc was a mechanic with whom she lived in their small, decrepit house. Five years ago, when her mother had left them for good, little Melanie had assumed the role of a caretaker for her father and the house rather than the other way round.
In the evenings, while Marc had his junkie friends over, she would mostly keep her headphones on to drown out the noise and pretended to sleep. It was on one such day, a year ago that she had met Steve.
“Do you mind handing me a lighter?”
She had looked at the tall man who was much younger than her father with trepidation. He didn’t stop staring at her till she had handed him the lighter and then he had tried to touch her. She had felt her skin crawl.
He came every day, sometimes with gifts.
“You are beautiful, unlike any of the girls I have ever met,” he kept showering her with such compliments.
With passage of time, she had found herself falling for him.
Melanie gathered her belongings in her bag. Marc was still at the porch when she left the house.
Steve was waiting for her. She climbed into his van and they drove past the miles. She felt the wind in her hair and wondered if this is what real freedom feels like. Her father wouldn’t have cared for her anyway, she was sure of that.
The whirring of the engine awoke her. A repulsive smell emanated from every corner of the unkempt room. She looked at her pallid face in the mirror and turned around slightly to see her bruised elbow. Her young child was still asleep.
Melanie was overcome with a strong sense of deja vu. Life with Steve had been a roller-coaster of drugs and abuse. She thought of running away often but didn’t have the heart to abandon her child. With no employment she couldn’t have supported her alone.
She thought about the pamphlet hidden securely under her mattress.
“She likes it here,” said the caretaker at the Domestic Abuse Shelter to Melanie. Melanie smiled. With their help, she had enrolled herself in a typewriting course. Soon she would be able to support herself and her daughter.
She was in a happy space now. Walking out of a doomed marriage was just part of the process. Getting over deep rooted emotional stigma was the real struggle of finding freedom.
She was glad that she had found the courage to call up the helpline that day.
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