Runaway Wife Makes Good
Elena sat in the early morning sun watching coots play leapfrog across the bay. She studied her well-tanned body, admiring the tight curves of her small frame. Strands of thick black hair danced across her pretty face where large brown eyes offset a slightly upturned nose and full lips. Elena knew she was still beautiful, but for the first time in years she felt beautiful, and proud of her Mexican Indian heritage. Raised in Donna, Texas, six miles north of the border, she had grown up bilingual, a first-generation Texican.
When she was 14, her parents had died in a car accident, leaving her to support three younger brothers. Her childhood ended. At first, she looked for a job in the stores. But there were no jobs to be found. In the small town of Reynosa, Mexico, Elena began her double life, auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder. At first, prostitution was almost exciting, and she became quite well known in the trade. But as time wore away her innocence, she began to resent the bastards who paid to control her body. She learned to endure the humiliation, closing her eyes and moaning as men of all sizes and shapes emptied their manhood inside her. After her first miscarriage she was forcibly sterilized.
She remembered the first time she met Enrique. He was so kind, so pure, so understanding. He took her out to nice restaurants, bought her fancy clothes, and tried to teach her the importance of self-respect. After a while, she found herself almost enjoying the sex they had together. What he lacked in size, she made up for by convincing herself that they were in love. He paid her well at first, but finally forced her to quit when his ego could no longer stand the thought of her being with other men. They returned to Texas and got married at the local Catholic church, white dress and all. Elena felt like Cinderella and looked forward to a happy ending.
She looked out at the water from Ralf’s 35-foot ketch and shook her head. The fairy tale had turned into a nightmare. A lone tear wandered down her face and she wiped it away angrily. “The marriage is over,” she said to the wind, “and I’ll be damned if I waste my time feeling sorry for myself.”
But it had been perfect, at least for a while. Enrique moved them to California to escape her sordid background and younger brothers. Elena learned to keep house, watch soap operas, and kill the tiny snails that terrorized her lovely garden. Everything would have been just fine, if only Enrique had trusted her. Slowly his understanding nature changed to jealousy and he began to withdraw. His dark moods turned her blood to ice. Convinced she was whoring on the side, Enrique started locking her inside the house before he left for work. In the evenings he would pretend like nothing was wrong and ignore her pleas for freedom. Anxious and hunted, Elena knew she needed help.
One morning after a particularly bad fight, Elena climbed out of the bathroom window and escaped to the sanctity of a shelter for battered women. Listening to the other women’s tales of mental and physical torture helped her realize that she was not alone. But when she returned home, she found herself hoping that things could work themselves out. Enrique just needed some time and outside help to be able to overcome his insecurities. But it would be many years before Enrique sought help, and not exactly the kind of therapy Elena had envisioned.
One rainy afternoon in July, Enrique came home early and caught her climbing back in through the window. This discovery ushered in a period of misery and blank servitude for Elena. She endured frequent beatings that more often than not led to violent rape. After a while, he needed the illusion of rape in order to get hard, for which he blamed her incessantly. She had robbed him of his manhood by sneaking around whoring behind his back. He had to beat her. It was God’s way of purifying her, making her clean again. Sometimes she fought back. Sometimes she just closed her eyes and let numbness overtake her like it had back in Reynosa. Her one saving grace was the telephone. She called the shelter when she could just to hear a friendly voice on the other end of the line. Two years slipped by before they finally convinced her to leave him and move into the shelter.
She planned her escape methodically and escaped by taxi one night after Enrique had imbibed one too many tequilas. He had no idea where she’d run off to or with whom. Luckily for Elena, life at the shelter was a definite improvement. She learned secretarial skills and even started teaching Spanish to a few women at the shelter. As seeds of self-respect took root in her heart, she vowed never to let herself fall so low again.
Enrique looked for her everywhere. He blamed his anger on her inability to have children like a normal woman. Convinced he could win her back, he employed a private detective to track her down, which didn’t take long. Once contact was made, Enrique played the humbled man. Filled with tremendous guilt, he promised to make her the happiest woman in he world if she’d just come home. He played on her sense of duty, asking her to attend church with him on Sundays and scheduling meetings with the priest to discuss the importance of making the marriage commitment last. He even said that they could adopt children if she wanted a family. The last promise struck a chord. There was nothing more that she wanted in the world than to have a real family.
After six months at the shelter, Elena moved back in with her husband. She had convinced herself that Enrique had really changed. After a few months, they moved to Maroon County to get away from all of the old memories that haunted their house in the suburbs of San Jose. It was Enriques’ idea, a new start. Maroon County was the final chapter in her fractured fairy tale. Enrique bought an opulent house with a white picket fence and a beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking Dickerson Bay. Elena enrolled in the local community college and took up sailing. Enrique’s business flourished and he bought her a black Mercedes convertible. The promise of children seemed just around the corner that never came.
After a few years, Henry, as he preferred to be called, was approached by some pretty heavy characters to run for public office. His associates in the real estate business wielded a lot of power in the county and the state capitol and were confident of his chances in the upcoming election. His minority background would be a real asset in Maroon County, birth land of political correctness, where compassionate liberals sipped the finest local vintages in sunken hot tubs under the redwoods—right next door to Jerry Garcia, man—discussing the plight of the homeless whilst driving to and from EST seminars in shiny new BMWs.
Naturally, Henry Burrota was lauded as the people’s choice, the original self-made man who had scaled the walls of opportunity all the way from humble roots in a Texas barrio to the top of his Powerhouse Dynamics empire. In 1988, he won the election for County Supervisor by a comfortable margin. After the election he found that he owed a lot of favors, and his backers needed him to keep his promises if he was to continue up the political ladder. He kept the promises, and tripled his income.
A tremendous amount of cash flowed into Elena’s personal account, and she became the major holder of most of the subsidiary businesses. Everything should have been just ducky, but Elena felt herself drowning in opulence. Although Powerhouse Dynamics dabbled in everything from the printing of lottery tickets to massive development projects, it was the plastics company in Peru that pushed her over the edge. Elena was deeply ashamed to be making money on the AIDS crisis and ended up volunteering in a hospice to alleviate the guilt.
Henry just laughed. “What’s wrong with making a real killing on a bunch of homos and drug addicts? They aren’t headed for the pearly gates anyway.” He surpassed these insensitive remarks only with his constant criticism of the “derelict good-for-nothing anchor-outs” on Dickerson Bay and his plans to dispose of them permanently. Elena could hardly stand the sight of him.
She had been avidly taking sailing lessons since they moved to the area, and had quite naturally met a lot of the people who lived on their boats offshore from Soft City. Something about their self-sufficient lifestyles inspired her admiration and motivated her to have her first extramarital affair. The relationship with Ralf Wagner, her sailing teacher, started slowly but increased steadily in passion and commitment. For the first time in her life, she felt whole, and she didn’t give a damn what she had to give up to finally live her life in peace.
Looking up into the sky, Elena saw the beginnings of a blue sky poking through the fog. She smiled and stretched, happy to be alive. Happy just to be.
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