Since I began to consider, “Hallelujah,” as a monolith of Praise, I have thought a lot about what gives and takes away a Seeker’s sense of Hallelujah.  I ask the question, “What breaks Hallelujah?” like a chorus in my head.  In perfect harmony, another question sings, “Was my Hallelujah ever wild and free?”  Two other curious voices chime in, “Is anyone’s Hallelujah intact?” and “What does a perfect and whole Hallelujah sound like?” round out this metacognitive barber shop quartet.

The landscape of violence against women mutated these more general questions to a series of what-if questions.  What if domestic abuse broke a woman’s Hallelujah and what would happen to her if she tried to change her situation.

Those questions are the foundation of this piece.

another woman


The street lay open
before her battered body like a mouth.
The third nail of her left hand
hides within a plastic cocoon
as her engagement ring screams
its exclamation in the early morning sun.

Her stomach squeezed its fist again.  “Golamb guts,” she thought sardonically, “my family’s answer to an emotional barometer.”  She knew she had to do something, but her cramping stomach reminded her of the paradox that slowly suffocated her like carbon dioxide poisoning. Although she had distance from him, she was not free of him.  Although she no longer resided within the beast of her torrid marriage, neither did she dwell outside its hostile territory.  She couldn’t stay chained in this limbo forever.

“If I write him a letter and give him enough time to respond, maybe he won’t feel like I ambushed him,” she rationalized to herself for the hundredth time that day.  “If I am very careful and make it nice for him, if I don’t say anything mean or provocative then it should be okay,” she hoped while massaging her stomach and walking to the computer desk in her office upstairs.

As she turned on the Macbook, however, she remembered one of the many times that she hadn’t thought she’d done anything evocative and he exploded anyway.  During that particular “accident,” she had made the mistake of asking him if he would like anything besides the french fries he had made himself for dinner.  She recalled her shame as he screamed at her, “I can eat whatever I want to eat for dinner.  Unlike you, I’m not a fucking psycho about my weight, and don’t count every fat gram I consume.  I’m not the one obsessed with getting fat!  Worry about your own damn weight and let me eat what I want.  And no, I would not like a salad or soup to go with my dinner,’” menaced as he charged toward her with the hot baking pan of Ore-Ida Crispers.

“I don’t think you’re fat,” she remembered lying quickly.

“You’re such a fucking hypocrite,” he said punctuating his vengeance with the cookie sheet.  “Take ‘em,” he conceded hotly as he pushed the scalding pan into her hands, “Take ‘em and get the fuck out of my sight,” he ordered as he stormed from the kitchen.

He did not look back as he made his exit, nor would he have considered it at all ironic that his double-time march swished as he stormed out the door because his thighs rubbed together rudely enough to make him chafe.

The tears came again and she began to run cold water over her hands even before he cleared the doorway.  The blisters mushroomed almost immediately, another vivid visual metaphor for her woodshed of a marriage.

In mid composition of yet another catalogue of the reasons she ever had agreed to be his wife in the first place, she shook her head to break from the dysfunctional track of her memoirs with Simon.  She realized as she glanced back to her monitor that she had been bound by their grip for long enough for Word to have booted and the screen saver to have bled across the page.  She hit the space bar as she committed herself once again to her task. “You can do this,” she coached to herself, “You can find the right tone in this letter to help him change his mind.”

With that thought, she began to type without realizing that she was caught in spokes of the wheel once again.

772 Western Avenue
Millpoint, MA  01775

Simon Craig

PO  Box 39869
Fort Bragg, NC  28307

13 May 2007

Dear Simon,

Every letter I recall penning to you since you reenlisted begins similarly; I hope this finds you and finds you well.  This salutation signals my adjustment to the idea that I do not know exactly where you geographically reside when I write. The roads we travel have truly diverged.

“Okay,” she complimented herself, “right from go, you’ve made your position clear.  I’m not with you; I don’t want to be with you; I can’t live with you.”  “Now,” she encouraged herself, “Get to the point, ask for the divorce and be done with it,” she cautioned herself with her conditioned mantra, “just don’t piss him off.”

Her hands poised above home row.  She began to type deliberately again.

I have thought often about the conversation we shared on April 28.  I anticipate that you also have sifted through the issues about which we talked.  I regret not having heard from you in regard to that call before now, but I expect that as I was focused in the effort to meet my project deadline, and all its demands, you too were immersed in the challenges of your mission. However, I wanted to write and reiterate my request to finalize our divorce.

She paused to wonder if he had any idea how much she wanted to be free of him, how hard she had worked to heal from the brand he burned into her dignity.

What she did not fully recognize, in spite of all the therapy and prayer, was that her scars published the exact nature of his mission:  Recon, assess the enemy’s weakness, take control.

The dawn dew baptizes
her expressionless brow.
Ramps of her raven hair
build tunnels for the ants to investigate.
Mischievous breezes blow
cigarette road blocks in their path
to intersect with the pieces of grit
and gravel that already dust
her usually clean mane.

Once again she pulled herself away from her distracting thoughts.  “I hate him for making me ask again,” she dared as she scrutinized the screen before her, “I hate him for making me beg him to cooperate.”

Beginning to compose once more, she promised herself, “If I can get him to do this, I’ll never have to ask him for anything ever again.”

As I stated on the phone, I ask you to support this request, Simon.  I evince that enough time has transpired since our initial separation that we can choose this together in the most painless and cost effective way.  I suggest we proceed with a no-fault filing that was your initial approach when you first pursued legal aid.  I foresee no areas in which our interests contradict each other.  We divided the marital assets already, and I will be in the position by the end of August to economically manage without the support of your monthly check.  I think what we need to decide together is who will file, when the filing will occur, and how this expense will be shared.

I trust you will support this request.  If you can secure free or reduced legal services through the Army and want to file there, I am comfortable with that.  If you want to contact the lawyer and resubmit your initial petition and work through her Massachusetts office, I am comfortable with that too.  I am also willing to contact my attorney to make a similar request that she finalize the proceedings.  The only other option that I am familiar with centers around independent filing without the use of a lawyer, but I do not feel like I have the time nor expertise to pursue this option.

“That’s it,” she praised herself, “just the facts Ma’am.  Don’t get ensnared in the emotional knots that are strangling your guts, just put your needs out there and make him see that you intend to see them met.”  Her momentum stymied, however, when she recalled again with acrid distaste that his perspective was very different from her own.  “Okay,” she surrendered out loud, “I guess there’s no getting around acknowledging his emotional position.  Dr.  Parker told me it’s okay to accept responsibility for what I am responsible for and admit it to him and myself.  The trick demands that I don’t shoulder his responsibility too.”  She pulled her bottle of Avalon toward her and drank deeply as she gently stroked the gray tabby that curled in her lab.  “No delicate balance,” she explained to her only baby as she returned to her letter.

I understand from our anniversary conversation that you would prefer to attempt to reconcile in lieu of finalizing the divorce.  As I indicated, I can not endorse this idea.  I worry that because you do not want to make our separation final that you will not support my request nor answer this letter.  I respect I am in no position to compel you to do anything with which you feel uncomfortable.  I can only entreat you, Simon, to please subscribe to my request.  I do not want to become ensnared in another litigious battle of who can slander who better in cross bills.  I do not want to extend nor perpetuate pain for either of us.  I realize our wants vary on this issue, but implore you to recognize they diverge at such variance that we stand without common ground upon which to meet.

She blinked away the tears that threatened to block her vision.  She couldn’t help but quote lines of the cross bills that slandered back and forth between their lawyers’ offices.  Where as she strove to be fair, he twisted the truth, betrayed her secrets, and raped with the blunt objects of her own secrets and his blatant fabrications.

“That’s what he did,” she charged with clotted voice, “he violated the sanctity of everything I ever shared with him.  He shredded any trust or respect I had left for him in those documents.”

She shook her head to clear it as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her T-shirt.  “No excuses, no time for crying jags,” she chided herself, “just get this infernal nightmare over with.  Be the man he can’t be and admit your responsibility.”

Resolute, she began to type in earnest.

Sorrow and guilt compete for my attention when I recall your appeal that we meet to discuss our situation or that we consider to try again to mediate our differences.  I thought time would mitigate your sense of loss, so that you would begin to build your life around goals and dreams that no longer include me.  I do not have language to address this disparity.  As much as I regret your reticence, I need to move on with these proceedings, Simon.  I need the legal closure of our marriage to be able to build my own life.  I ask you to give me leave so that I can do so with your support as I extend my own to you in the pursuit of your goals.  Please do not ask me again to reconsider.  Please do not place me in the position that I have to ask you to finalize our divorce again.  It’s too painful for both of us.

“No more,” she thought to herself as she wrote, “I can’t live like this anymore.”

“My wants weren’t ever what was important to him,” she self-edited as she posted her exit strategy.  “I need to make him see that I’m not out to emasculate him.”  She remembered too well that the consequences were dire indeed when he felt she was, “busting his balls.”.

“Enough with the melodramatic daydreaming, girl,” she scolded herself, “get this damn thing written.  Almost done…” she vowed.

I pray that you recognize that I have consistently tried to navigate our separation and end our marriage in the kindest, most amiable way that I know.  I do not want to usher in a new battle with this letter.  I hope instead to close this chapter in our lives as friends.  We walked into our life together as friends, Simon.  I want to exit  without damage to the only relationship possibility that could continue; friendship.

I also feel the need to apologize for how long this has taken to come to closure.  I fully participated in the delay of finalizing our divorce.  I appreciate your support during this period and thank you for the generous allotment checks.  I realize you chose to provide them independent of any written obligation and I want you to know that I am grateful.  As I mentioned before, I understand that these payments will discontinue at the time our divorce becomes final.

“Economic blackmail,” she almost shouted, disturbing the sleeping cat which nestled against her womb.  “That’s what those checks were.  He used money like a noose.  He stole my savings, he forged my checks, he ran up bills and hid the receipts, he destroyed my mail, he ruined my credit, he ran off leaving me stranded with piles of bills and no money.  He tried to pocket the allowance the Army paid him for marital support for himself.  I would have liked to have seen him explain that to his CO.  I even had to drag his lawyer into court to extract the promise he would stop using a credit card he illegally took out in my name.  He knows my social security number and my mother’s maiden name,” she spit interrupting herself, “so just don’t get too cocky, little girl,” she demeaned herself in with one of Simon’s catch phrases. “He can still hurt you plenty.”

I would hope that we could resolve this issue and that the divorce could be final by the end of June.  Please write or call me so that I know which way you would prefer to handle the legal proceedings.  I reiterate my desire to work together with you on this.  If, however, I do not hear from you by April 7, 2007, I will forward this letter to my attorney along with my request that she file for a no-fault divorce.  I anticipate the preceding sentence might anger you or feel like an ultimatum.  I do not intend either as goad or a mandate.  Instead, I attempt to keep the promise that I made to you during our last phone call.  I made the commitment to take no legal action without your knowledge.  I do not intend to pursue any course of action until we are able to discuss it.  However, if you do not choose to dialogue with me about it, I still want you to be informed of my intentions.  I can only promise you my intent is one of respect and hope that you will interpret this statement in the context and spirit I extend it.

One bare foot
pokes out beneath her drop cloth cape.
Both the calluses
and the half moon blood blister
beneath the nail of her big toe
confess her devotion.

Take care of yourself.  I hope you have returned to Fort Bragg by now and that your mission has stopped creeping.  “Mission creep,”  What an odd and funny expression.  Sounds like a bad case of jungle rot or foot fungus.  Either way, it would seem an antifungal cream should be prescribed.  I hope you continue to take satisfaction from your work and the knowledge that you do it well in service of your team and country.  I know it’s your watch.  I have every confidence you watch well so that others might sleep in safety.

She enchanted her mantra before she closed the letter, “I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.  I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.  And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Namaste,

Michelle

She was a runner.

She did not, however, out run him.

In fact, she never had.

Requiem for Michelle

She stands inside faith as
tenacious tides
comb her feet.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She calls the sun as
it bakes her face
and the breeze seasons
her hair with salt.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She summons the undertow
and baits a hunger
that could swallow her whole.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She channels will
to captain herself as
she resets her course.

Without a cry,
without a prayer,
with no betrayal of despair,
with gusting sales of
courage personified,

She storms the beach
alone.