Distorted Perception


Synopsis

          At twenty-six years of age, Kathleen believes she is destined to become an old maid until Maxwell walks into her life. By the end of their first date she is taken with his charm, his confidence, and his honesty. She is all too eager to accept when he proposes marriage but she is blinded by her own naivety. What she took to be honesty was nothing more than a front for his true desires. Within months of their marriage, their partnership starts to deteriorate and Maxwell takes on a more domineering role. The things Kathleen had always taken for granted are becoming privileges and Maxwell begins using her as an outlet for his anger.

When he suggests a move to the country, Kathleen accepts and believes a change of atmosphere will be an opportunity to strengthen and rebuild their marriage. She hopes to once again become his equal partner. Shortly after their move, Kathleen's hopes are shattered when she realizes the isolation of the countryside only enhances Maxwell's power over her. Their new neighborhood is full of women and children but is also lacking a school, the presence of other men, and a way of escape. When Kathleen confronts Maxwell about her concerns, she expects an argument. Instead, she finds herself in a battle she may not be able to win.


Excerpt

Chapter 7

       Two months into their marriage, Maxwell began to change. He came home one day and told Kathleen he had combined their cell phone bills. When Kathleen questioned how that was possible, all he could do was laugh at her. "Sweetheart, I'm a lawyer. I can find out anything I want, about anyone I want. Besides, I live here now, remember? Your bill comes straight to the house. That's pretty much all I needed."

       Kathleen was mad. She didn't care that he was looking at her phone bill but she thought they were supposed to be partners. He should have asked her before he went ahead and did it. She tried to talk some sense into herself; married couples combined their bills all the time. Maybe she was being too sensitive about it because she was so used to doing stuff on her own.

       That same day, even though she was already upset with him, he sat her down and told her he wanted her to quit her teaching job. Kathleen didn't know what to say so she sat there with her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open. His main argument was that he wanted her to get used to being at home all day. He wanted to start trying to have a baby with her as soon as possible. And they had already agreed that she would stay home with their children.

      Kathleen questioned whether he thought maybe they should discuss, together, the idea of having children and he laughed in her face again. To him, it was all part of being married and he didn't feel the need to discuss it with her. Having children was expected of married couples and he didn't want to put it off. He claimed he wanted to have them while he was still young enough to be able to keep up with their energy.

     Kathleen was interested in having a child soon but she also wanted to have a say in when it happened. She believed it should be a mutual agreement between the two of them, not just one of them stating they were ready and that was the word of the law. What happened to the partnership that Maxwell had been preaching about before they got married? That was what she was excited about. But it seemed that recently, whatever he said, went. There was no partnership, it was him who was running the household and that household was once Kathleen's home.

       "Will you give me a few days to think about it? This is a really big decision."

       Maxwell glared at her and shook his head. "You're acting ridiculous. You and I both know you're going to give in anyway."

       In her heart, she knew he was right. She just didn't want him to win.

      After a few weeks, she did give in. She had thought about Maxwell's proposal while she was at home, she thought about it while she was at school and tried to imagine if she would miss it. She thought about what she would do to fill her days between when she left school and when she actually had a child. She hoped Maxwell would accept her response if she told him that she would be willing to leave at the end of the school year. It was only seven months away and it would give them plenty of time to try for a child and she could still work even if she was pregnant. If she ever wanted to go back to work at some point, she didn't want to burn any bridges on her way out. She thought leaving at the end of the year would give the school plenty of time to find her replacement. She would feel horrible about leaving any kids during the middle of the year. After all, the children were the main reason she loved her job.

       Maxwell just shook his head as she was giving him her answer. She thought she had sound reasoning for wanting to stay through the school year. He disagreed. He told her he wanted her to leave during the holidays so they could start the New Year in the right way. The new way meaning his way. And he wasn't budging on his opinion.

       When Kathleen tried to argue, he threatened to leave her for not valuing his opinion and desires. Kathleen thought she could argue the same since it would be her career and her body that would feel all the effects. Worried that he may keep good on his threat, the next day, she brought a letter of resignation into the school with her. She thought it was the hardest thing she would ever have to do. She loved her job, she loved the children, but she also loved her husband.

       It was a bittersweet ending for her teaching career for the foreseeable future. She was afraid to leave, she was sad, but she was also excited about the possibility of having a child of her own. Three days after she turned in her resignation she started to feel better about the situation. The apprehension she had been feeling was beginning to subside and she had to talk herself out of jumping on Maxwell when he got home from work. Now that the plan was in motion, she wanted a child more than ever.

       One week before Christmas she went to the city to buy Maxwell his gift. She stopped for a coffee and paid for it in cash and then made her way into the shops. Maxwell didn't have much as far as what most people would consider "toys" so she had decided to get him a new outfit and a fancy pen for work. When she entered the first shop, she was overwhelmed by the amount of writing implements. She had never shopped for anything like that and figured she would have maybe five to choose from. There were hundreds of them. It took her almost three hours to find the one that she wanted and could afford and she picked out a pair of cuff links that matched it. She hadn't budgeted for the cuff links but Maxwell always wore a suit on days that he was going to court and she thought it would be a nice surprise. The salesman boxed and bagged her purchase and ran her card through. He handed it back to her while shaking his head and told her that it was declined.

      Kathleen could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. "It can't be. That card has no balance on it. Can you try it again, please?"

       The cashier did as she requested and shook his head again as he handed it back a second time. She tried all three of her credit cards and none of them worked. She couldn't believe it. She had to ask the cashier to remove the cuff links and she paid for the pen with her debit card. That was almost all the money she had available in her checking account. She thanked the salesman and told him she would come back for the cuff links after she figured out what was wrong with her cards. She left the store and texted Maxwell when she got back to her car.

       None of my credit cards are working.

       She was half way home before she got a reply.

       I shut them off.

       Kathleen was so struck by what she had read she almost drove her car off the road. Bits of gravel struck the bottom of her car and she had to jerk the wheel to straighten out. Her heart was pounding and she was shaking. She didn't know if it was because of her driving or because of the shock of him turning off all of her credit cards without her permission. She was so angry at him she wanted to scream. What gave him the right to do that? What if she had an emergency and she needed money?

      When Maxwell walked in the door that evening Kathleen exploded. She threw questions at him faster than he could answer them. She started screaming that he had no right to turn off her cards. She wanted to know who he thought he was to do such a thing and why he didn't tell her about it. Did he have any idea how embarrassed she was when every single card that she owned got declined? She had never felt so small. Maxwell's amused look made her even angrier. He just stared at her with a smirk on his face like he was enjoying every moment of it. When she made a comment about him having no right to meddle with her finances his look of amusement changed to one of anger.

      He growled at her, "Oh, but I beg to differ. We only have one income now, remember? You quit your job. I think I have every right to do whatever I please with my money since I'll be the only one paying the bills."

       "You made me quit my job," Kathleen spat back.

       The back of his hand advanced so fast Kathleen didn't have time to react. Her shoulder slammed into the wall. Her face was stinging and her right eye was welling up. It took her a moment to realize what had happened and she was stunned into silence.

      Maxwell's eyes were burning into her. "You might want to try that again. I didn't make you do anything. I asked you to quit so you could raise our children and take care of our household like a proper wife should. You're the one that made the final decision. But now, since I am the one paying your mortgage, your car payment, and putting food on your table, you will treat me with respect. And don't ever speak to me like that again."

       Kathleen felt like a child, trapped. He loomed over her and bits of saliva hit her face as he spoke. She wanted to lash out, scream at him that he was the one who wanted a partnership, he was the one that wanted her to leave her job, but she couldn't. She slid down the wall with her hand covering her swelling face and cried silently, trying to come to terms with what had just transpired. She couldn't believe this was happening to her.

       She stayed in her crouched position for a long time, only straightening up when she heard Maxwell yell from the other room. "You do know that dinner should be waiting for me when I get home, right?"

       Kathleen let out a nervous guffaw and immediately covered her mouth praying Maxwell didn't hear it. She wiped the tears from her face and stood slowly. After all this, he's worried about his dinner. She went into the kitchen and started pulling out pans from the cabinet and food from the refrigerator. Her head started to clear as she was cooking. This was one of her hobbies and she always used cooking as a way to unwind when she was feeling stressed. She couldn't help but wonder how she was supposed to have his meal ready for him when she never knew when he was coming home. She had wasted hundreds of dollars' worth of food in the time that they had been married either because he was coming home too late to eat or not coming home at all.

     She served Maxwell dinner in his office. His office, her former storage room, and the room that would eventually become the nursery. She sat by herself at the kitchen table. She only took two bites before she dumped her own food in the trash can. She wasn't feeling well. Her face hurt and her stomach was in knots. She washed all the dishes except Maxwell's because she didn't want to go in to collect them. It was still early in the evening but she had had enough of the day. She grabbed an ice pack from the freezer and closed herself in their bedroom with a book. She hadn't realized, until she tried to concentrate on the words, how much her eye had swollen up. It was a good thing she had the next day to try to recover before having to go back to her last week of work. She put her book down and covered the entire right side of her face with the ice pack. She cried herself to sleep.

       When she awoke the next morning Maxwell was already in his office. She had no idea if he had even come to bed. She put some coffee on and washed the dishes that he had set in the sink while she waited for it to brew. When it was done, she sat down at the kitchen table with her mug and booted up her laptop so she could check the news. Maxwell emerged a few minutes later.

       "I thought I smelled coffee." He smiled at her and bent to give her a kiss on the forehead. Kathleen flinched when he bent near her. All she could do was attempt to smile but her efforts failed miserably. Maxwell was pouring himself a cup of coffee when he turned to her. "Hope I didn't wake you. You looked so comfortable I thought I'd let you sleep in."

       Kathleen imagined she had looked anything but comfortable. She couldn't even open her right eye. "Thank you. I guess I needed the sleep." She didn't know what else to say and she didn't really sleep in. It was only now seven-thirty.

       Maxwell was leaning against the counter sipping his coffee. "I have to go out today. I'll be back for dinner."

       She wanted him to leave. With the way she was feeling this morning, she didn't care if he came back or not. Still, she decided to play nice. "It's Sunday. I thought you were going to try to get them off now."

       "Try being the key word. It didn't work out today. I'll be back later." He bent down again and kissed the top of her head. He called back from the front doorway "I'm taking your car today," and slammed the door behind him.

       'Well, that's just great,' she thought. It was a good thing she didn't have any plans today. Not like she would be going anywhere looking the way she did anyway but it was the principle. She spent the next forty-five minutes tearing apart the house looking for her cell phone and then realized she most likely left it in the car the previous afternoon. She could kick herself for not remembering it. Now she had no car and no phone. For the third time in as many days, she was so angry she wanted to scream. She felt like she had absolutely no control over her life and it had all become that way in the past few days. What had she gotten herself into?