With October being a time for recognizing domestic abuse, I wanted to highlight a scene with Tone'ya from the Women on the Hill. In it, she reveals how easy it is to step back into a dangerous routine. All wrapped in love.
"Phyl, can I talk to you?" Tone'ya entered the kitchen where I was preparing dinner and climbed onto one of the stools at the bar.
I put the knife I was using to cut the vegetables on the chopping block and turned to face her. Wiping my hands on a dishtowel, I noticed the nervous way she clasped and unclasped her fingers.
“Looks serious, Tone’ya what's the matter?" I pointed at her twitching hands. “You didn't kill anyone, right?" Pulling a stool towards me, I sat opposite Tone’ya, smiled encouragingly and waited patiently.
"No," She laughed. “You’re so stupid.”
"Well, then what's the problem?"
"You know when I was telling you all about how I’ve been feeling about John, my fantasies and such?" She paused, got up from her stool and paced the kitchen.
"Yes, I remember. Sit down. I am not in the mood to watch you trek back and forth.”
"Okay. You may think me stupid, but I wasn't just supposing.”
"I didn't think you were. I've just been wondering when you would say something else about it. You've been walking around looking miserable. That little supposing thing came right out of the blue, so I just figured…"
"Well, you figured right.” She interrupted. “John and I have been seeing each other again for the past month or so. I guess I was feeling envious of the relationship that you have with Philip and Jenny with Compton, that I felt I just had to give him another chance. Stupid I know. I was just lonely. I guess I was beginning to feel worthless. I have been so frustrated lately. My life has been changing so much and none of it has been for the better. I'm supposed to be taking care of my children and here I am living off you. I'm supposed to be the woman and I am really the child. If it wasn't for you, I would be homeless now. What good am I?"
"Tone'ya, I can't believe that you have been thinking like that. You should have said something. Have I done anything to make you believe that you're a problem, something to make you believe that you would be better off by putting yourself in a potential war zone? Have I?"
"No. That's not what I'm saying. It's…it's just me. I've just been wishing that my life were a little more traditional. I have always wanted a husband and children. I guess I have always wanted John. He's all I've ever known. I don't know how I'll make it without him. He has taken anger management classes and even found a new job. I thought things were going to be different. I thought we were going to get back together. The thing is he doesn't want me to take the job. He stupidly assumed that I would sit at home, watch the kids and I guess, just wait to take orders from him. The other night, when I told John that I would be moving out of town, he flipped. It was awful. I was so afraid, stupid me. There I was alone with him and he looked as angry as hell….”
"Tone'ya," John flicked on the motel's television and stared blankly at the screen. “I think you need to rethink your plans. You must really be crazy, out of your damned mind if you think I am going to let you just take my girls out of town, just like that.” He turned and snapped his fingers, the ends of his nails brushing the tip of her nose as he performed the act.
Taking a step backward, Tone'ya anxiously turned and fidgeted with the edge of the comforter that covered the queen sized bed. Trying not to send a nervous glance into his direction, she sidled to its other side and walked into the wash area. With the tips of her fingers, she raised the towel and put it to the side before washing her hands. As the warm water slide over her fingers, Tone'ya watched John's reflection in the mirror. He paced the ratty little room like a chained animal, ever so often popping the bones in his neck as he leaned his head from one side to the other. His lips were moving, but she could hear no words. She was afraid.
Whatever had incited her to meet him and sneak off to the seedy, smelly motel was gone now. He hadn’t changed. She took note of the way he flexed his shoulder muscles and hoped that he couldn't see her tensing. She was afraid. Things were still the same. His anger was apparently still simmering at the surface.
"Turn off the water Tone'ya. You have no reason to be afraid. I'm not about to jump on you.”
Immediately doing as ordered, Tone'ya reached for the nearest dry towel and wrung her hands nervously in its folds.
"Uhm, you seem kind of antsy.” She strangled the words through the fear that was growing as a lump in her throat.
"I am just a little ticked off, but I can handle it. Come over here and sit down.” John pointed to the edge of the bed and sat on a spot near the area he assigned to her. "Come on, Tone'ya. He patted the edge of the bed gently. “I promise I won't do anything to you.”
Tone'ya tried to smile as she walked towards him. She felt as if it was painted on and she had no control of how it looked. The smile almost slipped, when he put his arms around her shoulders once she was seated. The fingers of his right hand rested on her breast and he nonchalantly drew small circles around its nipple. Making it harden in anticipation. When he gave a deep sigh, she felt the rise and fall of his chest throughout her body and the fear that had her sitting stiffly began to fade away to be replaced by sexual tension.
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder. I must be crazy, she thought. How can I be here, knowing how this man used to treat me? What was I thinking? Maybe he has changed or maybe I'm just wishing for something that will never be. When he put her hand on his lap, she trembled with remembrance of the time they had just spent together.
Interrupting her small protest, John laid back and pulled her with him. Rolling over her so that her hands were imprisoned under his chest, he looked down into her face. He watched her reaction through half closed lids, staring into her eyes for a few seconds, before slowly switching his gaze to her lips. Eternity seemed to slip by before he touched her lips with his. His kissed her slowly and thoroughly. His hands roamed her body and played freely with her breast while his body mimicked the actions of his tongue.
"Do you really want to leave this?" Putting a hand on each of her shoulders and applying his superior strength he pulled her further on to the bed and yanked her blouse and bra from under her; a shock to her because she had never noticed that he had unfastened them.
"I don't know," Tone'ya answered in confusion, “I…" she involuntarily sucked in her breath at the ecstasy of his teeth nipping at her breast. For the next few minutes, she fought with herself in total confusion and excitement. She wanted to be there and she didn't. One minute she was pushing him away and the next she was pulling him back.
He pulled her further up on the bed and held her arms above her head. Looking down at her, John seemed to be giving her a minute to consider her choices. With his hands and mouth off her body, she was able to study him closely. With the anticipation of passion receding, she was able to get her emotions under control. Taking a deep breath, she looked into his face. Forgetting what she was about to say when she saw the way that he was staring at the rise and fall of her chest.
"John, John," She repeated when he didn't look at her the first time. “Come on. It's late. I have got to go.” She bucked her body and pulled at her arms.
"That's not a way to get me to let you go.” He laughed. “Actions like that cause other reactions.”
"It's not what I intended.”
"Yes. Come on. It's already late.” She looked into his eyes and away quickly.
"All right, all right. Hold on a second.”
Thinking that he was about to let her go, Tone'ya gave a sigh of relief. Only to find herself recaptured in a duel of passion. This time the combat being fought through its entire sequence.
"Damn, John. Now I'm really late.” Tone'ya rushed into her clothes. Sitting down in a chair to pull the strings of her shoes tighter, she cursed herself for being so easy.
"How in the world are you going to leave this, Tone'ya?" John sat up in the bed and pulled the blankets across his waist.
"I'm going to jump in my car and drive off. The same way that I got here.”
"I'm not talking about tonight. I'm talking about that stupid idea you have about leaving town.”
Ignoring his question, Tone'ya dug her car keys out of her purse and let them hang loosely between her fingers.
"Are you going to stay here the rest of the night?"
“Maybe and maybe not. Are you going through with your plans to leave town?" He asked again.
"John," Tone'ya rubbed her right hand across her eyes and down her face. She looked at him steadily. “I really have no choice. When I made the decision, you were nowhere around. You weren't showing any signs that you cared about the girls, let alone me. I had to do what I thought was right. I can’t continue living off Phyl. It’s time I started taking care of my own life. I’ve made a commitment. I can't just back out, now.”
"You could if you wanted to.” He flexed his shoulders and popped the bones in his neck again, one side and then the other.
"I can't.” Tone'ya raised her voice in exasperation.
A mistake on her part, John jumped from the bed and clutched her two hands in his one. Jerking her towards him, their bodies collided. Looking up quickly, Tone'ya's anxious glance sparred with the anger in his.
"Are you sure?" He stated each word slowly.
"Pretty sure. Damn it, John.” She swallowed nervously. “If I could change things, I would. It's a good paying job. I should think that you would want me to make money. There are things that the girls need that I'm just unable to give them.”
"Are you sure?" He questioned her again.
Taking in account the way John was breathing quietly, Tone'ya believed that he had control of himself and answered slowly.
"John if I could change everything, I would. Why don't you think about moving over with us?"
"Right. I just got this job, Tone'ya.” He let her hands go and moved to crawl back under the comforter. “I can't just up and leave.”
John smiled at the way she threw his question back at him and shook his head in the positive while lighting a cigarette from the package on the nightstand.
"Pretty damned sure. Go ahead and go home, Tone'ya. I guess I will stay here the rest of the night. I may as well. I already paid for the room.”
"All right.” She opened the door and stepped out, turning back just before closing it. “I'll call you tomorrow.”
He waved his hand in dismissal and she closed the door.
"And now," Tone'ya finished her narrative. “I don't know what to do. I have been worrying about this for the past few days.”
Tone'ya picked up the dishtowel I had put down earlier and pretended to find its daisy pattern interesting. She looked like a little girl waiting to be scolded and so I reached out to her. Leaving my stool, I put my arms around her shoulders, offered her comfort, and advice.
"Tone'ya, what is the real reason that you got back involved with John? You knew all of the reasons to back off and yet you didn't. Think about it. The first thing that comes into your mind is probably the basis of it all.”
"Sex.”Tone'ya answered without wasting any time on contemplation. “That's the first thing that came to my mind, and the second and the third. John was as good at that as he was at losing his temper. I just figure better him than a stranger.”
"Tone'ya," I clicked my tongue in disbelief and annoyance. “You know and I know that you would not put yourself back into a potentially abusive situation just to have sex. You may talk it with the rest of the girls, but I live with you. I know you differently. There is more to the situation than that.”
"You're right. I feel that deep down I must love him. I have to. He stays on my mind, even though I know he is the worst choice in the world. I know I'm not so shallow that I would sleep with someone just for the sake of sex. I keep telling myself that I am as stupid as hell, but my heart will not listen. When I think of him, I forget all of the lies, all of the pain. The only thing I can remember is how it used to be. Our life was good then. We talked a lot, laughed a lot, and had lots of sex. It was more than that, though.”
Tone'ya stood and as she did so my arm fell from her shoulders and I went to sit back on my stool. "Can you understand what I am saying, Phyl? Do you think I am stupid?"
"No, I don't think you’re stupid. I know what you're going through. I used to wish every night that Rosie's dad would come back. He ran out on me when I was expecting his child and yet I wanted him. I missed him. He could have stayed away for centuries and the day he would have walked back in the door would have been like heaven to me. I wanted him that bad. It took a while to get over, almost until I met Philip, but that was me. I had to replace him in my heart before I was released from those feelings. It's not the same with you.”
"No, it’s not. Am I a fool? I don't want to replace him. I just…I don't think I want to be with him forever, but I don't want to lose him. Hell, yes I'm stupid.” Tone'ya suddenly turned and faced me as if she d had a revelation.
"Phyl," She sat down on the stool she had vacated. “It's not love that has me running to him. Oh, my God.” She slapped herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand. “It's the same feelings I had just before I threw him out of the house. Oh, my God. As I think about it, I remember how I would do anything for him in that last year. I was so consumed with a hypnotic fear back then that I thought whatever he said was the bomb. I would do, say, and feel whatever I thought he wanted. Nothing was from inside of me. I would be whatever he wanted as long as he would touch me with love. I would rather him touch me sexually than in the anger he usually showed. Oh, my God.” She stood and paced the room.
"I can see it clearly, now. All of the conversations I have been having on the phone with John lately were just a form of bait, a habit, and a way for him to get to play with my mind. I should never have started talking to him again. I began to tell him anything I thought he wanted and he played me right along. Before I knew it, I was smack dab in the middle of a queen sized bed in a third rate motel. He knows the exact words and phrases that will get me in my zombie phase. Damn.”
Tone'ya screeched and stopped in the middle of her pacing. Her hand covered her mouth as if she were in shock.
"What?" The stricken look on her face was so comical that it almost made me want to laugh. "Tone'ya it's not the end of the world. We all do stupid things. This is no big deal, just sex. Don't do it with him again. Everything is an experience to learn from. You can forgive yourself.”
"Damn, girl," She dragged herself back to the stool and sat down. Letting her head hit the bar s surface with a resounding bang, she shook it in the negative.
"What, Tone'ya?" I reached over and patted her on the shoulder. "You may as well tell me. What could be worse than going back to the ex-lover that almost beat the life out of you?"
I tried to joke. She raised her head and looked at me briefly before answering. No smile was on her face.
"Going back to the ex-lover that almost beat the life out of you and having sex with him, without using protection.” She let her head fall back to the cabinet top, banging it over and over.
"Tone'ya.” I tried to swallow my exasperation, placing my hand on her head to stop her from banging it. “I know you didn't…"
"Yes, I did. Oh, my God I had forgotten that. How could I have been so stupid? I wouldn't be surprised if he had planned that to happen.”
"Tone'ya now, let's be fair. You're my friend and I love you dearly, but you were there. You could have said something. You could have said, no.”
"I tell you, I feel it in my soul.” She raised her head and looked at me in earnest. “He planned that last episode. The first time, before I told him about the move, we did use protection. But, the second time…I was dressed, ready to leave and he had me so afraid that he was about to go left, I didn't protest too much. I wasn't thinking clearly. I just wanted to get out the way I had gone in. I'm not saying he raped me, nothing like that. Things just got out of hand. I was just so confused that before I knew it, I was undressed and it was too late. I'll tell you one thing, if my girls ever come to me with the same kind of problem, I promise not to judge them. This is such a mess. I could kill myself.”
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