Marissa lay, her head so heavy with torment, she could barely lift it off the pillow. Beside her Malcolm slept, snoring so loudly the sheets vibrated. Apparently, he didn’t possess the same cares as she. And why would he since he so effectively dumped them all on her.
Too many of Marissa’s nights were like this–a stone lying on a bed with sheets that made her itch while the day’s worth of Malcolm’s rants and curses swirled above her head. His words, weighing the heaviest at night, set about the task of molding and reshaping her into an image she despised.
When she was younger, she was pretty; her hair long, skin clear and glowing. Her body was not media perfect, but she favored the image she saw in the mirror. Malcolm had never laid hands on her, just a bunch of threats, but he might as well have. Her heart was tattooed with bruises, her hair was falling out, and she gained weight. Miraculously her skin remained clear, but her eyes were sad and old.
Malcolm, on the other hand, was still handsome and tall, dreadlocks draped down an arrow-straight back. His smile, revealing the most perfect teeth she ever saw, still charmed her. Marissa wished she was not so vain.
There had been no deceit; all she needed to know about Malcolm was disclosed. He didn’t hide or sugarcoat his story. Rather, he rattled it off as a storyteller who’d told the same tale many times. He grew up in foster care. His mother was a crack addict and a prostitute; his father was serving time for murder. He had been in and out of jail for misdemeanor offenses since he was thirteen, had his first felony by sixteen. That one and the four succeeding were all for violent offenses. When Marissa met him, he was on parole after serving three years.
He was a living statistic and knowing that should’ve sent her packing. They were from two different worlds, after all. Marissa grew up in a home with loving, Christian parents who were still married after thirty-two years. She was active in her church and a full-time college student aspiring to become an English professor.
She was a senior when she met Malcolm at Barnes and Noble. He’d caught her attention because he didn’t appear to be the kind of person who read, albeit a graphic novel. Marissa realized that while she was amused by the “thug” in the bookstore, he was amused by her. She saw someone she could change, instill her beliefs in. He saw someone foolish and naïve. They were a challenge to each other: She sought to build him up; he strove to tear her down.
Tears streamed across the bridge of her nose saturating her pillow. It was a tug-of-war from the beginning. Marissa didn’t know then, but it was clear now. She never stood a chance. She had taken on the role as Savior, tried to do something only God can do. He was right to be amused, even offended. But did it give him the right to make her pay for her folly for the rest of her life?
Marissa’s family had not approved of her relationship with Malcolm. She accused them of being hypocrites, preaching God’s love but turning away those most in need of it. They argued she couldn’t make Malcolm accept God’s gift of salvation. He had to decide and choose for himself. They told her because he was not repentant, all he could do was corrupt her, draw her away from what was good.
“Marissa, you have no power to make him clean,” her mom said, “but if you insist on a relationship with Malcolm, he will surely make you filthy.”
Marissa was so angry after that she shut her parents out and pursued her relationship with Malcolm with more vigor. She did manage to get her degree and certification and began teaching high school English. But Malcolm didn’t like her around teen boys. Plus, her job was too demanding with all the staff meetings, and grading papers kept her up late at night. Malcolm said he wanted them to spend all their time together. Now, three years later, Marissa was a manager at Dollar General.
Malcolm, who had trouble keeping employment because of his felonies–and his temper– often visited her work because he claimed he missed her. She was flattered and believed it was love. Took her a while, but she finally realized he only wanted to keep tabs on her, and his grip on her life was unrelenting. Whenever she excelled in anything, Malcolm always found a way to bring her down.
They never got married, something that troubled Marissa at first. No sex before marriage: her parents preached it; the Bible taught it. Malcolm laughed when she introduced him to the idea. “You’re too young to be so old,” he said. “Ain’t nobody doing that no more. It’s a whole lot easier to commit when you ain’t carrying around the burden of marriage.” So Marissa shelved her beliefs and yielded her mind, her soul, her body. She felt dirty the first time, guilty a few times after, then numb with pleasure.
Numbing effects long worn off, Marissa longed to go home, but she didn’t know how to break up with Malcolm. And she didn’t know how to overcome the guilt of hurting her parents and forsaking God.
It suddenly occurred to her that God was not estranged from her, but she from Him. Marissa had not attended church nor prayed in a little over two years; she’d feared He would parrot the words of her parents. She should’ve known better, but it wasn’t that obvious to her back then. It was obvious to her now that if she hadn’t insisted on her own way, she wouldn’t be in the mess she was in right now.
Marissa got out of bed and crept into the living room. The floor was cold, but she didn’t bother with shoes; the room was dark, but she didn’t turn on the light. Slowly she sat on the sofa and listened to herself breathe. No sound emerged from her mouth when she first parted her lips. Marissa sighed heavily as the tears flowed.
After a while, she swallowed the lump in her throat and began to pray. It felt awkward at first; she stumbled over words trying to find the right ones. Then she stopped trying so hard and simply spoke the thoughts of her heart. And the longer she prayed, the lighter she felt.
When she was done, she sat still, basking in the peace she hadn’t felt in a long time. Marissa did not expect all her problems to be wiped away after one prayer, but she did feel a change. She felt emboldened…she felt free.
Though he slept soundly, Marissa didn’t chance awaking Malcolm. She just packed a few items, penned him a short note, left it by his bedside, grabbed her Bible layered with dust and crept out. Head lifted to heaven, she inhaled the night air and exhaled a laugh louder than she intended. Then she hastened to her car and cranked it. Yes, change was finally here. Marissa was going back home.
© D.L. Lunsford