Beth and Mel take a leap of faith and make a fresh start in the island town of Galveston, Texas. A whirlwind romance proving that life doesn't end after a tragedy, and that timing is everything.
The Gulf of Mexico stretches out before me, the gentle lapping brown waves cresting and falling one after the other on the sandy shore.
The winter clouds hang low in the sky, a chill passing through me, both from the gentle breeze and the thoughts of the last decade. Ghostly voices carry on the winds. Harsh words and angry silence, both hum underneath my skin, pricking up gooseflesh and bringing me back to that place of fear.
From somewhere in the distance the cries of seagulls break through the sounds of the sea. I glance about me, taking in the new and foreign landscape.
Did I make the right choice? I stare off into the distance, trying to see beyond the horizon of the sea and the sky. What choice did you have?
My inner voices debate the past six months of careful planning and decisive actions, going over them repeatedly, as if there was any way to go back now.
Our house on Jasper Cove was gone, the one-story brick square with a rotting playset in the backyard had been scooped up by an investor. Thirteen years in one home, all gone with the flick of a pen.
A sigh forms and spills from my lips, realizing there’s no turning back now. What began as a desperate need for change, a plea for safe harbor away from the town we once called home, has now been fully materialized. We’re here, adrift, and looking for a lee to take shelter in.
No one expects to be single at forty-one, I think, standing on the cement seawall looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. I’d ended a marriage, sold my home, and escaped to a world where I hoped he would never find me.
A fresh start and a new city, lost amid tourists and a bustle of activity. It was both exciting and terrifying. I was flying with no parachute, no escape hatch, all of our belongings stuffed into the bright orange U-Haul behind my SUV.
I still hadn’t made peace with the whole thing, memories too fresh in my mind, a wild beating in my chest waking me up from deep sleep with a nightmare. Re-living the whole thing in pieces.
Footsteps sound behind me, as I briefly flinch, then remember it’s only Melody. I told her to stay in the car. Damned PTSD won’t go away. Any loud noise, any sharp tone, or quick movement, and I reflexively flinch. One of the many things I’m still working on.
“Can we go in the water?” My daughter’s nearly white curls bounce on the breeze, as we stand together, taking in the sight of our new world. Her voice holding hope, tinted with uncertainty and moodiness.
“Not today, Mel.” I’m still allowing myself to stay lost in the vista beyond the shore. I briefly wonder what it would feel like to run into the water, swimming out into the sea, trying to find the edge of the world. I shake myself back into reality, feeling the icy clawing water taking the breath from me as I sunk under the waves, too far out to make it back.
It was how my life had felt for over a decade. Afraid, always worrying, always searching for safety and peace. But she doesn’t yet understand how things truly were between her father and me. And I can’t tell her yet. She deserves the good memories that are left of him, before I have to ruin them for her.
She grumbles under her breath, too much of her father’s unpredictable streaks breaking through her natural sweetness. A gentle child, turned colder over the years by the things she’d had to experience.
I tried to shield her as best I could, but like a leaky roof, something always managed to reveal itself. A slamming door, or angry voices while she stood watching her father yell at me for something I hadn’t done.
“Give me one good reason why not.” She demands, standing nearly as tall as me at only twelve, hands on her hips, and a contentious look splayed across her face.
I’d begun to grow short tempered with her as she grew up, her lack of understanding about why I was the way I was, foreign to her. She didn’t, couldn’t, comprehend how I had changed, and it wasn’t fair to her. I had to keep reminding myself of that. To be gentler with her, to not let anger take over my words. She’d had enough of that already in her short life.
I pivot and turn toward her, the wind lashing the hair into my eyes, my hands pulling it up into a messy ponytail with the tie around my wrist.
“I can give you three. One, we don’t have a place to stay yet. Two, it’s only fifty-six degrees and the water is freezing. And lastly, I have spent the past two hours in gridlock traffic and I’m tired.” My defeated tone is one she can’t miss. But the look on her face is still one of disappointment and irritation at not getting her way.
I try not to cry. I tried to make this an adventure for her, but I’m failing no matter how hard I try.
She huffs, and walks back to the car, climbing in and slamming the door shut behind her. If you only knew the half of it, baby girl. I think, then remind myself that it’s my job to keep the worst parts of the truth from her. To give her the best life I can now when I couldn’t before.
Those scars are mine alone. It’s not fair to tell her about it all yet. Maybe someday, but not yet. I take one last long look at the waves breaking onto shore, wishing I could float away on them.
The sandy beach is empty this late evening, I glimpse maybe one or two couples who stroll along the beach, tightly wrapped in warm scarves and heavy clothing. I have no idea where all our warm clothes are. Somewhere in the trailer, I suppose. A shiver runs through me again.
Once Mark was gone, I had no idea what we would do with our lives. I was lost and alone, but finally free. A single mom, a survivor of Domestic Abuse, a broken bird, whatever label suits me best.
I should have felt relief, but all I felt was alone. Even with Mel there, I felt so lonely, so scared.
I only knew I wanted a fresh start. A place that held none of the painful memories of the past. A place where Mel and I could build a new life. Hopefully a happier one.
Once I made the decision to move, I acted with hasty abandon. I contacted the first real estate agent I could find and took less for the house than I should have, just to have it done and over with.
I wonder again if I should have waited, been more patient, and thought things through a bit more carefully. Found a place to rent first. But once I gained the courage to make that leap of faith, I didn’t want to wait any longer. I didn’t want to risk talking myself out of it.
And now here we were, Galveston, Texas. Three hours from where we started, and hopefully that was far enough. I’d entertained the thought of going all the way to Florida, but I had to be careful with the money we had.
I had walked away with a little more than $80,00 after closing costs, and a driving urge to run. The coast had always been where I felt most at home. I knew I wanted to live by the beach someday, so we started heading south before the sun had even risen.
I had no idea where we would live here, or even where we would stay until tomorrow. Any hotel would suffice for the night, but soon enough we’d need to find something more permanent.
We were wild and free, following the whisps of the strong Gulf wind, a fact I should have found more joy in, considering the prison I’d endured for the past fourteen years.
Pulling my gaze from the water and the morose clouds overhead, I walked back to the warmth of the car. Melody was still pouting, staring blankly out the window, pretending I didn’t exist.
I’m not exactly sure when she began growing so distant. Maybe it was somewhere in between the late-night fights and quiet screaming behind closed doors. The cruel comments about this or that, which she may have missed, but I caught onto instantly. I should have noticed. I should have protected her better.
Somewhere in the past five years, she had gone from vivacious and bubbly, to sullen and petulant. I had tried to ask what was wrong many times, but quickly discovered my well-intentioned questions only irked her more.
Somewhere in my mind, I was hoping that this new start may ignite that sweet side of her I missed so much and longed to see return. Maybe Galveston would be a turning point for us both. I prayed it would be.
I look over at her, imagining how hard this must be for a pre-teen girl, leaving the only home she’d ever known behind. My parents were long gone, having died a few years after she was born in a car accident. We had no family left, and I was an only child.
My only friend back home in Tomball, was Sandy. The only person who I trusted to give my new number to or know where I was going. Her husband was the one who arrested Mark that last and final time.
Me huddled in Mel’s room, trying to calm her down as the angry footsteps outside the door continued to pace, while we waited for the comforting flashing lights in the window. Watching from the open front door as they led him out to the car, placing him in the back seat. The look on his face of pure rage. It’s the last time I saw the real him.
In court, his attorney tried, and failed, to explain that all the previous reports of abuse were accusations made by an angry and embittered wife. But the evidence was all there in vivid color. Every picture taken from every confrontation stared at the jury, my face in varying forms of blue, yellow, black, and red marks.
I cried after I left the stand, rushing out into the hot humid summer air, breathing in the deep breaths of freedom. I never went back to court. I followed the case online, waiting to see his face on the jail roster. And one day there it was Marcus Stewart, booking date, and photo. I couldn’t help but check the bookmarked page every day. Afraid the picture might disappear, that he would be free and searching for us.
I remember that look he gave me from the back of the police car. He would never let this go, never let me go. He wanted revenge. I lived in fear that one day he would find us, and we needed to be as far away from where we started as possible. Take unrealistic and over-the-top precautions, which to most people probably seemed crazy and paranoid.
But my entire life seemed to be nothing but back luck. And I was scared that this would be no exception. Even from the first time I rode a bike and broke my arm, I’ve always seemed to attract negative things into my life. Until Melody arrived. The one bright spark of good in a world tainted with misery.
I look over at her, desperately wanting to make her smile, or bring about some peace between us.
“You pick where we stay tonight. Maybe they’ll have a heated pool.” I concede, seeing the slightest smile in the reflection of her window, as she pulls her phone from her pocket, scrolling through an online travel app.
“The Tremont looks swanky.” She proudly flips her phone my way, showing me the impressive hotel, which looks more like a castle than a hotel. Thank goodness it’s the off-season, I think.
“As you wish, your majesty.” I jest, hoping for a smile, only to receive a slight curl of the lips.
I’d forgotten that she grew out of the princess faze at least a year ago, throwing away all of her crowns, and refusing to watch her once favorite movies.
“Look, I know you’re going through a lot right now, that I’m changing up our whole lives, and it seems a little crazy-”
“A lot crazy.” She mumbles under her breath, which has become her new favorite form of communication.
“Okay, a lot crazy,” I say loudly, grinning, trying to lighten the dour mood.
“You don’t have to yell!” The interior of the car is heavy, and the tears threaten to spill from my eyes. She has no idea how hard this is for me too. And the way her emotions run straight to anger, makes me scared she’s coping in the way her father always had. I hate to think his conflict resolution strategies leaked into her.
“I’m not yelling, Mel. I would just appreciate your speaking up when you talk. I don’t like it when you mumble under your breath. Can’t we talk like we used to?” I plead with her.
“Nothing’s like it used to be.” She says quietly, staring back out the window as I navigate through the streets, pulling up underneath the bright lights that line the road, and I can’t help but quietly agree. From here on out, everything has changed, and everything will change.
I doubt we’re the first family to come to the hotel carrying their home behind them, but I still get a strange look from the valet as we pull up outside the covered entrance.
“Welcome to The Tremont, Ma’am.” I read her name tag.
“Thank you, Ruthie.” I hand over my keys, hearing the passenger door slam.
One of her father’s favorite ways to show his anger was slamming things and hitting things. Any loud noise to voice his anger without actually yelling. Alerting me and the entire house to tread carefully. To put us on guard, warning us to watch our actions and our words.
“Please don’t slam the door, Melody.”
She breezes past me without a word, suitcase in hand, waiting impatiently by the door.
“Will you be staying for the night, or longer?” Ruthie asks politely.
“Just the night, I think. Honesty, I’m not sure yet.” I admit with a bit of hesitation in my voice.
“We’ll take good care of you. Just let us know when you’re ready for your car, and we’ll bring it ‘round. Check-in is through the doors and just off to your right.” She instructs me, and I tug my duffle from the back seat, creating a haphazard cascade of other unknown items as it finally comes free. Shit. I’ll deal with it later.
Ruthie closes the door for me, and I take the short walk to the door, opening it for Melody to walk through, eyes rolling, as I follow.
A sign at the front desk greets us, telling of the rich history of the hotel, which is evident from the moment you walk in. The swanky lounge and bar area reaching high into the open interior, affording a view of the rooms that line the space.
It reminds me of the one time I was in New Orleans in college for Mardi Gras, before I met Mark. Back when I had hopes for a happy future, and a bright life ahead. I felt joy and excitement back then, happiness and hope. Emotions that had been suppressed for so long, they had trouble breaking through the layer of smoggy depression that lay thick inside my mind now.
“Nice pick,” I whisper to Mel, who’s thumbing through the available Wi-Fi networks, already getting her phone set up.
“Just you two ladies?” The nice woman, named Brooklyn, asks from behind the desk. “Well welcome to The Historic Tremont House. I’ll just need your ID and a credit card.”