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The Pepper Box

“Use the darkness of your past to propel you to a brighter future.”        
~ Donata Joseph          
     
I         
The pepper box sits in the garden  
corner with marigolds and baby breath;      
its contents are empty—    
like we are of Life            
when Death comes for tea.    
     
It was once full of seeds      
that grew to burn our tongue      
when eaten;      
but, there was a satisfaction in the heat—      
an accomplishment, growth      
from the inevitable harvest.   
     
That's life: a big bang of experience    
burning from emptiness.            
           
II    
The first time I remember him      
beating her senseless    
was the second that fear          
unpacked its suitcase in my mind;    
     
it demanded silence—      
and, because of its enormity      
I allowed it to take my voice;      
I hid instead, feigning sleep    
despite her screams.      
     
The night he almost drowned her      
I became a banshee; a screech owl      
in the hallway  
outside their bedroom door—    
            
He locked her out, and himself in    
with me—I was 12.      
   
III.    
Trust is a fragile thing    
when betrayed by a god;      
we shrink      
into someone we're not—      
and a lie becomes more important      
than lives truth will destroy.      
     
We grow    
from circumstantial belief—            
are patterned by environment      
face bitter choices      
or acts of forgiveness.      
     
The silence took me;    
but, I chose to be submissive    
because of embarrassment.      
   
It wasn't me  
who eventually delivered her      
from his fists and feet.            
   
IV    
Death had enough;    
sent his emissary to inflict    
five years of suffering upon her—      
bone decay that gnawed    
through her body    
as a beetle on a basil leaf.      
     
In his eyes, every new tumor    
and destroyed nerve ending            
became a bruise he had inflicted—      
until she was nothing      
but a mangled mass of guilt-stained sheets.             
           
V.    
Guilt is a funny thing,    
but not really;      
his life became Vodka    
over rocks, wasting away—    
he played reel-to-reel tapes      
sent to him in Vietnam;    
her voice sharing what she cooked    
and how we were doing. . .    
over. . .          
and, over again.      
     
VI    
My teens mimicked her life—    
four years of fists, dominance      
and psychological control    
by my first boyfriend;      
it was all I knew—    
the repetitious pattern;    
a circumstantial silence of truth.            
           
He almost killed me    
a few times;         
friends intervened once—         
he tried to beat them too.      
     
I don't know where the courage          
to stab the silence came from;      
to scream and claw          
when life is being choked      
from your throat.      
     
Maybe it was a deeply instilled belief—    
the same that never allowed            
me to succumb to alcohol, drugs     
or sex when homeless.            
           
VII    
Years later    
when I was a wife and mother,    
I would ask myself            
if the reason I had submitted      
to such horrendous behavior          
was because I loved him so much;      
or hated myself worse.    
   
It's always the latter—    
we accept what we feel we deserve    
until we've had enough.      
     
It's a good question    
for each individual woman    
who is silent about abuse    
to ask themselves.      
         
VIII    
I was strong,  
chose forgiveness      
so that I could live    
without the pattern    
desecrating my children.      
     
But, sometimes. . .    
     
I like to think it was even more      
than strength—maybe magic;            
like the butterfly    
that landed on my finger    
in the garden today.          
     
I still flinch from time to time      
as though an abused animal      
that's been adopted by the Universe—    
maybe from a shadow, sound;            
or, unexpected touch to my skin.      
     
Abuse washes over your body          
before you ever see it in your face—      
and isn't over until you call it by name.    
   
I wanted the memory-bite    
lest I forget—    
so planted my seeds    
before they died in the box.        
        
There's a burn  
regardless of our past   
if we empty our contents;    
 
its name is Love.    
~
Ahavati
Written by Ahavati
Published | Edited 6th Sep 2020
All writing remains the property of the author. Don't use it for any purpose without their permission.
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