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As they say, "Hell hath no fury..."

The Sanctity of Marriage

by Jacqueline Seewald

I am not certain when I finally decided that suicide was the only sane solution to my insane situation. The reason is that I had slowly been eroding away like a hill bereft of trees.

When I found that I couldn't take it any longer, I deliberately overdosed on sleeping pills. To sleep but not to dream--but the children found me in time.

My friend Karen visited me in the hospital. She was kind and understanding, as friends are supposed to be. She also kept urging me to confide in her. Finally, I broke down and told her everything, although it made me feel even more ashamed and miserable. After I finished speaking, Karen was reflective for a time.

"I just knew it had to be something like that," she said compassionately. "My dear, many women have problems in their marriages. I wasn't immune either. There are reasons that I rarely talk about Jonathan. Maybe I can help you. I know the perfect marriage counselor."

I shook my head. "No marriage counselor."

"Why not?"

"Albert would never consider it."

"This counselor is very special. She'll get through to him. I've used her myself. She's wonderful."

"I don't know if I could confide in a stranger the way I can in you. It would be so humiliating."

Karen studied me thoughtfully, running her thin fingers through stiffly sprayed hair bleached the color of winter wheat.

"But what is the alternative? I certainly hope that you're not going to try this horrible solution again. Please go, if not for yourself, than for me!"

Karen was so insistent that a few days after leaving the hospital, I found myself sitting across from Erica Dobson. She was a striking woman. Her auburn tresses, shining brightly like a newly minted copper penny, were cut and permed stylishly. Her business suit was conservative, yet expensive. Everything about her exuded success and self-confidence. She was the nouveau woman, liberated and strong, an individual who stood out in a crowd, the very opposite of me.

I was ill at ease sitting opposite her in the handsomely furnished office as she perused the fact sheet that her secretary had me fill out earlier. A lot of the questions were of a personal, confidential nature. I felt further diminished.

The soothing strains of classical music piped into the office did little to reassure me. The immense potted rubber plant situated discreetly in the left corner seemed to mock the intensity of my despair.

Ms. Dobson was all business at first. She asked sharp, perceptive questions. Finally, I broke down and told her the truth.

"Albert and I had a good marriage for many years. We have three children, two teenagers, a boy and a girl, and an older son who's now away at college. Somewhere along the way, things went wrong."

"What things went wrong?"

"Albert runs a successful business, but there are pressures." Ms. Dobson's great, green eyes sparkled like emeralds, betraying an alert intelligence. I was making excuses for Albert, and she understood it. "He had to do a lot of traveling. I suppose it was on one of these business trips that he first started sleeping with other women. He would often be away for weeks at a time. And then the drinking started. Not much at first, but it continued to get worse. Albert can be very abusive when he's drinking. He never hit the children but he often took his business frustrations out on me. One night a few years ago, he beat me so badly that I had to be rushed to the Emergency Room at the local hospital. For the children's sake, I pretended I had fallen down the stairs by accident. Luckily, they were out when it happened, but I think they knew anyway. I always hoped Albert would come to his senses and change back for the better."

"But you no longer believe that will happen?"

"No, I don't," I responded, unable to meet her eyes. "He won't admit he's an alcoholic. He continues to take out his anger on me. He's very unpredictable. I'm afraid he might beat me to death someday."

"And was it fear that drove you to a suicide attempt?"

I nodded my head, finding it hard to speak. "I've been terrified. I prefer to have some choice in the means of my death. Just falling peacefully asleep forever seemed to be the right answer."

"Perhaps in your case, Lydia, divorce would be the best solution to your problem. You could have a permanent restraining order put into effect."

I shook my head. "I would still be dependent on Albert. You see, I've never worked. I came from a middle class family and attended a liberal arts college where I studied a little of everything, which prepared me to do nothing. I married at twenty and that ended my vague academic career. I am plain-looking, middle-aged and have no money or means of my own. There's no one I can turn to for help. Divorce would still force me to deal with Albert. Besides, look at all the men who have defied restraining orders and killed former wives and girlfriends. I once said, after he'd hit me, that I was going to leave him. Albert swore that he'd see me dead first. Then what would happen to the children? Frankly, I 'm very frightened."

"I understand." Incredible as it may sound, I believe she really did.

"Albert won't come for counseling. As far as he's concerned, I have a problem; he doesn't."

"Let me take care of that. I promise from today on, things will change for the better."

"I don't know," I hesitated.

"What are your alternatives?" Her question echoed Karen's words to me in the hospital.

"I would like to retain your services, but there is a problem. I don't handle the family finances."

"Lydia, if the fee is all that's stopping you, don't give it another thought. Your husband will pay."

I doubted it. Albert was tight-fisted with money, except when he was spending it on himself.

"We handle cases like yours all the time."

Ms. Dobson walked me to the rear door of her office. I was reassured by her tall, erect bearing. She had a way of making the impossible seem probable.

"But shouldn't I be going back through the front to arrange my next appointment with your secretary?"

Ms. Dobson smiled enigmatically. "That won't be necessary at present."

Albert was very late coming home that evening. I was tortured by the fear that he might have stopped off for drinks on his way as he so often did. He had been furious that morning when I told him about my planned visit to the marriage counselor. He gave me one short, hard blow to the ribs that knocked the wind out of me. I could still feel the pain. At least, the children weren't home. Then again, these days, they rarely were, and who could blame them.

Albert arrived at a quarter of nine. He said nothing at first, merely pouring himself a large whiskey at the bar. His angular jaw drooped noticeably, and his hands were trembling. I braced myself, my heart pounding like a racehorse running the final furlong. I had the sudden realization that it was not the prospect of pain that frightened me most. I could almost meet the thought of death with stoicism. What I could no longer endure was the degradation of being beaten. If I'd ever had much in the way of self-confidence, it had long ago been shattered.

"Your marriage counselor, where did you find her?" I wasn't certain what he meant by the question, and so I didn't answer. "Well, never mind. She made me see the light, so to speak. We'll work things out."

He appeared so reasonable and coherent, as free of ugliness as a lanced boil. He actually sounded sober. How had Ms. Dobson worked this miracle? Albert went directly upstairs, claiming that he'd had an exhausting day and needed to lie down.

The full magnitude of the change in Albert emerged only gradually. Of course, he continued to show very little interest and regard for the children or me, but the beatings stopped entirely. I no longer lived in constant fear of his abuse. However, as my personal strength grew, so did my curiosity. What could Ms. Dobson have possibly said or done to get Albert to so radically alter his behavior? I asked my friend Karen that question over lunch one day. She merely shrugged.

"I really couldn't say. When Jonathan and I were having our problems, she managed to bring us together again. We even went on a second honeymoon. It was marvelous--at least for a while. Then a few years later, all the trouble started again, other women, the drugs, the gambling. Jonathan could be a nasty stinker. Oh, he never hit me, but he was vicious verbally. Jonathan's insults came right out of the gutter. And the money he was spending was mostly mine, my family inheritance. I went back to Ms. Dobson and she was very sympathetic. I was really at the end of my tether with Jonathan. She reassured me, promised things would work out." Karen sipped her pina colada and twirled a strand of stiffly sprayed hair.

"And she made good on her promise?"

"A day later, Jonathan suffered his fatal heart attack. So you see, I never really had to think about the matter again. When Ms. Dobson's bill arrived, I simply paid it. She was dreadfully expensive but worth every cent. Anyway, that was the end of it."

I was aware that Karen still hadn't answered my question. "The things Ms. Dobson accomplishes. She's not a magician, is she? How does she do it?"

Karen looked uneasy. She wrung her flower-like hands. "Why does it matter?"

Clearly, I was starting to upset her; she was exasperated by my tenacity. But there was something else here, something more. I sensed it the way a bloodhound sniffs out the scent of an escaped felon.

"You're the one who told me that Ms. Dobson wasn't a typical marriage counselor." I felt my heart palpitating.

Karen looked around as if she feared someone might be listening. "The last time, I was early for my appointment. I saw two men leave her office; they didn't appear to belong."

"What sort of men are you talking about?"

She shrugged. "They had a dark, dangerous look about them. You know, as if they belonged to the CIA or were soldiers of fortune or," she paused, "maybe gangsters. It's hard to describe exactly. They were big men, rather hard and ruthless, I would judge. It was just an impression I had."

She worried her lower lip thoughtfully. "There was something odd, eerie, about them, as if they were summoned from hell. One could almost think them to be demons."

For a moment, Karen looked distracted. "Anyway, Ms. Dobson told them that they were leaving the wrong way and they quickly departed. Then Ms. Dobson glanced over at me and frowned, as if she didn't like me seeing them. I'd forgotten about the incident until now. Perhaps I've over-dramatized it."

"How did you originally find out about Ms. Dobson?"

"Word of mouth. Does it really matter?" Karen's eyes wouldn't meet mine.

"I just want to understand how she does it."

"As the poet says, dear, 'where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

Why was Karen so evasive? And what was that odd look in her eyes? It couldn't be fear?! What would she have to fear?

"Is there something about Ms. Dobson that troubles you?"

She gave a fluted laugh. "How absurd! Of course not! Yes, there are rumors that Ms. Dobson's

powers have some relation to the supernatural, but that is ridiculous; she is not a witch."

I was thoughtful. "How can you be certain? Not all witches are evil, are they? Some use their powers for good."

Karen let out an exasperated sigh. "There's no such thing! She's merely a gifted professional, a psychologist of the human psyche. She turns evil into good. I propose we do not examine the matter too closely. Ms. Dobson's talent is a form of alchemy; she transmutes the leaden evil of man's nature into golden goodness. Practical magic. End of story."

I nodded my head. I believed I understood.

It was six months later when I made up my mind to return to Ms. Dobson. The wait in the outer office was brief. As before, there was no one else waiting at my appointed time.

"How have you been, Lydia?" I took off my sunglasses and let her see for herself. "Albert?"

"I could always tell you that I walked into a door."

"How long has it been going on this time?"

"Is that important?"

She frowned deeply, her great, green eyes darkening like a storm at sea. "You did the right thing coming back here. We always guarantee results. The matter will be taken care of immediately." As before, Ms. Dobson showed me discreetly out through the back door.

I felt as if a great burden had been lifted from me. Late that night, the police contacted me. It seemed that poor Albert had been involved in an automobile accident. Apparently, he had been drinking rather heavily, lost control of his car, and driven off a cliff. The officer who spoke to me was sorry to convey the information that the accident had been fatal.

When Ms. Dobson's bill arrived, I paid it ever so promptly. I thought I might feel guilty about misleading her regarding Albert's recent behavior, but I didn't. All I felt was a sense of relief at finally being completely free from fear--and the realization that revenge can be very sweet.