Helen looked out the bedroom window of her home. Surrounded by the forest, the house stood quietly in the dark. The only lights Helen could see from her upstairs bedroom were the lights in front of the driveway that flickered gently. The lights were like a candle flame as the leaves of the large trees brushed against them when a gentle breeze blew.
The house was a large, castle like Victorian style structure that was built in the late 19th century. The double French doors at the entrance led to a wide hallway with a dazzling crystal chandelier hanging high above. The elaborate oak staircases that led to the second and third floors opened in the middle of the hallway. The walls were covered with many expensive oil paintings and portraits of several generations of her family. The paintings of her great grand-parents were house warming gifts from her parents.
On the first floor, there was a living room to the right and a large dining room to the left of the hallway. The oversized kitchen was situated right behind the dining room with the living room connected to the library. Each room was furnished with costly antiques that Helen and her husband Bill had been collected over the years. Everything in the house reflected the wealth of its occupants. On the surface, Helen’s life had everything. But, neither the money nor the material possessions meant much to her anymore. Helen had lost her love of the prestige her possessions reflected. Her home held no emotional comfort.
It had been raining most of the evening and into the night. All the servants had gone home. Helen was alone in her bedroom waiting for her husband Bill to return. Reluctantly, she went into the adjoining bathroom to powder herself. Helen was blond with azure eyes, and strikingly beautiful. At 34, she looked ten years younger; but inside, she felt like a woman many years older. She carried a weight that would have bowed a weaker person.
She combed her long hair and styled it into a French braid. After she put on her lipstick, she went back into her bedroom and changed her dress. As always for Friday night, she put on the elegant royal blue dress that seemed to please Bill. It was already past 11:00 p.m. She walked around her bedroom aimlessly for a while. Then she stopped at the end of the bed and kneeled. She put her hands together on the bed and bowed her head resting it against her arms. She began to pray quietly, asking that Bill would change. She prayed that something would happen and he would come home sober tonight. Deep inside she knew that it would take a miracle for something like that to happen.
After a few minutes, she got up and began to walk around the bedroom again. She thought of the many nights her husband physically abused her after he had too much to drink. She wished she could run away from him and hide somewhere that he would never find her . The fear set in and the trembling started again.
During the week, Bill’s usual routine was to come home by 8:00 p.m. But Friday night was the exception, when it was his habit to come home after 11:30 p.m., drunk and loud. He would go straight to the bedroom and drink a few more glasses of scotch at the bar that he had insisted on being built. There, Helen would wait patiently. Bill would then stare at Helen for a minute or so and then say “How lovely you look Helen, in that blue dress.” Helen would not say anything. She knew that nothing she could say would change what was about to happen. He would then come close to her and undress her, then stare at her for a few more moments while muttering incomprehensibly. Then he would make love to her angrily. It was after this that the violence usually began. The reason didn’t matter. Sometimes he would blame her for his anger and sometimes he would blame others. Either way, he would strike her mercilessly. The beatings didn’t happen every time, but frequently enough. He would later apologize and blame the booze. Apologizing never made him stop drinking nor did it stop him from hitting her when he was drunk .
Helen walked towards the walk-in closet and put her gray shawl over her slender shoulders. Still trembling, she thought briefly about the time when she was still in love with Bill. It was a long time ago, but she could still picture Bill’s handsome face quite vividly.
It was in the spring of 1974 that Helen first met Bill at one of the parties her father hosted at his home. Helen’s father, Earl, was the chairman of one of the most successful financial companies where Bill worked. Every spring, Helen’s father would invite his colleagues along with some promising young men from his company to his home. This time, he also invited Helen. It was Earl’s intention to be a matchmaker for Helen and Bill as he was very fond of Bill and was quite impressed with him ever since the young man joined his company. Earl always wished to have such a bright and hard working son-in-law. Besides, Bill reminded Earl of himself in his younger days. With Bill, Helen would be secure and happy, he thought.
Earl’s home was built in the early 1900’s and was one of the largest homes in the county. Earl’s father, another successful businessman in the city, bought an acreage just outside of the city and custom built his house. He built it to impress.
There were about 20 people gathered around the precious antique-laden living room. Once every guest arrived, Helen walked down from one side of the pair of curved staircases, wearing a long royal blue dress with a string-of-pearl neck lace and a matching pair of pearl earrings. Her blond hair was combed away from her shoulders with a clasp embedded with more pearls. All eyes, including Bill’s, followed her every step as she descended the staircase. Her silk dress clung tightly to her long legs each time she stepped down. As she arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Bill could see her blue eyes. They reminded Bill of the sea, the color of deep tropical blue water. He was taken aback by her beauty – she was more beautiful than Bill ever imagined a woman could be.
Before dinner, Earl called Helen to his side and introduced her to a few young men from his office. Though Helen did not know her father’s intentions, she was attracted to Bill from the first time she saw him. Of all the young men Earl introduced to Helen, Bill was the one who stood tall and confident just as Helen’s father would do. Bill was wearing a bright white shirt under the dark striped three piece suit and looked very prominent that night. Once Bill realized that he had caught Helen’s attention, he was most attentive towards her and it made her feel very special. She had never met a man who seemed to have so many things in common with her. He seemed to feel the need to help people more unfortunate than himself, which appealed to the sympathetic side of her personality. He said he liked sports of all types especially if it had to do with horses. Helen also noticed Bill’s passionate eyes and commanding voice. He had a way of capturing a listener’s full attention when he conversed with people. Helen was mesmerized by Bill’s ability to take control of a room.
Helen was unaware that Bill had orchestrated the first meeting with her. A few days before the party at the office, Earl warned Bill about the intention for the party: to meet his daughter Helen. Bill saw Helen’s picture on Earl’s desk and was struck by her beauty. But also he saw this as a golden opportunity. Marrying the daughter of a wealthy business owner was the fastest way to move up the corporate and social ladder. To Bill, it did not matter whether he liked the girl or not. His scheme was to charm Earl’s daughter enough to feel attracted to him. Right after Bill was informed about the party, he asked Earl all about Helen - he wanted to make sure that he did his homework before he met her.
In the dining room, the long table was covered with crisp white linen. On it, the crystal wine glasses, silver utensils, and white china with silver trim were meticulously arranged in their place settings. They sparkled in the light from the oversized chandeliers above the table. The lights were dimmed to half brightness to create a warm glow. Soft classical music playing through the speakers in the wall created an elegant mood. The well-dressed guests slowly gathered together in the dining room.
Earl purposely arranged the seating at the dining room table so that Helen and Bill would be side by side. The dinner was beautifully presented and sumptuous, and after a couple of glasses of wine, Helen became relaxed and wanted to know more about Bill. After dinner Bill asked Helen if she wouldn’t mind going out to the balcony to get some fresh air. Helen was delighted to have a chance to be alone with him. They excused themselves from the party and walked to the balcony.
Under the moonlight, they talked comfortably and endlessly. Helen talked about riding her favorite horse in the fields nearby, how she felt the need to help unfortunate children in the city, and that her passion was to collect antiques. Bill listened to her intently and agreed with anything Helen said. Though Bill’s original intention was to make Helen fall in love with him, he began to realize that he was actually falling for Helen. She was refreshingly different from the women Bill had dated before. She was beautiful, graceful, sincere and so intelligent. He had expected a spoiled rich girl, filled with vanity and empty materialistic values. But Helen was nothing like that. Although Bill started out thinking that they would not have anything in common, he now felt that they might after all.
Before the night was over, Bill asked Helen to go out on a date. She accepted his offer enthusiastically. Earl was delighted to find out his plan to bring these two together was working and soon, after only a few whirlwind months of courting and his encouragement, they were married.
Even now, after nine years, Helen could still hear the bells at St. Peter’s church and the beautiful music that played during her wedding ceremony. The harmony created by a pair of violinists who played “Canon In D” and “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” at the ceremony were so beautifully elegant, that she thought she would never forget the heavenly sounds she heard. She closed her eyes for a moment and savored the many happy moments of that day. How handsome Bill looked in his tuxedo. How emotional and happy Helen felt when they exchanged their vows at the altar.
Following the wedding ceremony, their exclusive wedding reception was held at Earl’s home with many important guests from all over the city and the state in attendance. Helen paused and remembered how she danced at the reception and imagined the life that she and Bill would lead. Everything seemed perfect.
Among the many pictures taken on their wedding day, there was one picture Helen still cherished after all these years. It was a picture of her and Bill in their wedding attire, holding each other’s hands on the balcony of Earl’s house, the same balcony on which they fell in love. The picture was sitting on her night table beside her bed. Remembering all those happy moments, Helen often picked it up and ran her finger over the picture of Bill and smiled bittersweetly.
After their wedding day, Bill was a perfect husband for a few years. He was gentle, caring and loving. But he could also be occasionally distant. On those occasions she tried to talk with him and share his concerns, but he let it be known by his abrupt response that he wanted to be left alone. She learned to just give him his space. Despite those moments, Helen was happy in those days. She thought that she was the luckiest woman in the world. Marrying the person she loved deeply was like a dream.
As years passed by Bill became very successful as a businessman and Helen was able to obtain anything that money could buy. She indulged her love of antiques. She also was able to give support to her favorite charities. Her days were filled with being a perfect hostess for Bill’s social and company gatherings. She rode her horse every day and performed volunteer work at the local community shelters and fundraisers. More than just dreaming of a perfect life, she was living it.
As happy as those memories were, she has never forgotten the day that Bill suddenly changed from the kind and considerate man she loved, to someone who became easily enraged and abusive. She wracked her brain to understand the cause of his dramatic and frightful change. She thought that perhaps the lack of having children was the cause of his anger. But Bill seemed to accept the fact that they could not have any children long before he became abusive. On one occasion, Helen had seriously considered adopting a couple of children. But Bill did not agree. It was at this point that Helen began to realize that Bill had much less in common with her that she had originally thought. Bill had told Helen many times that he loved children and wished to have them after they got married. Yet, Helen never saw Bill treating any of the children of their relatives or friends around them with kindness. At best, he tolerated children; at worst, he was rude to any child that approached him. Helen always made excuses to others for his behavior: he was too tired, worried about work, working on a big business deal. Helen remembered Bill had also told her that night on the balcony how much he enjoyed riding horses. But whenever she asked him to come and ride with her, he always made an excuse not to join Helen.
The most drastic change in Bill was observed when he went to see his father at the hospital for the last time in 1979. After his father’s death, Bill began to abuse Helen not only verbally but also physically. His sweet loving words became harsh swear words. His gentle touch turned to a push against the wall or a punch to Helen’s body. His tender embraces changed to desperate clinging gestures. His passionate lovemaking became a violent, self-centered act. After his father’s death, she noticed that Bill began to drink more and more excessively with each passing day. Understanding that Bill’s drinking caused his violence, Helen tried to suggest to him to control his drinking, which only caused the violence and drinking to accelerate. She got the same result when she suggested that he get professional help. After a while, out of self-defense, Helen simply became silent.
When she found out how abusive Bill could be, Helen felt very thankful that they never had any children, naturally or adopted. She could not imagine the horror and guilt she would have felt if her children were subject to that kind of abuse by him. Thinking of this made her tremble more.
During Bill’s violent metamorphosis, Helen tried her hardest to understand what was happening and to find out the cause of his stress. But Bill never shared with her what changes were happening in his world outside their home that were altering him. Bill was a puzzle and an enigma to Helen. He could be the most charming person in the world to a total stranger but would treat her like she was the hired help. The only thing Helen could be sure of was that it was linked to the death of his father. As he and his father were never close, it was inconceivable for her to think that Bill was even remotely upset by his death. Was it perhaps that Bill had guilt over his poor treatment of him while his father was still alive?
Initially, Helen thought that it was a short term reaction, a symptom of his grief and that the abuse would eventually stop. But it did not stop. The physical abuse only became worse as the years passed. It got to the point where all Helen could think of was how to get away. Maybe if she left him he would realize what was important in his life and ask her to come back and try again, as if somehow her leaving would be the trigger for him to wake up from his violence. She never went through with it, as her attempts to leave were overtaken by her love for him causing her to return each time. But she also did not want to admit to failing her vows to him. A glimmer of decency and love in Bill always asked for her forgiveness and promised to treat her better. Wanting to maintain appearances, neither wanted to have the public disgrace of a failed marriage. So she continued in a state of helplessness and did not know where she could turn.
She had lost touch with most of her friends over the years, in part due to Bill’s indifference toward them, and even though her parents lived in the same city, she could not tell them for fear of breaking their hearts. After all, her parents thought that they had masterminded the coupling of the perfect pair in Helen and Bill. They never once suspected the trouble that Helen was in because the facade was so carefully maintained.
Bill did not want Helen to socialize with many people. She had a few close friends, the closest being Caroline. Most of the women she knew were distant acquaintances from the various charities she supported. These were not the type of people with whom she could share her troubles. The few friends she kept cared about her deeply, but Helen never wanted to disclose her secret to them. She was too proud, perhaps vain, to admit to others about what was happening in her personal life. Besides, she thought that somehow it was her fault. She blamed herself for not being a good wife, her inability to have any children, and simply that she was not a good enough person for Bill.
Helen approached the window again to look outside as if willing her husband to come home. She wondered where Bill was spending his time every Friday night. What would make Bill so upset and why he had to make himself drunk before coming home? She surmised that his bad behavior had something to do with the places Bill spent on Friday nights. The feeling of dread that she felt was so overwhelming on those nights. She even thought about hiring a private detective to find out where Bill spent his Friday nights but never could muster the courage for fear of Bill finding out and the subsequent retribution.
She walked toward the bar in the bedroom and poured a glass of white wine. She could feel the chill of the wine going down her throat and deep into her body. She leaned against the window, staring at the flickering of the lights in the driveway down below, feeling desperate and sorry for herself.
Meanwhile in the limousine, Bill continued to drink scotch. A few glasses later, he fell asleep. After what seemed like a few minutes, Bill woke up suddenly to the sound of fingers tapping on the window. He was surprised to find himself in the bedroom of his house looking down the driveway.
“How did I get here? The last thing I remember was that I was in the limousine...” He mumbled to himself.
At first, he was focused on the dim lights flickering in the driveway. Then he looked at the reflection on the window of the bedroom. He stared at it with a disbelief! He was expecting his figure in the reflection in the window, but what he saw was Helen’s.
“What is going on here? I must be dreaming...”
Then through the window Bill caught the light of the vehicle that was approaching his house. It was the limousine he was supposed to be in. The limousine stopped right in front of the entrance of his house. Bill gasped as he watched himself getting out of the vehicle.
“How could this be? Why am in Helen’s body but I can see myself outside of the house walking toward the front door? This must be a nightmare...”
Then he began to feel the trembling of Helen’s body as she looked out the window. He could also feel Helen’s emotions change to sheer fright. He did not know how or why. The feelings went through as if he was having a flashback of his memories. Many of Helen’s thoughts were of the times when Bill was physically abusing her over and over again. Bill realized then that Helen’s body was shaking not because of the chill in the room but because of fear, fear of the anticipation that she would be beaten by Bill. He tried desperately to wake up from his nightmare. He struggled desperately to leave Helen’s body. But he did not know how. No matter how hard he tried, Bill could not escape from what was going on and what he knew was about to happen.
He also realized that although his mind was inside Helen’s, he did not have any control over Helen’s actions. The only thing Bill could do was to have visual images of Helen’s thoughts, observe what was going on, and feel her emotions. His spirit resided within Helen but he did not--could not--possess her body.
Suddenly the door opened with a loud bang and Bill saw himself enter the bedroom.
Bill woke up early the next morning, his spirit still in Helen’s body. Helen, not aware of Bill’s existence in her, woke up and quietly left the bedroom leaving Bill sleeping on the bed behind her. She then entered the washroom in another bedroom to take a shower so as not to disturb Bill. She gently took her nightgown off and saw herself in a mirror. The left side of her upper body was bruised from Bill’s beating last night. Watching Helen’s reflection in the mirror, Bill suddenly remembered the horrible night Helen went through just a few hours ago.
He was feeling first-hand Helen’s fear, pain, anger, and helplessness again along with her resignation and acceptance as she looked at herself in the mirror. He alone was the one causing Helen’s suffering. How terrified she was of Bill last night and at the same time resigned to her fate. How her heart ached when Bill raised his hand to strike her. The experience Bill had through Helen’s body awoke Bill’s childhood memories. He felt the same fear, the same pain a long time ago. How quickly he had forgotten all that he suffered.
Helen cried quietly in the shower leaning against the wall. After a few minutes, she gently and slowly began to wash her bruised body. The warm water ran over her white skin, comforting her. As it disappeared down the drain she wished she could simply follow it and be gone with this life. The mist-like water caressing her body made her feel a little better. Turning the water off and stepping out of the shower, she reached for a large white towel and dried herself carefully, wrapping herself in it. She stood in front of the well-lit mirror and placed her hands on the counter. She was exhausted mentally and physically. She did not have enough strength even to stand straight, and feeling weak in the knees. Her head drooped down limply. She sobbed a little more. How much more of this can I take, she thought.
After a few minutes, she composed herself and dried her long blond hair. She looked at her face in the mirror. Fortunately, Bill never struck her face, so that no one would suspect what really was going on in this bedroom on countless, horrific Friday nights. Helen put her makeup on lightly. She returned to her bedroom and got dressed in the walk-in closet. She carefully covered her bruises with a black long sleeved sweater. She put on a pair of off-white slacks.
When Helen left her closet, she saw Bill still deep in sleep. Helen quietly closed the bedroom door and descended the stairs. Even then, Helen did not have the slightest idea that Bill’s spirit was inside of her watching every move she made. When she approached the entrance door, she heard noises through the kitchen door. One of the servants, Alice, was already working on preparing breakfast. When Helen entered the kitchen, she found Alice brewing some coffee.
“Good morning missus.” Alice stopped pouring the water into the coffee machine and greeted Helen with a smile. Alice was a hefty middle age black woman who watched Helen grow from infancy. She used to work for Helen’s father, but when Helen got married and moved to her own house, Alice transferred to work for Bill and Helen.
“Good morning, Alice. What’s the weather like this morning?”
“Oh, it’s going to be a beautiful day, missus. The rain last night seemed to clear everything. We have a beautiful clear blue sky. The air is a little cool, though. You should take a coat with you when you go out. What would you like to have for breakfast this morning?”
“No breakfast for me this morning, Alice. I’m not hungry yet. I will grab a bite downtown later if I need to. I have so much to do this morning, you know. Besides, I will have something with Bill when I’m back.”
“Yes, missus. I will make your favorite chicken salad for lunch. And of course, these juicy apples are going to be baked for your dessert. Hurry back!” Alice said while she washed bright red apples in the sink.
“Thanks you Alice. You are so sweet. Now I have a good reason to come back in time for lunch. By the way Alice, would you please take care of my husband’s breakfast just in case he wakes up before I come back from my shopping?”
“No problem, missus. I will prepare something very nice for Mr. Stacey. Drive carefully and have fun shopping, missus!”
“I will Alice. See you later.”
For a long time, Helen went out every Saturday morning while Bill slept until noon. Though Helen was always back home before Bill woke up, she always made sure that someone was taking care of her husband just in case he would wake up before she came home. Helen looked at her watch. It was 7:10 a.m. She had almost 5 hours before Bill would wake up. Helen picked up her light yellow coat and her purse, and rushed out to the garage.
Inside Helen, Bill could feel something different about her at that moment. Helen’s spirit was brighter. Bill, through Helen’s thoughts, kept seeing a young man that he had never seen before. Bill could tell that Helen was no longer feeling sorry for herself.
Helen got in her Jaguar and drove away. Bill became very curious wondering what she was doing. Why the sudden mood change? Who was the man she kept visualizing? Helen drove for about 10 minutes toward downtown. Then the car approached the park close to downtown and stopped at one corner. After she parked her car, Helen looked at herself in the rearview mirror.
How beautiful she is, Bill thought, looking directly at the mirror and remembering the first time he saw Helen at Earl’s house.
He had not look at her this way for so many years. Her blue eyes were piercingly deep and looking straight at Bill. Her slender fingers that touched her face were so graceful. Her lips so soft and full. Suddenly, Bill had an urge to hold her tight but realized that he could not do so. Helen got out of her car and crossed the street. She then walked toward one of the new condominiums that were built along the park. Condos that Bill’s bank helped finance. She climbed up to the second floor and gently knocked on one of the doors.