Margaret Turns the Tables
Twirling in front of the mirror in her sequined gown on her wedding day, Margaret thought no one had been as much in love as she and Lloyd were. He treated her like a queen, well most of the time. Okay, maybe not most of the time, but some of the time.
On their first date, they went to a movie, some action adventure flick, not really her favorite, but tolerable. When the movie ended, they stood outside the theatre and he asked her, “You hungry?”
Margaret wasn’t hungry, but she thought he was, so she said, “Yeah, kinda,” as she tucked a long strand of her shiny chestnut hair behind an ear.
“Let’s go eat then.” He put his arm around her shoulders for the first time, and steered her down the sidewalk for several blocks, then into a small brick Italian restaurant that smelled of garlic. He apprized her, “This place has the best goddammed pizza I’ve ever eaten.” When the waiter came to the table, Lloyd waved the menu away, saying “We’ll take a large pepperoni and black olive pizza, and a pitcher of beer.”
Margaret hated olives, but he hadn’t asked, not that she planned to eat much anyway. Watching her weight became a way of life for her ever since she turned thirteen, or maybe twelve, right after her parents divorced, thinking that if she slimmed down, her entire life would be better, although she couldn’t be called overweight. When the pizza came and he looked at her, she put the smallest piece on her plate and commented how delicious it looked. After the first few bites, she picked at it, trying to simultaneously get rid of the olives, not eat the slice, and make it look like she was. Lloyd, engaged in telling her a story about something that happened at the construction site where he worked, didn’t notice.
After they dated for a few weeks, he told her they were now exclusive with each other. She didn’t object because she didn’t want to see anyone else. Although just twenty-two, she thought he could be “the one.” Whenever he introduced her to one of his friends, he said something like, “This is my girl,” or “I want you to meet my woman,” making her feel like she revolved at the center of his universe. Very affectionate with her, he liked to walk with their fingers interlocking when they were in public.
One day he announced, “I don’t like the name Margaret. It’s sounds like an old lady name. I’m going to call you Mags.”
“Eew. I don’t really like Mags,” she responded. “Maggie is better.”
“Tough shit. That’s your nickname now, Mags,” he said emphasizing it. “I’m the man and I make the decisions around here.” He must have called her Mags fifteen times that day. It didn’t do any good to protest, because he did what he wanted, and he acted like it just a big joke anyway. Lloyd could be funny, especially when he got going in front of his friends. Margaret found it easier to just go along with him; he didn’t like objections or when she disagreed with him.
When they’d been going out for two months, Lloyd generously offered to buy her a mobile phone, a brand-new product at the time. “I’ll even add you to my plan, babe” he said, meaning he would pay for it. Margaret thought, he’s so considerate, not realizing the sole purpose for his overture was to enable him to monitor her calls on the bill.
She worked at a salon downtown doing hair, and would have her esthetician’s license soon, so she could give facials and peels. Lloyd liked to call her several times a day at work, and would get mad at her if she didn’t pick up when he called, no matter how many times she explained she might be with a client and up to her elbows in hair color. Also, Margaret noted to herself that the same rule didn’t apply to him picking up her calls. But then he would come to see her, telling her, “You’re so gorgeous! I missed you and I can’t keep my hands off you,” which he didn’t, and so Margaret would let it slide. Five years older than her, worldly and handsome, she believed he was worth making a few accommodations for.
Four months into the relationship he proclaimed, “I think we should live together.”
Margaret, taken aback, tried to say in the nicest, most gentle way possible, because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings or piss him off, “Um, well that sounds really great and all, but I think we should wait just a teensy bit longer.”
“What are you waiting for darlin’?” he said in his best charming cowboy imitation. He took her by the hand, swung her around and danced a few steps with her. “I love you and you love me, so why wait?” Before she could answer, he pressed, “You do love me, don’t you?” His tone grew stern with this last question, and he tightened his grip on her.
“Of course I do. You know I do,” she reassured him with a big wide smile, as he dipped her backwards.
Spinning her a few more times, he declared, “It’s settled then. You’ll move into my place with me. Besides, that way we can save money if we’re not both paying rent.” Margaret nodded and that was that. Two weeks later on a Saturday, they made several trips back and forth in his black pick-up truck with the oversize wheels and then they were officially cohabitating.
They hadn’t even broached a conversation about how they would handle their finances yet. Margaret managed her money well, sticking to a budget, and squirreling away something every month in her savings account. As a teenager, her mom made the most of their barely sufficient income, and taught Margaret the importance of saving for the future. This occurred prior to her mom remarrying, to a man Margaret nicknamed “The Creep.”
In the time they’d been together, Margaret learned Lloyd liked to spend money, thought budget was a dirty word, and didn’t want to worry about tomorrow. It turned out Lloyd wanted to have a joint checking account for paying all their bills. She didn’t know how much money Lloyd made; when she’d asked him earlier after he’d asked her how much she made, he said, “You realize it varies baby. It depends on if I get overtime or not, and also on the weather. Too much rain, no gain.”
Once Margaret moved in with him, she realized Lloyd didn’t like her going out by herself, even for simple errands and would accompany her whenever he could. For example, he would always tag along with her when she did the grocery shopping, although he didn’t provide any help. She didn’t mind for the most part, feeling lucky that he wanted to spend so much time with her.
One evening she told him that a friend from her salon planned on having a “girl’s night” birthday party on the coming Friday. Margaret chattered about what kind of gift she should get her, when Lloyd harshly interrupted her, “You know Friday night is normally our date night!” His face clouded with anger, and he glared at her with iron eyes.
Margaret stopped mid-sentence. She put on a fake smile and cheery voice saying, “Well, we won’t be out too late.”
“Well, Mags how do I know who you’re going to be with?” he snarled, implying she would be out with other men.
“It’s just a few of us girls from work,” she tried to reassure him, but to no avail.
“I don’t like it. I don’t want other guys hitting on you.” He rose from the couch, the football game blaring, and approached the counter where she stood scraping sliced carrots and onions into a frying pan. “You’re not going,” he pronounced. He stood blocking her, his muscular arms crossed, as if she was trying to escape right now. Margaret felt a little afraid, watching the scorpion tattoo crawl on Lloyd’s forearm with his flexing muscle, but this event meant something to her.
“I don’t see why I can’t go for just a little while, and then come home early,” she tried to compromise with him.
“You’re not hearing me.” He wildly struck the handle of the pan, upending it. Clattering to the floor, the carrots, onions and oil spilled all over the scuffed linoleum. “Look what you made me do,” he yelled at her, furious.
She took a couple of steps back, but still he came at her. Reaching out with both arms, he pushed her hard, and she fell back against the fridge, its handle gouging into her shoulder and back. Margaret gasped, in both surprise and pain. “Now clean this damn mess up,” Lloyd yelled at her and stomped out of the room. Slumped over at the kitchen table, Margaret wondered what had just happened. She massaged her shoulder, then cleaned up the floor, and finished cooking dinner. When ready, Lloyd filled his plate without looking at her or talking to her, and plunked back down in front of the game. Margaret sat alone at the kitchen table, unable to swallow any food past what felt like a tumor in her throat, as she tried to stifle her tears. Later that night, after they’d gone to bed and Margaret finally fell asleep, Lloyd woke her up. He whispered to her, “I’m sorry baby. I only acted that way because I love you so much.” He made gentle, sweet love to her, and when he hugged her tight, she winced in silence because her shoulder and back were badly bruised.
A few months later, when Margaret successfully pushed that incident into a shadowy crevice in the basement of her mind, behind Lloyd’s glowing promises that it would never happen again, he surprised her at dinner one night. Taking her to an especially fancy restaurant, he insisted they both get dressed up. Margaret wore a low-cut red dress, with black high heeled sandals. Her nails were painted a matching candy-apple red, and she’d even curled her thick brown hair so it waved perfectly around her face and cascaded onto her shoulders. Lloyd dressed in black slacks and a teal button-down shirt that complemented his black hair and dark eyes. That evening, being extra caring, and the perfect gentleman, he helped her take her short black jacket off once they were inside, and pulled out her chair for her. He kept reaching over to squeeze her hand and told her several times, “I just can’t imagine my life without you.” Margaret felt flattered and basked in the aura of his attention. When the entrée plates were cleared, Lloyd announced he already ordered dessert for them. The waiter brought a plate of chocolate lava cake, covered with vanilla bean ice cream, and surrounded by ripe strawberries. As the waiter retreated, Margaret saw the sparkling ring poking up through the sweet mound, like ice glinting in the sunny snow. As she extracted it with a squeal, Lloyd dropped to one knee next to her chair, and proposed to her.
“Yes, yes, oh my God” she said breathless, as she cleaned the ice cream off the ring so Lloyd could slip it onto her finger. It was beautiful, and Margaret loved the princess cut diamond. She looked at her ring in the wake of every fight during their engagement, including the time when he slammed her hard up against the wall and choked her because he didn’t want her having a bachelorette party, where a male stripper might show up, even though she promised him repeatedly none would.
Lloyd always apologized afterwards, telling her, “I’m so in love with you Mags! I just go crazy over you. I promise it won’t happen again; I swear.” She wanted to believe him, and squelching any misgivings, she told herself maybe his temper would calm down once they married.
But it didn’t. It actually got worse. Although she suspected Lloyd of being too self-centered to be a great father, she thought she could make up for him, as she’d always wanted children. When she first told him of her pregnancy, he grew excited. “I hope it’s a boy Mags!”
At five months pregnant, they got into a big argument. Margaret wanted her mother to come stay with them for a while once the baby arrived, but Lloyd wouldn’t hear of it. “Just a couple days, no more,” he warned.
She pleaded with him, “It’s our first baby. My mother is happy to help out. Besides, if she flies all the way out here, she should stay for at least a few weeks.”
“No one stays here unless I say so!” His anger boiled over as the fight escalated; he kicked her in the stomach and the baby was stillborn in the emergency room shortly thereafter. Margaret felt the light inside her drain out along with the blood, and once she returned home, hunkered down in her bed for three days straight. In spite of her overwhelming grief, Lloyd nonetheless declared they weren’t going to go through that again, meaning another pregnancy.
Two years later, when a pregnancy test came back positive, she thought he would change his mind. “I want to have this baby,” she begged him. “I want to be a mom.”
“No. I told you we’re not having kids. You better make an appointment at the clinic.” She thought about leaving him, defying him, and having the baby. She couldn’t go back and live with her mom though, because she would never live in the same house or town as her stepfather again. Without more money or support, the idea proved to be overwhelming and Margaret succumbed to Lloyd’s pressure. He drove her to the clinic for her abortion, where there were some unanticipated complications. She got released to go home that night, but the doctor warned she probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant in the future.
Margaret didn’t speak to Lloyd the next day, and again found it hard to get out of bed for a week. She felt worthless and discarded, like a cigarette butt crushed under the heel of a heavy boot. Lloyd tried to comfort her, telling her it really was for the best, and even bringing her hot tea, toast and soup on a tray. “Look at it this way. Now we only have to worry about ourselves. We’ll have so much more money without the expense of kids. We could buy a house or go on that rad Caribbean vacation we talked about.” Of course, they did neither at the time.
Over the ensuing years he dragged her across the floor by her hair, gave her black eyes, split lips, a broken nose, cracked ribs, and countless other scrapes, scars and injuries, not to mention how he started berating her, calling her ugly, useless, and stupid. “No one else would ever want you,” he snarled. Margaret grew skilled at covering up with lies and make-up.
Spending as much time as she could at the salon, Margaret excelled with the customers, and managed the salon when the owner couldn’t be there. When her boss retired, Margaret, on impulse, secretly made a down payment on the enterprise with some money stashed in tampon boxes at home. Opening up a business bank account, she ensured the statements were delivered to the salon address so Lloyd wouldn’t know. He still controlled all the bills and finances at home.
As Margaret’s career blossomed in size and prosperity, Lloyd’s shrunk. He got himself fired from numerous job sites for being belligerent or getting into physical altercations with one of the guys. Although he wanted the money she brought in, Margaret realized he couldn’t stand that she was more successful than him, and he took it out on her.
Braving his scathing verbal abuse, she nevertheless left the house for the monthly book club she joined, and her volunteer work in the children’s ward at the hospital. Over the next decade, she thought about leaving Lloyd occasionally, but never did, choosing to immerse herself in outside activities and with her friends as much as possible. Now in their forties, the physical abuse declined some but Lloyd persisted in being as verbally abusive as ever, so she didn’t bother telling him when she got appointed to a prominent city board position. One close friend, Sara, who knew more than her other acquaintances, convinced her to talk to a lawyer about her situation and her options should she ever decide to exercise them. Margaret turned the ideas over in her mind, trying to imagine a completely different life.
One day she got a call just as she finished a lavender-infused body wrap and facial. Having obtained a temporary job on the clean-up crew at a commercial construction site, Lloyd suffered a terrible accident. An improperly secured steel beam fell on him, crushing his right side, including his arm, lower back, hips and legs. Margaret rushed to the hospital. After almost a week of tests and several surgeries, the prognosis was worse than hoped for. Lloyd remained paralyzed from the waist down and his right arm possessed extremely limited movement. Necessity now confined him to a wheelchair, and Margaret struggled with the caregiving in addition to her burgeoning salon business.
Volatile before, Lloyd became constantly disgruntled with his condition, bitter as a mouthful of lemons. Although they hired a part-time care giver to help Lloyd while Margaret worked, he grew more demanding of his wife whenever she was home. One evening, a client of Margaret’s ran later than expected; the customer now wanted full highlights instead of partial highlights, and Margaret arrived home well after the caregiver left for the day. In a foul mood, Lloyd commenced cursing at Margaret as soon as she walked through the door.
“I’m all alone here, you stupid bitch! Why the hell are you so late? No, don’t tell me, cuz whatever the hell the reason is, it’s obviously more important than me!” he spat out.
“My client changed her mind about-”
“Save it!” Lloyd yelled. “I don’t give a flying fuck! Just get me my dinner, I’m starving.” He picked up a nearby mug with his left hand and heaved it at her, missing widely. It hit the wall and smashed into pieces.
Margaret looked at the ceramic shards scattered on the floor, then looked at Lloyd calmly. Something clicked in her brain, like a rusty lock springing open. She nodded to herself, then proceeded to prepare her own meal. “You can fix your own dinner,” she told him, “and clean up the mess you made.” With her hot food in hand, she took her plate and went out to her car where she enjoyed her meal in peace. Lloyd, still yelling when she went back in, finally realized that she wasn’t going to fix him anything. Only then did he decide to open the fridge, where he found some cold chicken within his reach. His home accommodation aids were on order, but they hadn’t arrived yet, so he couldn’t reach the upper shelves.
That weekend, Margaret planned to weed her garden, and Lloyd wanted to get outside with her. They were using a portable ramp until the contractor could come out and install a permanent one for the wheelchair. Watching Margaret work, Lloyd began to criticize her, then made the attacks personal. “Why even bother with any vegetables,” he sneered, “you’re such a fat cow anyway.” Margaret gave him a look, removed her gardening gloves, lifted the wheelchair ramp off the steps and disappeared into the house, where she remained for the rest of the afternoon. She went to retrieve Lloyd hours later, slumped over in his wheelchair, sunburned and sleeping in his soiled diaper.
Margaret wondered how long it would take for Lloyd to catch on; even when he made the connection, it seemed to her he couldn’t stop himself sometimes. Over the next week or so, following his outbursts, she left him in the bathtub, while the water grew tepid, then cold; she deprived him of his phone, hiding it in the garage; and refused to do his laundry.
Since his accident and stay at the hospital, Margaret now brought in the mail. She discovered the true state of their finances, opening the bills addressed to him. Unbeknownst to her, Lloyd opened a credit card in her name, forging her signature, and running up the debt. When she confronted him about this, he downplayed it. “It’s not that much money,” he whined. “I needed new tires for my truck and some other stuff.”
Leaving him at home one day to “run errands,” she went to the lawyer’s office, and then their bank. She closed down all their joint credit cards and accounts, and opened accounts in her own name at a different national bank. Loathe to pay off the credit card he opened behind her back, she did it anyway, just to be done with it. In reviewing the mortgage statement, she realized the house they finally bought was still in her name only; Lloyd’s credit so bad, he begrudgingly agreed to put the loan in her name to keep the payment lower, with the idea he would be added to the title later. She made a final stop before going home, to a realtor and long-time customer at her salon.
A week later on Sunday, after cleaning the entire house on Saturday, Margaret told Lloyd, “I’m taking you out for a surprise today.” The day’s activities included going to the car museum several towns over, stopping at his favorite BBQ joint for lunch, and visiting friends to play poker. Lloyd had no idea that Margaret’s realtor was holding an open house at their home since Margaret decided to sell it. The realtor called Margaret that evening and said the event went very well; she hoped multiple offers were going to be forthcoming, which they were. Accepting the highest offer, Margaret signed all the paperwork, and like an unstoppable whirlwind, she also sold her salon for a handsome profit.
As Lloyd sat in his undershirt and drank his morning coffee, he looked out the living room window. A moving truck screeched to a stop in front of their house and backed into the driveway. “What the hell are these idiots doing?” he asked Margaret rhetorically.
“They must be here to move me,” she replied in an even tone.
“What are you talking about?” Lloyd demanded with a frown.
“I’m moving out Lloyd.”
“You can’t do that!” he sputtered.
“I can and I am,” she stated as she opened the door to let the movers in. Under her direction, they packed up almost everything in the house, leaving Lloyd his clothes, the fold-out sofa, a few kitchen items, and his tools. Lloyd wheeled around the house, following Margaret, alternately demanding and pleading with her not to leave.
“I know it’s been difficult, and I haven’t always been easy to live with, but you’re my wife. It’s always been me and you. Through thick and thin.”
“Not anymore. I’m done Lloyd. I’m filing for divorce, so this is good-bye.” Sitting in his wheelchair, in the near bare living room, as dust motes swirled around him, he looked stunned.
“Oh, and I sold the house too, so you’ll have to move,” Margaret fired her parting shot as she exited the front door.
Lloyd’s face turned purple as he screamed, “You can’t do that! It’s my house too! I own half if it!” But, in fact, he didn’t. He scooted over to the window and watched her climb into her car and pull away behind the moving van, as tears formed in the corners of his eyes.
Margaret drove off, smiling broadly, then breaking into a wild laugh. Free; she was free! She felt light, giddy, spacious; a balloon cut loose and lifted into the endless deep blue sky. It would take a few days to reach the coast. She’d always wanted to live near the beach.
Six months later, Margaret got an email from Sara. Things were going well at the old salon, although they all missed her and wished her well with her new “spalon” she just opened. Sara wanted to let her know she’d seen Lloyd recently. He’d lost some weight, and raced down the sidewalk in his wheelchair, a younger woman in a motorized wheelchair behind him.
“I told you I could beat you,” Lloyd crowed at his companion. Then Sara heard him say, “Now let’s go cash your disability check babe, I’m in the mood for a steak.”
Margaret thought as she deleted the email, Poor woman. She doesn’t know what she’s in for. Then she hurried to put the final updates on her services price list, so she could be on time for her dance class.