The Cremation of Love
By Tamyara Brown
I am the woman who lost her face, gave her smile to a man who didn’t know how to love me. We all have a story, and mine was written in love and fire. It is why I am at the Reed Center for Survivors trying to heal, forget and recover from the pain. The scars are permanent but the wounds to our soul is still in need of repair. Every second of the day I can still smell my flesh burning, the excruciating pain throbbing through my entire body, the red flame sparking my face and his voice echoing, “He loves me.” is the visual and sound not easily erased.
I step out of my car and every one stops to stare at the woman with No Face for I am sight to see and a memory not easily forgotten. My lips are missing, my skin which was once the color of cinnamon is the now discolored patches of brown and pink, my skin is grafted from my back and my ass. I no longer have my left eye, and I've lost the ability to smell. All in the name of Love Theo told me and the fear of never having me again.
"My name is Marilyn Stevenson and by sharing my story I hope I can remind a woman or man that letting go is just your way of saving your life. Love should never hurt and your life is valuable is what I say to every member in the group.
One half of the room has familiar faces of men and women who are the regulars, while one half of the room is filled with newbies. The table filled with sweet pastries and donuts, the aroma of coffee in the air and when I walk in many stop in their tracks. Some cover their mouth while others try not to look me in the eye. I take calculated steps to the stage and place the pictures on the easel as they represent the stages of my life. The first shows a picture of Theo and I when we first fell in love. Our wedding photo dressed in traditional white, flowers, and bruise on my face. The first time we went on a date with a black eye, and I wore sunglasses to cover it up, and the 2 carat diamond ring he bought as reconciliation. The court room representing the divorce, pictures of my face after the horrid night in the park. Love should never burn is what I tell every woman and man I address. Some listen while others go home with the thought it will never happen to me.
It is the photo exhibit of love turned into abuse. It is the story of my journey with a man I loved more than me. I sat in the middle of all the photos, fifteen of the members who attended tonight of various races. Five men and ten women sat in front of me. I was the constant reminder of the worse that could happen. Some of the women turned their head to wipe their tears while the other winced at the site of my skin.
“My name is No Face to the world but my real name is Marilyn Stevenson. I am the worst case scenario besides death. He promised me that no one would ever kiss me again and he kept true to his word. Some of you voiced going back to him or her because of the children, because you don’t feel like you have another chance. Had I listen to my head versus my heart I wouldn’t look like this, I would be able to write my name. Patches of my ass wouldn’t be grafted to my face and I could still smile. After I tell you my story maybe I can save your life or help you make a safe exit plan.”
I am Sorry
“Baby, I just want to talk that’s it. I’m not drinking and drugging no more. I want to save our marriage. I love you so damn much.” He pleaded. I pressed the phone to my ear and the sound of his voice weakened my better judgment.
“We have to meet in a public place like Cunningham Park.”
He sighed and finally agreed my sister Cookie was tapped her finger on the table.
“Why the fuck do you have to go every time he drops a fake ass tear?” She tapped her foot and rolled her eyes.
“I still love him and I want closure.” I mumbled.
“Mama has never raised us to be a fool in love with a nigger who broke your jaw and cracked your ribs. How much closure do you need to know he is three tablespoons of crazy and a large heap of psychotic bastard? She snatched her purse and looks through it for a lighter and a cigarette.
“I’m not taking him back, damn. We are talking.” I rolled my eyes and sucked my teeth.
“I have a real sick feeling about this shit. Something in my gut telling me this gone turn out bad. I can feel it. Word on my life if anything happen to you I’m going to jail for murdering his ass.”
“I will be fine and we are in a public place. If I feel unsafe I will turn right back around and leave. People change and Theo has gone to counseling, and anger management classes.”
“And crazy stays the same he is a candidate for the loony bin and has done too much to you . You shouldn’t even be talking to him per your restraining order.”
I heard light taps on the door and open the door to see Theo standing with flowers, Chinese food and a gift bag. I could smell the Egypt musk, the scent of shrimp egg foo young and sesame chicken. My sister put her hand on her hip and marched over to the door.
“Why the fuck are you here? I’m calling the police.”
“It’s okay sis, seriously.”
“You letting this pretty fucker work on your heart because he’s playing nice, bringing trinkets as a consolation prize after beating on you.”
Theo walked in and closed the door. He was handsome, tall, caramel complexion and deep dimples. He sat the food down and sat at the table.
“Cookie, just shut the fuck up and mind your damn business. Are you mad because nobody want your fat ass? She is my wife and we are working it out so step the hell off, Lardo.”
Cookie jumped on him and began punching him in the face, he ducked and grab her by hair. I pulled them apart and pushed her against the wall.
“You defending this dude over me, really sis. This creep who broke your jaw, blacked your eyes and cracked your ribs. I’m outta here and ain’t no need to call the cops if you letting the criminal in.”
“I just want to work it out with my husband. I don’t want to end up alone like you and Mama.”
She slung her purse on her shoulder, wiped her tear from her eye and shook her head. She threw her hands up in the air and she walked towards the door, pulled it opened and looked at me one more time.
“You know I rather be alone then stay with a sorry piece of a man. I hope I don’t get that call you are dead. I’m out and I love you.”
She slammed the door and Theo patted his knee for me to sit on his knee. I followed his command like the fool in love I was. I allowed him to suck me into lie with his sweet kisses and the seduction of his touch.
“Baby, fuck her and your family I told you I love you. I love deeper than you can ever imagine. I will never hit you again. Look what Daddy bought you.”
He pulled the boxes out of the bag wrapped in a satin bow. I opened it and there was a diamond bracelet, earrings and a necklace. He placed them on me and like chocolate I melted. He knew how to erase the past. He kissed every bruise, his fingers through my hair, my clothing he removed and there he enters inside me stroking away the truth he is a beast, he violent and he articulates love with pain. I opened my eyes and his eyes are slanted, his horns arise, he laugh wicked and his strokes that is supposed to equate to pleasure causes pain. His hips buck violently and he hissed like a snake as he releases his venom inside of me. He falls on top of my body, his sweat burns my skin and he bites my neck.
“Damn, I miss making love to you. I’m so happy to be home.” He played in my hair and held me in his arms. He was the man I fell in love with kind, sensitive and loving. The phone rang breaking my trance and he snatched it before I could answer it. The name was Dwayne a good friend of mine who was helping me with some of my photography shoots.
His eyes squinted and he shoves me off him.
“My assistant and good friend you remember him, right?”
“Nah, I don’t fucking remember him? Dwayne is who you are going to leave me for?”
“No… he is ah… a friend.”
The phone rings again and it startled me as I prayed Dwayne didn't call back. He clenched his teeth, a growl left his throat and he barked under his breath. He snatched the phone off the receiver and yelled,
“Why are you calling my wife’s phone?”
“Theo, don’t do this he is my assistant.”
He slapped me across the face and kicked me off the bed.
“Don’t ever interrupt me now go and heat me up something to eat.”
“You haven’t changed at all I...thought you would never hit me again. I’m calling the police on you.”
I ran to the kitchen and dialed 911.
“911 what is your emergency?” He stood naked with the gun drawn and he shook his head.
“911 what is your emergency?” The operator repeated.
I hung up the phone up, I could feel the hairs on the nape of my neck rise, my hands felt clammy, my lip and chin trembling.
“Baby, don’t do this to me. Don’t trip on this I swear the God I will kill you. You are mines can’t you see that? Huh and I lose it when I think another man wants to touch your body. I love you.”
I gasped and expelled air trying to control my breathing. I whimpered, did as I was asked and placed the food on the plate. I listened to him lie to the operator about the make believe child playing on the phone. Each step I take towards the table are slow, my knees want to buckle, and my heart is pounding against my chest. The gun sitting on the plate next to his dinner plate.
“Sit and eat. I am not going to hurt you I promise. “
I slid in my seat and I could hardly pick up the fork as my hands shook. He stabbed the fork into food shoving it in his mouth. He finished his meal in record time. I hadn’t eaten a drop. I was waiting for him to fall asleep so I could break free.
“Baby tomorrow we are going to Cunningham Park, you can make some of those chicken salad sandwiches, fruit, some wine and I’ll get two slices of cheese cake. Sound good, right?”
“Let’s go to bed and for the record don’t try to leave me tonight. I’d hate to murder your sister and mother. I promise you that so clean up and cozy up to me.” He lifted the gun up and walked into the bedroom. I cup my hands in my face and just cried.
The Group of Questions
The two ladies sat chattering during my story. Many shook their heads and shamed me for my decisions. The lady in the blonde wig and long lashes named Sadie mumbled,
“You’re so stupid.”
“You’re right I was stupid for letting him back in because love blinds you.”
“No,being a stupid ass cunt turning her back on her sister. I mean he broke your jaw and cracked three of your ribs you must have liked it.”
She rubbed the back of her neck and scrunched up her nose.
“Let me ask did you stay after your abuser first hit you?”
She shifted in her seat and sucked her teeth.
“He didn’t beat me up like he did you. He didn’t bust up my jaw and shit.”
“It doesn’t matter you stayed when you should have left. Like all of us we thought if we loved him better he’d just stop. A woman will go back to her abuser seven times before she actually leaves him or kills her first. We want be to be loved. We want so desperately to be the woman that stops him for being so angry, from hitting us and the truth is we never will be. Out of all this I learned you can’t change a person unless they want to be changed. So I don’t dispute your argument of being stupid but we all have made the wrong choices when it comes to love. We all are here with external and internal scars.”
“I’m still with him and I got kids with this man. I don’t want my babies growing up without him like me. They love their daddy and I’ll take the occasional smack in order to have a family.”
“It is exactly why I stay with Claudine out of love, out of helping her with the addiction. We have a child involved.” He hung his head and rocked in seat.
“So you getting your ass whipped by your woman? That don’t sound right? It is the men who do the ass kicking to the women.” Sadie said.
“Abuse has no face. We don’t think men get abused and it wrong. For the man he has a harder time proving his case but more and more men are being abused by their spouses. We fail to see that abuse is faceless. You’re staying out of fear not because of your children. It is not healthy for them to see abuse in any way.”
The leader of the group Jan stepped in and said,
“It’s time for a break we have refreshments, coffee, tea, soda pop and water. “
I sat on the stage and stared at the picture of Theo. He was glaring at me and I felt a sense of anger well up in me. I no longer could take pictures because I all of my fingers. I can’t feel anything because my nerves are damaged. I am trying to forgive and forget. I am trying to let go of my anger towards me, towards him and how he stole my face. He took away my ability to smile. How fucking dare he still be alive and breathing in a jail cell? He is given three hot meals and a cot, he has cable for Chris sakes and he still looks like himself.
Jan sat next to me a hippie woman who still wore headbands, peace necklace and earrings, she had over a thousand cuts on her face from her former lover Evelyn. She took a bite of the pastry.
“I’m still angry too. Every day I look in the mirror and see the scars I want to run to her home and beat her like she did me. It’s the reason I chose to be with a woman. Funny shit is any body can whip over you when they think they have power and control. It doesn’t matter.”
She crossed her legs Indian style and press her palms on the floor. My tears fell and I took a deep breath.
“I wish he would let me go. He still writes me. He still dreams of me and I want to forget his sorry ass. I want him to leave me alone. I want him to pay for his sin and suffer. It’s not fair at all.”
She took the tissue and wipes my face. I took a deep breath and the others sat back in their seats. I cleared my throat and wiped my tears.
“That day is still vivid. I can still feel his kisses on me before he set me on fire. The gasoline on my skin, the sounds of adults and children screaming, the smell of my flesh burning and the sound of my skin crackling. How do you forgive a man who stole your face? Maybe after the ending you’ll understand that going with your gut is the only option.
The Cremation of Love
The phone rung and it was my mother on the line. I declined her call five times because I was afraid of what Theo would do. He stood in the kitchen beside me preparing his famous three cheese omelet, toast and coffee. I stood as far as I could from him. I did as was asked of me.
“Talk to me, baby.” He shouted, he wrapped his arms around my waist and begin singing in my ear.
“So do you want stuffed strawberries with cream cheese?”
“Nah, baby I want to stuff you with this beef between my legs.” He rotated his hips behind my waist. He began nibbling on my ear and I pushed him away.”
“Oh you don’t want to fuck me now? I get it’s about that dude calling your damn phone?” He barked. He push me into the refrigerator and lifted up my dress.
“I’m just trying to get …”
“Shut up lying and take this dick. I’m your husband and I can fuck you anyway or how. “
He tried forcing himself on me and then a pounding knock was on the door.
“Marilyn, its Officer Jackson let me in.” Theo scurried into the pantry and closed the door. I straightened my clothes and wiped my tears. I walked to the door and opened it.
“Hi, um, Officer Jackson.”
“You okay? I see there was a call made to 911 and wanted to check up on you.”
He looked over my shoulder, into my apartment and living room.
“I’m um, was babysitting my niece and she needed I mean wanted to call my sister and dialed the wrong number.”
“Okay. You know that you can tell me if he was here last night. I just don’t want to see you hurt or found dead. Theo is a sick man.”
“I haven’t seen him.” I look down at my feet and nod my head.
“It’s okay and I am getting ready to go to a picnic with friends. Thank you for stopping by.”
I closed the door and Theo busted out of the pantry door. He was breathing heavy and sweat was trickling down his forehead.
“Let’s get out of here and have our date. You know I just want everybody to stay out of my fucking marriage. I would never hurt you unless I had to. I had to hit you so you wouldn’t leave me. Every woman I love including that rotten Bitch of a mother left me. Do you understand what is like to be abandon all the time? I deserve your love, baby.”
“I know and you have it.”
He whimpered and he fell into my arms.
“I better because I will kill you if you leave me. I don’t want to but I will.
I should have called Officer Jackson. I should have ran but I thought about his threat of killing my sister and mother. Instead I got in the car, I listen to the sounds of Billy Ocean. We reached Lugo Park and the sun was shining bright, the sound of the children laughing, couples walking and holding hands. Love and happiness was in the air. Theo and I imitated love he held hands. I wore sunglasses to cover by the swelling and the tears behind my eyes. He was so happy and in love with the idea. In love of the idea that I wouldn’t leave because of fear. He never understood that the love I felt that was once given freely was staying because I feared death.
I love him despite the abuse because I feared loneliness. I fear being another black woman who can’t keep a man. I never thought he’d hurt me or make me feel weak. At one time I took pride in him being jealous. Pride that he loved me enough to harm someone who would hurt me. Now as I am standing next to him love doesn’t look so pretty or feel so good.
“I need to take a whiz so wait for me okay. Sit on the bench over there.”
He went behind the tree and never took his eyes off me. He came back and looked at the two gentlemen sitting on the bench.
“I have to take a shit don’t you dare talk to those niggers you hear me?”
I prayed for this opportunity to run and get away. He ran across the park to the restrooms. I had an average of five minutes to get away. I stood and ran like crazy in the opposite direction. I dialed Officer Jackson cell phone but it went straight to voicemail.
“Officer Jackson when you get this message meet me at Lugo Park. My husband is here and I am trying to get away.”
I looked behind me, my breathing labored and I prayed there was a cab outside the park. My cell rang and Theo’s name popped up. Several text messages followed. I soon saw him running through the crowd. I felt him pull my arm and push me to the ground.
“You leaving me? You lied to me?”
I shook my head in a panic.
“I was trying to run to buy you some ice cream.” Tears dropped from his eyes and fell on my face.”
“You ran when I was calling you. You abandoning me like the rest of the women I love. Leaving me you promised.”
“I’m not breaking my promise. I just want you. I just want to eat, barbecue the hotdogs and hamburgers like we planned. Please believe me I just was getting you the ice cream.” My teeth where chattering, the hair on the nape of my neck stiffened and drool ran down my face. He extended his hand as a crowd began to grow. He helped me up and brushed me off. He kissed my cheek and held my hand.
“I believe you now let’s get some ice cream your treat of course and then we can begin to grill our lunch. “
We walked over to the stand I get his favorite nutty buddy and as we walk we passed a three dead birds. My mother told me of the old legend that when you saw dead birds it meant death or you are in danger. He walked over to the make shift grill, he added the charcoal, the lighter fluid, the area he took us to was secluded with only two other families.
He was unusually quiet while we ate, he gazed at the squirrels and drank seven beers.
“When I was in my fifth foster home I saw my foster father pour gasoline all over her body, right. He kept saying I rather cremate our love then to have someone kill it. I never understood that until today. He didn’t light the match or set her on fire but I never forgot it.”
I looked away from him and scratched my head.
“That’s so sad.”
“He wasn’t sad he was in love and she wanted to leave just like you want to leave me. The pain of losing someone you love is like being stabbed in the heart. Marilyn, you are stabbing me in the heart and it’s not fair. The shit hurts like hell cause all I want is love. Damn, I buy you gifts, I’m here baby and you don’t love me because we squabble.”
He wrapped his arms around me and he could feel my body shaking. He continued his speech and held me tighter.
“You scare of me for no reason baby. I love you damn it.”
He slung me around and he slurred each word. He spit in the grass and chuckled.
“Say, ‘I love you.’ I want to hear the words coming out of your mouth.”
“I love you.”
He fell back on the blanket with me, his turned my face towards his and begin kissing me. I could taste the bear on his breath. He moaned and hissed.
“I want to fuck you before I have to say goodbye. I want you one more time and I will leave you alone. I promise.”
He caressed my breast, trail kisses down my body and I felt his tears. He entered me but this time there was force. I couldn’t enjoy him. I turned my head as he kept telling me over and over again he loved me to death. He kept saying it and inside of me I felt pleasure, guilt, agony and pain. He came and lay on top of me .
“I can’t let you go and imagine another man loving you. Another man taking away my wife.”
He stood and pulled up his pants. He walked over to the cooler and took out another beer band popped it open. He sat there and I was so exhausted I fell asleep. It must have been for several minutes I could feel the cold liquid on my skin. He stood there and for several minutes all I could do was pray. I heard him click the lighter three times, my feet and hands tied up.
“If I cannot have you then I have to cremate our love. I can’t stand that you don’t love me no more, Marilyn.”
“I do love you. Please I am not going to leave you. Don’t do this.” She pleaded.
He sniffled and pour the beer on me, then lighter fluid on my face. He bent down and he continued clicking the lighter. I screamed and he kissed my lips.
“I don’t want Dwayne enjoying your smile, your kisses, and hugs. Cremation of our love, my heart is on fire.”
As soon as I saw the orange light flash in front of my face, the sound of my voice screaming, the pain took over my body as I was on fire. I heard sirens, the feel of water being poured on my face and hands. I could hear Theo crying and voices screaming at him.
I thought I was dead because after a while the noise stopped. There was complete darkness and I thought I was being put out of my misery. The pain of loving the wrong man would no longer be an issue. I would no longer have to see the likes of Theo.
Sitting at the burn Unit of Mercy Hospital. I could hear voices, but I could not open my eyes, and the miracle I was alive. I don’t have a clue why God let me live. Each second they change my bandages and I scream in agony. The pieces of my skin that has fallen off. The numerous days of surgery, the mounting bills and Theo sits in a cell still crying that he loves me.
The first time I looked into the mirror I threw it across the room. The bandages were off, the nurses were trying to convince me to look out the window and the ditsy social worker sat next to me saying,
“Woo, woo, woo and the truth is I had no face. It was erase, my nose was melted to my face, my skin was bright red, my lips gone and I lost sight in one of my eyes. That day I planned to sit in the house for the rest of my life and hide. We plan but God always has a better direction on our lives. If someone would of have told me I would be up here speaking about domestic violence I would have spit on them. What I know is I don’t ever want another woman or man to suffer like I did and I do. I will show you pictures and talk until I can’t because I don’t want you to die by the hands of your abuser. I don’t want another woman to look like me.”
The tears stung my face and I let them flow telling my story doesn’t get easier.
Gerald raised his hand and he asked,
“Have you forgiven him?”
“No and the truth is I don’t how to. I want to so I can be free my abuser still has the ability to make me cry. He has scarred not only my face but my heart. I can get reconstructive surgery but I will never look the same. I can never erase the memories that he stole my face.”
Jan stood next to me and she gave me a hug.
“Today we formed the non-profit organization that will address women and men who are being abused by their spouses. Our doors officially will open and we hope that we can eradicate abuse by sharing our stories, providing resources, shelters for both men and women.”
“ Before you go I have a poem that was given to me by a nurse in the Burn unit.
My name is Fear and I am afraid of even the person I see in the mirror.
It paralyzes be from going forward so all I do is look back.
It causes me to accept what isn’t healthy for me.
My name is Fear and I am scared of letting go because I am addicted to the same pattern.
It controls me, it allows be not to face the truth about myself as well as others.
My name is Fear and I can’t see past all that can go wrong.
You see fear is a dictator, a control freak and it stands up before courage. It lies even though truth is staring in our face. The moment I gain courage to do the things fear told me I couldn’t I no longer feared the end results of letting go. I no longer accepted what was unhealthy for me. In fact I told fear to kick fucking rocks. I terminated our long standing contract. I became available to what the world and life had to offer me. My name is no longer Fear it is now courageous.”
The crowd clapped and I stepped off the podium. I left the pictures, the reminders of my yesterday.
Domestic Violence Facts for Women
§ Every 9 seconds in the US a woman is assaulted or beaten.
§ Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.
§ Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
§ Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
§ Nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls who have been in a relationship said a boyfriend threatened violence or self-harm if presented with a breakup.
§ Everyday in the US, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
§ Ninety-two percent of women surveyed listed reducing domestic violence and sexual assault as their top concern.
§ Domestic violence victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work per year in the US alone—the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.
§ Based on reports from 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who had been physically abused by their partners had never contacted non-governmental organizations, shelters, or the police for help.
§ The costs of intimate partner violence in the US alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.
§ Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence were twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.
Domestic violence targets men as well as women in the United States they are least reported and the statistics are one in ten men who are abused. For more information please contact 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224.
Author Tamyara Brown
My love for writing is unconditional. It is my sanity in this crazy world.