By Tina Portelli
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This story is not about a fruit drink or Mohamad Ali.
Carmela was born and raised in downtown Brooklyn. Daughter of Italian- American parents, she was raised protectively. Family life was sweet for her, this little girl being the recipient of much love and attention. Shy as she was, she grew into a very respectable teenager, never causing distress to her mother and father. Smoking, playing hooky, sleeping around, these were not things she would consider doing. Not being the most attractive girl in her circle of friends, this late bloomer usually assumed the role of "friend" to her male piers, which turned out to be a valuable asset later in her life. Boyfriend was not a word in her vocabulary, however, her friendship skills flourished while her romantic skills did not. While her appearance improved, her shyness and timid personality remained in tact. Her friend thought she needed help so it was then, at age nineteen that her first real dating relationship started. It was a blind date proposition, beginning with writing to her friends cousin, a Vietnam Vet, a Marine, soon to be discharged, returning to the states in a few months. Carmela was very comfortable writing to this man, however, as the time drew closer for them to meet, she became frazzled. This was no high school boy, this was a soldier she was going to meet, to date, a real a man, so it seemed.
Not having much experience, actually, no experience at all with men, this dating was an overwhelming situation for her. While enjoying the excitement of having a real boyfriend for the first time, going out, receiving the attention and affection of this man, fighting off his sexual advancement was all a bit too much. As the relationship progressed it became evident that if she didn't put out soon, he'd be gone. She knew she liked him a lot, and maybe took it for love. Inexperience can mistake love for a hundred other emotions. Deciding to run with it after a year of dating, she made the big statement. "I will remain a virgin until I get married, it is how I was raised, take it or leave it." The Marines had landed and she landed him. Her desire to be married stemmed from the trend of her friends all getting married, the timing was right, and her desire to finally have sex was the deal clincher. Besides all that, coming from a happy home, it seemed like a good idea. So they did it, they married and had sex. And it was a good thing for her. Woke her right up, yes it did! The road was paved and the direction had been taken. The first three years of that union were similar to the early years of her upbringing. Lots of love, attention, it was a good life. She took pleasure in the simple tasks of pleasing her husband, keeping a clean and comfortable home. As they got to know each other more intimately as happens when living together, it became apparent that their personalities were quite different.
He was outgoing, aggressive, daring and adventurous. He had a flair and style for life that he could not afford. He liked cars, motorcycles, games, toys, and extravagant hobbies. She just wanted living room furniture. Things worked for him all right, and for a long time, because he could control her. She never gave him a hard time about spending money, she was just a good complacent wife, until he lost his job. That's when the honeymoon was over, when she found her voice. She was no longer a timid child. She was tired of supporting his pleasures and supporting him!
It is amazing how people get along when the boat is not being rocked. It has to be real true love if the rocking of the boat doesn't sink it. This boat sank fast and hard.
Why wouldn't a wife be upset if she works all day at the office while the husband wakes at noon, proceeds to play handball on most days of the week, still indulging himself with games and toys, without a care in the world, adding marijuana to their household budget.
Carmela was now the head of this family, and needed to take a stand to put things back on track. It's one thing to be a part of a team, to work together, 50/50, but this unbalance was not only foreign to her, just seeing their roles reversed set off an alarm in her head. She did not want to be the mommy. She did not want the entire load. It was too much for a small girl to carry, too heavy on the heart.
With many unsuccessful attempts to get this ex-marine motivated, life was not much fun. The changes in the marriage did not make sense to her and she knew only one thing for sure. She could not fix it and she could not live this way.
After three more years of struggling with the instability of his career choices, taking verbal abuse from a disgruntled husband, she knew she would someday leave. In the back of her mind she was afraid for herself, having been the victim of a push or shove, a show of his bad temper, the verbal abuse. She kept making excuses to herself, putting it off, waiting for a better time, a time when she was ready and could afford to. She no longer loved him, if indeed he ever did.
And then the enviable day arrived, the day of the LUCKY PUNCH. Arguing over some silly thing, he right hooks her in the face. The effect was awesome, the pain more spiritual than physical. It was the moment of her decision. There is a deep knowing that will lead you to your destiny. People will certainly influence your life as will circumstances, but ultimately the decision is yours as to the road you want to take, the life you want to live. If you are strong and smart and if you do not let the waves sweep you in directions you don't want to go, you will succeed. And so she did, succeed. It did not happen immediately. It took another two years for her to actually leave him. In the mean time, she developed her own strength, while enduring the pain and the punishment every day, knowing it would be for only a short time. She did not have the money she would need to start over on her own, however, she did have a plan, and that was an encouraging start. Knowing how to keep a secret, especially from her family, Carmela became an expert liar and started to execute her plan. She opened a bank account in her name only, using her mother's address. Carmela would lie about her Christmas bonus, stuffing money into that account. Gifts to her from family were spoken of at half value, the other half stashed away. Her grocery bills were inflated as to trim the excess into the till. She lied about how much she made, how much she spent, she lied just about everything. Like a prisoner chipping at his cell, each chip, each dollar was paving the road to freedom. Who would have thought this simple girl could become so calculating, so smart. Her survival instincts kicked in. Some of that rough neighborhood rubbed off on her after all. One cold day in February, as she sat in her bedroom looking out at the view, iron bars on the window from first floor living, with fourteen inches of snow piled against them, projecting a feeling of intolerable suffocation.
She knew the time had arrived, she had get out. She could feel it in her bones, the need to make her move. But how? Then the opportunity presented itself; As the husband enters the room, he notices her sullen mood and does his best to pull her out of it. His attempts of offering her food, his suggestion of a walk outside in the snow. These offerings did nothing to alleviate her mental state and she remained unresponsive to him. With this observation, he asks her what is wrong. Instead of the usual made up reply; PMS or some such thing, she responds "I am just not happy here". With that reply from her, he goes into a state of rage, telling her to get out, saying he has tried to make up for his bad behavior of the past. Nothing he ever does pleases her, he will not longer eat dirt. He had had enough of her and her moods. Then he decides he will try what has worked in the past. He starts with his intimidation routine, get her to cower, and she will then make excuses for her words and take them all back, reassuring him that she really wants to stay. But, this time, she does not do this. This enrages him even more. His patience with her now gone, in a violent motion, he picks up the phone to call her father, tells him to "Come and get your daughter, she is not happy here" She does not stop him from making this call. She does not interrupt his words as she would have done in the past, but just sits quietly and hopes her father gets there fast. This enrages him even more. By the time the father arrives to pick her up, he is at the point of being a threatening madman, vowing to kill her and her whole family if she leaves him. She knew he wasn't kidding. When the father finally arrives, he tells the daughter to wait in the car. Minutes later, the father comes out and asks Carmela what she did to him. "What I did to him?" "Well, yes, I left him crying on the floor like a baby, with him begging me to talk to you." The husband never told the father about the punch, but the daughter did. "Who would have guessed", Well honey, all I can say is I am sorry and welcome home, stay as long as you like, this is your home. The mother was thrilled to have her back. The father had known it was a mistake while standing at the back of the church before he walked her down the aisle six years earlier. It was the memory of that punch, that lucky punch that stuck in her head and gave her the moxie to finally leave. It was with her every day. Verbal abuse and subtle shoves would have kept her there with him forever, as time has a way of being forgiving. Instead, she wasted no time and got on with her life as a single woman.
So, with the $2,000.00 she squirreled away and the clothes that she owned, she started over, leaving him everything. She went back to living in her parent's house, independently, enjoying her freedom, not missing the degradation and abuse from this bully of a man. Since then, her life has been great. She never got over the elation of being free or having total peace. Never takes her freedom for granted, happy for the choice she made. Doors have opened that would have stayed locked. Friends were made that would otherwise never been found. Loving relationships would have been unborn adventures. Living authentically would have been an unfulfilled wish. Conscious decisions that seem small and insignificant can play a major role in where you wind up, how you live and the person you become. In tribute to that ex-marine, ex-husband, wherever he may be, Carmela sincerely thanks him for that "Lucky Punch" and the opportunity to live happily ever after, which she did indeed.