During the weeks of recovery, I stood by Meagan. Working remotely by computer, leaving her only when absolutely necessary, and then with security and trained medical personnel in place, often cajoling Jennifer to bring Jazz and stay at the house to oversee her care, I never left her side.
In the time we spent alone, Meagan began to open up. I had been aware that all was not well in her marriage; she had even insinuated that Bobbie had a vile temper. But the degree of violence she endured was so far outside my paradigm that I had not pried into the full extent of it. But now that we were alone together so much of the time, I began to ask. And what I learned was appalling. You might say that it turned my world upside down. It left me feeling guilty I had not asked sooner and made me wonder if having done so might have prevented the assault she had suffered.
As she told it, Meagan grew up as an only child in a lower middle income New Jersey family. Her father worked construction jobs where he could get them, and her mother taught third grade. Her parents were stereotypical parents of that era: socially happy, regular attendees at Mass, making ends meet.
Meagan’s father had lots of friends who would come over particularly during football season. He and his friends loved to drink, to swear and to cheer on the New York Jets. It would be loud and boisterous in their small den, and because Meagan was an only child, she was the one asked to fetch beers, refill chip bowls, and clean up after the games. She says she probably got her potty mouth here along with her love of football. And she calls this the happiest memories of her childhood.
Meagan describes her father as easily 6”4” and very strong. He worked five days a week when he could, but she would often hear how he had lost another job. He had large muscles, tattoos of naked women (amongst other things) and rough good looks. She worshipped him.
Her mother, on the other hand was meek yet beautiful. Voluptuous and Irish Catholic. She loved children, and always told Meagan that she wished she could give her a sister or a brother. But she left it at that. Meagan could feel the sadness. She loved teaching, and Meagan found her commitment to her job fascinating. It never seemed like she was home when her father was. She frequently told Meagan she was at her school working on lesson plans for the coming week. She seemed to bump her eyes a lot. They seemed always bruised.
The first time Meagan’s father hit her, other than the spankings she says she obviously deserved, was when she screamed at him for yelling at her mother. She thinks she called him an asshole or maybe some other term she learned from his buddies. The back of his hand splashed across her face. It didn’t actually hurt that much, but it surprised and confused her. She ran out of the room hysterically crying.
There were other times of course, always when he had been drinking. As she got older, Meagan would hear her parents arguing in their bedroom. Her mother would first be heard shrieking and then begging. She would hear things being broken, and when Meagan would hear unrecognizable sounds from her mother, she would try to open their door to get to her – often with her fists. The door would open, and the man that emerged wasn’t her father. He looked exactly like him except his eyes. And then he would shove and hit her until she retreated into her room and locked the door.
The next morning he would tell Meagan, in a soft loving voice, that he was sorry. This was normal between a husband and a wife and everyone had disagreements. He always said that she started it, but that he was always the one to say he was sorry first.
Her mother always awoke from those nights with a headache. That’s where Meagan learned that an ice bag pressed to one side of your forehead or the other would make your headache feel better. Her father was so sweet to her mom on those mornings. He kissed her a lot and said how sorry he was that he lost his temper and that it wouldn’t happen again. Every time he kissed her she flinched.
Dancing, I learned, was an outlet for her, and in her high school years Meagan hid behind the workouts and the performances. She was not an exceptional student as it became increasingly distracting to study at home, but she could sure dance. It was a blessing on many fronts, but in hindsight it pushed a previously locked door open for her: a college scholarship. And not just any college, but The Juilliard School for the performing arts in New York City! This was Meagan’s ticket out of her parents’ life and into an unknown adventure.
In college, she excelled in modern dance and graduated with honors. The problem was there were no jobs to be had for a modern dancer with her curves. Meagan was certainly not fat by any measure, but she was no Twiggy. She had a self-imposed timeline for living back at home and job hunting, and when that curfew approached, she started to desperately apply for jobs out of state where a dance degree from Juilliard would be cherished. And that is how Meagan Nelson ended up in Grand Junction, Colorado – a town of some fifty-odd thousand inhabitants and at a high school looking for a dance and cheerleading instructor. They flew her out for an interview. And it was on that first trip Meagan met the head coach of the Granite High School football team, Bobbie Edmonson.
He was kind and funny, and broke the ice on her nervousness when they first bumped into each other that very first day when she arrived for her interview. He said he could help get her the job, and invited her out to dinner that night. Well, the rest you could say is “history.” Meagan accepted the job offer that came the following week, and accepted a marriage proposal that came not quite six months after that. It was all a whirlwind of a new life from a young woman shedding the skin of her troubled past.
Meagan didn’t remember when Bobbie first assaulted her. He was an abusive, thoughtless lover particularly after he had been drinking. This all seemed normal to her – even comforting in a very bizarre way based on the memory of her father. The patterns were so similar. But this time, she was in the bedroom arguing and then pleading. The mornings were the same as back home: apologies mixed with equal parts tenderness and blame. It all felt so…real? Grown up?
There were good times, too. Bobbie could be charming, particularly in public – at school, on the field, when they were out to dinner together. Not every night ended in violence; just when he drank excessively. Then he started to use Human Growth Hormone and his muscles bulged along with his ego. His time away at night grew and his temper shortened. He would come home high and horny, and if she didn’t want to put out, or put out the way he wanted, he forced himself on her. The night he raped her with a pillow over her face brought such fear to the back of her throat that Meagan started to make up reasons to visit friends.
It was on one of those nights that she slipped out of their ramshackle house, and headed out in the cool crisp evening of early fall to meet up with a friend at a local restaurant and bar. Well, if you have read The Hunger & The Hunted, you know the rest of the story.