“My husband is verbally abusing me,” I choked again through fat, snotty tears.
“Honey,” Pastor said as she squeezed my face with her mocha hands and looked hard into my eyes. “I know it’s hard for us women. But even though your husband doesn’t have a job, you need to submit to him.”
I thought of Sally Field wearing a hijab and escaping 1980s Iran in the movie Not Without My Daughter.
I was seven months pregnant, and it was my twenty-seventh birthday. I was living in Frankfurt, Germany, married to Bodo, an unemployed German with a taste for hashish and alcohol.
I had reached out to the pastor at the English-speaking gospel church we’d been attending. I had hoped she would help and support me– somehow guide Bodo to stop the verbal hatred he spewed at me daily.
Later that afternoon, Bodo and I went to an afternoon party of other expectant parents from our Lamaze class. Bodo hadn’t acknowledged my birthday at all. But he had schlepped a bunch of oranges and an giant manual juice maker in his backpack on the subway to the hosts’ apartment.
When we got to their apartment, he whipped out the monstrous orange juice contraption and began squeezing orange juice manually, dramatically pouring it into guests’ glasses with practiced panache. I sat quietly at the party, physically present, but I felt an invisible glass between myself and the other partygoers. I knew our children would never play together. This would be my last time with the Lamaze group.
When we got home, I told Bodo I didn’t want to go to that church anymore.
I attempted to reason with him, which was like negotiating with a volcano. He continued to erupt lava hate. Then he struck me two times across my face.
I stood up fast despite my pregnant belly and reached for the phone. I called the police and told them what had happened.
Two officers clad in olive green uniforms appeared at the door.
“Werden Sie nichts tun? Are you going to do nothing?” I asked.
“Nein. Dies ist eine Sache zwischen Mann und Frau. No. This is a situation between husband and wife,” one of them replied, unmoved. They waited until Bodo left in a taxi and departed.
I called my mother in the States. “Come home right now. You can have the baby here in California.”
“But I don’t have any health insurance,” I replied.
“I don’t care. Just get on a plane and get over here.”
I rang my friend Jeanneth, another American woman who was married to a (nice) German. She listened, offered her sympathies, and we hung up the phone. What a birthday.
The next morning, my friend Jeanneth called from her office. “I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I told my friend Sophie here at work. Her husband Les is an American lawyer practicing American law here in Germany. Call him. He’s waiting by the phone for you.”
I called Les at the number she gave me. “Put on your jacket and go to the airport now. If you have that baby in Germany, you won’t be able to leave. If you tried to, you’d be charged with international kidnapping.”
That sure pushed my departure date back earlier. Later that morning, Bodo came home, stomped around and asked me if I were going to Lamaze class that evening. I gave a vague answer and he took off.
I sprung into action. I went to the gynecologist, got a checkup and a note that it was safe for me to travel (since I was past the normal 32 week deadline for being okay for a pregnant woman to fly). I called American Airlines and bought a ticket to Ontario, California.
I called several moving companies and asked if they could pack up some of my stuff. Finally I found a French moving company who said that they could come that evening at 6 to pack. I knew I would have to go back to work as a single mother, so I threw a bunch of officey-type and pre-pregnancy clothes in the middle of the floor, along with a few treasured books and family knick knacks. I packed a couple of suitcases to take with me on the plane (this was back when you could actually check baggage).
And then I waited and prayed that Bodo wouldn’t show up until after I had escaped.
That evening, the Frenchman and his Polish moving posse arrived. It took them about 90 minutes max to pack up. When they were done, I called a taxi, and headed to Jeanneth’s house, which was about 45 minutes away.
* * *
The flight from Frankfurt to Dallas was peacefully uneventful. I almost didn’t make my connecting flight in Dallas because I couldn’t waddle fast enough between gates. A customer service agent called the departing gate to hold the plane for me. I made the plane and attempted to rest on the four-hour flight from Dallas. As the plane’s wheels touched the runway in Ontario, I looked at the rings on my left hand. I wept. What was I going to do?
Have you ever felt that way? So upset, so raw, empty- that you didn’t know what to do next? Many years later, I step with confidence in the direction of the way that God has paved. I assure you, there is a happier life waiting for you.