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By:L Wilder

“Don’t even start, mister. You know the rule.” He’d been playing since we got home from school, and he’d keep playing all night if I let him.

“Okay. Five more minutes,” he answered in defeat. His shaggy brown hair dangled in front of his eyes, making me wonder how he could even see to play his game.

“Dude. I think it’s time for a haircut.”

He quickly ran his fingers through his bangs, brushing them to the side and said, “No way! This is how it’s supposed to look.” He gave me a quick glare, his dark eyebrows furrowed in frustration before he looked back down at his game. Seeing him sitting there, I couldn’t help but smile. He looked like your average eight-year-old boy with his wrinkled t-shirt and jeans, but to me, he was anything but average. I could see that Wyatt was an exceptional child, always marveling at all the wonders of the world. Every day he’d share something new he had learned, eagerly telling me every single detail of what he’d discovered. I loved hearing the excitement in his voice when he spoke, flicking his wrists at his sides as he focused on what he was saying. I had no problem admitting that my entire world was wrapped up in that little boy and there was nothing better than seeing him happy.

“How about fish sticks for dinner?” I offered.

“Nah. I want chicken nuggets.”

“Wyatt, you had those last night. You’re going to turn into a chicken nugget one of these days,” I laughed.

“That’s physically impossible, mom. Chickens are birds. People can’t turn into birds,” he fussed, shaking his head.

My child, always so literal. I smiled and said, “I know, buddy. I was just teasing. Are you set on chicken nuggets?”

“Yeah. I won’t get them tomorrow night. Dad never has them at his house,” he grumbled as he turned off his game. His brown hair fell into his face, hiding his look of disappointment. I cringed at the thought of him going to his dad’s. He’d been going to his dad’s every other Thursday for months, but it was still hard for him to transition from one house to the other. It also didn’t help that I was terrified every time he had to go stay with his dad. I tried my best to hide my concerns from him, but I could tell that he sensed something was wrong.

I started dating his father, Michael, when we were still in high school, and I absolutely adored him. I loved that he was so strong and protective, not to mention devastatingly handsome. He came from a good home and was extremely close to his parents which I loved…at the time. I felt safe wrapped up in his arms, thinking that our love for each other would be enough to see us through anything. Back then, I really thought we’d spend the rest of our lives together. Unfortunately, the thing that I loved the most about him ended up being the very thing that scared me the most about him. Over time he became controlling and jealous to the point that I felt suffocated by him. I was nearly paralyzed by my inability to make a move without his approval. If I didn’t do things the way he expected me to, he’d get angry, so very angry. His temper was a force to be reckoned with. When he snapped, I didn’t know how to protect myself from his wrath. I’d tried everything from talking him down with reason to silently enduring it. Nothing worked. I’d known about the fights he’d had at bars and various other places when his temper got out of hand, but I never thought that he’d be like that with me. The first time I saw the flash of rage that crossed his face was directed at me, I was stunned. I wasn’t expecting him to be thrilled that I had gotten pregnant so early in our marriage, but his intense anger caught me completely off guard. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me when he reared back his closed fist and slammed it into the side of my head. It was like he wasn’t even the same person. That beating was so bad the doctor was surprised that I didn’t miscarry.

Michael cried for days afterwards, pleading with me to forgive him. He promised—he swore to me—that it would never happen again. Michael said he would do whatever it took to make our baby happy. I hadn’t even finished college yet. If I left him, I would end up moving in with my parents and raising my child without a father. Truthfully, I loved my husband, and I wanted – no, I needed – to believe him. I had to trust him when he said he would take care of us and give us the life he’d promised. Even though I was only a few months pregnant, my child had already become the most important thing in the world to me. It’s one of the reasons I named my son Wyatt, my little warrior. At the time, I had no idea how much the meaning of that name truly suited him.