I lost myself in him, or perhaps a better way to look at it would be to say I entered a cocoon, waiting to be born anew. However you look at it, I know that God was with me through it all.
He had hypnotic eyes that would draw you in, so deep that you would notice nothing else around you. They were a misty grey with warm golden flecks of sunshine spattered throughout. At times, his eyes appeared almost yellow, while other times, they clouded into a foggy sea green. Never had I seen eyes like this, eyes that transfixed and held me so.
Those were my missing years. I cannot tell you much that went on around me, for I lived in his world. He pulled me in and then dragged me down. Who would have thought that a man with a smile as bright as the sun, and eyes that made you feel loved right down to your toes, could also utterly destroy you?
I felt loved for a little while, but eventually, my gaze began to turn away. Wondering where my friends had disappeared to, I started reaching out. It was then that I discovered the unspoken truth. He had isolated me, cutting off my friends and family. The story was the same from person to person. He had said there would be no further contact with me because they were a negative force in my life. It had happened slowly at first, but eventually, he cut me off from those who would help me. Hearts had been broken, and my family torn apart without me even being aware.
How could it be? I could not imagine cutting anyone I loved from my life, but they all said it was so. Did I say these things to them? No, would be the reply. “You just stopped speaking to us and never left the house,” my closest friend of twenty years related to me. She seemed almost afraid, as if talking to me would bring her harm. “We even called the police because we thought he must be holding you against your will, but they said it was not so.” I heard the sadness in her voice.
Hearing a click on the lock, I belayed my apologies, ensured her that I still loved her and promised we would talk again soon. The sound of groceries being loaded onto a table drew me back to reality. The house was dark, and all the shutters were drawn. Walking into the kitchen, I flicked the light switch, and nothing happened. Trying it again netted no new results. There was no light.
He looked up and snarled. It was so quick I almost didn’t notice it. Quickly he plastered that mesmerizing smile on his face and rushed over to me.
“What are you doing out of bed? You are too weak to be walking around.”
“I’m fine, just….” I stopped mid-sentence because I couldn’t describe how I felt. I felt empty and craved something, sunshine, warmth, anything. It was cold in the house. I walked back into the living room and started to pull back the curtains to let some light in the house, and his hand covered mine. Gently he turned me and smiled. The smile that was almost my undoing seemed fake now for some reason. It didn’t have the same effect it once did.
“Come, you need to rest,” he whispered. Guiding me gently back upstairs to my room, he sat me down on the bed and reached over to a bottle of pills on the bedside table. Placing two tiny tablets in my hand, he said, “Take these. They will help.”
Like a child, I obeyed, but there was a whisper from somewhere within that said, “Do not swallow these, my child. They are poisoning you. Come back to the light. I am here.”
I looked at the man sitting beside me. His eyes were not shining, and he seemed pale and withdrawn. As if reading my thoughts, his face immediately shifted into the warm, familiar face I had grown to love. Laying back, I closed my eyes until finally, I felt him rise and leave.
As soon as the door shut, I heard it. The soft click of the lock being engaged. Panic set in, and I spit out the pills I had pretended to swallow. I knew I needed to be aware of my surroundings, so would need to appear if I was taking whatever drug he was using to keep me sedated. Something was not right, and soon I would uncover the truth. I had invited the devil to enter my domain, and it would take some doing to rescue myself.
“Please, God, give me the strength to get out.” This became my daily prayer. It took only a day to realize I had been drugged, and I began shaking. ‘Withdrawal,’ the doctor would tell me later.
Twice a day, he would come, like clockwork and give me pills. There was little food, just water and medications. I became hungry but could not let on. He would know if things changed. Already when the chills had set in, he began looking everywhere in the room to see if I was hiding pills. I had hidden them far enough down the floor vent that he could not see them.
“I’m sick,” I pleaded. “I need a doctor. There is something wrong inside.”
One afternoon when he thought I was finally asleep, I heard him mutter to himself, “You can’t die just yet. I’m not finished with you.” I wondered what that meant. I heard hammering coming from outside my room but did not understand what he was doing.
A few days later, the doctor arrived to examine me. He looked angry as he turned to the man. “My God, man, you are starving her. Her body is eating itself. I told you to maintain her weight.”
So, the doctor was in on whatever this was, I thought to myself. I could trust no one. I was trapped in my own house. No one was coming to rescue me. He had made sure of that by cutting them all out of my life. I wondered how I could have been so gullible.
“God, please help me.” This would become my mantra, a prayer prayed many times throughout the day with slight variations. “God, forgive me my stupidity and blindness,” or “God, give me strength to endure.” Sometimes I would plead for angels to swoop down and save me. Always there was a voice that whispered to my soul, “I am here. You are not alone.” It brought me solace and gave me strength.
The doctor regularly came to check on me after that. Each time he tried to convince him to let me go to the hospital. Finally, in his anger or frustration, he yelled out the reason, “Not until she signs over the house to me. I need more time.”
“Never,” I croaked. “I promised my dad I would never sell the house. I can’t. I won’t.”
They both turned to look at me, surprised that I was awake. I closed my eyes and sighed, and pretended to drift back to sleep. It was a mistake on my part to say anything. I tried to steady my breathing and calm my shaking body.
Once they seemed convinced I was asleep, they began whispering again.
“Have you found any evidence that it is even here?”
“No, I’ve searched this house top to bottom and can’t find it. The gold is here somewhere; I know it. That old fool told me all about it when he was drunk one night.”
So, they knew my dad. He had told them the story of how long ago famous bank robbers had owned the house and that there was gold buried somewhere within. Growing up, we knew this story well, but our mother always told us it was a fool’s story, so we didn’t believe it.
They left eventually, locking the door behind them. The locking of the door no longer made me nervous. I grew up in this house, so it wasn’t the first time I was locked in a room, although in the past, it had been by accident. He didn’t know, but every room had a secret two-way key just in case you got locked in. My dad made sure of it so we could always get out after he had taken the door off its hinges to get my sister out one day. The only door that didn’t have this feature was the one going out of the house.
It had only taken a day for me to realize I had no way out. The windows had bars over them with curtains in between the bars and the windows. That was the noise I had been hearing.
From the outside, the house looked normal, with curtains drawn. From the inside, it was a prison. ‘To protect you from injuring yourself again,” he had said. He had told me some bizarre story of how I tried to jump out a window. I knew his words were false.
The fog lifted, and I began sneaking into the kitchen when he left the house. I started sneaking small amounts of food and found my vitamins in the downstairs bathroom. I discovered they were the same size as the pills he had been giving me, so I swapped them out so that every time he gave me a pill, he was actually giving me vitamins. It wasn’t much, and I maintained a grey pallor, so he didn’t suspect anything.
My cocoon was breaking open, and I was ready to emerge. All I needed was a plan. I wandered through the house when he was gone checking all the windows. I would have to do one room at a time because he never left for very long. It took several days for me to discover that every window had been barred, not just the downstairs and my bedroom.
I was careful not to disturb anything when I opened a door because there was dust everywhere, and the rooms were not carpeted like the stairs and the hallways. If he opened one door and saw footprints, he would know something was up because the house was layered in dust.
Lying in bed one night, I felt hopeless. I began to cry softly. There was no way out. I was going to die in this house. If I signed it over, he would surely kill me and make it look like an accident. I had even tried calling my friend again, but she seemed nervous. She said the last time the police were involved, he threatened her and the children. To this day, I am not sure if she believed his threat or the explanation that I was psychotic and needed to be on medication. We no longer speak.
One night, as I lay in bed asking God again for help, a little voice whispered, “The roof.” I almost didn’t hear it as I drifted off to sleep. I sat up immediately. There was a small catwalk on the roof that my sisters and I would crawl out onto at night. It was hard to get to, and if you didn’t know it was possible, you might not think to bar the little doorway.
I waited until he left, changed my clothes and then went to the attic. It was a miracle. He had not bolted the door. I raced over, not caring about footprints or knocking over boxes. This was my only chance. I crawled out onto the catwalk and was blinded by the light.
Tears formed immediately in my eyes, making it impossible to see. I shielded them as much as I could and crawled back in. There was a trunk in the corner with our dress-up costumes and old sheets. I fumbled through it until I found a see-through scarf and a hat. Wrapping the scarf around my eyes and using the cap for shade, I crawled back out on the ledge. It was still way too bright, but at least I could see.
Slowly, I began inching my way to the edge. I would have to crawl over and let myself hang off the small railing and fall to the balcony below. My body was too fragile, and it was too much of a risk. Scrambling back inside, I hauled sheets of the chest and bound them together. I attached them to the railing and silently asked God to let them hold.
It worked! I was on the balcony. Climbing over the railing, I inched my way over to the drainpipe at the corner and slowly began my descent. I had just reached the ground when I heard the car coming up the driveway, gravel crunching beneath spinning tires. I turned a ran in the opposite direction as fast as my feet would carry me.
Corner after corner, I turned down familiar streets. He would be coming. I knew it. The alleyway to the park was coming up. I just needed to get there. Out of breath, I slowed only momentarily and turned to look back. The car was turning the corner. I ducked into the bushes out of sight scraping all the exposed skin on my body. Wheels screeched as the car turned the corner without stopping. I shrank as far into the bushes as I could and asked God to protect me. “Please send me help,” I prayed.
Just as I was getting ready to rise and start my way to the path, a voice boomed out, “What do we have here?” A hand pulled me out of the bushes and back into the sunlight.
I instantly knew the voice. “Teddy?” I croaked, shielding my eyes.
“Dotty?” He said it in disbelief. “Dotty, my God, is that you?”
“Yes, please help me. Hide me!” I began to panic again. “He will be coming back.”
He began ushering me into the house, but my body finally gave out, and I collapsed. My last words were, “Please don’t let him find me. He is trying to kill me.”
Teddy scooped me up as if I weighed nothing more than a child. Perhaps, I didn’t. I had lost so much weight. He hurried into the house, calling out for his wife.
“Sophie, come quick!” I heard it but could not respond.
Sophie tended to my cuts and bruises as Teddy paced around the living room. “We need to call the police,” he kept saying.
“Let’s wait until she can tell us what is going on, and then we can decide what to do.”
When I finally came to, I relayed my story. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m telling the truth.”
“We believe you,” they said in unison.
Teddy had been my childhood friend. I had lost touch when he moved away. “How it is that you are here?”
“We moved back six months ago. I am a pastor at the local church.” Teddy told me of his story and how God had found him and called him onto service. In the end, he asked if we could pray together. Nodding, I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and started before he could. “Dear Lord, thank you for bringing me to this house where I could find safety and to my dear friend Teddy and his wife, Sophie. Thank you for giving me the strength to survive and escape. Please guide me as I move forward. I don’t know what to do.”
“Very nicely said,” Teddy uttered, and he added, “Lord, please help us find an honest policeman who will do right by my dear friend Dorothy. It is hard to know who the enemy has in his pocket, but we trust in you.”
He must have felt me tense up. I feared that if he had a doctor working with him, he could also have police.
Patting my hand, Sophie said, “Let’s pray and sleep on that for tonight, shall we? I simply nodded, and then my stomach betrayed me, grumbling as if in retaliation.
“First, let’s get you something to eat,” she smiled. ”Not too heavy, though, for your first real meal. Maybe a light soup with some crackers and some juice.”
We were upstairs when the knock sounded on the door. It was a loud, urgent rap that made us all jump slightly. Looking out the window, Teddy turned to me with concern. “It’s the police.”
“You can’t tell them. We don’t know who we can trust,” I pleaded.
“You two stay here,” and he turned and left.
We could hear him talking to the officers. They were looking for me, saying I had escaped and was mentally unstable and in need of medical assistance. Sophie turned to me and mouthed, “Stay here.”
She went to the top of the stairs and asked, “Who is it, dear?”
Teddy looked up at her, “The police, dear. They are looking for a missing woman.”
“Oh my, how awful. We’ll have to pray for them and ask our congregation to keep their eyes out. Get a description so we can pass the information on.”
“Good idea.” Turning back to the police officer, he added, “I am a pastor at the parish around the corner. I will ask my congregation to pray for this girl tomorrow and keep an eye out for her. Can you tell me what she looks like?
“Thank you, reverend. It is appreciated.” The officer gave him my description and then left.
Waiting until they were sure the police had left, they returned to the bedroom.
“It’s okay. You can come out. They are gone, dear.” Sophie’s voice was soothing.
“You lied for me. You don’t even know me anymore, Teddy, and you’re a pastor, and you lied.”
“We didn’t lie, Dotty. He never got around to asking me if we had seen you. He just said you were missing and in need of medical attention. I just didn’t feel obligated to offer that you were upstairs, hiding in our guest bedroom.” He smiled a warm and friendly smile that brought me comfort in my time of distress.
“Let’s get some rest, and tomorrow we will figure out what to do.”
For the first time in a very long while, I slept peacefully, knowing I would be okay. I thanked God for delivering me to my friend and safety and then fell into a deep slumber.
Rising early, I showered and put on the clothes Sophie had kindly laid out for me the night before. They were pretty loose, but it felt good to be clean, wearing something other than a tattered nightgown.
Teddy had left already to go to the church. Sophie was just leaving me a note when I walked into the kitchen. “Oh, good morning,” she smiled.
“I’ve left you a hot breakfast warming in the oven, and coffee is in the pot. I must go to church, or people will question where I am. Stay away from the windows so no one will see you. We have a plan, but I don’t have time to go into details right now.” She walked over and hugged me tightly. “You’re safe now, I promise.”
I devoured the breakfast and scrounged for some more food. Finding an orange, I peeled it and savoured the sweet juiciness of the fruit. I poured myself another cup of coffee and went back upstairs. There was a bible in my room on the table by the window.
Making sure I was out of sight, I sat in the chair and began to thumb through the Bible until I found the passage that spoke to my heart in that moment. Psalm 23. I read verse 4 several times. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” It spoke so intimately to me and my current situation.
I jumped when I heard the door. Teddy called out softly as soon as the door was closed so I would know it was them and told me to come down when I was ready. Even though I trusted them, I still peaked around the corner to ensure they were alone.
“It’s okay.” Sophie patted the seat next to her on the sofa. “Come, let us tell you of our plan.”
We sat and talked for several hours. It turned out Teddy had a friend, Charles, who was a police officer two cities over. He would call him and ask him to come ‘discreetly’ and talk to me. From there, we would get help. “I’d trust him with my life,” Teddy added.
I quickly prayed about it and heard a whisper of approval, so I reluctantly agreed. After that, things moved quickly. Charles came and listened to my story. He promised to work only with someone he knew he could trust (his father). A few days later, they arrested the man I thought I once loved but who, in fact, was a stranger in my house.
It turned out he had pulled this scam on other women all over the country, and they had never been able to prove it. With me, they had all the details not only for my case but to help close other cases.
Charles and I became quite close during the process and married several years later. We named our first child Theodora Sophia after my friend Teddy and his wife. It took a while for my family to come round, but once they understood what happened, all was forgiven.
Looking back on it, I truly believe that God was with me, giving me strength and courage while whispering to my soul. He is always with me. In Him, I was able to crawl out of my cocoon and morph into the butterfly I was meant to be. His rod and staff held me up when I was unable to stand and gave me strength as I walked through the darkest valley of my life.
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.