The Story of Lucinda
Written by Arlene Baker
What time is it? I shifted my weight with a silent groan. Nothing relieved the ache in my back or legs.
Minutes passed. Or was it hours?
My head and stomach ached. In fact, every cell in my body screamed for relief.
Where is he?
Finally, I left my perch and moved from room to room on whispered feet. I found him in a bedroom.
He’s sleeping. Sleeping! I stood in stunned silence. I feel like I’m dying, and he sleeps. My shoulders slumped.
Can’t do this … can’t … can’t. I’ve got to get out … out … out.
I stumbled to the kitchen through the blur of fatigue and terror.
Has to stop … stop … stop.
I opened a drawer, took out an item and stumbled back to where he slept. Moments later, I laid it on the bed and dialed the police with shaking fingers.
“What’s the nature of your emergency?”
“I just killed my husband.”
I fell for my brother’s best friend when I was 12 years old.
“Mama, Brad’s the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.”
I sighed and clasped my hands together. “I’m going to marry him someday.”
Brad left to serve in the military while I grew up. When he returned to our hometown, we began dating. He proposed at a family picnic to my delighted squeals. I married my dream guy just as I’d hoped.
“I saw you looking at that guy,” Brad growled as I fed our second baby.
“Don’t act innocent. I saw what I saw. Today, when we were out.”
“I didn’t look at anyone.” I patted the baby’s back. “How on earth would I have time with two babies?”
One evening, we invited two couples over for dinner. I greeted them at the door, then talked to the ladies in the kitchen as the guys circled up on the deck.
“You couldn’t keep your eyes off Jared tonight.” Brad pressed his fist into my back after they left.
“That hurts,” I whimpered. “Please stop.”
“I will when you admit that you were ogling Jared all night.”
“I never talked to him,” I protested. “Other than saying hello and goodbye, I stayed with the women the entire time.”
“I saw the looks.” He reached for my arm, twisted it behind me. I choked back a scream.
I can’t wake up the children. It would scare them half to death.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why do you keep accusing me of such nonsense?”
“Stop denying it.” He pulled my arm up. I felt his molten breath on my neck and burst into tears.
“I just don’t understand why you keep saying these things.”
Suddenly, Brad turned me toward him and wrapped me in a hug. He led me to the couch, sat down and pulled me into his lap.
“I can’t help it,” he said, rocking me like a baby. “You just make me crazy.”
I can’t take this anymore, I thought as I sobbed into his chest.
But, what can I do? Mom always said, “You made your bed, now lie in it.”
I remembered the other thing that she’d said when I proclaimed my goal of marrying my husband: Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.
Brad remained the charming and friendly person I thought I’d married. To everyone outside our home.
“You are so fortunate,” several young ladies gushed, “to have such a handsome, attentive husband. He never leaves your side. I hope that I get to marry someone as wonderful as Brad someday.”
I only smiled.
If you only knew, you’d run the other way as fast as you can.
As the years dragged by, Brad’s insane jealousy worsened. He installed deadbolts on all the doors that required keys to operate them, even from inside. Every time he left the house, he locked me in and took all the phones with him. I never went anywhere without him. He always hovered close by, monitoring my every word and movement.
Two decades into the marriage, I suffered such intense pain, he finally took me to the doctor.
“I would like to hear the results of the test along with my wife.” Brad gently squeezed my shoulders. I steeled myself against a shudder.
“Of course.” The doctor smiled at me and said, “You’re fortunate to have such an attentive husband. Most men don’t want to come anywhere close to a gynecologist.”
“Your wife has a severe case of endometriosis,” he explained as we settled across from him in his office.
“What does that mean?” Brad asked.
“She’s experiencing excessive bleeding during her menstrual cycle.”
Not to mention the extreme pain, but that wouldn’t concern Brad in the least.
“So, what can you do for her?” He leaned forward while covering my hand with his.
“If she doesn’t have surgery, she’ll die.”
“What sort of surgery?”
“She needs to have a hysterectomy. We have to stop the bleeding.”
“Oh.” Brad looked stunned. “My wife and I need to discuss this, and we’ll get back to you.”
“Of course.” The doctor leaned forward, as well. “Just don’t wait too long.”
“No, no. We won’t do that.”
Brad cupped my elbow as we left the office, and he guided me to the car. He opened my door and waited until I slid inside before slamming it shut. He moved to his side, got in, slammed his door and turned the engine over.
“Hell will freeze before I’ll let you have that surgery.”
“But, you heard what the doctor said. I’ll die without it.”
“Then, you’d better start praying because I’ll never let you have a hysterectomy. You just want to remove all chances of pregnancy so you can fool around with other men.” He sneered. “If you die, you die. That’s no concern of mine.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is an open-and-shut case of a woman who seized the opportunity to rid herself of her husband.” The prosecuting attorney began delivering his opening statement. “She blew his brains out while he slept in his own bed. When this case is finished, you must do your duty and hand down the verdict of guilty to so heinous a crime and have her locked up for life.”
I stared down at my hands.
How did I get here? How did this happen?
The defense attorney began walking the jury through the events that led up to me killing Brad.
He put my mother on the stand.
“Did you have any idea of the abuse your daughter suffered for so many years?”
“None.” Mom dabbed at her eyes. “I did feel Brad was overly attentive to her. I found it odd that she never came to see her own family without him and only phoned when he was around, but she never said anything.”
“Did you ask her anything about her marriage?”
“No. I couldn’t. There was never an opportunity.”
“When did you finally know she had issues?”
“When she was arrested.” Mom started sobbing. “I had to talk to my own daughter on a phone with this thick glass between us. For the first time, I saw the truth in her eyes. The lies she had to live with for all those years. The fear and the horror she must have experienced. I’ll never forget that. Ever.”
“What did she tell you during that visit?”
“That Brad often threatened her by saying the only way she’d ever get out of the house would be in a casket.”
He put me on the stand.
“Lucinda, we have to walk through the night in question here.”
“Please answer for the record,” the judge instructed.
“What led up to that night?”
“Not long before, my doctor had told me I needed a hysterectomy or I would die. At first, Brad refused to allow it.”
“Your husband refused a surgery that would save your life?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
“Why would a loving husband refuse his wife a surgery that would save her life?”
“He said I only wanted it …” I raised a tissue to my eyes. “So I could have sex with other men without the fear of getting pregnant.”
“So, he didn’t trust you. Did he have any reason not to trust you?”
“No, sir.” I closed my eyes for a few seconds. “He never left me alone.”
“Never. If he left the house, he locked me in.”
“How is that possible?”
“He installed deadbolts that required keys to unlock them.”
“Then, why did you never call anyone?”
“He took the phones with him.”
“So, you’re telling us that your husband kept you a virtual prisoner for years.”
“Speak up, please,” the judge admonished with a gentle voice. “The jury must hear your responses.”
“So, getting back to the surgery. What else did your husband tell you?”
“He said to pray. If God healed me, that was fine. If I died, that was fine, too. He didn’t care either way.”
“But, you did have the surgery, correct?”
“Yes, he finally consented as I got weaker.”
“How did he act toward you during and after the procedure?”
“He took me to the hospital but refused to stay. He wasn’t there for the surgery or after. He only came to pick me up when the doctor discharged me.”
“What happened then?”
“He was angry. Angrier than usual. He kept taunting me about wanting to sleep with other men.”
I shredded several tissues.
“He ordered me to sit on the back of the couch.”
“Excuse me?” the defense attorney said. “On the back? Not on the cushions?”
“Yes, sir. On the back, with my back against the wall.”
“How long did he make you sit there?”
“He said I had to stay until I confessed.”
“Confessed to what?”
“Confessed to sleeping with somebody.”
“No.” I scrunched new tissues against my eyes. “How could I? I’d just had surgery. It was impossible. I never slept with another man. Never wanted to.”
“So, how long did you stay on the back of the couch?”
“Four days and nights.”
“Excuse me?” The attorney raised four fingers in the air and then turned toward the jury box. “You just said he made you stay there four days and four nights.”
“And where was your husband during those four days and nights?”
“He sat on a chair opposite me to make sure I stayed put. He only let me down to use the toilet.”
“And eat, correct?”
“No. He never allowed me to eat.”
“But, he did.”
“Yes. In front of me. He told me how good the food tasted.” I paused again. “The smell hurt my stomach and nauseated me at the same time.”
“So, what happened on that fourth night?”
“Brad left to use the toilet. I could hardly sit upright. I couldn’t think. I felt delirious. After a while, I noticed that he hadn’t returned.”
I inhaled. Deep. Exhaled.
“I waited and waited. He never came back.”
I swallowed. Hard.
“I went to find him. He was lying across our bed. Asleep.”
My whole body trembled.
“All I could think was, I’ve got to get out.”
“Out of what?”
“Out of hell.”
“What did you do next?” His voice dropped.
“I went to the kitchen to get his gun. I came back, and I …”
I wept into the sodden tissues.
“You must finish the question,” the judge prompted.
“I shot him.”
“How many times?”
“Once. In the head.”
I stepped down, and the prosecuting attorney began his process of shredding my story and character.
“State your name, please.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Smith. Can you tell me what your relationship is with the defendant?”
“Her husband was a leader at our church.” She glared at me. “He was a wonderful man. He cared about the congregation. He was kind to everybody.”
Even my own son testified against me. The one who’d witnessed most of the abuse and once offered to take his father out for me.
“Will the defendant please stand as the jury reads the verdict?”
“We find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.”
I collapsed. Two deputies came to escort me out of the room.
“Stop right there.” The judge pointed to the witness box. “Please sit for a moment.”
He turned to the courtroom. “When the defendant stood before me at the indictment, she pleaded guilty. I am the one who talked her into a jury trial because I thought she would receive fair treatment.”
“I’ve seldom done this before, but I’m overturning your verdict. This woman is no murderer. She suffered intense abuse for years, and locking her up for the rest of her natural life is not justice. I am ruling manslaughter instead.”
He turned to me and said, “I’m sentencing you to five years with eligibility for parole in two and a half for good behavior. I wish you all the best.”
Mom had bonded me out of jail a few days after I’d shot Brad, and I spent a year living with her before the trial. During that time, I often had hallucinations of my deceased husband. Every time I crossed a nearby bridge, he appeared on the hood of my car.
“Just drive off the edge.” I recognized his sinister smile. “End it all, just like you did to me.”
I’d sought the help of a counselor. As we covered the years of abuse, he remarked, “You realize that he was determined someone would die that night?”
“I’m confused. What do you mean by that statement?”
“By torturing you beyond endurance. His behavior suggests that he was himself suicidal. He hoped you would snap and kill him. He left all his guns unlocked and in various areas of your home. I don’t think he cared who died that night, just so somebody did.”
In prison, the magnitude of what I’d done hit me hard. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I paced my cell. I asked to see a prison psychologist.
She agreed with everything the counselor had told me.
“He wanted to die. He pushed you to do it.”
“That still doesn’t make it right.”
“Perhaps not. You could hardly say you were sane that night. Deprived of sleep and food for four days. How could you be fully aware of what you were doing?”
“I don’t know,” I said, sobbing. “I just kept hearing the words, ‘I’ve got to get out … out … out,’ like a drumbeat in my head.”
“Here is my suggestion,” she advised me. “When you are released, you need to go to the grave and tell him everything you couldn’t while he was alive. Release the past so you can live again.”
“That’s exactly what my counselor told me. I saw him in the year I was out on bail. He also said that from Brad’s behavior, he was determined that one of us would die that night, and he didn’t care which one.”
“I agree with him completely.”
God, are they right? I lay alone on my bunk that night. How many times had I begged God to free me from the hell Brad had created? I never contemplated suicide and certainly never expected to resort to murder.
Was Brad determined to end it, as they suggested?
Like many children raised in church, I’d gone to the front for prayer when quite young, promising to give my life and heart to Jesus. I didn’t want to go to the hell the preacher always talked about. Then, I lived in it for two decades before ending it by my own hand.
Even prison can’t compare to the agony I suffered.
I thought about how one inmate had threatened me and another stood up for me. “Lay a hand on Lucinda, and you’ll have to deal with me,” she’d said.
I feel safer here than I ever felt in my own home.
I will never leave you or forsake you. I remembered words I’d read many times in the Bible.
God, were you there when he accused me? Locked me up? Isolated me?
I will never leave you or forsake you.
Were you there when I pulled the trigger and catapulted my husband into eternity?
I will never leave you or forsake you.
Were you there …
Suddenly, the magnitude of God’s unconditional love flowed over me in a river of peace.
Jesus’ cousin proclaimed Jesus came to earth to take away all sin. I wept quietly into my pillow.
ALL sin. That includes mine.
When not working a job in the prison, I read my Bible with fresh wonder and insight. Stories of forgiven people struck me the most.
David committed adultery and covered it up by having Bathsheba’s husband killed. Yet, he wrote some of the most profound and beautiful poems in the Bible.
He understood the truth of God’s forgiveness because of the depth of his own misdeeds.
“Is it true you wasted your old man?” A newer inmate approached me one afternoon.
“Yes. I’m not proud of it.”
“Why’d you do it?”
I shared some of the details with Melinda.
“Dang. I’da blown my old man away a long time ago.”
“I didn’t plan on any of it. It happened when I was delirious.”
“Why’d you stick it out so long?”
“I didn’t think I had a choice. He never left me alone. I had no way of contacting anyone.”
“How’d you keep sane? I’da gone bonkers.”
“I prayed. A lot.”
“You prayed? Why?” Melinda’s eyes widened. “Sure don’t look like God took care of you.”
“I don’t understand why God allowed it to go on as long as it did. Or why he didn’t stop me when I picked up that gun. What I do know is God is good.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because he was always with me. Still is. Even during the worst times.”
“How can you believe that? Where was he?” Melinda rested her fists on her hips.
“Here.” I patted my heart. “He’s always in my heart.”
“Do you know about Jesus?”
“Yeah. My mom dragged me to church when I was a kid. God didn’t never seem real to me when her old man drank all the time and beat her up.”
“You would say he was a bad person?”
“Sure do. I hated him.”
“Then, you would agree that he messed up.”
“How about you, Melinda. Have you messed up?”
“Yeah.” She grinned. “Wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t.”
“Do you think Jesus died on the cross so God could forgive some mess-ups and not others?”
“I don’t know. I never thought of that.”
“Do you think that God forgave me for killing my husband?”
“Sure. You seem like a really nice person. It wasn’t your fault you was married to a maniac.”
“Maniac or no, I had no right to take his life from him.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s right.”
“So, what I’ve learned from all of this is you can never dig a ditch too deep for God not to find you and pull you out.”
“I done lots of messing up on my own.” She lifted both hands up. “Drugs. Alcohol.”
“So, do you think God should forgive you and give you a new heart but not your mom’s boyfriend?”
“I dunno. You sayin’ stuff I never had to think about before.”
“Do you want to get rid of all the anger and hate in your heart? Do you want to know God’s love is so real that you feel you could almost reach out and touch him?”
“Yeah.” Melinda nodded. “I’d like that.”
“Then, let’s pray right now and ask God to take away all your harmful choices and make your heart clean and pure again.”
The prison escorted several of us inmates to talk at high schools and colleges. They selected one who was serving time for drug addiction, another for alcoholism. The third was a convicted thief, and I shared my story of abuse.
“Abuse comes in many forms,” I told my audience. “Sometimes, it’s so subtle, you’ll miss the warning signs. Such as, if your boyfriend seems overly protective, he’s probably hiding deep jealousy. If he acts like he wants you all to himself, it’s no compliment. That’s a warning. Get out of that relationship, and run as fast as you can.”
Near the end of my time, I worked in a retail store. The manager liked my performance enough to ask me to stay on after my release. One day, a customer came in, and we got to chatting.
“I’d like to take you out to dinner,” Wes said after several visits to the store. “Are you interested?”
“I could be.”
I liked Wes from the start. He was so laid-back in his personality, he helped me to relax. His humor made me smile. Then laugh.
He needs to know the truth about me before this relationship goes any further.
I told him on our next date.
“I don’t believe you,” he said. “You’re joking around, right?”
“This is nothing to joke about. But, I can prove it to you.”
The next time he took me out, I showed him the newspaper articles.
“This is unbelievable,” he said, scanning each one. “I know you’re not a bad person. I just know it in my gut. If it happened, you had good reason. Besides, that was then. This is now, and I like the now-you.”
After we dated for some time, Wes proposed, and I accepted. However, after we married, I continued having nightmares. Always of Brad. Taunting. Haunting.
Many times, I awakened in tears.
“Lucinda, wake up.” Wes shook me late one night.
“What, what?” I sat up. “What’s wrong?”
My heartbeat thudded in my ears.
“You were crying in your sleep. What were you dreaming about?”
“About Brad. Again. Always Brad.”
I sobbed against his shoulder.
“Will the nightmares ever end?”
“I don’t know, Lucinda. Did you discuss them with your counselors?”
“Yes. Both advised me to go to the grave and talk to Brad. Tell him everything I couldn’t in life.”
“Then, get your clothes on.”
He swung his legs out of bed and stood up.
“Are you serious? Now? Why?”
“I’m driving you there. You need to get this behind you so you can enjoy life.”
He stopped near the grave. I stepped out of the car.
“I’ll be waiting right here when you’re done.”
I dragged myself across the manicured lawn.
At first, I talked about what the children were doing. Like getting caught up on daily life. Suddenly, I stopped and read the plaque for the first time.
Brad must’ve done this on his own, long before he died. He’s got both our names down. The dates of our births. I bent closer to read the small circle between our names. Together forever.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” I screamed. “We will NOT be together forever. You tortured me. You despised me. You treated me worse than a dog. I never did even one of the things you accused me of. Do you know how hard it was to go to church and everybody there talk about how lucky I was to be married to you? Do you know the hell you put me through? What you did to our children?”
I stamped my foot.
“I will NOT be bound to you forever. Never, never, NEVER. You killed my heart long ago. I lived like a machine just so our children wouldn’t be motherless. You drove me to what I did. You did that. You tortured me to the point of insanity. I will NOT be with you. You are not welcome in my dreams. In my heart. In my thoughts. I’m DONE.”
I staggered back to the car and fell into Wes’ arms.
“Sounds like you got a lot off your chest.” He kissed the top of my head. “I could hear you screaming with the A/C running and the windows up.”
He pulled me to him.
“I hope you feel better now.”
“Yes,” I said, sobbing. “I feel like so much poison has drained from me. The counselors were right. I needed to say those things to him. Now it’s done.”
Tension drained from my body.
“I know I need to forgive him as much as God forgave me. I’m ready to do that now.”
I never suffered another nightmare.
When Wes’ job moved us to Georgia, I called my pastor back home.
“Is there any church in the Atlanta area like yours?” I asked.
“Sure is. Voice to the Nations over in Griffin.”
“Griffin? That’s close to where we’re living.”
“Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.”
“I will,” I promised.
“I can’t find the church,” I complained to Wes several weeks later.
“Where’s it located?”
“In Griffin. On Taylor Street.”
“Get in the car.”
He laughed and drove me straight to it.
“Oh my goodness.” I laughed, too. “I pass this place almost every day. How could I miss it?”
“I want to come next Sunday.”
Wes turned the car around and headed home.
One of the ladies at Voice asked several weeks later, “Would you like to get involved in our shawl ministry?”
“Shawl ministry? What is that?”
“Some ladies in the church get together to crochet or knit shawls. We pray as we construct them.”
“Sounds lovely. Why do you pray as you make them?”
“We pray for the recipients. We’ve known of many who have received healing after they got their shawls. Especially cancer patients.”
“I’d like to be involved in that. Very much.”
“Wonderful. I’ll introduce you to the others at our next gathering.”
After the ladies finished each shawl, they hung them on the wall. More people came and prayed over each one.
“We do that before we send them out,” my friend explained. “Last week, we sent a shawl to a lady who was dying in the hospital. She’s back home now.”
My new friends and I often chatted after we finished our work for that day.
“What would you say if someone came to Voice to the Nations and you learned that he or she had committed murder?” I asked.
“Love on them.”
I swallowed a gasp.
The answer came so fast.
“Sure. First of all, we don’t know the reason behind the crime. Was that person abused? Maybe in the clutches of addiction? Desperate?”
“We have no right to judge anybody,” another added. “Only God can see what’s inside every heart. Only God knows why people do what they do.”
“How can you grade sin? Did Jesus only die for ‘little’ sins? Every sin nailed him to the cross. He felt the pain for the little sins as well as the big ones and freely forgave his own murderers.”
“That’s right. He prayed, ‘Father, forgive them.’ If he could pray that and forgive everybody, how can we not forgive anybody?”
I clutched my hands together as they spoke.
“You people are so real. So loving. I’m glad I found this church.”
“We’re glad, too.”
The following week, we ladies met again. This time, our husbands joined us.
I inhaled deeply. Exhaled.
“Do you remember that person I talked about last week?” I asked.
All the ladies nodded. The men looked mystified.
“That person is me.”
“Thank you for sharing, Lucinda.”
“We hope you’ll always feel safe and accepted here.”
“We love you, Lucinda.”
“Welcome to our family.”