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Wisdom Born of Pain

by Helen Beer

You were twenty, he was twenty-two. You fell for his charming, 

can’t-quite-place-it, but probably Slavic accent, and his 

constantly mangled idioms. And, yes, you fell for his physicality—

the slim hips, broad shoulders, flat stomach, mess of dirty-blonde hair, 

brown eyes framed by impossibly long lashes, olive-toned skin, and 

that tiniest of detours to an otherwise perfectly angled nose, a 

remnant of his boxing days. You told yourself it was the passionate 

political discussions that were a turn-on, their heated nature

a challenge to you, like a game of his beloved backgammon. But

you were deluding yourself, blinded to the clues of what lay

beneath the attractive surface, denying the meanness and absurd

jealousies he’d revealed in tiny increments, like some perverse 

preview of the next chapter. If only you’d opened your eyes; 

but you were young, and too easily swayed into the complacency 

of temptation, the gravitational pull of dependency. He had you 

where he wanted you—you loved him, and naively thought it 

reciprocal. But he was only after the Green Card, and the pragmatic 

opportunity, the easy, uncluttered path, to a win you presented. 

You were his blot.


You were twenty-five, he was twenty-seven. You had 

married the Serb, bore his son, witnessed the endless

parade of family members arriving from the Old Country. 

You listened silently as he berated you for the smallest of 

infractions, his voice taking on a sinister tone—even in whispers—

that made his physicality, once such a turn-on, seem daunting, 

threatening, ominous. You wondered just how much the “nature” 

element of “nature-nurture” would impact your still innocent child. 

And when the impact of his tightly closed fist upon your jaw 

left an indentation in the sheetrock behind your head, it wasn’t 

entirely unexpected. You stared at it, even as the pain washed 

over you, even as consciousness fell away, like the focal point 

you’d clung to during labor, seeking sanctuary from the brutal 

reality of the moment. From that point on, you refused to delude 

yourself any longer. You fled—taking your son with you, 

saving him, saving yourself, invoking the assistance of strangers, 

embarrassed as that made you feel. You had failed miserably at 

first love; hell, you’d failed to even recognize it for what it was.


You were forty-five, your son was twenty-two. Your jaw had 

been surgically reconstructed to correct its improper healing 

from twenty years before. You were safe. You were remarried. 

Your life was calm. You were convinced “nurture” had won out 

when it came to your son, and that gave you peace. Your

scars reminded you, though: gaining wisdom may hurt, but it trumps 

delusion. You had traveled far from your younger self; you no 

longer believed the violence raining down on your body and soul 

was deserved, punishment for some unknown imperfection—even 

though it was a fate, a sentence, you’d once considered inevitable. 

Distance had made it all so clear; the cloak had been removed, the 

monster revealed. Your own metamorphosis could begin; it continues 

still, as you struggle to tamp down the insecurities that once betrayed you, 

and held you in their web. You need only close your eyes, and feel 

the tightening in your jaw, to remember the descriptor he flung at you,

more than any other, the moniker you were expected to wear as 

some cruel, efficient summary of all you ever were to him. No, 

you tell yourself, I am not a stupid bitch. Yes, you were once a child 

who believed in the existence of charming princes—until you learned 

you could remove all the pieces from the board, out-strategizing even 

the most calculated of foes; you didn’t need a prince for that.

About the Author

Helen Beer sells for a living, as a sales engineer for an industrial foundry--not a bad gig for an English major/Russian history minor. She’s had success in short story contests, with multiple placements in both Moondance Film Festival and the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story competitions. She’s had two feature screenplays reach the quarterfinal rounds of both Scriptapalooza and Screencraft’s drama category. Her prose has appeared in Literary Potpourri, FRiGG, Typishly, Flash Fiction Magazine, Persimmon Tree, The First Line, 101 Words, Sky Island Journal, STORGY Magazine, Haunted Waters Press, The Write Launch, and Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal. When not working or writing, she enjoys the Zen-like tranquility afforded by time spent riding her horse and mucking stalls.

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