Caroline was hooked on wrestling. If one were to ask her best friend, Sandra, she would have said she was addicted to the sport (though there are more than a few critics who would strongly insist that wrestling, professional or not, was anything but a sport, at least a legitimate one). Caroline’s father, Denny, was the one who got her hooked. Her mother, Geraldine, is always fond of saying how they would sit glued to the TV every time wrestling was on. Caroline was so enamored with wrestling she even attended wrestling school with the hope of someday becoming a professional wrestler. That is, until a minor leg injury she sustained in the ring put a stop to that dream. However, Caroline continued to work out and practice her wrestling moves—leg injury or no—almost every day, or, least, whenever she could find the time. After sustaining her leg injury and being forced to drop out of wrestling school, Caroline became an amateur boxer instead. She figured if she couldn’t beat the bad guys in the wrestling ring, she could at least beat them in the boxing ring.
Caroline met her best friend Sandra while in high school when Sandra and her family moved to Caroline’s hometown of Placid, Mississippi. Caroline was sixteen and Sandra was fifteen when they met. Caroline and Sandra were polar opposites. Caroline was stout even at that young age with shoulder-length black hair that she sometimes streaked blonde for the fun of it (although Mom and Dad rarely found their daughter altering her appearance in this fashion “funny”). Sandra was skinny with hair that was as black as Caroline’s and twice as long. She wore wire-framed glasses and was about two inches shorter than Caroline who was just an inch shy of six feet. And, while Caroline was a wrestling fanatic who took no guff from anyone—girl or boy—at school, Sandra was a frail and painfully shy girl who rarely spoke or made eye contact with anyone. However, in spite of their differences, the two friends did share one thing in common: their problems with men.
Most men were intimidated by Caroline’s size and strength as she could easily bench-press an average guy’s weight and then some. And most men found Sandra too mousy and delicate and not sexy enough. Caroline had all but abandoned the concept of casual dating. When one of her male friends at the gym where she spent most of her free time working out tried to set her up on a blind date, they nearly lost their two front teeth. Sandra, on the other hand, never even tried to date as she had become so disillusioned she had pretty much abandoned all hope of ever finding true love.
Then she met Jerry.
Jerry was a used car salesman and a shameless, habitual womanizer. A lot of time he would feign interest in a woman just to see if could trick her into bed. Such was the case with Sandra. One day Sandra ventured onto the used car lot where Jerry worked looking for a car. Jerry waited on her and immediately took an interest in her, or, rather, he acted like he was interested in her. He was fawning all over her like he thought she was the prettiest woman in the world. And Sandra just ate it up. She couldn’t ever remember a man acting this interested in her. She fell instantly in love with Jerry, and they began dating on a regular basis. But, when Sandra first introduced Jerry to Caroline, Sandra’s best friend was not so impressed as she saw right through Jerry’s chauvinistic act right away. However, when Caroline tried to warn Sandra about her new shady beau, Sandra wouldn’t hear it. She wanted so desperately to believe that Jerry truly did love her and that his relationship wasn’t all a joke to him.
“But he’s not even a decent looking guy, for Pete’s sake!” Caroline protested.
“I don’t care!” Sandra snapped back at her, something she did not do to her best friend often. “All I care about is that I love him and he loves me. For once in my life, I have a man who’s attracted to me and who really cares about me.” Sandra’s voice took a softer, almost pleading tone. “Please, Caroline, please don’t try to ruin this for me. Okay?”
Caroline sighed. “All I want to know is are you happy with this guy? I mean are you really happy with him?”
“Yes!” she nearly shouted. “Yes, I am happy with him. Happier than I’ve been with anyone in my life.” She paused and added as an afterthought, “Next to you, of course!”
Caroline gently rubbed Sandra’s forearm and gave her friend a reserved smile. “Then that’s good enough for me.”
Sandra gave Caroline a relieved smile believing that she finally approved of her new boyfriend. Caroline’s approval meant so much to her. She had always been there for her when she really needed someone in her life. She remembered back in high school when she was the new girl in school and nobody liked her and would pick on her. Caroline was the one who came to her rescue. Sandra remembered with a kind of vengeful fondness how on the day they first met Caroline rushed over and beat up a small group of snooty popular girls who were ganging up on her.
“Leave her alone!” Caroline yelled as she pummeled each girl one by one.
After the last girl fell sobbing to the ground, Caroline stepped over to Sandra who was still lying on the ground from when one of the girls had pushed her. She had watched Caroline take on the girls with wide-eyed amazement. Caroline, like an angel of mercy sent from Heaven, held out her hand and asked with a look of genuine concern on her face, “Are you all right?”
Sandra studied her hand for a moment before taking her hand and letting her help her up. “Yeah, I’m all right,” she told her.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Sandra assured her new guardian, smiling at her. “I’m fine.”
Sandra was straightening out her dress as she and Caroline started walking together, leaving the gang of would-be bullies behind them on the schoolyard grass still reeling from Caroline’s attack. Sandra asked Caroline where she learned to fight like that. Caroline told her that she learned how to fight by watching wrestling all the time with her father.
“I could teach you how to fight,” Caroline told Sandra, “if you want.”
“Oh no,” Sandra said with a chuckle, shaking her head. “I don’t think I could ever be rough like that.”
Caroline shrugged. “Well, if you ever change your mind.”
Sandra nodded. “Okay,” she said, smiling again. She held out her hand and introduced herself. “I’m Sandra.”
Caroline shook her hand eagerly. “I’m Caroline.”
From that moment on, Caroline and Sandra became best friends and were inseparable. The two were more like sisters than friends. They shared everything: clothes, secrets, desires, ambitions, everything young girls are supposed to share with each other and more. There was hardly anything that one wouldn’t do for the other. However, after they graduated from high school, Caroline and Sandra went their separate ways and lost touch with one another for a brief time. When they resumed their friendship, Sandra was amazed at how much Caroline had changed. She was buff and her long black hair had been cut short and was streaked blonde like it was off-and-on when they were in high school. When Sandra asked her briefly-estranged friend what she had been doing and why she had lost touch with her, Caroline informed her that she had attended wrestling school and, after sustaining a leg injury she suffered in the ring, decided to become an amateur boxer instead with the hope of someday turning pro.
“So,” Caroline asked her friend with a big grin, “what’cha been doin’ with yourself?”
“Oh,” Sandra replied with a disappointed chuckle, “nothing as exciting as what you’ve been doing.” She looked squarely at Caroline and told her, “I’m a veterinary assistant.”
Caroline nodded like she wasn’t too surprised by her friend’s career. “Yeah, I remember how you used to love animals.” She grinned broadly. “I guess you still do.”
Sandra furrowed her brow at her friend. “Are you making fun of me, Caroline?”
Caroline shook her head. “Not at all. As a matter of fact, I kind of wish my life was more normal like yours.”
Normal. If there was one word which best described Sandra’s life, her very existence even, it was normal. Unlike Caroline, Sandra hadn’t changed much at all since graduating from high school. Her hair still looked the same, maybe an inch or two longer. The glasses were different, her skin was paler, but, overall, she was still the same old Sandra. Same old normal Sandra.
But Jerry would soon change all that.
And in more ways than Sandra—or even Caroline herself—could have possibly imagined.
It didn’t take long for Jerry’s true colors to start showing after Sandra began seeing him. He was coarse, often drunk, and, worst of all, he was abusive. He started off being verbally abusive, but it wasn’t long before the abuse became physical. Sandra didn’t dare tell Caroline what was going on between her and Jerry. She always wore long-sleeve shirts to hide the bruises even when the weather was warm. Caroline had her suspicions, but she knew without a doubt in her mind that Sandra would tell her if Jerry was doing something to her that he shouldn’t be doing.
Or would she?
“Are you all right?” Caroline asked Sandra during an afternoon visit.
“Yeah, sure,” Sandra was quick to reply. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Caroline gave her friend a concerned, but stern, look. “You’d tell me if something was wrong, wouldn’t you?”
“Sure, Caroline.” She gave her friend a nervous smile. “You know I would!”
Sandra reached out and rubbed Caroline on the arm in a feeble attempt to try to reassure her that everything was all right when it wasn’t. Caroline glanced down at her arm covered by a long-sleeve shirt even though it was well over ninety degrees outside and then looked back at her.
“Roll up your sleeve,” Caroline ordered Sandra.
Sandra appeared to be genuinely surprised that her longtime friend was questioning her.
“W-what?” Sandra stammered at her.
“You heard me.” Caroline was speaking to her in a forceful tone she had never used with her before. She pointed at her sleeve and again ordered her, “Roll it up.”
Reluctantly Sandra rolled up her sleeve as slow as she could. Caroline gazed in shock and horror—and anger—at the bruises that lined Sandra’s arm. It didn’t take two guesses for her to figure out how those bruises got there . . .
And who put them there.
“Jerry did this to you, didn’t he?” Caroline said angrily, grabbing Sandra’s arm before she had a chance to pull it away.
“N-no, he didn’t, Caroline,” Sandra stammered again. “I-I just—“
“And don’t tell me you fell!”
Sandra said nothing else as she yanked her arm away and gazed down at the floor in shame. There was no longer any point in denying the truth to Caroline . . . and to herself. Jerry had indeed been abusing her. Caroline could barely contain her anger as she asked Sandra through clenched teeth, “How long?”
Sandra gazed back at her. “What?” she asked weakly.
“I said how long!” Caroline repeated with even more anger. “How long has he been hitting you?”
“Oh . . .” Sandra muttered, looking away from her again. “He wasn’t always like this. At first he would just yell at me a lot, then he started drinking more and more. That’s when the physical stuff started. He’ll start drinking and will fly into these rages and . . .” She trailed off. She didn’t have to say anymore, as far as Caroline was concerned.
“What are you going to do?” Caroline asked her friend with an urgent tone to her voice.
“What do you mean?” Sandra asked him, looking back at her once again.
“I mean what are you going to do about Jerry? Are you going to leave him, bring him up on charges, pay to have someone beat him up. What?” She said that last word with such force that it caused Sandra to jump in her seat.
Sandra timidly shook her head, her soft green eyes welling up with tears.
“I don’t know, Caroline,” she told her honestly. “I just don’t know!”
“Well, you’d better decide what you’re going to do about this and fast,” Caroline warned Sandra, being less sympathetic than Sandra would have normally expected her to be, “’cause if you don’t take care of that bastard, then I will.”
One look at Caroline’s face and Sandra knew she was dead serious. She had seen that look on her friend’s face only once before on the first day they met back in high school when she beat up that group of popular girls who were ganging up on her. Caroline was one tough cookie even back then as no one dared to mess with Sandra again after that day. And, since high school, Caroline had put on at least fifty or so pounds of muscle and was definitely not someone—especially a girlfriend-beating wimp like Jerry—would want to dare try and tangle with. So, trying to calm her best friend down and to not make a bad situation worse, Sandra assured her, putting her hand on her shoulder, “I will talk to Jerry tonight.”
“What are you going to say to him?” Caroline asked, calming down a little.
“I’m going to tell him I’m leaving him.”
Caroline raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”
Sandra smiled and nodded with assurance. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Good,” Caroline said, smiling with assurance herself.
Sandra let out a small sigh of relief. She had calmed her friend down so she wouldn’t confront her abusive boyfriend, and she would have a nice long talk with Jerry tonight and give him his walking papers. Everything, she believed, would work out for the better.
Or would it?
Caroline was in bed fast asleep when she was abruptly woken by the sound of someone pounding on her front door and screaming her name.
“Caroline!” the voice screamed out. “Caroline!”
Caroline raised her head, trying to place the familiar-sounding voice, wondering just who in the hell it could be banging on her door at this time of night. In a fit of anger, she stormed out of bed and stomped to the front door to see whom it was who had dared disturb her from her slumber. She swung the door wide open and gazed in absolute shock and horror at the person standing before her. It was Sandra, only it didn’t look like Sandra, at least not the Sandra that she knew and loved. Her hair was matter and her mouth was spitting blood. Her clothes were torn and hanging in shreds off her bruised and battered body. The bruises that Caroline had seen on her arms earlier that day had been replaced with fresh ones, bigger ones, uglier ones. Both of her eyes were blackened and her body was shaking terribly.
“Sandra!” Caroline shouted.
“C-Caroline . . .” Sandra responded, her voice hoarse and weak and almost inaudible.
Sandra collapsed into Caroline’s arms. They fell to the floor together. Caroline kicked the door closed with her foot so the nosy, gossiping neighbors wouldn’t see. She already knew who did this to her and he was going to pay. As God as her witness, he would pay! She looked over her friend with despair as she cradled her in her arms, silently blaming herself for what had happened to her best friend, thinking blamingly to herself, What have I done? Why did I let Sandra handle this on her own? Why didn’t I confront the son of a bitch? Why? A million similar thoughts ran through Caroline’s mind until Sandra spitting up blood on her nightshirt brought her back to reality. She gathered Sandra in her arms, reopened the door and rushed out to her car. Sandra’s car was parked right next to hers. Caroline was astonished she was able to drive it in the shape she was in. Caroline quickly, but gently, laid Sandra’s limp, broken body in the passenger seat of her car and shut the car door. She ran over to the driver’s side and got in. She started her car and sped off. With one hand on the steering wheel and her other hand holding Sandra by the shoulder, she rushed Sandra to the emergency room. Sandra’s breathing was erratic, and Caroline knew she had to hurry.
“Hold on, Sandra,” she said to her unconscious friend, flooring the gas pedal. “Please hold on!”
Caroline was thankful she hadn’t been pulled over by the cops for speeding en route to the hospital not because she was worried about getting a ticket but rather because it would have taken up more time, time that could be spent saving Sandra. She parked in the front of the emergency room at the local hospital. She gathered Sandra in her arms again and rushed inside the hospital. After yelling out for help, a portly nurse appeared from behind the front desk and cavalierly asked what the problem was.
“My friend is hurt really bad,” Caroline hysterically informed the jaded nurse as she laid Sandra on the floor. “She needs to see a doctor right away!”
“All of our doctors are very busy at the moment,” the nurse callously informed Caroline. “There are people who came in before you, you know, and—“
Suddenly Caroline rose up and stared the uncaring nurse down. The nurse’s eyes widened when she saw Caroline’s red eyes glaring furiously at her. Her muscular frame was clearly visible through her nightclothes making her appearance all the more intimidating.
“You listen to me, you fat bitch,” Caroline screamed at the frightened nurse, “you get a doctor out here this instant to take care of my friend or so help me I’ll kick your fat fucking ass all over this hospital and back again! DO YOU HEAR ME!!”
Caroline wasn’t aware until she stopped screaming that her fist was doubled up and aimed right at the nurse’s trembling face. Everyone, doctors included, had stopped what they were doing and just stood and stared at this hysterical woman. Finally, the nurse regained her composure enough to say to Caroline, her previously insensitive attitude having made a dramatic change, “Y-yes, ma’am. I’ll get a doctor out here right away to have a look at your . . . er . . . friend.”
Caroline lowered her fist and said quietly, “Thank you.”
The nurse glared at her for a moment, that same frightened look in her eye, before running off down the hall calling for a doctor, any doctor, her fat jiggling under her tight nurse’s uniform as she ran down the hall calling for a doctor, any doctor, at the top of her lungs. Caroline thought how this was probably the most exercise that nurse had gotten in quite some time. Under any other circumstances, she might have giggled under her breath at the thought. But there was a time and a place for everything, she thought, and this was certainly no time for laughter.
Within a matter of seconds, two men came out carrying a gurney followed by another man dressed in a white coat and scrubs she assumed to be a doctor. She assumed right. The two men carefully placed Sandra—who was still unconscious—on the gurney while the man in the white coat checked her vital signs. Judging by the worried look on his face, they weren’t good.
“What happened to her?” the doctor asked Caroline, flashing her an accusing eye.
“Her boyfriend beat her up,” Caroline replied flatly, trying in vain not to let her anger show again.
The doctor simply nodded as if he’d heard this before (which he probably has, Caroline thought rather sadly to herself). He stood and told the two men with the gurney, “Let’s get her to the operating room. Stat!”
Caroline watched with a sense of utter helplessness she had never known before as she watched Sandra, her best friend in the entire world, being carried off as if she were a slab of ham instead of the wonderful human being she has known and loved all these years. Caroline paced the hospital floor for what felt to her like ages but was really only a couple of hours when the doctor finally emerged to tell her what she had been dreading to hear, and with good reason.
“Are you a family member?” the doctor asked her brusquely.
“No,” Caroline told him, shaking her head and choking back tears. “I’m a friend.”
The doctor nodded again and proceeded to explain to her in that professional detached tone that most doctors seem to have the extent of her injuries, many of them severe, Sandra had suffered at the hands of that brute. She had several cracked and three broken ribs, two on one side and one on the other. One of the broken ribs had punctured a lung, causing it to collapse. Her left eye socket was shattered. There were huge bruises and lesions over most of her body. The most disturbing news came when the doctor told Caroline that if she had brought her to the hospital any later, she might not have made it. Caroline was finding it difficult to speak as she asked the doctor, “Can I see her?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, his voice taking a more sympathetic tone. “But you can only see her for a minute. She needs to rest.”
Caroline nodded then she followed the doctor to Sandra’s room. Seeing Sandra hooked up to all those tubes and machines was far too much for her to bear. As she stood alongside her bed, she ran a finger slowly through her hair then she bent over and kissed her forehead.
“I’m sorry, Sandra,” she whispered. “I love you. Always remember that.”
Caroline turned and stormed out of the hospital to her car. She got in and fired up the engine. She sped away, tires screeching, with only one thing on her mind: