(An excerpt from the upcoming novel A Heart of Steel by Stephanie Dean.)

Reflecting as far back into her childhood as she could remember, Steele had always known a career in nursing would play a part in her future.

When she was only six years old, Steele proclaimed to her parents, “One day when I grow up, I’m going to be a nurse, fall in love and marry a doctor.” Even as a young child, Steele had always felt a great compassion for others. Her desire to be a nurse was a natural response, fulfilling a need to help people. She had never had the slightest interest in any other profession; there was no need to choose from multiple career possibilities. However, the road leading to her future wasn’t going to be a straight path and wouldn’t be without a few life lessons taught early along the way.

After graduation from high school, Steele’s closest girlfriends went away to college where they lived on campus and engaged in age-appropriate social interactions. But Steele had made a different choice and was now on a precarious path, one which led to disruption and chaos. Steele had married David, the brother of her best friend, Katherine. He worked as a mechanic for the family’s elevator business, earned good pay and was a hard-working young man. Just a few months after they married, and before Steele turned 19 years old, she and David bought their first home in a little town outside of Nashville with the five thousand dollar down-payment Steele’s parents had given her. Steel’s husband enjoyed working long hours out in their yard, and the manicured lot was the prettiest one in the neighborhood. But, things weren’t pretty at all behind the closed doors of their home.

Steele knew nothing about alcoholism and unknowingly, had married an alcoholic. For most of their marriage, David came home drunk almost every day after work. He was always verbally abusive and mlove-163690_1280ean when he had been drinking. Many nights, he didn’t come home and stayed out all night drinking. Early in the marriage when they owned only one car, Steele was left at home alone each night and cried herself to sleep. Strangers would call on the phone to report her husband’s liaisons with other women. When she had a car, Steele often drove around in the middle of the night searching for her husband. Despite their deteriorating union, Steele was determined to keep her marriage intact as they now had a young child together. Over time, after suffering the strain of his substance abuse, the signs of her unraveled love were starting to show and not surprise to anyone but him. In the early years of marriage, Steele was accepted to nursing school and devoted herself to the three-year program while trying to navigate around the abuse in her marriage. School became the great escape from her dismal reality even though she could barely manage her workload and family responsibilities. Her husband’s addiction-fueled rage took on a new face as his jealousy and insecurity began an ongoing battle of accusations, threats, and physical abuse. Steele learned how to fight back. Over the course of their five-year marriage, her life gradually descended into a wretched world of darkness and domestic violence. Now considered the collateral damage of her husband’s ravaging addiction, Steele carefully weighed new options for her future.

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