A year ago I would have told you that, armed with the firepower of personal experience and survival, I was ready to take on the role of educating and advocating for victims of domestic violence. I would have told you that a shift toward social work as a career was the most rewarding choice I could ever have made for myself and will be the best way to maximize the impact I can make on a society in desperate need of a wake-up call.
Today, I am looking back at the experiences that led me to this shift of consciousness. I am uncovering the lessons I had once found buried in my own shattered existence, how it’s reflection came to be so tarnished, and how recovery can seem so slighted in its mercurial ways.
A year ago, I thought my son and I had escaped “for real this time,” mostly unharmed. It was an archetypal moment that demanded a harmonious backdrop and sweeping overtures to declare some kind of victory over human bondage. But there was no stage, there was no orchestra, and not a soul clapped when the curtains closed. The ending credits completed the cycle by once again repeating the opening scene.
Recently, the same circumstances have played out again. I have been choking in the silence for months and the burning cloys and clouds like smoke. I haven’t much to show for. The friends I had made during a brief period of downtime had disappeared in similar measure when these issues resurfaced, once again becoming dangerously heated. At least the few that remained loyal to me had proven true, even before anything had been taken from me by force at all too ripe of an age.
It is true that I don’t reach out too much these days. My pen has been stilled, and my spirit nearly stifled. I cannot write, so I am here to write about it. For the month of October in 2012, I dedicated a poem a day to raise awareness for domestic violence. I was in a different place on the same circle that my path had been drawn upon unwillingly. I vowed to continue this advocacy into the next year, yet here we are, the month has almost passed, and I have not written a word for the cause until today.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. I have a voice, and I deserve to be heard. I will tell you my story, in as few words as I can manage. There is nothing pretty about it– just another rude awakening that screams into the silent void, begging to make a difference, praying to never again fall on deaf ears…
I met him when I was only seventeen. He was a charming man of 29, full of adventure and spunk. I didn’t know that his endless source of energy came from over the counter speed… I didn’t know that when he told me he was an asshole, he meant far more so than the “I’m only human” kind of asshole that we all are sometimes. He was worse. Way worse.
He would leave me for six months at a time. This was normal for a courageous mountaineer, right? He told me stories over and over again about friends I would never meet and things I would never see for myself, but that’s only normal, right? He was older and more experienced than I, and those experiences trumped my minor achievements because his were far wiser and better developed than my own. That’s what you get for dating someone well beyond your years, right?
No, that’s not right, and that’s not how it’s supposed to go.
The third time he left me, something was wrong. He left me while I slept in his mother’s basement. He did not wake me. He did not answer my calls or emails. After a few months, I gave up hope and moved on; I started living my life as a young adult without him. I dated other people. I slept with one or two. I worked hard and partied harder, and began to love my life and my friends. I was the life of the party, and I thought every single roommate and couch surfer in our house would take a bullet for me, until they didn’t.
He came home. He was cold and callous, and he acted like I had done something terribly wrong. The poems I wrote for him were not worldly enough, my loneliness while he was away, he said, was like a disease that was suffocating him into silence. I was too young, too naive, and I needed to change if this thing was ever going to work between us. He scared me into thinking that my passion would destroy us, that I was useless without him, and that I needed to learn to be independent. Anyone sensing the catch 22 here? I put the first and biggest nail in my coffin when he asked me if I had been true, and out of fear had told him that yes, I had been true.
A few weeks later, we partied all night. I went to sleep and then to work, and when I came home, he was still partying. But he was not in a party mood. I was wrecked, but he was ready to rock the boat. He deprived me of sleep that night. He accused me of having a secret and being deceitful. He belittled, degraded, and coerced me until I was too tired to take it anymore. I figured that it would finally be over if I just told him, but sadly, it was only the beginning.
Five words: I slept with someone else. I said it. It was supposed to be over. What did he expect me to do, be alone forever? In the few moments after I spoke, he was more quiet than he’d ever been. But that changed, as did the rest of my life, from that moment on. Most of that night became a blur– he called me every name in the book, but namely treacherous whore. He loved me SO MUCH, that he felt compelled to pick me up and throw me into my bed as my head slammed against the wall. With his two hands, he held my face and looked me in the eyes as he bashed my head against the wall. He tore my clothing to shreds so I looked more like the whore who betrayed him. He punched me. He yelled at me for hours. He carried on like this all night. A friend paced outside my door for awhile, telling him to stop or he’ll break down the door– but he never did. The pacing stopped, and the entire house went to sleep.
The next morning, before he left, he called my parents’ home. My father answered the phone. He told my father “I’m here with your daughter, and she has something she needs to tell you.” He said, “Now tell him you’re a dirty whore.” And so fearing for my life, I did. My father and I still to this day have not discussed that terrible moment and why it happened or that I desperately needed his help, any help. I was branded his for life. He made me promise to move out of that house, and within a week I was gone. Just like that, I had no friends. They all muttered their condolences to me as if I had died, and then I was gone and they were no longer mine.
Many times, I did not “deserve” to be considered his girlfriend. His mother referred to me as his “friend” until after we married. Even though I never asked for it, he denied me intimacy because I was impure and deserved to be punished. Other times he told me I was too frigid and chaste, therefore it was perfectly ok for me to be raped. He raped me more times than I will ever remember. He enjoyed raping me.
He always remembered everything. His memory was crystal clear and perfect, and never once strayed from the truth. Right. I began noticing the convenience now and again. Every time I tried to talk about the way he treated me and how it made me feel, he informed me of how it REALLY happened. You see, I made him do it. I was an awful person that needed straightening. I needed to learn my lesson, and only from him, because nobody else could love such a terrible sack of shit. If I tried to disagree with him or walk away because I couldn’t stand to hear his awful, belittling words anymore, he would chase me down. It usually ended with him tripping me, pinning me down on the ground, kneeling on me, hand to my throat, and his final words. “You need to listen to ME. You never listen to me.” But in fact, quite frankly, that’s all I ever did. That’s all I ever COULD do.
He isolated me from my friends and family in any way he could. I was not allowed to go out and see anyone else. He made up stories about the best of my friends, “proving” to me that they were either backstabbing me, or that they were absolutely crazy, toxic people. He was the only one who loved me. He was the only one left.
I tried many times to leave him. I came really close once, but he knew I’d come back. I left him for an entire year. I had my own apartment. I had a great job. I was making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. I met another man, who also turned out to be abusive. We had a nasty split, he blackmailed me for thousands of dollars, and I had lost that great job that I loved so much, and was working as a cocktail waitress at a strip joint. I stayed at a neighboring bar one night after closing down ours. Drinks started flowing at 6 am for industry workers on weekends. I had a blast, but was the last one left at the bar. I was alone with the bartender. He called for me from a dark hallway, and I went to see what he wanted. I turned the corner and his penis was exposed and fully erect, and he started coming toward me. I ran. He couldn’t catch me with his pants around his ankles.
I cried for twelve hours straight. I had a nervous breakdown, and went running back to my abuser. He was right, life was scary, and everyone was out to get me. I’d be back.
I went searching for him. I spoke with his sister through my tears. She told me he was still in Colorado. I told her I was going to find him. She told their mother, and she tried contacting him. I drove 22 hours straight. I called my job in the middle of Nebraska to tell them that I quit. I got a hotel room in Sterling, Colorado, just across the border. I could see the foothills, and so I slept. The next morning I drove toward the Roosevelt National Forest. When I reached Estes Park, he finally returned my call. He had just come out of the mountains near Denver, and in traffic, was only an hour away from me. He told me to stay, and so I did. I stayed hard and fast. I got a room, walked into the village shops, bought a ring, and went back to the room. I proposed to him that night. My son was conceived that night. Two days later we were in Vegas. Five days later we were married at a drive-thru in Reno.
We came home after two weeks. We announced the pregnancy at three months. I was the only one with a job. I found us an apartment. Good god, what had I done?
He refused to stop smoking in the house until the baby was born. He finally got a job when I was eight months pregnant– two weeks before I took my maternity leave. When my water broke, he ran to buy a bottle of whiskey instead of doing one of the other five hundred things he could have done. He refused to go into the drugstore to buy me pads, so I had to do a walk of shame, pregnant and alone, through the aisles, soaked in amniotic fluid.
He worked third shift. I was home alone at night with a brand new baby and HIS mother. My mother had shattered her leg two days before I gave birth to my son, and was in the other hospital, across the street when I gave birth. I lost my job because the coffee shop I worked for folded the same week I was to return from maternity leave. I had dropped out of college a few years prior because he had me believing that I was a brainless, useless, “waste of skin.” I had nothing except for a beautiful baby boy who I loved deeper than I ever knew love could be.
When my son was four months old, I finally got another job. It was another coffee gig, and it paid $6.35 an hour, less than the minimum wage in 2007. A month later, my son became very ill and was diagnosed with RSV. I lost my job because of it. I gave my son four nebulizer treatments a day for two months straight. I got another job as a delivery driver, and then another as a secretary, while the sudden economic crisis eventually made him lose his. Right before he lost his job, I was relaxing on the couch watching TV, and suddenly , I couldn’t breathe. My arms went numb and I couldn’t feel my face. I thought I was dying. I called the hospital to speak with a nurse. I told her my symptoms and that undoubtedly, I was having a heart attack– that I would die while my husband was at work overnight, with nobody there to care for my baby, asleep in his crib, who would be waking up in just a few hours to be fed. She talked me down, and reassured me that it was only a panic attack. Only a panic attack? I wasn’t panicking! I had nothing to panic over! I was just relaxing, without a thought in my mind! The nurse was the right person at the right time, though. Instead of leaving me at that, she pried into me to find out what would cause me to have my first panic attack. As it turned out, I was being abused. She referred me to our local domestic violence shelter. I called them almost nightly until my husband lost his job.
After he lost his job, he spent his days glued to the television. When he wasn’t ignoring me, we were fighting. He made me drive our child to his mother every day I worked, even though she lived twenty minutes away, and I worked only two blocks from where we lived. I worked sixty hours a week on a “salary” that paid me at the calculated rate of $9 an hour for forty hours a week. I delivered on the weekends to make up for the pay I did not receive, which clocked me in at over seventy hours per week.
One night, when our son was seven or eight months old, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was tired of hearing that he was going to take me to the police for psychiatric evaluation, and that they would find out about my mental health problems as a teenager and they would declare me an unfit mother and I would never see him or my son again because I was despicable and I deserved it. I was tired of being attacked sexually. I was tired of being defenseless. I tried to leave. He wouldn’t let me take my son so I laid him on the floor to play. He still wouldn’t let me leave . He yelled at me. He blocked the door. When I tried to push through, he grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the wall. He told me “I will fucking destroy you.”
I looked down at my son, and our stare never broke. My son cried hysterically. My poor son. I knew right then I had to go. I could not let my son grow up to be like his father. I could not let him grow up believing that this was normal. It was not normal. We needed out.
I eventually moved out, and we eventually divorced. He tried to keep my son away from me. I cried for help, but no one would listen. The judge dropped the emergency custody hearing that my lawyer requested. He forced me into filing joint custody with a money monopoly. I was told that without paying thousands of dollars that I didn’t have for a guardian ad litem to represent the best interest of my son, that I had no chance in hell that he would listen to my allegations of abuse. We had joint custody for a year, four months, and nine days.
On Thursday May 12th of 2011, I picked up my three and a half year old son from my jobless ex-husband’s mother around 9 pm. Something was way off about him, and when I got him home and looked him over in the light, it was clear that he had been battered. He had spent the previous night with his father. My son eventually felt safe enough to tell me that his daddy dragged him by the ears, spanked his bottom (until it bruised), and pulled his hair. “Papa whooped my butt, mama.” This is language you never have and never will hear in my home.
I did everything I was supposed to do but essentially, the system failed us. I got bullied into dropping our order of protection. He soon got supervised visitation… With his mom as the supervisor. After a few more incident-free months, he got unsupervised visitation. The same judge that forced me to file joint custody also presided over our civil case. No wonder it got nowhere. He received a plea bargain in his criminal case that let him off the hook with a misdemeanor child endangerment charge, some fines, and twelve months of probation. Once DCFS indicated him as the perpetrator in our case, they dropped us on our asses with no services and no referrals. I was solely responsible for my son’s recovery, and it was far from pretty.
On July 2nd of 2013, a month before my son turned six, it happened again. This time it was worse. Way worse. He brought my son home to me late, all piss and vinegar about my son having an accident on his bathroom floor, only “dad” didn’t think it was an “accident.” After kicking him off of my property, I learned very quickly what had happened. The bruises spoke for themselves, but this time, my son was old enough to communicate to me what happened in a straightforward manner. My son had an accident in the bathroom, and his dad found him trying to clean it up. His dad then grabbed him by the throat, leaving fingerprint bruises on his neck. He slammed my son’s head on to the floor, giving him a black eye, and rubbed his face in his own feces and urine. My son had bruising on his shoulder and all across his chest from the struggle. He yanked my son into the hallway and spanked his bottom, leaving handprint welts which quickly turned to bruises. He humiliated my son by cleaning him up like a baby getting a diaper change. He yelled and cursed at my son, claiming that I told him to do it, and that he did it deliberately so I could spite him. I am evil, don’t you see? I, who have not once spoken ill of this monster, who taught my son love, who am his only salvation, yes I am TRULY evil.
My son, at six years old, has symptoms of PTSD and has suicidal ideations, all because the man who was supposed to love him and care for him instead had nearly destroyed him. Our lives have been turned upside down, not once, but again. I never healed. I have untreated PTSD. My son is diagnosed with a mood disorder. He sees two therapists, and I don’t even have time to see one. I work full time, I go to school part time, and I care for my son every moment we are together. I finally know that I am not the monster, and I have papers to prove it. A week ago, his father was declared unfit. We have an awesome team of lawyers, case workers, and advocates working on our case. We have an order of protection that I was NOT bullied into dropping. In a few weeks, he will be facing his criminal trial. Felony charges. No plea bargain yet. I am praying with every ounce of my soul that they do not let him back out of this one easy. Mandatory sentencing. Please, show him no mercy, because god knows we did not get his.