Feb 23, 2007

In the summer of 1996, both of my sons were about to graduate. I had been separated from my husband for about a year, and was working at a little Mom and Pop grocery store. I didn't make much money, but we got by.

A man started coming in and flirting with me. I was vulnerable, we might say, and the attention he paid me made me feel attractive again. One night he told me he had a good job, was a good guy, and would like to go out with me. I thought, what the hell, why not? He was very attractive, muscular, and seemed happy. I guess what struck me the most was his honesty.

We started going out, and before I knew it, he had moved in with me. This was something I swore I would never do. Move another man into my house while my children lived at home with me. But I did.

At first everyday was a honeymoon. He treated me like I was made out of glass, and introduced me to his family and friends. I was so in love. We talked about everything, which is something my ex and I did rarely.

However, one day he came home and asked who had been there that day. I said no one. I worked 2 to 10, and spent the morning at home. He said he knew someone had been there because he saw the tire tracks. This seemed weird at the time, and I kept insisting that no one had been there. He seemed to let it go. He sat down to eat, and after a few minutes, he took his plate, and threw his food out of the front door. I was flabbergasted. I asked him why he did that. He started about the tire tracks again, and I said, look, I don't want to fight, so I left and walked down the lane. At that time I lived out in a rural area with a few houses scattered about. While I was walking, a truck stopped and asked me where so and so lived. I told them, then returned to the house.

He jumped me as soon as I got in the door. He accused me of meeting another man when the truck stopped. I explained what happened and he insisted it was another man. I walked to the bedroom, saying I wasn't going to discuss it anymore. The next thing I knew, I was laying on the floor, and he was standing over top of me, screaming his head off. I was so shocked, I couldn't believe what had happened. He grabbed me and threw me against the wall, banging my head over and over again, and said he would kill me. Admit it, he said. Just admit your cheating on me. Even though I was terrified, I told him, I wasn't, and he could kill me, but I wasn't going to lie. Suddenly the rage left him. He apologized over and over, and for some god-forsaken reason, I forgave him.

This scenario would happen many times during our relationship. First it was just me he threatened, then it was my sons. We went to a local club one night, and he became jealous again. In the parking lot, he pushed me down. I screamed for someone to help, but amazingly everyone just walked by. He pushed me in the car, took my head and banged it against the windshield hard enough that it almost shattered. I opened the door and started to jump out, but he kept his hold on me. I just knew that I would probably die that night. When we got home, it got worse. At one point he held a butcher knife to my throat, screaming he was going to kill me, and then himself. When I looked into his eyes, it was like looking at a stranger. It seems a part of me was standing by, just watching all of this, curiously detached. I begged him to listen to me, and then I begged him to please, don't do this to my children. And suddenly, he put down the knife and walked to the back of the house.

I was out of the door in a flash. I ran through the fields into the woods. The dog and cat ran with me. I spent the night in the woods, with the dog and cat, absolutely terrified. I saw him get in the car and leave several times. But I was too afraid of him coming back to run to the house and phone the police. In the morning, while he was off somewhere, probably looking for me, I sneaked up to house and called the sheriff's department. I remember the deputy telling me to stay where I was until he got there. I was shaking so hard I could hardly talk, but I told him, I would not stay in the house, but watch for him from the woods. The dog and cat stayed with me, and he got home first, and my car hood was bent so bad you couldn't open it. I saw him throw dishes and food out of the door, and the deputy drove up.

I ran up to him, and he asked me if there were any weapons in the house, and told me to come with him. Standing behind him, the whole while my boyfriend shouting he was going to kill me, I collected a few clothes and left. I asked the deputy why he didn't arrest him. I had bruises on my arms, my neck, my face. He said it was because he didn't see it happen. I didn't care. I was finally out.

When I got to the sheriff's office, the deputies there seemed to be expecting me. A few social workers showed up, and wanted me to go to a shelter. I didn't know what to do. I was just so relieved, and felt safe for the first time in a long while. I said I would call my oldest son and let him know what was going on. My youngest had gone to Phoenix after graduation to attend school. My son's girlfriend came and got me, and said there is no way you're going to a shelter.

I still have nightmares about it. Not so bad now, but many nights I have woken up sweating and crying. I haven't recounted half of the things that happened here, but these were the worst.

Then like a miracle, my brother called and said if there was anyway I could come home and help out with my father. It was a God send. It meant I would be leaving my oldest son alone but he had his own family now, and I didn't want to be a burden. He had suspected something was going on, but it wasn't until much later that I told him.

After moving in with my dad, I joined a domestic violence support group. I couldn't understand why I had stayed so long in such a dangerous situation. I had made up my mind shortly before I got out that I could and would kill him if I had to. I learned that for some odd reason, I had been a target because I was vulnerable. His biggest desire was to control me. He kept me isolated, by driving my friends off, making me so nervous that I would not speak to anyone when I went out. And that I was drawn to him, because of abuse I suffered as a child. We look for what we know. I learned that I wanted the dream, the dream of a loving relationship so bad, that I was willing to tolerate his behavior, thinking if I just did this right, or that right, he would wake up, and miraculously change. I learned a lot about my own weaknesses, and how to watch and keep myself from going down the same path again. I also learned that I was full of rage, and I had to talk about it. Talk to someone about it, to receive the validation that this happened to me.

It took a lot of talking to keep my sons from hunting him down when they learned the truth. But, I told them it was my situation, I got myself into it, and got myself out of it, and retribution, though it would have been nice, was not the answer. He lives in the area I live in now, but I take care not to go to the town where he lives. I really don't know how I would act if I saw him again.

I suppose my purpose in writing this is just to acknowledge that many women, from every walk of life, from every economic background, can find themselves in a similar situation. And the thing that keeps them from leaving the most is fear. Fear for themselves and fear for the families. And shame. The shame comes from not wanting anyone to know, because for some odd reason, you blame yourself. And until a woman realizes she has to get out, she won't, no matter how much you try to convince her otherwise. We feel with more love, more understanding, we can change them, we can make it all right. I have learned the hard way that you never really know anyone. That everyone can have a darker side, and you don't know how dark it is until you know them for some time.

I doubt I will ever live with another man again. I have issues with trust, and safety, and now with the knowledge that the worst possible things can and do happen. But, if writing this helps anyone else then it is worth it.

One of my favorite movies is "What's love got to do with it" which chronicles the life of Tina Turner. To me, it is a movie of triumph, and the strength of the human spirit. It is a very accurate portrait of how bad domestic violence can get. But seeing her survive, and come out on the other side, free and new, is always an inspiration to me.


The Future Was Yesterday said...

But, I told them it was my situation, I got myself into it, and got myself out of it, and retribution, though it would have been nice

I'm not so sure you should "own" responsibility for this relationship, entirely. While what you say you learned from your support goup is correct imo, you still, at the time this relationship started, had no crystal ball into the future, nor did you have the slightest indication from the guy of what he was really like.

I encourage you not to beat yourself up with this. The only real blame that is yours, is responding to nice, polite treatment at the beginning. Even had you had the knowledge you have now, from your support group, would it really have done you any good at the time you started dating? Probably not, because there is no way of knowing what these people are like, until their behavior changes.

just me said...

There is some truth in what you say, Future. No one knows what is truly in another person's heart. But I do have to accept my part of this situation and learn from it, and never let it happen again.

But I certainly appreciate your comments, and will try not to "beat myself up". I think that is the hardest part. With all that has happened in the last few years, I really can't see myself getting that involved with anyone anyway. Its like a part of me is missing and it will never come back, if that makes any sense.

Mary said...

You are one strong woman. I really respect your strength of will. I'm not sure I could have made through all that.

Wendy said...

Congratulations on finding the strength and courage to reclaim your life. You're a very strong woman and your story can serve as an amazing example to the countless others that are living in an abusive relationship.

I do agree however with the person that stated you should not blame yourself in any way; abusive behavior takes time to show itself and anyone finding themselves in an abuisve relationship certainly had no way of knowing from the beginning otherwise the relationship would never progress. Also, this happens to even the strongest and most independent of women, please do not feel that your past contributed in any way to the situation. Abusers are very manipulative and controlling and manage to build relationships with women of all backgrounds such as you said; and many victims have never experienced any type of abuse prior to the relationship.

Once again, I commend you on your courage and wish you the best of luck.