Kind of Person this Happens To
The importance of breaking down stereotypes in domestic violence.
“God, please, not yet”, I prayed in earnest.
That was the first prayer I can remember saying the morning I woke up and remembered my world didn’t just turn upside down, but exploded the day before.
I wish I could say something deep and meaningful about that moment. I wish I could say that I opened my eyes to a new lease on life. That the air smelled sweeter, and the sunrise was brighter. That I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who loved me and were rallying around me.
I was so grateful.
I was also humiliated and scared and, I hurt. Everywhere.
God, please, if I could just go back to sleep and avoid facing it all for just a few more hours...
I'm sorry to say that husband nearly taking my life that day didn’t really change my thoughts or attitude toward domestic violence.
The change came in response to the way I was treated in the hours, days, weeks, months even years after.
I am still amazed by the contrast between the equal amount of love and support and of blame and hate that I experienced after the "incident".
I still don’t like recounting the details of that day. Even more I hate reliving what was happening in my life leading up to it. It has been 11 years and my heart still races, and the bad dreams still haunt me. Mercifully, not so often as they once did.
I had known that my husband was looking for an argument by his attitude one the phone, but I agreed to go pick up lunch and come home to “talk” in spite of my better judgement. Learning not to punish myself for what I considered appalling naivety on my part is still a struggle. It was a Wednesday. It had been a bad week between us following a terrible weekend. All proceeded by a bad year. I had finally told him I wanted a divorce.
That was a Friday. There were tears on both sides, reasoning and justifying, but in all, the conversation went well. The calm before the storm.
Saturday, was all about rehashing any fight we’d ever had.
Sunday was about him doing things to get a rise out of me, pushing buttons and crossing boundaries.
Monday and Tuesday were all about accusation and suspicion on his part. I had put up with a lot of things for so long, why was I done with it now? He decided I must be giving up on him because there was someone else. He proclaimed that he simply would not allow me to leave him.
It had been a year of seeking counseling, crying alone at night, researching and a lot of fighting and arguing to arrive at the big step of asking for a divorce. Now how did I get out? I felt trapped more than ever.
Our marriage had been disintegrating for a while, but, of course there were a thousand reasons it was too complicated to just walk away. So many details to work out. Nagging feelings of guilt and failure brought a sense of obligation to work harder, try a new approach, give it time. He had suddenly lost both of his parents within a few months of each other. He needed time to heal. I had taken a vow, "better or worse..." this is what marriage is all about I'd tell myself.
I can only shake my head when I think back on what I endured during that time. I was called a bitch, called stupid more times than I can count in the last year I was married. I'd fight and challenge in the beginning, refusing to be spoken to that way in my own home, by anyone, especially the person who had literally vowed his undying affection, protection forsaking all others etc.
Later when i cried in hurt and frustration, I was shocked to realize he actually seemed to like it. As if that was the response he'd been seeking all along. He never hit me though. I was convinced that leaving meant I was throwing in the towel, not working hard enough. I really believed I didn’t have the right to just leave.
The fateful Wednesday when it all came crashing down, he called me at work and asked me to take a long lunch and come home to talk some things through. He had refused to go to work all week and was home constantly. Work had become my refuge and the last thing I wanted was to go home and argue more. I said as much. He said it couldn’t wait until after work. He had made a decision and he wanted to be out of town and "done with me" and gone by then. Ominous, in retrospect, but what was another hour of arguing and ranting if it got exactly what I wanted.
My hands were full, carrying the lunch I'd picked up. I left my purse and phone in the car. He met me in the yard. Ever sensitive to human emotion, my border collie bolted out of the house as soon as he opened the door.
I could tell by his stance and look on his face something was wrong. I had made a terrible mistake in coming home and I knew it.
He walked up to me calmly, slowly. He looked over my shoulder and around like he was checking to see if anyone was around. They weren’t.
I think I could see the first blow coming, it just didn't register. It that landed on my jaw and dropped me to my knees. He grabbed me by the hair and started dragging me across the yard and into the house.
I fought with everything I had. Knowing, that if he got me in the house I was in trouble. My memory from that point are both crystal clear and at the same time vague and disjointed. I can perfectly see a vision of my fingers clinging to the outside edge of the door jam, and clearly thinking "damn, I think that broke my finger" when he started pounding on my knuckles to get me to loose my grip.
Ultimately he got me in the door. Shoved me inside and slammed the door. I stood up and grabbed at the door, he threw me down, and checked back out the window.
I wish I could forget the feeling that came over me in that moment when I realized he had nailed sheets over the window in the front door and over the front window. A lot of what came in the next moments are a blur but that is so clear. This is going to hurt. How long? I long will I have to do this? How long can I make it last? How long until I'm missed? Can I fight hard enough to save myself? Worse...do I want to?
The struggle lasted for about 20 minutes.
At the end I was in the floor, he had finally gotten me into a choke-hold that I couldn’t break. The last jerk on my head had been too much and I was scared my neck may even be broken. I couldn’t move. I couldn't breathe. My mind was so clear as I decided, "just let go, you’ll wake back up, trust you’ll wake back up".
It is funny how trauma and extenuating circumstance can transform mundane daily details into examples of divine intervention.
Suddenly, I heard a voice as clear as if someone was there, “ tap out. Reach up and tap out.” I did, 3 taps on the white cabinet door under the sink. Later I would learn that feeble act was what reached him through the rage and made him pause long enough to let me go. Watching UFC was something we had enjoyed together a few years past.
That was the last thing I remember before I started breathing and coming back to full awareness again. He just, wasn't there any more.
Then, I remembered the door. Frustrated and exhausted when I left for work that morning, the swollen door that refused to be relocked after I let the dog out was one more thing piling on to what was destined to be a long day.
I silently slipped out the door and ran.
Well, first I fell. Flat on my face. Twice. Then I ran.
Just like the girls in the horror movies , I thought. Escape within reach but inexplicably unable to make my legs work right. Just like the girls in a horror movie being chased by the bad guy. You want to scream at them from the edge of your seat to "run!" and they just fall.
I had lost my shoes and my contacts in the struggle. With terrible vision I was essentially blind without my glasses or contacts so the memory of running down the street is blurred for more than one reason. I remember the street being hot and thinking how strange it was that my feet didn't hurt more. They would make up for it later.
He must have heard the screen door slam or maybe he just came back to the kitchen, because he was chasing and yelling after me. I didn't slow down to look over my shoulder. It felt just like a bad dream when you are working with all your might but not moving. I made it down the street and into the convenience store at the corner.
Enter guardian angels #1 and #2 , the store employees grabbed me as I fell through the door gasping for air, unable to speak. One grabbed me in her arms, the other hit the lock on the door just as he got there. Screaming at me and saying, “ she’s my wife, we were having a fight, I need to talk to her.”
They called 911. It was over.
That's what I thought at least. Completely unaware that a whole new kind of trauma that I would have to fight just as hard to survive was just about to start.
I expected everyone who heard my story to spew blame and rebuke at my husband. I was not prepared to be the recipient of the blame and rebuke as the survivor.
I am grateful that the first words in my ear were that of support and strength. The first 3 people I encountered that day were women who were survivors as well. They were amazing . They made such a difference. I don't know any of their names, but they will forever be heroes in my life's story.
The two convenience store clerks were both domestic violence survivors and they recognized immediately what was happening. They locked the doors and kicked customers out of the store. I didn't need an audience they both said.
In the emergency room, I was strapped to a back board and left in a hallway awaiting x-rays when a nurse approached me.
“How bad does it hurt?” she asked.
That made sense. “Really bad”, I grimaced.
“Is your heart broken?” that made less sense, but “yes” I answered.
“Are you angry?. I nod feebly.
“Good. Are you humiliated?”
Confused, my eyes stung with tears as I whispered, "yes".
She squeezed my hand and leaned in close to my face.
“Don’t be. I know you are, and I was too, when it happened to me. Don’t hold on to it. Stay angry, and don’t go back. I swear to you he will do it again and it will be worse.”
I wish I’d caught her name.
Now, I can almost laugh at the first ridiculously inappropriate comments that came from a co-worker a week after the assault. I lived in a small town at the time and had no delusion about what happened being a secret, but I hadn’t spoken about what had happened with anyone outside of my family.
She came to me, fishing for gossip under the guise of being supportive and I ultimately did tell her that, "yes" rumors that I had been assaulted were true, but it was by my husband, not a stranger. Her demeanor instantly changed with this revelation. Any hint of sympathy or compassion was gone and she said to me, “ Oh, well that's totally different. My husband knows better than to to pull something like that with me.” As if I was talking about an unruly dog chewing up a pair of shoes.
Clearly this was my fault, for failing to train him properly.
When my boss had done the right thing by making sure I parked in front of our building, where I was visible and instead of down the block in employee parking, it was alleged that I was getting special treatment, maybe even having an affair with him. I over heard a conversation about me, speculating what had "really happened" and what I'd done. Me all acting like "miss innocent while he looked like the bad guy..."
Even people who were trying to be supportive kept perpetuating me as the instigator. I must have done something to set him off. Why did I go home that day at all. Why didn't I tell anyone what was going on, etc.
“You don’t seem like the kind of person that this happens to.” That particular comment is poignant for me because I have heard this, more frequently than any other. Sadly, I have heard it more than once, from other domestic violence survivors.
Tragically, the staggering lack of education, compassion and support in the world for victims of domestic violence does not just exist among the un-informed masses.
The most horrific, and unacceptable experiences was with my state assigned victim advocate.
One of my best friends, one of my tribe, responded to the news with, “get out of there and come here and stay, like tomorrow.” Three weeks later, after the panic attacks and the protective order violations both became regular occurrence, I called her from the road and told her I hoped it was a real offer.
Just after I got settled I set up a P.O box, not wanting any risk of leading my husband or anyone else to my friend's home. I soon got a notice in the mail that I had the right to the services of a victim advocate, and if my husband was convicted, I would have other financial resources available to me.
I called the number and contacted my advocate. Right off the bat she scolded me for not notifying her I was leaving the state. Defensive, I explained that the letter I had just received, 6 weeks after the fact, was my first indication of her involvement.
After that first interaction I decided I did not want to bother using the state resources, primarily because I did not want to have to deal with this person. Fortunately my friend talked me off the ledge and I did stay in the program. A couple of months into the process, my advocate, and I use that word loosely, was required to call me with updates on my case’s first court hearing. She started the conversation by telling me my husband did show up, and she was able to speak with him.
She commented on how attractive he was and how well spoken. He was in a suit and looked extremely professional. He had asked how I was and if she could please tell me how worried he was for me and that he hoped I was well. He seemed so sincere and so nice. I was completely agog. I had my wits about me enough to tell her I had on good authority that he was available if she was interested.
She tried to back-track and apologize. I had an hour drive home to think about the conversation and what it really meant. She was one of only two victim advocates for an entire county. A county where more than 150 cases of domestic violence are reported each year.
I cringe and feel my face flush when I hear people respond with harsh judgement to stories about people returning to their abusers. I am horrified to know that there was a time when I thought the same.
I am a college educated, military veteran with a great job and good income. I do not have children who depend on me. I have amazing friends and family. I had a safe place to go and people to protect me. No one was better set than me to get out and I tell you it was damn hard. Not hard because I wanted him back. Hard because I was embarrassed, second guessing every decision. Hard because I was exhausted and could barely still find the energy to think straight.
I thought the phone calls, texts, emails from my husband would never stop. He refused to sign divorce papers. I was afraid to rent an apartment because I knew he’d find me and come to me. He told me he would and I believed it.
I missed my home. I missed my family. I had to leave my pets behind. I was angry and I was embarrassed and heart broken. It would have been so easy to just accept the apologies, believe he'd learned a lesson, and go home.
I am not one to share my story with just anyone. In fact, there are many people in my social sphere who would be shocked to hear it today. There are times when I know it is not only appropriate, but important for me to share. I’ve felt a strange mix of pride and shame when more than once when another woman has found out I experienced domestic violence and cried and hugged me and thanked me for, “being willing to admit it.” They've reciprocated by sharing their story with me, which I always find to be more horrific than mine.
It is that reaction: "willing to admit it" that breaks my heart. I never would have understood that before.
I hate that after all of this time it is still dangerously easy to heap responsibility onto myself. Analyze all of the decisions I should have made that would have spared me the experience. I own too much guilt for what my family went through and still think often about how I could have done things differently.
At the end of the day it always comes down to one simple decision that would what would have saved me from becoming a victim of domestic violence.
HE SHOULD NOT HAVE PUT HIS HANDS ON ME.