His hands were warm to the touch, yet as ice-cold as his heart. They tightened around my neck much like the python squeezes the life out of its prey before devouring it whole. My airway became impassable and I was deprived of the precious breaths we all tend to take for granted. My lungs were beginning to panic. My face felt like a furnace and I could feel my eyes becoming as blood-shot as his. I struggled, and yet I didn’t. I wanted him to stop, but not truly. He looked into my dark, sad eyes as I gazed back into his black, soulless windows. Gritting his teeth and spitting as he yelled, he told me that I was going to die that day. I couldn’t speak, I was losing oxygen to my entire body and my limbs began to fall lifeless. But the words which rang through my mind, the words I wanted to say to him but couldn’t were simply “I’m already dead anyway”, and I knew I deserved it. My body lost all feeling and the world around me faded to black.
When I first met him he was very attractive. His chocolate eyes and vibrant smile intrigued me. He was always the life of the party; the one with the sense of humor. He was the one who liked to dance. The cool one. The laid back one who didn’t care about money or the opinion of others. He was a drifter. He had no job, no car, and no fears. He always spoke his mind and never backed down from anyone. Perhaps I admired him for that. I was painfully shy, withdrawn, and terrified of meeting new people or dancing or anything social whatsoever. It didn’t take him long to charm his way into my life. He took a job at the crappy restaurant where I worked and soon weaseled his way from his Aunt’s sofa into the two bedroom apartment I was renting for my son and myself.
He learned of the childhood abuse and suffering I had endured. I confided in him about the hunger and poverty which I was accustomed to as a child. He knew of my absent mother, my abusive stepmother, my alcoholic father. I eventually revealed the molestation, rape, abortion and every other thing he had demanded to know about me. He knew about my previous attempts at suicide and my severe depression. He knew I was a broken person. And he called me crazy. At the time I thought he wanted to be with me because he saw potential in me. It didn’t take long before I realized he had targeted me because I was weak.
I didn’t cry about the insults. I tried to view them as constructive criticism. I knew I was far from perfect and if the man who claimed to love me thought I was of poor quality then I figured I should be proactive and do something about it. I began to spend more time on my hair and makeup, bought nicer clothes and even tried to smile more. This only backfired. He would grab me by my hair and force my face into the mirror to show me how unattractive I was. My cheek would press against the cold glass and I would have a firsthand look at the ugliness he spoke of. He would ask me who I’m trying to look good for. Who I’m trying to leave him for. He would tell me not to bother, that no one would ever want me anyway. And I knew he was right. I knew I wasn’t worthy of love, from him or anyone else. I was damaged and broken and let’s be honest, people are attracted to newer, shinier things. Unbroken things. The cruelty worsened with each passing day, and I accepted the fact that this was my destiny. Since the day I was born I had never experienced anything but pain.
When I regained consciousness I found that I was no longer pinned to the kitchen wall with his hands around my neck. When my vision became clear I was able to see the red, yellow, blue and green mega blocks in the far corner of the living room. My son’s favorite Veggie Tales blanket. The soft, yellow duck from his first Easter. It was all slowly passing by as I felt the carpet scraping against my skin. I was being dragged. Away from the kitchen, through the living room, and toward the bedroom of our tiny apartment. At first I was confused and disoriented, but then I felt his unborn baby girl flutter inside me. I panicked. I had no idea why he was dragging me or what he planned to do with me, but I had no intention of finding out. I fought loose of his grip and fumbled onto my hands and knees. I quickly tried to crawl toward the phone to call 911. Unfortunately, like so many other excruciating nights with him, he knocked the phone away from my ear and crushed it beneath his boot. He grabbed me by the back of the neck and I knew I was defeated. I would remain his prisoner behind beige walls and stained carpet.
There had been occasions when I reached out for help. One night he was beating me so fiercely that by the time I was able to crawl across the living room and through the open balcony door, I discovered that all of our neighbors from the surrounding apartments were gathered below looking up toward the noise and chaos.
“Please!” I screamed. “Please call the cops!!”
Through my tears and swollen cheeks I could see that one man was holding a cordless phone.
“Please” I pleaded. “Please call the cops…”
To my surprise, no one would help.
“We can’t be getting involved with the police and all that mess” I heard a man say in a sullen voice.
The majority agreed and slowly went back to their apartments as if the show was over. Before I knew it I was being pulled back into hell, with the sliding glass door slamming shut behind me.
There had also been the time I mustered up the courage and strength to admit that I was in an unhealthy and abusive relationship. After hundreds of nights spent crying myself to sleep and begging God to just let me die, I decided it was time to confess to my father that I had been living this shameful life. I expressed to him how I desperately feared for my son’s life as well as my own and asked if he would take us in until I could start over fresh. I truly had nowhere else to turn. His next words were some that I will never forget as long as my body breathes life:
“I’m sorry. You’ve made your bed, and now you’re going to have to lie in it.”
This was painful to hear, but not at all surprising. When I was eight years old and he had discovered that the neighbor had been molesting me for three years, his response was much less involved than this one. Likewise, when he found out I had been raped and was too terrified to endure the resulting pregnancy, he simply stated that he wanted nothing to do with the situation. This circumstance was no different. And coming from my father, the only man I had ever looked to for guidance and protection, I felt it was confirmation that I truly deserved the abuse. So I stayed in this soiled relationship.
I took the beatings for not having dinner on the table when he came home, or for napping in the afternoon when I should have been cleaning our already spotless pad. I remained isolated in that small dark dungeon. The Chevy Cavalier which I had purchased before I met him was now his and I wasn’t allowed to use it, for fear that I would go out and have affairs while he worked. It was for that same reason that I was forced to quit my minimum wage job. I wasn’t allowed to have any money or allowance, likely for the same suspicions. Nor was I allowed to have friends or phone calls. And like any good and broken person would do, I succumbed to it.
My two-year-old son would often find me huddled on the floor in the shadows of the bathroom crying after a beating. He would pat my back or pet my hair with his tiny innocent hands and say “s’okay mommy. S’okay.” He would always make sure that his beautiful brown eyes met mine, and he would give me a reassuring smile. These small gestures helped tremendously because he was the only male who had ever put his hands on me in a truly loving way. I knew I didn’t deserve it.
Time went by and I gave birth to my daughter, which further added to my struggle. Laying in the hospital bed with dark circles around my eyes and the remnants of the difficult labor I had gone through, a nurse said that I was showing signs of post-partum depression and it was recommended that I seek counseling. Hand weak and bruised from the needles and tape, I reached out and graciously accepted the business card of an accredited therapist. But as soon as the nurse left the room, my keeper grabbed the card from my hand and crumpled it in his fist.
“Get the f*** over it” he said.
“If you don’t want to be crazy then stop f***ing acting like you are.”
I carefully replied, “I know” and went back to sullenly gazing out of the hospital window.
Life went back to normal after leaving the hospital and I stayed with him for exactly ten more months. Exactly ten. My son was a lively three-year-old by then. Always getting into things when he wasn’t trying to console his pitiful excuse of a mother.
“Time to pick up your toys” I told him.
“No!” he said firmly and confidently.
“Yes, we pick up after ourselves. Now let’s go pick up your toys and put them away like we always do.”
And that’s when it happened. As his tiny, innocent little fist struck my cheek with as much force as a plush teddy bear, I experienced the most unbearable pain I had ever felt in my life. The number of thoughts which can pass through the human mind in a two-second time-frame is phenomenal. My immediate shock quickly melted into the pain of my heart breaking, which spun to fear and then manifested itself in the form of anger. For the first time in my twenty-five years of life I was suddenly awake. I was alert! I instantly had clarity and understanding. I immediately found rationality and sanity. My eyes welled up with tears and I began crying but this time with actual feeling behind it. I was no longer numb. I was no longer afraid. My maternal instinct had finally kicked in and I knew there was no way in hell I was going to raise my son to be a woman-beater. I hugged him tightly, knowing that this innocent being was only doing what he had been shown to do. I stood up and carried him to his room where his infant sister lay sleeping, turned on some nursery-rhyme music and left them alone closing the door behind me.
I went into my bedroom and kneeled beside my bed to ask a favor of God. This time, I didn’t ask him to let me die. I didn’t beg for his mercy and plead with him to take me to heaven and end my suffering. This time, I asked him to help me live. Help me survive what I am about to do. Help me protect myself and my children from the monster. When I finished my prayer I quietly called his aunt and let her know that if she didn’t come and pick up her nephew I was going to kill him. It was a promise I fully intended to keep.
I hung up the phone and quietly crept into the living room where he lay sprawled out on the carpet napping. His shaggy long hair, his filthy beard, his favorite dirty white tank top which he always referred to as a “wife-beater” and the same flannel shirt he always wore. He was now the ugliest thing I had ever laid eyes on. At first I stood over him, considering all of my options. I could take the butcher knife he had previously held to my throat and plunge it into his heart while he slept. I could take his baseball bat and bash his face in. No, he didn’t deserve a quick ending. Instead, I reared back and kicked him in the ribs as hard and with as much force as I possibly could. He jolted awake and looked up at me with the fear of God in his eyes. I kicked him several more times and screamed at him to get up and get the f*** out of my house. He didn’t defend himself. He laid there trying to process what was happening. I made several trips to the bedroom and back, grabbing a handful of his belongings each time and stepping over him to get to the balcony. I tossed his things over ledge without an ounce of compassion. His face revealed that he was in complete shock and for the first time ever he feared me. When he realized what was happening, he slowly climbed to his feet and, without saying a word, left the apartment.
That was long ago. I have spent many years picking up the pieces of my broken life. Healing from past sorrows and pains. Working tirelessly to learn to trust. My son will be fifteen-years old in a few months. He is beautiful. He is extremely protective of me, and I of him. My twelve-year-old daughter is much loved. She remains safe. No harm will come to her on my watch. Not a day goes by that the three of us don’t laugh and play with each other. We share our embarrassments and our fascinations. We complement each other. I smile constantly and I thank God for my unanswered prayers.
I have a partner of seven years who loves my children as though they are his own. He waits patiently for me to let him fully into my heart through marriage. He watches over us daily and keeps us safe. He tells me I am significant and that he appreciates me. He encourages me to further my education and be all of the things I want to be. He has built us a home that is beautiful and spacious. Huge windows in every room allow the sunlight to grace us. A warm wooden floor rests peacefully beneath us. Colorful walls lend an unbiased ear to our stories and discussions. High ceilings give us room to grow. This is my shelter; my refuge. My home. This is everything I never thought I would have, and he tells me I deserve it.