My father grew up in an extremely violent home and, at the age of 17, lied about his age and joined the Army to escape the violence. Ironically, he ended up fighting in World War II. When he got out of the Army, he married his first wife and had six children. Unfortunately, his drinking, anger and violence broke that marriage up. He then married my mother who was 29 years his junior. They had five children, of which I am the third, and domestic violence was at the center of our world as well. We grew up in the projects and it was standard practice to get punched in the face or beaten with a belt or a hanger. Our whole family was in a constant state of fear and, ‘survival mode’, was all we knew. None of my siblings were close because we didn’t know how to help ourselves, let alone how to be there for each other.
As if this wasn’t enough of a terrifying situation, when I was five years old, my teenage step brother moved in with us and sexual abuse was next on the agenda for me. He made sure I wouldn’t tell anyone what he was doing by threatening to kill my family if I did. My little, five year old brain, believed he would hurt them so I did what I had to do. I ended up keeping this awful secret until I was 15 years old. I am not sure how I was before this started happening but, from that point forward, I felt alone, scared and trapped.
Back in those days, there were no domestic violence programs and counseling was unheard of in the lower class communities. Because of the mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, fear became the foundation of my soul and explosive anger became my primary outlet. A violent atmosphere was all I knew and fighting was what I was taught to do. In fact, when I was in first grade, I remember standing in the water fountain line and a boy cut in front of me. I shoved him and we got into an all out fight! He was bigger than I was, however, I had some serious anger issues so I easily won that fight. It would be the first of many fist fights that I would get into. At dinner that night, my dad saw the black eye and asked what happened. I told him the story and he asked, “Did you win?” and I responded that I did. He then said, “Ok, then you’re not in trouble. But if you ever get into a fight and lose, I will beat the hell out of you.” Now, you can imagine why I went into every fist fight knowing I had to win!
By the time I was fifteen I had run away from home three times. The first time I stayed at a friend’s house but came home after I was discovered and got the crap beat out of me. The second time I went into the foster care system and, after being placed in a home, the counselor made me call my parents to notify them where I was. They were quite surprised to get my phone call because they hadn’t even realized I was missing. Yeah, that happened! Unfortunately, the foster family was only in it for the money. The whole family would go out and would leave me at home watching MTV, because they needed their “family time”. In my day, the foster care system was not very good and didn’t screen families and their motivation for fostering kids very well.
I ended up feeling more unwanted and planned on running away from the home. However, on the day I was going to leave, the counselor called and I absentmindedly answered the phone. I told her this family sucked and that I was going to live on the streets. Because I was only fourteen she said she had to take me to juvie or home. I chose home and my parents were notified that I would be moving back in three days with the assistance of the counselor. I knew I was in trouble but didn’t say anything because I really didn’t have a choice. Sure enough, during the meeting with the counselor and my parents, I could see the anger in my dad’s eyes. She was clueless though and thought it was going to be a “healthy transition for all of us”. Yeah, right! As soon as she left, my parents took me to the kitchen and said, “We have been collecting this for three days for you.” and there were dishes covering all of the counters and the stove and I was to wash, dry and put them all away. I thought I was getting off pretty easily, however, the beating came soon enough.
The final time I ran away was when I was fifteen. I had been abused my whole life and I was fed up with it and all it took was one more unjust thing to happen for me to snap. One day, while I was ironing something, my brother tried walking between myself and the counter and his shoulder hit a bag of tortillas, which fell on the ground, and he demanded that I pick them up. I refused and said that had he knocked them down so he needed to pick them up. He threatened me but I was not going to get pushed around and stood my ground. He grabbed the iron I had been using and burned my arm. In sheer anger at the audacity of one more person thinking it was ok to hurt me, I ran out the door and never came back because to me, the streets were less scary and much safer than my own home.
Although I have involuntarily suppressed most of the memories of my childhood, some memories have come back to me over the years. For as long as I can remember, something in my soul wanted justice and hated it when I, or someone else, didn’t get it. On the streets, I fought whomever I needed to in order to prove that I wasn’t to be messed with. But the street life is hard and lonely and, after a year of living this way, I had run out of any motivation to live. One night, during the holidays, loneliness and depression hit me so hard that I finally gave in to the desire to die . I walked to a well known place amongst the streets called, “Suicide Alley”, where the highway abruptly leaves the city lights, enters the dark mountains and drivers are temporarily blinded by the sudden transition. People would go there and jump in front of cars to end their lives and that was my plan. As a car approached at about 65/70mph, relief came over me because I knew I would never have to feel another thing for another day. But when the car was in range and I went to step off the sidewalk, I felt a physical presence holding me back and I could not move. The car passed and I felt like such a failure because I couldn’t even kill myself successfully. As I walked away, the thought went through my mind “Could that have been God?” I had never thought of God as being real and wasn’t sure what to think. Three weeks later, I would have an encounter that would keep me on this earth, with new motivation, but things were still hard and I had a long road ahead of me. I finally turned sixteen, which was the age that I could legally work; I got my first job and my first apartment and started climbing my way out of the abyss my life had landed me in.
A LOT has happened from that sixteen-year-old kid to who I am today but it has all been worth it. I feel that it is important to be raw, open and honest about my life, so that others may know that I can relate to their pain. Life is not always easy and can leave us quite broken. However, we can make something so beautiful out of that brokenness if we share our journeys so that we can learn and heal together.
As for me, I have happily raised four children and have a beautiful grandchild. My family, and extended chosen family , consist of many genuine souls that I could not imagine living life without. Whether we are blood related or not, the bond that links us is respect and a true joy of being in each other’s lives. My home has welcomed countless people over the years and is known as a “Safe Haven” for many.
For over 25 years I have worked with victims of domestic violence and have helped numerous women to wisely escape violent relationships. I have been on many stake-outs, investigated finances, designed safe escape plans, helped navigate the court system and assisted victims in succeeding with their newfound freedom. The main reason for this blog is to give hope to those who are in seemingly hopeless situations and to let people know that they are NOT stuck. There IS a way out and I, along with other valuable resources, can help you gain your freedom!
I will be sharing stories of those who have escaped domestic violent situations (real names will never be used in this blog), as well as more stories and wisdom I have gained from my own life. We are all in this together! I hope you keep reading and share your journeys with me!
Until next time, stay safe!