Why Didn’t I Leave This Violent Relationship Sooner?

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“Why didn’t you leave sooner?” I’m asked.

“Because I knew this would happen.”

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I ended up in this situation. Growing up, I was abused by my parents. My father used to do cocaine. My mother enjoyed wine coolers and pills. Children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused than children from non-abusing families.

When I was a teenager I was placed in a group home. A lot of those other kids had been arrested, several for felonies (abused and neglected children are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile). I was a “good kid” in comparison to the others. I got straight As in school, I wrote for the school paper, I went to church every Sunday, active in Bible studies, I volunteered at the local hospital and I had a part-time job at a daycare center.

The other kids in the home saw me as a “goody goody”. I saw them as thugs. I didn’t have any friends in the home. Outside the home, the other kids’ parents didn’t want them hanging out with “one of those group home kids”. I was too good for the bad kids and too bad for the good kids.

Feeling unloved and lonely, at age 16 I jumped into a relationship with a “community boy” named Jeremy. He was five years older than me, an aspiring heavy metal musician with long hair and a goatee. Within a couple months I was engaged to be married and pregnant with my first child. Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.

More than half of all teen moms never graduate from high school. Though I was forced to drop out of school, I went on to get my G.E.D. Jeremy and I got married and had two more children. I worked a few part-time and temp jobs when we needed the income, but for the most part I was a stay-at-home-mom for the first few years.

I had dreams of becoming a midwife, though. I went to college to fulfill my dream. I was on the Student Senate, eight committees, the Campus Activity Board and the Dean’s List. I worked several part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Then I got sick. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. My husband accused me of just being lazy. Like 75% of marriages plagued by chronic illness, ours ended in divorce.

I no longer met the physical requirements of the Nursing program, so I was kicked out of school. I lost my job because I was no longer a student. I became too sick to work. I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease.

The thing about Lyme Disease is you have to catch it early to treat it properly. Unfortunately, the doctors had ignored my physical complaints. Because of my social history the doctors assumed I was trying to get drugs and they didn’t bother to try to find out what was wrong with me. Even after I was eventually diagnosed a year and a half after the symptoms began, the doctors had the audacity to claim the multiple positive test results (for Lyme Disease and another tick borne illness) were a false positive! When I eventually switched doctors, this “doctor hopping” was treated as confirmation that I must be an addict.

I had no social support. I don’t speak with my family for my own safety and the safety of my children. My extended family is embarrassed by me and they want nothing to do with me. Illness makes people uncomfortable, and besides, my life was a train wreck, so I had no friends. I got on public assistance, and became lumped in with the “welfare mom” stereotype. I was a single mom to three children, not working, living in a neighborhood populated mainly by drug addicts and child molesters.

There was one person who helped take care of me during this time, my friend’s father. He was 32 years older than me. He had battled cancer, so he knew what it was like to be sick. He’d help me up to go to the bathroom. He’d bring me food in bed. He helped me run errands. Soon, we became engaged.

I knew he was running around on me, but I turned a blind eye because I felt I needed him. I had nobody else. When he attacked me, for not being “obedient” to him, the man, I pressed charges. He was arrested, but in retaliation he filed multiple false police reports against me, harassed me, and stalked me for many months.

I started dating a guy named Eric. He was a decent guy. Normal. Things were going fine, until he found out about my former fiance stalking me. I don’t blame Eric for walking away. I decided it would be best not to get into a serious relationship.

I dated casually for awhile. That just resulted in me getting a second stalker. When I met TJ, he seemed good on paper. He had no criminal history. He didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol. He went to college. He had a decent job. He had a supportive family. It didn’t hurt that he was 6’6” and a former athlete, I needed a bodyguard!

Two weeks after TJ and I became “serious”, I found out I was pregnant! I was in shock, as was he. He had pulled out, so he figured he was probably not the father, assuming I had fooled around with somebody else since our relationship was so new. I knew he was the father, though. I felt so stupid for relying on “pull and pray”. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I couldn’t blame TJ for being suspicious.

Click here for resources from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

Click here for resources from the National Domestic Abuse Hotline.

TJ tried to pressure me into having an abortion. Meanwhile, my ex husband Jeremy, having heard that I was knocked up, took my children for visitation and never returned them. The police wouldn’t interfere with a custody dispute. We had to go to court. Since I was still sick and jobless I lost placement. I was pregnant and alone.

My life was a mess. That was a fact. TJ treated me horribly, and I took the abuse because I felt I deserved it. I was convinced if I stood up for myself it would make me look crazy and confirm others’ negative opinions of me.

The one good thing about the pregnancy, though, was I felt better! I worked a series of temporary jobs, unable to find a permanent job while pregnant. After our daughter was born and I was still feeling better, I enrolled in college again. This time, I was going to school to become a Certified Midwife, instead of a Certified Nurse Midwife. I went to school full time and I got a full time job. I got off public assistance.

When our daughter was 2-years-old, TJ came around and said he wanted to raise our daughter together. I felt it was logical to do so, so I agreed and we got married.

TJ put me down a lot. I felt I deserved it,  hell, I thought he was “helping me”. He was only saying what other people thought of me. In reality, he was breaking me like a horse.

About a year after we got married, he attacked me for the first time. He was upset that I was spending too much time on school work, and not enough time picking up after him, doing his laundry. I was walking away from him when he attacked me. He knocked out my front tooth, gave me a black eye, and I was unconscious for about 10 or 15 minutes. He took me to the emergency room, where I was given looks of pity by my former nursing classmates. I couldn’t remember any of my other friends’ phone numbers to call for support, so I allowed them to let TJ in to hold my hand as I cried.

I didn’t press charges. TJ was about to get his dream job which paid very well. Plus, he was going to have dental insurance, so he’d be able to fix my tooth. If I had him arrested he wouldn’t get that job and I’d be doomed to living a life of poverty. My tooth would remain broken, and I’d never be able to find employment.

I dropped out of midwifery school. I was supposed to dedicate myself to being a housewife and stay-at-home-mom. Besides, we would have to move to a state that wasn’t as midwifery-friendly for TJ’s new job. Someday I could go back to school a third time.

It took awhile for the bruises and swelling to go down. It took even longer, about seven months, to get my tooth fixed. I hated the questions “What happened to your tooth?!” so I didn’t go out much. I’d lie, saying I fell down the stairs and broke my tooth, because I didn’t want to hear the question:

“Why don’t you leave?!”

Less than six months after he had my tooth fixed he attacked me again. He was upset I brought home only one foot-long Subway sandwich instead of two, so he suffocated me. The cops were called and he was arrested.

His mother insisted I bail him out so he could keep his job, so I did. I went to the bail bondsman and paid to get my abuser out because I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills at home without him. His family would pay his legal fees but they wouldn’t help to ensure his child was financially supported.

People claim there are agencies that assist victims of domestic violence. There are homeless shelters and soup kitchens, public assistance and charities. But, they can only help so much. I had used up public assistance while sick. The charities have limited funds and aren’t a long term solution. Having lived in group homes as a teenager, I’m scared to death of going to the shelters.

I stayed because I had nowhere else to go. I had no way to support myself and nobody to support me. If I left I ran the very serious risk of losing placement again.

“I stayed because I had nowhere else to go. I had no way to support myself and nobody to support me.”

My first husband, Jeremy, was chronically homeless with the children. He wouldn’t work and he was living in filth. He’d get evicted or his homes would be condemned. Yet, he still had placement of our kids! I felt like a failure, having lost placement to that. Eventually, after he got kicked out of the ninth home in seven years, my ex admitted he couldn’t take care of the kids. I was called to go get the kids from a mutual friends’ home, where the children had been placed until I could get them.

I thought things would be better after I had the kids back. TJ was completing his domestic violence classes he had been ordered to attend because of the Subway sandwich incident. But, as soon as he found out he wasn’t going to go to jail the abuse started back up.

My husband raped me on a regular basis. I would be crying, begging him to stop. He’d hurt me. He’d claim it was an “accident” or that it was my fault for not working with him. He yelled at me and the kids. I tried to keep them on separate sides of the apartment to minimize the fighting. Meanwhile, I began searching for a job.

Several months had gone by, and I was eager to leave. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t heard back from any of the jobs I applied for. I figured once I had a source of income I could leave. Despite five years of college education, I wasn’t qualified to do anything. My job history didn’t help, either, due to the years of being a stay at home mom or disabled.

Click here for resources made available by the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Click here for resources made available by the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

I justified staying because at least with TJ our bills were paid. We weren’t homeless. I saw the damage the repeated instances of homelessness with Jeremy had done to my children. I didn’t want them to go through that again. I stayed, and I received the brunt of the abuse, until a few months ago.

My middle daughter, age 12, had gotten a cut on her leg. I cleaned her up, put some neosporin on it and bandaged it up. I told her to lay down on the loveseat with her leg up and let it heal. My oldest daughter, age 14, tried to snuggle up to her little sister to make her feel better. My middle daughter wanted to be left alone and started screeching at her big sister to get off of her.

Before I could react I saw my husband jump up and grabbed a bat, running out to the living room. I froze.

I heard the repeated thwacks of the bat. My eldest daughter screamed. I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything.

I begged TJ to take her to the doctor. I didn’t want to lie to the doctor for him. He kept saying he wanted to wait until he received his next paycheck. Finally, my daughter’s tears became too much. I insisted he take her in to urgent care.

He took her in to see the doctor where her arm was x-rayed and they confirmed it was broken. He admitted to the doctors that he had attacked my daughter with a bat. I thought that the doctors had to report the abuse, but apparently somebody dropped the ball. After several days waiting for a knock on the door, I broke down and called the cops myself.

While I was talking to the police, TJ cleared out our joint bank account. He eventually used that money, and money from his family, to bail himself out of jail. He took the van and moved into a house just 500 feet from where I live.

I’ve “used up” all the services available. I don’t qualify for TANF because I already received it when I was sick. The charities have limited funds, and can’t help me any longer. I still haven’t been able to find a job, despite applying for dozens. Last week I received a notice telling me I was going to be evicted if I wasn’t able to pay my bills. My oldest daughter is currently in foster care, and she wants to go back to her father. I’m being told this would be for the best. Now TJ is trying to get custody of our 6-year-old daughter, despite the fact he’s currently facing several years in prison for child abuse. Because his family is helping pay for his legal defense, I’m worried he’ll get away with what he did to my oldest daughter. I’m worried he’ll get custody. I’m concerned that he could kill our daughter.

Why didn’t I leave sooner? Because I knew this would happen.

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