Life sneaks up on you fast. Too often we are so busy living and surviving that when we look back, we realize that we have forgotten the masterpieces and beautiful disasters left in our wake. Then there are things like the Facebook Memories program that can transport us, for good or bad, back into a place in time we may have long forgotten. It’s amazing how you can scroll past a status update and see a version of yourself. A girl in love, a happy mother, an amazing adventure. A peek into a moment that you lived…a moment that shaped the very moment you are standing in…an unadulterated, look into who that person was and how they have or have not changed the person you are today.
On October 17, 2016, I found myself in just one of those moments. Glowing from an exceptional Homecoming Weekend at my Home by the Sea, Hampton University, I was scrolling through my timeline laughing as fellow alumni posted about our festivities. I happened upon a FaceBook Memories Status update. It was me on a walk, taking pictures and making jokes about the sights I saw….Sights in a small Michigan town where a prefabricated house had been taken to extreme measures. I smiled at the memory. Then in an instant I was taken back. I remembered the day. The walk. The moments that would forever alter the tapestry of me and set off a chain of events that grew into this day.
On October 16, 2011 I had travelled to Michigan in an attempt to repair my estranged marriage. I had spoken with the First Lady of my church and prayed and fasted for 3 days over the fact that my husband had left more than a month before our meeting and taken my two sons to Michigan. I was unsure if I should remove my girls from school and follow him. Like our move to Maryland, there was no plan and it had become obvious that the issues were not geographic in nature. My faith has always been the center of my life and I felt led to undertake an Esther fast for 3 days — this fast requires the participant to forgo food and water and instead seek God during the three day period. My hope was that it would help me decide what I should do regarding my family. I don’t believe in divorce and a life as a single mom of four children seemed impossible. As I neared the end of the fast, my spirit was given clear direction: go to Michigan and ask my husband to return to Maryland. If his answer was no, I would stay in Michigan. So, I set out on the trip and by October 17, 2016 I was walking down a street in a small city in Michigan laughing and posting strange Midwest peculiarities to my FaceBook timeline.
When my husband arrived, he suggested we go on a drive to his friends place. I didn’t have my purse or anything other than my phone with me at that point. I left in such a rush that I completely forgot there was a cake fundraising order at my girls’ school back in Maryland. There were frantic calls going back and forth between those who had placed cake orders and me. Since we were not there to pick up and deliver the cakes, the school was threatening to throw them away. As we were driving, I was worried about the people who had given me their money for the cakes and I was desperately trying to get a friend to pick them up. My husband heard me on the phone going back and forth with various people including some men who I was working with on a campaign. One of the men had agreed to pick up the cakes and I continued to coordinate the cake project in the car until we arrived at the apartment.
Once inside, we talked for a bit. There were some tense moments. We were alone, in an almost empty place. At one point he made a sexual advance that I refused. I then tried to leave. The car we drove in would not start. I remember sneaking the keys away from him and desperately trying to figure out how to get the engine to turn over. At one point, my husband found me outside, took the keys and headed back inside. I was standing in the grass and my phone rang just as he reached the door. It was my friend, the man who had agreed to help me with the cakes. Upon seeing me answer the phone, my husband ran toward me. I stuck the phone in my pants as he grabbed my arm and then my head. He proceeded to wrestle and punch me repeatedly, demanding the phone. My glasses flew off and broke. My head pounded. I remember screaming and scratching at his face as he held me in the headlock and continued punching me until he finally threw me down on the ground.
I remember looking for something to pick up. A stick, a bat, anything! But if that wasn’t the best damn kept apartment grounds in that one moment in time — there was not a thing that I could use to defend myself. We stood there as I screamed and cursed about what he had just done. I scrambled to find my glasses because I couldn’t see. At one point he picked up the keys and attempted to leave and I blocked the car door because I was afraid to be stranded in this strange place with nothing. When he raised his hands as if to attack again, I retreated. He left, and I called the police, unable give them an address. I remember going through drawers and finding a piece of mail so they knew where to come and find me. I called one friend but did not reveal the extent of what happened, I only mentioned that the police were there. I was stranded. I was battered. I was alone.
My husband’s family had my purse, my luggage and my children. He was arrested and they blamed me. I was isolated in this empty apartment and it took over 24 hours to get my purse back in my possession. When my sister-in-law brought the purse to me, she refused to tell me where my girls were. I eventually found out that during this time, they had been taken to court and various social services offices as my husband and his family attempted to take custody. My husband’s friend who was renting and living in the apartment arrived at one point late in the night and took me to grab a bite to eat. When I woke up in the morning they were gone and I was basically trapped. Calling my friends and/or family was not an option. What would I say? How could I explain this situation. And what would they do? At the end of the day, he was still the father to my children and because of that, I was worried about someone doing physical harm to him….what irony.
Eventually, my husband returned. I remember meeting him at a local restaurant in a shopping center that was walking distance from the apartment. The conversation is a blur, but I remember agreeing to try. I remember agreeing to return to Maryland as a family. I remember finally going to see my children. I remember the excitement on their faces when they saw us together. I remember making up an excuse about my glasses being broken and the scratches on my eye and being grateful that my face didn’t bruise. I remember no one in my husband’s family ever acknowledging the assault. I remember the feeling of guilt and betrayal to myself when I winced from the pain inflicted from his fist when he kissed my face for the next couple of weeks.
When we returned to Maryland, our friends and church members heralded us as a couple that worked things out. As far as they were concerned, we were the couple that worked together to overcome our problems. No one asked what happened in Michigan. It was a moment in time that was buried. It was my secret, my shame to carry.
In the months that followed, his temper became shorter and the arguments became more volatile. Even after I became pregnant he was physically abusive: raising up on me, backing me into corners — once as our young sons looked on in fear. Eventually, he left again when I was seven months pregnant. I continued to be open to making it work. The thought of being a single mom of five children terrified me. We were in danger of being put out of our apartment and if he didn’t help with the bill, we would soon be homeless. During one of his rages as I was driving with all of the children in the car he began hitting my hands and bit my wrists as he demanded I pull the car over. He then jumped out of the car and tried to grab my daughter to come with him. She refused and then he hit her. We sped off leaving him on the side of the road. I changed the locks after he forced himself into the apartment one night. Eventually, we lost the apartment and had to move into a shelter.
It was there that we started over. It was there I left the dreams of who I wanted to be and the disillusions of who I was. It was there I had to admit the ugly truth that I was a victim, that I needed help. I finally had to admit that my children had experienced some unspeakable traumas and that I had failed to protect myself and them. I also learned the most valuable truth during my time at the shelter; that I could and would rebuild. I learned that God was not through with me yet. I learned that my children and I were fearfully and wonderfully made and our faith would not fail us. I got up every day and prepared my children for school and went to work from the shelter. I saved as much as I could and looked for housing, determined not to have my baby in the shelter. Through the grace of God, we moved into a new home on a Saturday and my daughter was born the following Thursday.
My husband continued to bounce in and out of our lives over the next few years. At one point, frustrated that I would not return to Michigan, he would constantly call me and send me texts and emails. He contacted my job, my friends and my family. I began going to court in an attempt to stop the harassment and I learned how little protections are offered for victims and survivors of domestic violence. That experience with the court coupled with my own survivor story has birthed a passion in me to fight for the women, men and children that are affected by domestic violence.
As much as I appreciate the increase in activities and awareness regarding domestic violence in October, we need that level of consciousness and involvement all year round. We need it in November and in December when instances of domestic violence tend to spike during the holiday period. We need it in January when legislative bodies return and began deliberating on whether they will take action on laws that will help stem the tide of violence.
We have to go #BeyondOctober to ensure real change and protections are provided for victims of domestic violence. I’ve been that woman — bruised, abandoned and alone. She needs someone to let her know that there is something beyond that moment in time. There is someone fighting for her. I’m fighting for her every moment of every day so that she can one day fight for herself. I need you to join me. #BeyondOctober.
The post was originally published on November 1, 2016 HERE.