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I knelt down, pulling Jennifer and Ryan close. “Things are going to be different today,” I said, “and for a long time. The car’s all packed. Mommy’s not going to work today. We’re going on a trip...”
I couldn’t believe we were actually doing this. But then, I couldn’t believe I had been trapped in an abusive marriage, a woman like me. I had a good job with a good company. Good education.
I’d come from a loving family, my parents happily married. I’d connected with a church and was no stranger to prayer, but lately all my prayers had been, God, give me strength to get through the day.
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Joe had swept me off my feet with his flamboyant charm, flattering me, giving me presents, doting on me. It was only later, after we were married, that I discovered his other side. The drinking, the cruel verbal abuse, the threats, the affairs.
He had been abused as a child and I wanted to make excuses for him, but when he told me what he’d do to me if I left him, I was terrified. I couldn’t hide my tears from my children anymore.
My faith gave me the courage to seek a counselor and admit to her what was happening. I talked to an attorney and made an appointment with a private investigator.
On a lunch break I stayed in the office and found a website for domestic violence, looking over my shoulder as I read, as though Joe would be right behind me, staring at every word.
“Are you in an abusive relationship?” the site asked. “Does your spouse put you down?...Stop you from seeing your friends or family members?...Tell you that you’re a bad parent?...Act like the abuse is no big deal?...Threaten to kill you?”
I said yes to everything. With each answer, my denial crumbled. It was impossible to ignore what my life had become. I felt as though the site knew me, knew Joe, and knew the hell I was living. I clicked the header Get Help.
The site mapped out all the steps to take. How to escape. How to protect yourself. How to make a file with all the necessary documents: birth certificates, passports, tax returns.
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I created a folder at work and drew a purple ribbon on the upper right-hand corner, purple because that was the color of domestic-violence awareness.
I went to the private investigator and confided what Joe had said he’d do to me and how he’d get away with it all. The investigator took notes and promised to look into the threats. Two weeks later I returned and sat across the desk from him. He didn’t mince words.
“You are in serious danger for your life,” he told me. “You need to get away and you need to take your children with you.”
How would I do it? Where would I go? I prayed for wisdom, prayed for guidance, prayed for strength, a strength stronger than my fear.
I consulted the website. I would have to share my story with others in order to build a team, but I had to be very careful. Anybody who helped me would be taking big risks themselves. And some would probably not even believe me.
I called an associate who lived 1,000 miles away. We worked closely together in the same department, only in different cities, and we were often in touch. I knew she was a woman of faith and I felt I could take her into my confidence.