Remember Me: One Victim's
Story of Domestic Violence
Copyright 2011 by Jaclyn Pietrafetta
I wrote this
story in memory of my godmother, Carol. This story is dedicated to
every woman who has fallen victim to domestic abuse, and for all
their loved ones, who have witnessed the horrible toll it can
eventually take. Even though it may not always feel like it, nobody
is ever alone in the world. There is always help. There is always a
way out. Don't ever ever forget that.
I wish, for just that one day, I could be
spit back out of the time zone I’ve so helplessly been
swallowed into. I wish, for just one day, I could warn my godmother,
Carol, of her live-in abusive boyfriend before he had strangled her
to death. I wish, for just that one day, I could tell her
14-year-old-son, Trevor—my second cousin—that his mother
was going to be OK. If only I could go back in time just that one
I remember that day as clearly as if it
happened yesterday. Strangely, my most vivid memory revolves around
the brief half-hour I spent with Trevor…as if I knew that was
the last day I was ever going to spend with him.
It was May 16, 1986, the day of my First
Communion. My parents had invited my entire family over to celebrate
after the church service. When the hugs, kisses, and
‘congratulations’ were over, most of the adults settled
themselves around the kitchen table for coffee and adult talk.
Meanwhile, adjacent to the adults in the living room, all us kids
were standing around an old-time record player—yes, a record
player—holding hands, rocking back and forth, singing to John
Lennon’s “Imagine.” Ironic.
The only one not dancing was Trevor, who
was sitting on the couch by himself. He was always the quiet type.
Later that afternoon, sometime between
when the coffee ran low and the dancing had stopped, I changed out of
my pure white communion dress and into my play clothes. Trevor was
still standing by himself in the living room, this time with a
baseball glove on hand and a ball in the other.
“Do ya want to play catch?” I
asked him with a gleam of excitement in my eyes.
He kind of looked at me, surprised. I
thought for sure he was going to say, “Are you kidding me?
You’re six years younger than me, and you’re a girl.”
I smiled so big that I thought the cold
sore on the corner of my mouth was going to split. Off I ran to grab
my baseball glove. I couldn’t wait to show off my skills.
The only cloud in the sky that day was
the one I was floating on. Here I was, little 8-year-old me, playing
catch with my much older, more mature cousin. For the short 30
minutes we were outside, I felt like we were the only two people in
the world. We may have not talked much during that time, but
that’s OK. Sometimes the best conversations involve no words at
“Trevor told his mother that you
throw better than most of the boys on his baseball team,” my
mother informed me the following day.. That made me ecstatic.
I’m sure my First Communion day was
not the last time I saw Trevor or my godmother, Carol, before
everything happened. But it’s the last day I remember.
Carol was murdered three years later on
Dec. 16, 1989. When Trevor came home from school that day, he found
his biological father, Rodney Harmon Jr. semi-consciously draped over
his mother, whose lifeless body was sprawled across her bed. In his
cocaine-induced state, Harmon had strangled her to death.
No sooner did Trevor immediately dial for
emergency assistance that the phone rang. It was Carol’s
sister, Deborah, calling all the way from Florida to Massachusetts.
Almost as if she knew.
“Hello?” Trevor asked in an
almost ghostly voice..
“Trevor, can I talk to your
“She’s dead.” He hung
up the phone.
Again, it rang. Carol’s sister
immediately called back. Instead of Trevor, the police were now there
to answer the call.
Trevor was only 17 when he found his
mother dead, when he witnessed the EMTs wheel her lifeless body out
of the only place he ever knew as home. He was only 17 when his
father was found guilty of first degree murder and received a life
sentence. Trevor was only 17 when he simply lost his will to live.
Police had reported the following day
that they “were not certain of the motive for killing,”
but even Trevor knew better than that. Even Trevor knew his father
never needed a motive, because his father was the motive.
Carol is only one out of thousands of
women who are brutally beaten and killed every day.
I was only 11 when she was murdered, and
yet it seems as though I know as much about her as those who were
close to her. Whenever I try to talk to my family about her abusive
relationship, they say things like, “Rod was always
distraught,” or “Rod was a walking time bomb.” But
other than that, nobody wants to talk about it. That’s just it.
Nobody likes to talk about domestic violence. Why should we? After
all, it’s easier to shed tears and turn the other way than
fight a seemingly impossible battle and win it.
I cannot tell you how many times Carol
was physically and mentally abused, because I don’t know. I
can’t tell you how many times Trevor witnessed domestic
violence in his own home, because I wasn’t there. What would it
matter anyway? I wasn’t the victim. The real victim is dead,
and the way Trevor handled the situation, he may as well be, too.
I remember my family always referred to
Trevor as “the good kid,” but after his mother died, his
whole life just went downhill. For the first time in his life, Trevor
turned to drugs to stop the pain. One day, he just took a little too
My journal entry that day reads: Monday,
June 13, 1994. I found out about Trevor on Friday. When my mother
told me what happened to him, I almost cried in front of her, but I
held it in. I went to visit him in the hospital today with my aunt
and sister. He is in a deep coma because of the drugs and has little
chance to survive. When I saw him in the intensive care unit, I
wanted to cry and cry and cry. I can understand why he’s
depressed, but I don’t understand why he wanted to follow in
his father’s footsteps by turning to drugs.
I remember the day I wrote that in my
journal as clearly as I remember the day of my First Communion. In
fact, that was all I could think about on the way to the hospital. I
wanted to see him more than anything in the world, but, at the same
time, that was the last thing I wanted to do. One million different
worries were running through my mind. What should I say to him? Would
he recognize who I am? Would I recognize who he was?
When we got to the hospital, I followed
my aunt cautiously down a hallway like a child being led into a
strange place. Closer and closer, we approached a small room
surrounded on one side by glass windows. My aunt walked in and stood
over the bed of a patient, who looked like he was contently sleeping.
“Why are we in this room?” I thought. “This
isn’t my cousin. This can’t be my cousin.”
Tubes. All I saw were tubes. Tubes coming
out of his nose to breathe for him. Tubes going down his throat to
feed him. Tubes stuck in his arms. Tubes taped to his chest. And then
there was this plastic thing connected to his finger that looked like
a giant paper clip, keeping track of his blood pressure.
“Trevor? Trevor?” She shook
his limp wrist. “Your cousins are here. Jaclyn, say ‘hi’
By then, I had walked around the other
side of the bed. “Hi, Trevor,” I said, caressing his
wrist. My eyes burned with tears. I wondered if he could really hear
me. I didn’t say another word the next half-hour we were there,
except to say “goodbye.” There were so many things I
wanted to say, but I just couldn’t.
The Toll of Domestic Violence
Not until I visited Trevor, not until I
saw the toll it took on his life, is when I really became angry with
the whole situation. Why would anybody willingly commit domestic
violence? Why would anybody stay in that type of relationship? How
could anybody put their own child in that situation?
Looking for answers has only created more
questions that I guess I’ll just never understand the answers
to. I realize, though, that it’s not my godmother’s
fault, just like it’s not the fault of the MILLIONS of other
women who are abused each year.
Did you know that every 9 seconds a woman
is assaulted or beaten? Did you domestic violence is the leading
cause of injuries among women, more than car accidents, muggings, and
rapes combined? Did you know that, in the United States., three women
are killed EACH DAY by a boyfriend or husband?
Men batter women for many reasons, none
of which are acceptable. Usually, low self esteem causes them to feel
powerless and ineffective, so they take it out on their victims.
Others have been abused themselves. Maybe he blames his violence on
drugs, stress, or just a “bad day.” But he “loves
you so much,” and, besides, he’s a nice guy around
everybody else, so really he’s not that bad. That’s what
victims allow themselves to believe.
Many women also feel that their batterer
will put them in grave danger if they leave. So they stay. Women like
my godmother with children often recognize the difficulty in
supporting a child on their own and feel it’s financially
easier to stay with their abuser. Worse, feelings of love and hope
tend to cloud the reality of manipulation, intimidation, and fear.
Many victims, too, may not have access to safety and support.
But there is support and lots of it. No
woman should have to live in fear of a relationship. No woman should
have to live in fear of her life. No child should ever have to
witness domestic abuse.
I wish for just that one day, I could
warn my godmother, Carol, about her abusive boyfriend. I wish for
just one day I could tell my cousin, Trevor, not to overdose on
drugs, because his mother was going to be OK. But I can’t.
I CAN help others, though. And so can
you. If you know somebody who is in an abusive relationship, or if
YOU are in an abusive situation, PLEASE GET HELP. There are hotlines
to call, agencies to turn to, people to turn to. If you don’t
do it for your sake, do it for somebody else.
You could be saving a life. Maybe even
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