Remember to Breathe
Robin Y. Myers
© Copyright 2017 by Robin Y. Myers
I didn’t think that I was going to get out alive. Not just once but numerous times throughout my life. I thought that life itself would kill me, some crazy person who simply hated me would kill me, or I would have killed myself.
Two events occurred early on in my life, when I was too young to remember them.
First, my father was in the Air Force and was stationed in Germany during the Viet Nam War.
Second, when I was just three or four years old, I’m told that my mother left the keys in the ignition of my stepfathers blue Pontiac convertible. The car was parked at the top of the small hill in our driveway. Somehow the car was started and put in reverse. It backed down the hill and across the street—into our neighbor’s beauty shop adjacent to their house.
Because I was found in the driver’s seat, the blame fell on me. My stepfather was, “not pleased”. Perhaps I don’t remember this incident because I was too little to see over the front seat, or, I’m sure the punishment made the occurrence something that I never wanted to recall.
It is extraordinary for a person to have only four authentic memories of their childhood but that’s a summation of my life—extraordinary. I hope it’s because my brain is saving room for happier memories, and not that it is protecting me from remembering any horrific events. God is a merciful God.
One of my four recollections takes place on a sunny summer day when my mother, brother, and I were in that same blue Pontiac barreling down a country lane sandwiched by woods on both sides. We came to an abrupt stop in front of an old white farmhouse.
I was five or six years old and sitting in the passenger seat while my younger brother sat in the back seat behind me.
My car door was open all the way. My father, who I had no memory of seeing until this day was standing between me and the open car door while he and my mother were arguing.
Suddenly, he reached for my hand and before I knew what was happening, my mother had shoved the car in reverse and was backing out of the drive with such furor that rocks and dust made it difficult for me to keep my eyes open.
My father was running alongside the car as he was still trying to hold my hand.
My brother was sobbing in the back seat. I was screaming at my mother, “Stop! Stop! Daddy help me! Mom-Stop! Please! Please—I want to see my Daddy!”
She did not stop.
My father couldn’t run as fast as the car was travelling. He came to a standstill and was gasping for air. My mother accelerated so quickly that my door slammed shut and locked.
I could barely see my daddy through the dust and my tears, but, I yelled, “I love you Daddy—I promise I’ll come back to see you…I promise!”
When I could no longer see my father, I began to plead with my mother. “Please Mom, I swear I’ll be good—forever! Please go back! Please Mom—let me see Daddy! Please!”
We were back on the highway in seconds.
When we arrived home, I ran inside and jumped on my bed, my face down on my pillow. I cried myself to sleep.
The desperate hopelessness pulsating through me that day comes back so vividly to me now, over 40 years later. As I became older I wondered if Dad had said something that made my mother angry, or if just the sight of him made her think of her absolute hatred for him and gave her no choice but to retreat as fast as she could.
To be so cruel to my brother and I by letting us see our estranged father only to break our hearts by driving away was even beyond her “normal” meanness. I truly believe she hated my brother and I because in different ways we were like our father, and she didn’t need a reminder of him every time she looked at us.
My mother loathed our father for leaving her with two small children while he went off to Germany and created a new family with a German woman and two more offspring.
It’s been over 40 years since that day and we have never spoken a word about it.
The second memory is a collection of all the times that I ran away from home. There were numerous reasons why I despised being at home. My stepfather was “less than kind” to my brother and me. Plus—I was a young girl who believed—that my mother was lying when she told me, (constantly), that my dad was “a drunk and would rather be at the bar than come home and feed you kids”. I absolutely felt with every fiber in my body that my dad loved me and it was my mother who was keeping us apart. I hated being in the house on Angel Street at any time for any reason.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized she was right. Well, sort of. I have been told by many who knew him, that he was an alcoholic, did frequent the local bars, and often became “falling down drunk”, but I’m told he brought home a paycheck—at times.
Every time I returned home from a few days of being a “runaway” my mother would ask me if I wanted to go live in Germany with my father, to which I emphatically replied, “Yes!! Right now!”
The prospect of my moving to Germany to be with Dad would never come up again. I knew my mother would tell me, “He doesn’t want you”, so I never asked about his reply to my wanting to live with him. I doubt she ever asked him.
On several occasions, my mother had written my Father’s Commanding Officer to inform him that my Father was not paying child support. I knew that if my father would obtain custody these payments would stop to my mother. Even worse, she would be ordered to pay my Father child support. I knew—that would never happen.
In my mind, I knew my father would never take me but I didn’t believe it in my heart. My heart would not survive if I let it believe if only for a second that he didn’t love me or want me.
I had the heart of a young girl—not only desperately wanting to receive a hug from my Daddy, but also dealing with a mother who never once told me that she loved me. And living with a stepfather who was, well, let’s just say, mean-spirited and leave it at that—made my brother and I do anything we could to breakout of that house.
My third memory of my childhood was only the second day of my life that I saw my father. My brother and I were allowed to stay a couple of weeks every summer with my grandparents who had a dairy farm.
One day we were in the kitchen canning cherries when a man walked in. He just took two steps into the kitchen and told my brother that he needed a haircut. Then simply looked at me and said, “Hello”. It took close to an hour for my grandmother to convince me that this man was my father.
He stayed for the day but when I woke up the next morning—he was gone. I asked my grandmother, “Will he be back in time for chores?” I could tell she had been crying when she lovingly told me, “No. He had to leave”. I was a 13-year-old girl at the time.
Oh, how I wished I had taken a picture.
Oh, how I wished he would have left a note—anything—just three words—I love you. But, no. There was no note—nothing.
For years I was sure that he had to leave because he owed my mother child support and could not be caught in the States. However, he has never returned all these years since that day, even after my brother and I were too old for my mother to collect child support.
What a cold-hearted, uncaring, despicable thing to do to two children—especially a 12- year-old boy and a teenage girl.
I had always believed that my Daddy wanted me and would come back for me someday. I was right. He did come back, but for only a day—that magical day—but not to stay. My brother desperately needed a father too. He very much needed someone to teach him how to be a good man, he needed someone to have his back, someone to let him know that he was not the reason our father abandoned us.
The weird thing is, even to this day I want to tell my Father that “It’s ok.” And “I forgive you for everything”. Maybe it’s because I believe in miracles and still need him in my life, or maybe I forgive him because I had to let go of the love and the hatred for him decades ago.
Sometimes we must accept as true certain notions because we “must” believe them—or we might shrivel up and die.
I will never see him again. That’s what I think deep down but I keep enough money accessible on a credit card for a last-minute flight to Germany—just in case I get “the call”. The call I have been fantasizing about for my entire life.
I would pick up the phone and I hear, “Hi there, this is your Dad!” He’d say it like he lives just down the street—like he and I have been best friends for our entire existence. The scene has played a thousand times in my head. He says, “I want to see you and Greg and introduce you to my family”.
I already have a single tear skipping down my face because he said, “his family”. At that moment, I realize that Greg and I were never his family. And now, I must tell him that Greg is gone. It almost seems therapeutic to think of telling him that my brother is gone—like I want to make my father feel just a little bit of the heartache he has caused my brother and me.
Thoughts of Dad and his family in Germany have come less often over the years—mostly birthdays, the Holidays, and oh, I almost forgot about Father’s Day. Father’s Day is the worst.
I also think of him when there are days that are so horrendous, heartbreaking, or scary that I really don’t believe that I will live through them. Just like the two single days of my life in which I spent a few hours with my father, close enough to touch his hand but either couldn’t or wouldn’t. These two days could have killed me but they only hurt my heart—which has never fully recovered.
I didn’t know until decades later the reason why my mother sent my brother and I to church. She, my stepfather or other brother never went with us. The church bus would pick us up every Sunday. Attending church from the time we were just toddlers until our high school years was a good thing because church would get us out of the house. It was a bad thing because my brother and I both suffered greatly all those years with confusion of what the true meaning of love is.
Growing up as children without a father, a mother who was cold and unloving, and a stepfather who felt that we were, “just another mouth to feed” made my brother and I look for any sliver of love, anywhere we could get it. It seemed like after every Sunday morning service, I would walk up to our Pastor crying. It was my own special torture every Sunday—thinking of my father not going to heaven. Without any communications with him I could not know for sure what his beliefs regarding life after death might be. All my Pastor could say to comfort me was to tell me that God would certainly reunite me with my father soon and we would talk about it then.
My brother and I made friends with all the other kids in the youth group. It was a small cluster of about a dozen. We eventually attended every church function. With Awana on Tuesdays, Prayer Meeting Wednesdays and two Sunday Services the church was our second home. Soon we were lying about non-existent church functions to get out of the house daily.
We wanted to spend every waking moment at church. It wasn’t the people necessarily but just the grandness of the building made us feel sheltered. On numerous occasions we would convene outside by the back door of the church, in the snow. We would sit with our backs touching the church as if Jesus himself was standing between us and evil. Sometimes we would take blankets and once even made a small fire to keep warm. We pretended that we were having entire conversations with Jesus—over a dinner of saltine crackers.
My best friend and I, (happened to be the Governor’s niece) would leave school grounds and walk through the park to the church. That’s right. We skipped school and set off to our church.
We were finally called into the Principal’s office after 36 absences. Yes, 36.
The principal asked us where we went and why we left the school so much. We told him the truth about how we left school to hang out at the church.
Sometimes we told our pastor that we had “study hall or gym” and we would clean the church or wash the pastor’s car. Other times we’d giggle as we crawled on the floor to the balcony stairs and hide out in the balcony all day.
Our principal wanted to get the full story before doling out our punishment and calling our parents. The answer to his next question of why we would skip school to go to church would surprise him even more. “We’re out of the will of God” we said in unison.
I’m confident our principal would have bet his paycheck that our pastor would not confirm our lies and they he would surely be shocked by our confessions.
When the principal called our pastor, he confirmed that we were at the church a few times during school hours but was astonished by the number 36. He then proceeded to tell the principal, “The girls are out of the will of God”.
We received a whopping one hour of lunch detention in total for all the absences. Yes, one single hour—at lunch. Our pastor told my principal of my difficult home life so he never told our parents—or—maybe it had something to do with the fact that my friend was the Governor’s niece. Who knows? I was so grateful that my parents weren’t involved.
Our pastor never brought the situation up to us. He knew the fear I had of my parents finding out. He also knew the thought of not knowing when we would be called into his office for telling lies was worse punishment than anything he could say to us.
This was new territory for our principal. Our entire school was talking about it. I’m so thankful that social media was not an issue back then. It was tough enough being so vocal at school about our Baptist faith, but now the rumor was that we were involved in a cult. Some students thought we were “cool” for getting away with the absences. One student attempted to use the same excuse the following week. I’m sure the principal had a good laugh about it, then undoubtedly gave the boy double the penalty he would have received had he not tried to exploit our seemingly ridiculous adventures.
As I became a teenager I dated a few boys in our church youth group but one day a boy that I didn’t know asked me out. He was tall, handsome, and very popular—and said the sweetest things to me. However, if he saw me innocently speaking with another boy, he would become enraged. I tried to break up with him numerous times but each time he would become angrier.
After the first time, he hit me—and every time after that—he would tell me that he loved me. Nobody had ever told me that before. Somehow it just seemed normal to catch a beating—like it was the price of admission for the “I’m sorry…you made me do it” then on to the payoff for taking my beating and not crying…he would finally say “I’m sorry”. That’s when I knew it was over—for the moment.
I told numerous adults of the beatings but even after showing them my bruises, they would not believe me or, they just did not want to become involved. Everyone knew my boyfriend’s family and my boyfriend’s family knew everyone. Everyone.
He knew not to hit me where evidence of my abuse could be seen. He would punch me in the stomach so hard that I’d fall to the ground then, he would literally, “kick me when I’m down”. He never punched me in the face—ever. Eventually my wardrobe was long sleeved shirts, jeans and even sweatshirts in the summer to hide bruises on my arms and legs.
Just a few months after we met, I began vomiting every day before school. I didn’t know what was happening but my mother did. She took me to the doctor and told me to call her from the payphone in the school lobby during lunch hour. I didn’t know anything about the real world as I was sheltered by the church teachings and never had a civil conversation with my mother.
When I called my mother that lunch hour, I assumed that I had the flu. As I picked up the big black phone receiver in the school lobby, I was trying to come up with a good reason of why my mother should let me stay in school the rest of the day. It was insufferable being at home, even for a couple of hours.
When my mother answered, I said, “You told me to call you”. She furiously asked me, “What do you have to say for yourself?” I didn’t know what she was talking about. What had I done now, I thought to myself. Before I could carefully choose words to a question that I didn’t know the answer to, she shouted, “You’re pregnant!”
It took a few moments for me to catch my breath. Without saying a word to my mother, I let the phone receiver drop and walked out the front door of school.
I was 17 and pregnant by a “boy” who beat me—regularly.
The Baptist church I had attended for most of my life was where I went for solace and advice. When I arrived at the pastor’s office he immediately told me to go back to school without allowing me to tell him of my situation. I did not blame him for this because of my history of skipping school and ending up at the church.
Silly as it may sound, I did go back to school. I even took the bus home.
During the bus ride home I was assessing my situation and what I was might say to my mother. I would remind her of the beatings and how they had gotten worse. I would tell her that I would take my bed out of my room and live in the basement. It was cold and dark and petrified me but at least I wouldn’t have to marry my abusive boyfriend. I would assure her that I would finish school and get a job to pay for my food. It sounded reasonable to me. But I was a child—having a child. What did I know anyway?
As I took the first step into the side door of the kitchen that day my mother and stepfather were standing at the sink.
My mother didn’t have to say a word—the look of pure disgust and hatred on her face said it all. My best course of action was to go to my room and tell them of my plan later—once they had calmed down.
As I attempted to walk past the two of them, my stepfather grabbed my arm and flung me around towards the door I had just entered from the outside. He opened the door with his left hand, released my arm he was holding with his right, put his hand on the small of my back and shoved me out of the house. Without any emotion, simply stated, “We aren’t going to feed another mouth around here”.
Even though we have lived in the same small town for decades and he still lives in that house, I never saw him again. God is good.
At this point I didn’t take the time to think about my younger brother who would still have to live in that house until he graduated from high school. My getting pregnant and being thrown out of the house, I’m sure, made it unbearable for him. I was all he had to protect him and now I just left him there—in an even darker, more desperately horrifying place to fend for himself. It wasn’t until decades after my brother disappeared for over 20 years, did I know just how much he needed me—in those days and years following my “departure” from our “family”.
The hours which followed my removal from our house would forever change my life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to anyone. Yes, it was me against the world but I could have been stronger. Had I known that the world was bigger than my little corner maybe I could have run to find kindness and love instead ofabandonment and abuse. I could not have been as strong as these past 40 years have made me but I should have found a way to get out of that abusive relationship and find a safe place. There are still times when I sob my way through the night with guilt of not getting out of there fast enough for my baby.
I didn’t have anywhere to go. My boyfriend’s jealousy kept me from having any friends. He always wanted to know where I was and who I was with every single minute that I was not by his side. I had no friends left after dating him for just four months. He had isolated me from everyone. Once again, the only place that I thought to go for safety was my church.
The church doors were locked so I went to my pastor’s house. There are not words deep enough to express the searing disappointment, heartache, and disbelief that I felt when he would not let me in his home. I was crying hysterically. After telling him of my situation, of having no place to live, and of the abuse I had endured and was sure I would continue to endure—he shut his screen door and told me to go home. I told him again, “I can’t go home anymore. Please help me”. He slammed the screen door and told me to leave. The sound of the door lock engaging was all I could bear. I ran to the church and fell to my knees at the front door.
I’m not sure if the fact that I was pregnant and unmarried or that I was pregnant by a Catholic—not a Baptist sickened my pastor more. All I know is that I was not welcome at that church or parsonage ever again.
I ran away that night to one of my aunt’s houses. It may seem strange for me to use the phrase, “ran away”. I did not tell anyone where I was. The last thing that I needed was my boyfriend learning of my location. I knew he would beat me in the stomach and try to kill our baby. In addition, I had not fully accepted the fact that I had no home to return to. All making the words, “run away” seem appropriate.
This aunt was not “religious” so I hoped she would not judge me and hide me from certain harm. It was the seventies and there weren’t shelters for victims of domestic violence or group homes for pregnant teen moms. There was no place to go for assistance without judgement.
My aunt recognized that I was exhausted and told me to go to the spare bedroom and take a nap. “We can talk later” she said as she hugged me tight.
When I awoke, my aunt told me that she had called my mother to let her know that I was safe.
What?!? My mind was racing. What had she done!
I didn’t have time to tell my aunt of my situation before she insisted that I get some rest and now my mother knew where I was! My mother had told my aunt of my pregnancy but conveniently left out the issue of my violent beatings by my boyfriend’s hand.
My mother informed my aunt that I was to be married the next day. My mother had made an appointment with a preacher who ran an ad in our local free paper. He would perform weddings in his home for $20.
I knew my mother would tell my boyfriend where I was. I grabbed my bookbag and headed for the door to leave when my uncle assured me that I was safe in their home, it was late, and we would “figure it out in the morning”.
I woke to a knock on the bedroom door. I sleepily opened it.
When I saw it was my boyfriend, I tried to shut the door but he pushed his way into the room. He put his hand over my mouth and told me, “Don’t you dare say a word!” I shook my head up and down—I knew not to scream for help.
This was his method of abuse. He would be loving and kind, even doting on me when others were in sight but once we were alone he would turn into a raging animal.
He continued. “We are getting married then we are going to live in a trailer by my mom and dads”. He took his hand away from my mouth and as he wrapped his fingers around the door knob calmly stated, “When we get back to the trailer, you are going to get the beating of your life for causing me all this trouble”.
Such a stupid statement. Beating of my life? That makes it sound like I would only be the recipient of one beating and then, that was it—no more beatings for the rest of my life.
Nope. Not even close.
As we exited the room, he whispered, “Act like you have a brain and do not say a word to anyone”. I knew I was to walk out of that room giving the performance of an award-winning actress—excited about the new life I was about to begin. Which is exactly what I did.
My aunt and uncle congratulated us on our “choice” of getting married and having a baby. My choice to have my baby, yes, but, not my choice to get married. We walked out their door, hand in hand. I never saw my aunt and uncle again.
On the drive up to Michigan my thoughts were on escape. My initial idea was to somehow get the car door open and literally jump out of this nightmare. But I thought of my unborn baby. The tiny little human inside me would surely die if I jumped. This baby was my only hope to have anyone to love and love me back.
They made me sit in the back seat between my husband to be and his father, so it would be nearly impossible to reach a door handle anyway. No—that fleeting thought would not work.
I began to negotiate my way out. I told them all that we didn’t need to get married. I would be the best wife and mother ever. I would do whatever my husband told me to do and like it.
It only took one backhanded slap to throw Plan B into orbit and shut me up.
What if I told the preacher of my abuse, of being homeless and of my worry for my unborn child’s welfare if I were to marry this man? No. I’d already witnessed my own pastor’s indifference to the circumstances.
“Think Robin! Think!” I said to myself under my breath. My mind was screaming at me. The closer we became to the reverend’s house, the louder the voices in my head were shrieking. I could not run from the situation nor could I fight my way out of it with words or fists.
It seemed like a scene from a horror movie. At some point, a clown with a gun would show up—or at least I’d hoped. At this point any type of distraction that might set me free would be heaven sent.
My husband to be was torturing me with a whisper in my ear every few minutes. “We’re almost there…We’re almost there”.
I had to remind myself to breathe. In and out. In and out.
The wedding was like an out of body experience. I was peeking through the window as I became a married child having a child with an abusive man. There was absolutely nothing that I could do. Where could I run to? We were miles from Indiana and I didn’t know anyone in Michigan.
In just a few minutes, my baby’s father and I were married.
For better or worse—to obey—on and on. It didn’t matter to me what was said. I knew nothing was going to change. All I could do now was to do my best to “be good” and not set off my new husband’s rage. That was the best I could hope for.
I had to convince myself that everything was going to be fine—no, better than fine. My life would be joyous and somehow my new husband would become a loving man like I’d never known before. We would live “happily ever after”. My life would be a fairytale.
But this was no fairytale.
No one said a word. Not a single word during the lengthy return drive to Indiana.
I wasn’t scared. I’d talked myself into believing that this would all have a happy ending.
Until my husband pulled into the drive next to the trailer we would live in. I looked over at him and smiled.
Pure evil. His face was bright red and his expression—pure evil.
Under my breath I told myself, “Don’t cry, do not cry, it will be worse if you cry, that’s what he wants—don’t cry”.
I began begging.
“I’ll be the best wife and mother—ever! I promise that I’ll do whatever you say and be happy about it. I swear I will. I’m having our baby. Please…Please don’t hurt me. I’ll be good”. Please don’t…”.
Before I could finish my last thought, he grabbed my arm and pulled me from the passenger seat past the steering wheel and out of the car. He dragged me around the front of the car. I tried to keep my feet on the ground as much as possible but my knees took the brunt of the pain. I didn’t have time to think about escape or even how to fight back.
He pulled me up the three metal steps to the trailer door. When he opened the door all I could think about was that I hadn’t told anyone where the trailer was. How were they going to find my body?
Tears came now. I just couldn’t stop them.
He pushed me inside the trailer and down to the floor.
The only effect my begging had on him was to enrage him more. It only seemed to give him strength. He seemed like he was looking forward to the whipping and pounding I’d take. What a great work-out for him. He had his own private gym with a punching bag right at home.
He continuously chanted three little words as he pummeled my body. “I own you. I own you. I own you”.
His promise was that I would get the “beating of my life” that day. One of the rare times he kept his promises. This took place over 30 years ago but I still recall the paralyzing terror, pain and exhaustion of that day.
The abuse continued throughout our entire marriage.
This “beating” was a particularly violent one but I received two others during the few months we were together that would tie in the “beating of my life” category.
This was the only time—only for a split second that I thought about killing myself. It would end my imprisonment of pain. In the next flash of my mind God reminded me of my unborn baby’s need for protection. My hope for my baby to have a life without abuse gave me the will and the strength to survive.
My life up until now was not my fairytale but I would eventually see my fairytale come true. It just would not include my father or my husband.
Seven months following our wedding our son was born. The night in the hospital after his birth was like a dream. He was so beautiful! When I looked in his eyes and held his hand in mine all I could sense was pure love. Not the type of love I’d felt before. Honestly, I don’t think love is the right word. The word for this feeling isn’t a word but a string of words. The glow of a warm fire, heart colored in, entire body sensing a higher power, a world with only two beings, mind and soul attached to each other, I’ll always have your back, for the rest of our lives mother and son kind of love. But that doesn’t even come close to the “feeling”, the “being” of love for my newborn son.
The hospital stay following my son’s birth was so peaceful—what heaven must be like. There wasn’t drama, physical abuse, or even elevated voices. I didn’t have to remember to breathe. Every breath seemed like fresh crisp circling wisps of beach air carried directly into my lungs.
The first couple of days after we took our newborn son home were wonderful. He was a perfect little bundle of hope. He rarely cried. I was overly attentive to him as I didn’t want my husband to become aggravated by his crying.
I had hoped that our newborn son would magically make my husband’s temper subside. I felt faith and optimism in wrapping his tiny little fingers around my finger. It seemed like the promise of a new beginning.
The hope ended and the pain began again later that week. The consistent violent episodes resumed. I endured them for over a year. He never hit me in front of our son—probably because I always had placed my son in his crib well before the time my husband was to return home every day.
My husband came home early one day and I had not laid my baby in his crib yet. He was on the floor just learning to crawl. He began my usual “Honey, I’m home” thrashing. I threw myself on the floor to protect my baby. My husband then grabbed my leg and pulled me away from my baby and closer to him.
When I saw his eyes look over at our baby just before he threw his first punch at me, I knew the time had come when I had to get my baby and myself away from this monster.
I didn’t feel the physical pain so much this time because I was vowing to myself that it would be the last time he ever hit me. During the beating my mind kept chanting, “You will not hurt my son. You will not hurt my son. You will not hurt my son.” I was not going to allow him to lay a hand on my baby—ever.
That was it. As always, I didn’t fight back and waited for the beating to stop and the usual callous and heartless words to be spoken. Finally, I heard “I’m sorry. Why do you make me do that? I love you.” This time he had hurt my arm so badly that he took me to the doctor right away. My doctor asked how I hurt my arm and elbow. I told him that my husband did it. I was so tired of lying. “Do you want to leave out back?” my kind doctor asked me. “No, he has my son in the waiting room” I replied. Nothing was broken so I went to the waiting room and went home with baby boy in my arms and my abusive brute by my side.
The next day was my planning day. I packed a small bag with just the necessities. Diapers, two onesies, bottles and formula. Our escape would come the next day. I asked an elderly neighbor if she knew of a place where my baby and I could hide. As she hugged me tight, she told me, “I knew you were being hurt but I didn’t know what to do. I saw the police at your house many times, but they did nothing. I just didn’t know what to do. I prayed for you and your baby every night. I’m so sorry.” Through my tears I replied, “I know. It’s ok. Your prayers are answered. We are getting out of here but I just don’t know where we could hide”.
She then picked up the phone and spoke with her granddaughter who lived in a trailer in the country—miles away from town. When she hung up the phone she informed me that my baby and I could stay with her granddaughter for now. I had never had anyone who could help and would help me, like this Godly woman did. She wasn’t a clergy or family—people who I thought were to love you unconditionally. She was just an elderly neighbor who didn’t know me. She believed in God and in the power of prayer. My trials up to this point had made my belief in God and people waver but with her single phone call, I was beginning to believe again.
The following morning just minutes after my husband left for work I put the rest of the baby supplies in the bag, wrapped my baby up in two baby blankets and ran with him to my neighbor’s house. She drove us to the country trailer where her granddaughter greeted us at the door.
I know it’s difficult for folks who have never been in an abusive situation to understand how anyone could stay and continue to take the beatings.
First, he would distance me from any outside contact so I had no friends, no one to turn to for help. Second, he told me that if I left and told anyone about his “bad days” that he would kill me and then my baby. Third, he wouldn’t allow me out of the house so that I could run. I wasn’t allowed to have a job, any money, or keys to our only car. These days there are homes or groups who will hide women and their children from their abuser. These programs not only offer free safe shelter but also free food and transportation to jobs. Most programs have directors who have been abused themselves and are able to counsel women on how to begin new lives without fear. There are even homes specifically for abused pregnant women to find assistance.
The attorney I contacted was very kind and helped me stay hidden. He used his office address for any paperwork. I obtained full custody of my son. My ex-husband was ordered to pay a whopping $15 a week in child support. He didn’t ask for visitation for many weeks but when he was awarded visitation, I thought about fleeing with my son.
The thought of my ex-husband being alone with my baby boy was unbearable to me. My attorney talked me out of the idea of becoming a fugitive with a baby. It would be considered kidnapping. If I was caught I would surely lose custody of my son and he would live full time with my ex—his abusive father.
He received visitation every other weekend. It was torture waiting for him to pick up our son and then waiting for him to bring my baby back. My psyche was so raw from his abuse that releasing my son to him was like taking a beating—except this was emotional abuse in place of the physical abuse. I would have taken a beating anytime in place of sending my baby off with his father.
While staying at the country trailer a man would visit the girl we were staying with. They were old friends and had grown up together. He was a hog farmer who was ten years older than me. He would walk in the door with a huge grin and say, “Why hello there”.
In just a few days I was in love. I didn’t need kindness from a man. All I needed to fall in love was someone who wouldn’t beat me. That’s it. He went above and beyond that need in being kind to me and gentle with my baby boy.
A little after a month my baby boy and I moved in with him. A week later he became my second husband. We were married at the courthouse then went home and finished the chores. This “wedding” was a huge step up from the first. He didn’t beat me, adored my son, and told me he loved me. I think he meant it—at the time.
We had two daughters within a couple of years. We both had jobs and worked the farm.
I also attended a community college with an eye on becoming an Accountant. My job was as a bookkeeper at a manufactured housing retail sales lot. One day the owner and the salesman attended a seminar off site so I spoke to customers as they arrived.
I sold two homes that afternoon. When the owner returned the next day, he told me that I was no longer the bookkeeper but now a salesman. When I received my commission check for triple the pay I made in a week as a bookkeeper, I wholeheartedly agreed.
Soon after my second daughter was born we were having marital issues. It was a family owned farm and I was not family. If the first divorce was not my fault, this one was. We had our problems but I should have stayed and found a way to work through them. If for no other reason but to keep all my children in the same home. I was weak and was making decisions with a lack of wisdom that only comes with age. The decision to divorce was the absolute worse decision of my life. I will forever feel the debilitating guilt of how this decision would affect my children and their children.
went on to marry a third man just six years later. This one 13 years
my elder. He was very handsome and everyone loved him.
Working my way up from salesperson of a small retail lot to the Director of Sales for a large publicly traded company took a few years. Two of the highlights of my career was winning every national award for a print industrial directory company and bringing home a new customer contract of $5 Million. I travelled extensively which did not give strength or longevity to my third marriage. He had multiple affairs while I was out of town. I blame myself for not being home as much as I should have been.
Swimming laps in hotel pools was a great way to stay in shape during business travel. I swam my usual laps one day at an out of state hotel. Waking up at 2 a.m. with a horrific migraine and unable to catch my breath gave me a feeling that I was going to die—there in that hotel room. I picked up the phone to call the front desk and quickly realized that I could not speak. The hotel desk clerk came to my room after calling an ambulance. They took me to the nearest hospital. My diagnosis was simply that it was “a viral” condition and was told it would “go away in about 3 days”.
That three days lasted for months. When that first three days turned into a week, I went to a different doctor who told me it was a “bacterial infection” and gave me steroids and antibiotics. I was told three days until “You’re all better”.
I then attempted to return to work. I drove to an out of state city to spend the week making sales calls. Feeling a little better that Sunday night as I unpacked and laid down for the night gave me a sense of knowing the second doctor had been right—that I’d be fine.
I woke up with the same symptoms that I’d had just a week before only this time I felt dizzy and my breathing was almost non-existent. Because I was unable to speak the last time I became ill, I requested a room close to the front desk. I walked to the front desk as I pinged from wall to wall—trying not to pass out. I fainted while speaking with a hotel employee and woke up in the hospital.
This doctor diagnosed me with asthma and gave me prescriptions for inhalers and steroids. After being told to go directly home and rest for the next week I called my office and asked them to cancel all my appointments for the subsequent week.
I felt a little better the following week so I drove about 6 hours to Cincinnati for a week of sales calls. As I laid my head on my pillow I was thinking about my appointments for the week and hoped I’d wake up and feel myself again.
I woke up with the same symptoms of difficulty breathing, inability to speak, and a horrific headache. I’d been to three doctors in three weeks with three different diagnosis’s.
My previous family doctor would take over my case. I had trouble speaking with him but could tell him that I wasn’t able to breathe and speak at the same time. His answer, “Stop talking!” He was a family friend so—I punched him in the arm.
I wrote a note. “This isn’t a joke. Something is very wrong. I talk for a living—so—not talking—is not an option”
This went on for weeks. A new doctor in a different city with a new diagnosis. I had one ENT tell me to go home and hum my favorite song. Another made me wait over five hours in the E.R. then told me “It’s all in your head”. One “specialist” wanted to put perform a permanent tracheostomy—I would have to push a button to have a voice for the rest of my life.
Finally, I referred myself to The Cleveland Clinic’s Pulmonary Department. My first words to the Pulmonary specialist were, “I’m not leaving this room until someone puts a tube down my throat”.
Within five minutes of my informing the doctor of my saga there were four other doctors in this little exam room. A cart with a VCR taping machine and a monitor on top was wheeled in by a nurse. As they all huddled in the room the first specialist asked if they could run a tube through my nose and down to my vocal cords. I said, “Yes, please”.
As the head of the department pointed to the small monitor screen on top of the VCR he exclaimed, “There it is! There’s the chink!” They all seemed so enthusiastic. “What’s a chink?” I asked.
For the next few minutes the doctor explained to me that they don’t see many chinks in their department. A chink is proof of a vocal cord dysfunction. Vocal Cord issues were usually handled by the ENT department.
My first thought was surgery. Couldn’t they cut out this chink thing? No—it doesn’t work like that. The doctor had concluded that my illness was the result of chemicals used in the hotel pool which I had swam laps in, weeks before. Cleaning chemicals used in hotel rooms exasperated my symptoms.
The course of action was voice therapy at Cleveland Clinic for weeks along with 16 medications and my use of a nebulizer multiple times a day.
It took him 45 minutes to make me believe that these symptoms were not “in my head”. I was exhilarated. Finally, a doctor who believed these symptoms were not phycological. The chink proved that my illness was real.
After obtaining pool maintenance records from that County’s health department, it was determined that the maintenance man had “shocked” the pool the night before I swam in it. The pool should have been closed due to the chlorine used in shocking the pool and the overuse of Bromine as a daily pool cleaner. The pool was enclosed by glass walls which meant the toxins had been multiplied by heat from the sun
The air laying on top of the water was toxic. Every time I would bring my head out of the water and gasp for air during a movement I was taking toxins deep into my lungs.
This “incident” (that’s what the attorney’s called it), was certainly a stop sign in my life.
My husband left me. I moved in with my mother—who was not a caring person. My employer put me on family leave and eventually doctors told me that I could not work. When I spoke, I would quickly lose my breath. When I did any physical activity, I became winded and dizzy to the point that I would faint.
I had worked from age 13 until 44 when I became disabled so I’d paid into the Social Security system for over 30 years making my monthly Social Security installments higher than most but I was still living at poverty level.
For a long time, I was angry at the world and at God for making me sick.
Then I realized it’s true, “Everything happens for a reason”.
Because of my disability I was home when my mother called me to tell me she was having chest pain and wanted me to meet her at the hospital close to her. It was 30 minutes from me. I told her to call 911. She refused because she didn’t want to pay an ambulance bill. I called 911, gave them her location—they were there within minutes.
When I arrived in my mother’s hospital room her physician was there. He told me that I had saved her life. She had a blood clot in her lung and would not have made it to the hospital without the medicine EMT’s had administered. Point being, If I had been working, my mother would not have called me and she would have died.
The second reason why my disability had to happen was when I was living in a low-income apartment complex and was sick but needed food. My neighbor across the hall was going to the free pantry and asked me if I needed any food. I said yes and gave her some grocery bags.
She told me when she arrived back at my place that when she was pulling up to the food pantry a toddler had dashed out into the street. She stopped her car and ran to scoop the boy up in her arms just seconds before a delivery truck was barreling towards him. If I had been working and my neighbor had not taken a few seconds to stop and ask me if I needed food, she would have been just seconds too late to save that child.
Everything has a reason. In God’s timing.
Because of my disability and not being able to work a regularly scheduled week, I decided to try to help the homeless folks in my community.
We have two dilapidated slum-like hotels where many homeless folks stay whenever they can. I worked with numerous churches, agencies and individuals to obtain donations of food, hotel rent and clothing.
I could help others at times when I was not in bed ill. I never know when I will become ill. Somedays I’m “normal” and can talk and do physical things, yet other days it becomes very difficult to breathe, to walk or speak so I stay bedridden without physical exertion until my body has the energy to get out of bed. Giving my cell number to folks who need assistance is an easy way for me to help. They all know there are days when I cannot speak so many requests for help are through texts or Facebook private messaging. If I’m having a “sick week” where I’m bedridden and cannot get out of the house, I have an army of folks in the community whom I can contact and they’ll connect folks who request assistance with their specific needs.
Because I didn’t have a “real job” I was able to write a column for our local newspapers. I would interview someone in the community for an hour and then write the column at home that week when I was feeling up to it. I called the column, “A Community to be Proud Of”. It featured groups or individuals who were uplifting or inspiring. Had I not been disabled I would not have seen my dream come true of being a published author.
I’ve met some extraordinary folks along the way including a man who was born with no arms or legs and is now a comedian, a homeless veteran who is on a two-year journey travelling to all 92 counties of Indiana, a woman who started a safe house for abused women and children, a small-town Policeman who spent time in Iraq, a 12-year-old violinist who plays with a band, a singer-songwriter who sails the seas with his two young girls and wife during the winter months, many women and children victims of domestic violence who now live lives without fear, and even politicians who truly care about the community they serve.
Not all the folks I met are above reproach but we are all sinners. One a pastor who promoted prostitution and drugs with money from churches, another who was a registered sex offender living next to 3 small children, yet another whom I’ll never forget—one of my foster teens—a 14-year-old who was brought to me by DCFS within hours of delivering a baby whose father was her uncle.
All the folks who have crossed paths with my life have taught me that “fairytales” are specific to each of us.
My fairytale may not be the same as the typical loving husband, wonderful children, nice home, dozens of friends etc., but “my version” of a fairytale did come true.
All my children and their children are happy, healthy and live in the same small town.
As for the portion of most fairytales which includes a prince charming... I’ve certainly had my share of “daddy issues”, abandonment, abuse, and cheating spouses—all from the men in my life. But I still believe if I hang in there just one more day, the most amazing thing can happen.