Vanessa’s story: No one can make you leave; you have to do it for yourself

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BETHESDA, Maryland, October 22, 2014 — Vanessa* is a survivor of domestic violence and pathological abuse living, fighting for her children and healing in The United States.

I was very young when I entered the relationship. I was 21 when I met him. Before meeting him, I was social and outgoing. I was living at home at the time and going to community college and living my life to the fullest. I was not a partier and never went to bars. I mostly worked, went to school and did things with my friends. I had many friends, and most of them revolved around my job. I was happy with my life for the most part.

In the beginning of the relationship, I was still that same happy-go-lucky, outgoing person. I was going to college and working and still hanging with my close friends. As weeks turned into months, I noticed that he was jealous of my friends and always wanted me to skip school and be with him. I thought it was sweet at first, but then he started making me feel bad about doing things without him. So i started changing my life to accommodate him and his feelings.

He started growing jealous of my family and would be bothered if I did things with them. He started insisting on going places with me and driving me everywhere. At the time, these things got on my nerves, but I was blinded by so much. I started feeling trapped even though I had no real ties or obligations to him. Things continued this way for a while, and my friends and family were all screaming at me and pointing out the red flags. I just laughed off their concerns.

I made so many bad choices. I moved in with him even though I knew it was wrong. Then he moved me out of state and away from family and friends. I was caught. My problem was that I had fallen in love with his young son whose mother had passed away when he was only eight-months-old. I was not in love with this man; I was in love with his son, and I felt responsible for him after being in his life for so long.

Things started getting bad. He began verbally and emotionally abusing me after we moved in together. A year passed, and on a whim, I married him. Another mistake. Six months later, I was pregnant. That happy-go-lucky me was putting on a good game face for the kids despite wanting to get away. Eight years and two more kids later, I was in so deep. Abuse and survival were my life.

Love bombing with this man was over the top. From the very beginning, he would buy me so many gifts. Leather jackets and fancy watches. The biggest kicker was the time he bought me an Ethan Allen canopy bed. Thinking back now I am like, “Oh my god!” It was delivered to my house where I was living with my father. My dad was so taken aback by it that he did not know how to say it.

He always wanted to be around me or with me. Part of that was his control. He needed to know everything I was doing. I thought it was to get to know me and because he enjoyed my company, but really he just needed to be in control and know what was always going on.

I was told in the later years that I could never live without him. To him, I was a nobody. I was blamed for everything that happened and went wrong.

Nothing was ever done about our problems, because he did not want anything to do with trying to fix anything. His bipolar tendencies sent him back and forth. One day he was telling me that he knew we needed help; the next day he was telling me I was crazy. It was whatever he wanted it to be. Quite frankly, I did not want to save it toward the end; I had come to hate this man. There was no love to save.

He told me early on that my family was no good and that certain friends of mine really were not my friends. Then he let our phone get turned off. I did not speak to my family for about six months at one point. His biggest thing was that he hated my mother and was always trying to convince me that she was evil. I listened to him for a long time about her. The fact is, my mother and I never had a super-close relationship, and he played on that. Looking back, I can not believe some of the things I said to her all because he brain washed me into believing something.

When I finally got the nerve to leave him, it was intense. I grabbed what I could and left. It was a very long and crazy couple of days, which included police and protective orders. I left and went to my family’s. I was scared and nervous. I had my three kids but could not take my stepson, because he was not legally mine. I lived in a friend’s basement for two weeks. Then we moved in with my dad for a week until we could find a place of our own. My parents were able to provide a nice three-bedroom house for us for six months until I got on my feet. That summer, I registered the kids for school and prepared for our temporary custody hearing, because this man was not giving up his possessions.

During the first few weeks of being in our new place, my children and I were adjusting well. I needed to find a job and take care of things, so I put the older two kids into a day camp for a week. I did not know it, but he was watching us even though I had a protective order. No piece of paper will stop real abusers.

I came to the camp to pick up the kids one day, and they were gone. He had taken them off the playground when the entire group went outside. I was devastated. He now had two of the children; I had the youngest. Our hearing was about three weeks away.

While my youngest and I were sitting in the kitchen one day, I got a phone call. It was my son. He wanted to know how we were and where we were. I told him we were at home having breakfast. His father was listening.

Let me step back and explain that after he stole the kids off the playground, he took them on vacation. During that time, I went back to the house with my father and his van. We went on the property, which I still owned, with a county sheriff. I grabbed personal belongings that I was not able to get when I left the first time. Among those things was a box of clothes that his oldest daughter from a previous marriage had given me a few months back. We left and took everything that was mine, including that box of clothes.

When he got back from vacation, he was not happy that I had been in the house. So in an effort to get revenge, he had his oldest daughter go to the sheriff to have an arrest warrant put out for me. It stated that I stole 200 dollars worth of clothes from her. From my own house. In that particular state, stealing 200 dollars is considered a felony.

So on that fateful morning after my son called asking me where I was, my husband called the local police in my county and told them that I was at home and that I had a felony arrest warrant outstanding.

Within 30 minutes, two police cars were at my house. I called my parents who arrived to watch my youngest child. I was arrested and put in handcuffs outside my house. I spent eight nights in the county detention center – in jail. I was considered a felon from another state and had to be extradited for processing. It took them eight days before they came and got me. There was nothing anyone could do.

The same night I was arrested, my husband came looking for my youngest. He went all over the place, but my mother was hiding her from him. In the end, he had police on his side. My mother had to turn my youngest child over to him. When I finally stood before the magistrate,

he looked at me and asked, “Why are you here?” He could not believe that I spent eight days in jail for taking clothes out of my own home. He let me go on my own recognizance.

Our custody hearing was two days later. Now he had all three kids back in the house with their older brother. He had possession, which is nine-tenths of the law. I was warned by my attorney that judges like to keep kids in the county. I was nervous but confident that this abuser would not get to keep my children. Unfortunately, the judge was not concerned about abuse. In fact, he questioned it and asked me why I never called the police. I was floored.

In the end, the judge looked at my husband and told him he did not believe he was the better parent but that the kids had been through so much and should stay in the house in which they grew up. I could not believe it. I was just beside myself, and so was he. He did not want those kids; he just wanted to defeat me.

At this point, I was exhausted, sad, heartbroken for my kids, but safe and free of his reach. As the years pass (it has been four), I am learning to live life as a free person. I have not gotten my kids back, because I am fighting a system that does not protect women or children. He has since moved on to a new woman and abuses her too, and my children see it. She is also pregnant, which is his way of trapping her.

My kids live in a terrible situation, and there is nothing I can do about it other than come up with 20,000 dollars to fight him for custody. The system does not care how the kids are treated, what their living conditions are or how they feel. Even if the courts did care, I was told by social services that information about their living conditions must come from them. So I would say that after the relationship ended, I am a mixed bag of feelings. I am a liberated free woman with a broken heart.

I do not know if I have done anything specific to heal. I did meet back up with a high school sweetheart who has helped me deal with many things. Talking to him has been important

My best advice to someone going through something similar is that no one can make you leave or do it for you. You have to do it when you know and feel it is the right time. Leaving is the hardest thing, and it is a very personal thing. You can never judge someone for not leaving. You are not in their shoes, so you have no idea how it is for them.

One day I will write a book, a chapter book. So many things happened to me in those ten years. My only question is whether it will be fiction or non-fiction. I am happy to start here even if my story is never used. It is kind of healing to tell the story to someone else. So many stories. So many things happened. Our system is so broken. The cycle of violence is a hard thing to stop.

Each day during the month of October, column author Paula Carrasquillo will feature a story written by a survivor of domestic violence. At the end of October, a compilation of all stories will be available for free as an e-book.

*All names have been changed to protect the survivor and the survivor’s family and friends.

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  • Sandra Lawrence

    The story of Vanessa highlights again the suffering of the children in an abusive relationship. Also the fact that she new what he was like but still went ahead, married him and had children as so many of us do. This is why I have written Eva, the darkness in my life. Women must end it before it gets that far. Children should not have to suffer for our mistakes.