This Project DVORA client tells her own story of facing domestic violence. She wrote this piece while participating in a Speaking and Writing for Change group at JFS. She also attended a Project DVORA Family Group with her children. Project DVORA works with clients to develop individualized plans to support them in the healing process. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, call Project DVORA (206) 861-3159.
I arrived home to find him in my apartment. He had a sheepish grin on his face that I couldn’t help but return. “I don’t remember giving you a key,” I said.
His reply, “I’m a firefighter, it’s my job to know how to get into buildings.”
I pushed aside the uneasiness, telling myself he was harmless — he’s a firefighter; we had been dating for about a month and he wanted to surprise me. I carried on like it was no big deal, wanting to feel honored that he chose me to spend time with. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of discounting my uneasiness and fear.
I had been in Seattle for a couple months, started my first job out of grad school and met this lovely, Swedish, City of Seattle Firefighter at a house warming party. It was a new chapter in my life; I was excited about my future. A little over a year later, we were married and expecting a child.
Throughout our time dating and marriage there were ‘incidents’ but I told myself there was no need to fear the man I loved. He may have a temper but he loves me, and we both want the best for each other and our family. Most often I blamed myself or the situation. Yet there were times where blame could not be shouldered by me or the kids. In those instances, I willed myself not to let this man rattle me. He was an adolescent bully in an adult body. If I stood my ground, remained calm, he would come to see how ridiculous his behavior was. What I didn’t realize was the dance I was engaging in; how I was modifying my behavior in anticipation of his. I refused to believe that I was experiencing anything different than what other couples and families must go through. Pushing the fear and uneasiness aside became second nature.
Fifteen years in, I realized I needed to get out of the marriage. His behavior was not getting any better, in fact it was getting worse and our daughters were being impacted more and more. I told him we needed to get divorced, that we would both be better parents and individuals apart than we were together. I convinced myself that we could both get through this amicably. I believed in my heart that he was a good man who loved his girls and that we would be happier after the fact. Unfortunately all the years refusing to acknowledge that I was experiencing intimate partner violence left me blind to what was coming.I continued the dance after I asked for a divorce. He stated he did not want to use any lawyers, that we could figure out the division of assets and the parenting plan on our own. Wanting to work together and keep things calm, I agreed. However, things were anything but calm. While I was putting energy into finding a financial planner and trying to understand the legal paperwork we would need to file, he was shopping for lawyers, providing family, friends, neighbors and the kids with misinformation, tracking and monitoring me, and preparing to take me to court.
After the judge reduced his time with the girls, ordered him to pay child support and assigned us someone to represent the best interest of our children in court, I let him convince me that we weren’t required to use the person appointed by the judge if we could come up with a parenting plan ourselves.
I was caught off guard at every turn. I was blind to the lesson, and he kept providing opportunities for me to learn.
In January of 2015, he was living with his cousin and another roommate around the block from the girls and me. It was the girls’ night to stay at their dad’s place, and my 11 year old asked me to drop off a book she had left at our house. This was a fairly common occurrence as we were all getting used to a two-household family. Luckily I was just around the corner.
I knocked on the door, my older daughter answered, accepted the book, and I turned to leave. As I was walking away, our younger daughter came running outside, crying for me. She didn’t have shoes on, and it was January so I scooped her up, told her I loved her, that I’d see her tomorrow and shooed her back in the door. At the same time, he stepped outside. He asked me what I was doing. He was very quiet. I told him, but it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He kept repeating the question, with our younger daughter at our feet. The last thing I remember him saying is, “You look so smug.”
I remember seeing my feet and wondering, “Why aren’t they touching the ground?” I remember wiggling them and being confused about why I couldn’t feel the ground. That thought stopped, and sometime later the next one came, “How many times can my head hit the concrete before breaking?” These were very matter of fact thoughts. No emotion or judgment involved. No different from musing whether a cloudy day would bring rain.
My head stopped hitting the ground, and I felt multiple impacts against my body. My consciousness and thoughts came together at the sound of my older daughter’s voice and my younger daughter’s screams. My vision crept back. I managed to get on my hands and knees, waves of nausea and thundering in my head kept me on all fours. I saw him cross my line of sight. Panic began to rise, my older daughter helped me to my feet. My voice finally came, although I didn’t recognize the sound. He drove away.
I survived. I was awash in shame as the social worker explained resources available to victims of domestic violence and asked if I had somewhere safe to go. Even with staples in my head, I still didn’t want to believe I was a domestic violence victim. And when his sister called me a couple days later, saying how sorry he was and that he wanted to make sure I was okay, a part of me wanted to surrender to that concern and reassure him… knowing that when he felt bad, we all would pay… Old habits are hard to break. But I was done with that dance and ready to get off the dance floor. I needed to pay more attention to the fear.