I lay on the cold hard floor for what seemed like hours waiting for him to leave. I prayed that my three children were still in a deep slumber and didn’t hear me begging their father for my life as he wrapped his hands around my throat and threw me to the floor.
I finally heard the garage door slam and his truck start up. The rumble of that engine had always sent a sense of terror through my body as I would hear it tear into the driveway each evening as he returned from work. In that moment, I felt some relief when his truck ripped away, yet I had no idea how long until his return and knew in that moment that enough was enough. I wasn’t going to re-live that moment, ever again. I felt so powerless with his hands wrapped around my throat, taking my breath and life away, little by little.
It was my children that gave me the strength to peel myself up off that floor that night. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I struggled to pull my beaten and bruised body and heart off the floor, I was starting a new journey.
I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know if anyone would help me. I didn’t know if anyone would believe me. There was a whole world of unknowns out there. The fear was almost debilitating. I remembered a friend telling me of a shelter for “women like me.” I was hesitant to call the crisis line number my friend had given me because what could they possibly do to help me? How could someone even begin to understand why I had never left? Out of sheer desperation, I called. I had to do something; I knew he would be back soon.
“Crisis Line,” answered a voice on the other end of the line. I was terrified. What do I even say?
“I think I need help,” I said.
“Of course, can you please tell me about your situation,” a gentle voice replied. After I frantically explained 16 years of abuse in two minutes, the tender voice on the other end of the phone detailed a plan with me to meet her at a safe haven for me and my children.
It was 3:30 a.m. when I arrived at the shelter. There was an advocate waiting for my children and me. We were each embraced with a hug. She took the tiny hands of my children and guided them through a warm haven. She sat on the bed with my two youngest children and explained to them that she was mommy’s friend and this was her house. She helped me tuck each child into bed and with snuggled them until all their fears were remedied and they drifted off to sleep.
The advocate and I sat on the couch for hours talking about the last 16 years. I cried...she held my hand. She then tucked me into bed with my children and promised the team at River City Domestic Violence Center would tend to our every need after we got some much needed rest.
When I woke the next morning, it took me a moment to collect my thoughts. My first thought was that I had finally hit rock bottom--look at me; I’m in a shelter. Those daunting words of my friend came spiraling back through my mind, “a place for women like you.” I was walking down the hallway to the kitchen, overwhelmed with a thousand emotions and questioning if I had made the right decision by coming to this place. It was in that moment I encountered another woman. She warmly introduced herself and stated she was also an advocate with RCDVC. As she hugged me she asked if I got a good rest and told me how glad she was that my children and I were in their facility, safe. Moments later, my four children came wandering down the hallway.
It warmed my heart to see the advocate giggling and snuggling with my babies as she helped them get breakfast. She treated each of my children as if they were her very own. It had been years since I had seen my children at ease with their environment—she made them feel safe again. Every doubt that had started to enter my mind was now gone. I knew this place was where we needed to be. I looked around. It didn’t look like a shelter; it looked like a temporary home for me and my family. I was still unsure of what the words “women like you” meant, but at this point I was convinced this was a blessing for a “woman like me.”
After breakfast and many threatening text messages from my husband to come home, I decided I needed a protection order. One advocate sat with me for four hours completing the protection order paperwork while another advocate embraced my children. The protection order mandated that my husband had to remain 500 ft. from me at all times and could have no contact with me. It also mandated that he had the right to see our children and ordering us to use River City Family Connections to exchange our four babies.
I met with a member of the Family Connections Team. She sat with me and explained how supervised exchanges occurred. She explained that she would make all contacts with my husband to line up visitation and she would escort the children from me to their father without us having contact.
Family Connections quickly became another temporary home for my children. The staff greeted the kids with a hug at each exchange and made each of them feel important during their interactions.
It wasn’t long after we started exchanges that one of my daughters reported to me that she had been sexually assaulted by her father during their time together. This news wreaked havoc on my entire world. I felt worthless as a mother. The thoughts haunted me daily that if I would have just stayed with him I could have protected my daughter from this heinous act.
When this information was revealed to me, the staff of River City Domestic Violence Center and River City Family Connections united as one to ensure my family we would be cared for. The teams of these two agencies helped me file the appropriate reports and had my daughter examined by a forensic interviewer. This team help me navigate through every up and down I struggled through for over four years. During this time, it was ordered that my husband could only see our children under the supervision of the Family Connections team.
Though it is beyond my understanding, my daughter was not entirely fearful of her father after he made her vulnerable to him. She carried on seeing him during visitations. She would have moments of weakness where she would become emotional because, in her young mind, she simply could not understand why we were all living this way. In those moments of weakness, I truly depended on the staff of Family Connections to embrace her and find the words to give her the peace that an angry mother full of rage could not provide. The staff held my daughter as she cried after her visits with her father and seemed to take on every emotion she was feeling. It was like a bond I had never witnessed…my daughter felt safe.
My ex-husband and father to my children is completely out of all of our lives now. The void he left in our family has been filled with the new family we inherited on that night so long ago, as I lay on that cold hard floor.