‘Daddy, why are you so angry? Why do you have to hit me with a belt? If I promise I won’t do it again, do you have to hit me with the belt?’
‘Why does mommy lock herself in the bathroom and cry?’
‘Mommy, what’s wrong? I’m sorry that daddy hit Bill. I’m sorry that Bill made him mad.’
‘Mommy, why does daddy hit us with a belt? It hurts when he hits our backs and our legs.’
‘Get married? I don’t want to get married. I don’t even know if I want to keep the baby.’
‘I don’t want to look at porn. Aren’t I enough? Why do you want to look at that woman instead of at me while we are making love? How is it love, if you need to look at them having sex?’
‘I believe you are the head of the home, the man of the family. I believe that God put you there for a reason. You can make all of the big decisions, but why does that mean I have no say? Can’t I tell you how I feel, why I think what you are about to do is not a good decision for our family?’
‘Wait, you want me to do what?’
‘You want me to be naked in front of a camera that other men are going to be watching?’
‘It’s okay, because it is in our marital room and we both agree to it? What if I don’t agree?’
A running list scrolls through my mind as I lay awake at night. I should be sleeping, but I cannot.
Why do I want to write this book?
The question people ask me. The question I ask myself. The need for a simple answer haunting me again. ‘I need to create an elevator speech’, I tell myself for the umpteenth time. A well thought, canned response to the burning question everyone asks.
‘You deserve better than him.’
‘He shouldn’t speak to you that way.’
‘Don’t listen to his words. You are smart. You are beautiful. You have the potential to do great things.’
I have said these things to girls, women I have come across while out for a walk. From a distance I hear her boyfriend, her partner, ridicule her, defiling her with words of hatred. Tearing her down, beating her into submission, not for the first time nor for the last.
I should remain quiet. Mind my own business. I can’t.
I must speak out. I have to defend her. I need to be that person who will speak up for her, to her. Oh, how I longed for someone to speak up for me. To tell me, he was wrong. His words were wrong, I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. No woman deserved to be treated that way. It was not because of my sin. It was not because my heart was not right with God.
If I don’t speak up, who will?
If I give it too much thought, it overwhelms me. I cannot possibly save them all. I understand many do not want to be saved. Some do not know, yet, their need to be saved. Rescued. Many, so many, have tried to leave, only to return. Leaving is hard, unbelievably hard. Going back is easier. I know. How do you help those who do not want to be helped? How do you find those who need and want to be helped? Once you find them, how do you possibly help them? Their needs, all very different, are more than I could take on.
It would be easier to go forward in my own life. To count my blessings and move on. To accept if I am needed, if they come to me, then I will help, if I am able.
It was easier to go back. It was easier to stay. Easier to live with the hidden knowledge that I would most likely die. By his hand or my own.
It was harder to leave. Scarier to step out. Difficult to accept that leaving was my only chance to ever know if what I believed, what I questioned, was right, or wrong.
I left. I survived. I am alive.
That should be enough. Only, it’s not. A purpose burns within me. It began as the smoldering embers of the fire that destroyed me. The fire of his words. The fire of his beatings. The destruction, the mayhem my daughter and I endured. Furniture broken, plates smashed against walls, hair pulled, evil spewed from his mouth, day after day. The flames put out when we escaped, not turning back, in the middle of the night, one last leaving, never to return.
The embers remain, smoldering, white hot, a reminder of all we survived. His words, his abuse reduced to ash, still there, in our hearts and our minds. For years a reminder, giving me strength to continue on, no turning back. The flames sparked when fear crept in, only to be put out once again through therapy sessions, through new found understanding, healing and love. Fear turned to anger a less vulnerable emotion. Anger raged within, crying out for resolution. Resolution, brought healing, forgiveness. Forgiveness, releasing me from the grip of my past. My pain, my hurt, my shame.
And yet, the embers, the ash remain. Eighteen years later, still there. Time heals all wounds, they say. My physical wounds have healed. Much of my emotional wounds have healed. The embers there, inside my heart, lingering inside my soul are giving way to my voice. They glow when I see abuse, when I fall into my own anger, they ignite when I write. The cries within me, silenced for years, rising up, longing to be heard, to be shared, to fulfill a purpose I have shied away from.
Telling my story, is not to shame my ex-husband. It is not to destroy him. He is but a human with faults and pain of his own. Telling my story is not to hurt his parents, his family, those who knew him. Many of them are family to me, to this day, people I admire, people I love, deeply. Telling my story is not to shame my family, my parents who are deceased, my siblings, who are alive and do not understand my need to share, to tell our family secrets. Telling my story is not for sympathy. I do not long for any one to feel sorry for me.
Telling my story, sharing my life, is to give way to my voice. If my voice can help one woman, awaken her inner voice, strengthen her to get help, to leave, to live. If my voice can help one child, open the eyes and ears of someone in their life who can extend the help they need. If my voice can awaken a young girl seeking love in all the wrong places. If my voice can open the eyes of an abuser to seek help, or a friend to call the abuser out. If my voice can open your eyes to the abuse around you and compel you to use your voice to help even one victim. If my voice can do that, then I must give way to my voice.
May the embers of my soul never go out. May they spark in me the fire to speak up, to speak out. May them embolden me extend help to someone in need. May they live on, in others, long after I am gone.