Finding Elmo: Getting My Kid & Myself Out Of Domestic Violence
"Well, you're a whore just like your mother, so..."
"I am going to shoot you and your new boyfriend in the head."
"Sometimes I really want to choke you while you're sleeping."
"I'm going to take our son away from you and you'll never see him again, and I'm going to tell him that it's your fault for breaking up our family since you're a whore."
"How could you have an abortion and kill our second child, you cold-hearted bitch?"
Hearing statements like this, I was finally freaked out. After five years of being with and living with this guy, since I was in my teens, I was finally pretty sure he was going to kill or seriously injure me and probably soon. Our romantic relationship had ended some time earlier. By this time we were living together as roommates and co-parents.
On May 24, 2010, he kicked our son's little plastic Batman bike across the room and it smashed against the wall. It missed the three year old by about two feet. Days before we had engaged in a screaming match which ended with our son standing in front of me, trying to shield me with his tiny arms and yelling at his father to stop. This day, he slammed the freezer door so hard that it splintered after I asked him where he put the peanut butter. Apparently, I should have known where the peanut butter was if I lived there and cared about our family at all, and that I didn't made me a heartless bitch.
After he slammed the freezer door and said those things, I looked at his eyes.
He was fuming, more angry than I'd ever seen him in the five years I'd known him, and apparently all over peanut butter. He looked completely out of control and like he might snap. I tried to be calm, sensing that meeting him at his level might be dangerous for me. So, I sympathized. I told him that I knew how hard his life was, and I apologized for my contribution to it. I said, as gently as possible, that he couldn't feel very good to be acting that way; that maybe there was some kind of help we could find for him that would make him feel better. Also, I said that maybe he just needed to take a break, and to not worry because I'd take care of the kid (like I always did).
Inside of my head I was saying "You crazy, evil jerk. I hate you and I'm so outta here. I can't take this anymore. But I'm so scared. Stay calm, I can do this. I can do this."
"NO!" he snapped, "I only get this angry at YOU. YOU are the cause of this. This is all YOUR fault, YOU WANT me to do this, you LIKE IT. I hate you! Only YOU can make me this angry, no one else! I don't have a problem, except that YOU are the problem. Once you're GONE, I'll be fine."
He finally left. I don't remember where he was going, but he said he'd be back later. I peeked out the window, careful to not be seen, making sure he was gone. I felt something in me snap, everything became clear. I had to do something, but I wasn't sure exactly what. I wasn't sure of where we should go. I'd left before, even got my own apartment in a nearby city, another time I stayed with family for a few weeks. I needed something else, something more, but I wasn't sure what. A friend had told me many times (and begged and pleaded with me to call many times) about local places that help people get out of domestic violence.
I put my son down for a nap, and grabbed a phone book. I called a crisis line, and was redirected to a domestic violence line for my county. I tried to explain the situation, but I was having issues my cell phone not working properly and the person on the other end couldn't hear me well. She asked me to go somewhere safe and call back again. I was so frustrated, I slammed the phone down on my bed and I cried. I collapsed on the floor and just shook with sobs. I was so scared, and was afraid this was a terrible sign that I was stuck.
Then I paced around my apartment and watched my son sleep. He had been so sad lately. My mom said that when she had him overnight, he cried when it was time to go home. Not in a "I love to play with my Grandma and want to stay here" way, more like "My home is scary and stressful, but I don't have the words to express that."
I turned my phone off and on, and called again. This time, she could hear me. I explained the situation, giving minimal information other than what seemed urgent and I asked what I should do. She responded by asking if I could be ready for a cab in 20 minutes. We would go to the shelter. We would be safe.
I agreed, and felt another huge surge of adrenaline, stronger than the first. Luckily, almost as if I subconsciously knew this was going to happen, I'd spent the previous day catching up on laundry. I grabbed a few bags, and carefully (but quickly) separated out a few outfits for each of us. I mentally went over a typical day and tried to think of what we'd need - clothes, toothbrushes, medication, a few toys and books, diapers, my purse with ID, my debit card for my secret bank account - not a lot of stuff.
When I was almost packed, I realized I couldn't find my son's beloved Elmo doll.
He loved this thing, it was his security blanket. Unfortunately, he sometimes hides the things he cares the most about in strange places. I spent precious time looking for it. Completely packed, child awakened, standing by the door and ready to go, I took a final sweep of the house and saw Elmo the instant I walked into my son's room for the 10th time in as many minutes. There he was: wrapped in a large blanket on the floor. I snatched him up and bolted for the door. We rushed to the meeting spot for the cab which was a few blocks away (in domestic violence situations, cab drivers often pick up at least a few blocks away for everyone's safety).
My son asked me where we were going. I had to admit to him that I wasn't entirely sure, but that we were going to be fine. He waved "Bye house! Bye Dada!" and skipped along with me, thrilled that we were finally using his Batman suitcase with the wheels and a handle.
The cab was late. I stood behind a large tree with my son, who looked confused and upset that he couldn't go play on the playground across the street. I felt guilty, which was merely the first moment of a long journey that has me managing my guilt with what has happened and how it was affecting him.
Finally, the cab arrived. We went first to a nearby hotel while we waited for our room to be ready at the shelter. They finished it earlier than expected so we only spent a few hours at the hotel. I passed the time there by texting with a friend and pacing back and forth while my son watched cartoons on the grainy TV.
Another cab came. The cab drivers knew we were leaving a DV situation, and were very nice to us. I felt safe with them. The cab driver walked us to the door of the shelter and pressed an intercom button. A woman came down and signed for the cab, then ushered us inside. We went up a few flights of stairs while she explained the intake process to me. It was surreal. I felt overwhelmed but safe; hopeful.
Another woman took my kid into a room across the hall to watch TV, and offered him a snack. After getting basic information, I was told that there was a DV group that day, with child care provided. We decided I'd go to that and finish the intake after. My son was a little apprehensive (but mostly excited) to play with other kids in the childcare room. I kissed him goodbye and was led to the meeting. Up until this moment I had only felt a strange sort of numb panic, and the adrenaline rushes. I was sitting at a table while women trickled in, all warmly greeted by the facilitator when I started crying quietly. Someone told me it was fine, everyone cries in that room at some time or another, and passed me the tissues.
I just observed the meeting, and tried to take it all in. Everything that was said in that room is confidential, though we learned and talked about domestic violence facts and healthy/unhealthy relationships. Some women shared personal stories, some cried, some laughed.
After intake was finished, we were shown to our little room which consisted of a bunk bed, 2 dressers and 2 windows. My son gleefully ran to the windows (the apartment we left had been nearly windowless). After reading together one of the few books I'd brought and cuddling him, I tucked him into bed and climbed onto the top bunk. I heard his soft singing so I peeked over the top of the bed so see my child with his elbows on the windowsill, singing Ernie's "I'd like to visit the moon" song while gazing at the sky.
Tears were flowing again and I knew I would never forget that moment. We were safe and everything was going to be fine.
The first week was tough on both of us. I had a migraine that wouldn't go away and neither of us had an appetite. My son ate almost nothing for the first five days. I was afraid I'd need to take him to the hospital. I also ate minimally for the first two weeks and felt scared and dazed all of the time. I didn't go very far from home: I was afraid to even step a foot out of the door. We both got sick. I was having to watch my phone ring constantly with calls and voicemails from my ex, who kept switching tactics from rage to guilt-tripping. He harassed my family and friends, told them terrible things about me and demanded to know where I was.
Using legal aid, I started the process to get a protection order. I had to list the things he'd done: He broke my ring finger a few years ago, he called me names, threw things, threatened to kill me numerous times. He taught our son to call me a cunt, he told our child one night that he could only have dinner if he slapped my face. He ripped, cut up and burned holes into lots of my clothing, especially the ones he thought I looked good in. He hid my computer and phone chargers, attempting to cut me off from the world. He ripped up books I loved and scattered the pieces, wrote "bitch" in permanent marker on the covers of others. I got declarations from the apartment manager specifying how he'd heard my ex yelling, and one from my current boyfriend detailing the harassment that had he'd witnessed and had been subjected to himself.
Four weeks later, he was finally served and showed up to court. I was so nervous, I spent the morning throwing up. When I got to the courthouse I saw him sitting on a bench, I clicked by in my heels and focused on texting a friend, hoping he couldn't see me shaking.
I sat nervously in the courtroom, not knowing when my name would be called. Finally, it was. As I walked up to the bench, I very suddenly found my confidence and inner strength. I knew what I needed to say and how to say it. I was aware that I looked good, and that I communicated well. My ex, on the other hand, looked kind of rough and had never been a great (or even a mediocre) communicator. I nearly laughed as he stumbled over his words, ignored the judge directly asking him if he threatened to kill me and focused instead on saying that he "never ripped up my clothes" and insisted that "most of the stuff her boyfriend said isn't even true!"
"I just want to see my son, I don't care about her," he cried to the judge. She explained to him what he needed to do to start that process.
Since then, I have filed the initial paperwork. It has been 8+ months and he hasn't responded at all.
I am a single mother to a kid with special needs, who is confused and sad about what happened and what he saw. He's started therapy and is beginning to work it out, but I worry about what his long term relationship with his father will be like and the effects of the abuse he witnessed.
The judge granted me a one year protection order. I felt immediately elated, like I was the winner. The bailiff held my ex so I could leave without fear of being followed. I didn't want to wait around for a cab or bus, so I ran (in heels) back to the shelter.
I was so excited, but that unfortunately deflated quickly when I talked to my mother. She was doubtful that I'd really "won," and I knew she doubted that I was making the right decisions (even though she absolutely hated my ex, almost from day one), and has implied on many times that I was equally to blame for the situation. She kept insisting that she was on the side of my son (as if I wasn't, even with whisking him away from an awful, abusive situation that was severely affecting him). I hung up the phone, feeling very upset. This "win" had depressing undertones.
I carry a copy of this protection order with me, and I feel confident. I moved to a different place, we're adjusting to a new life and building a support system. I have had to learn how healthy relationships work and I discovered that when you spend a lot of time dealing with abuse, a healthy relationship can feel awkward and uncomfortable. It was a sad but important realization to have right before I nearly sabotoged my new relationships for no reason other than feeling uneasy about being treated with care and respect.
I very often ask myself why I didn't leave sooner. Sometimes other people ask me that. I knew from early on that our relationship wasn't the least bit healthy, and I knew I was miserable. I was in denial, though, about how it affected me and how it affected our son. He didn't show a lot of the symptoms kids who witness abuse often have until after we left. It was, and still continues to be, a real eye opener. He is only four years old, but he has been through so much. I am working very hard to give him a better life, and to manage his issues. I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time, but he is a wonderful child and I know we'll be fine.
I want to tell you something: if you are being mistreated at home or in your intimate relationship, you do not need to wait as long as I did to get out. It doesn't get better until you leave, the despair and terror only widens like a sinkhole.
For various reasons I felt I needed him, like we needed each other, even after our romantic relationship ended, and I was wrong about both of those things. The behavior he displayed in the past only escalated after our relationship ended, and I feel lucky to be alive today and in one piece. If you are being abused, you need to know that it isn't your fault, you don't deserve it, and you don't need to stay for ANY reason. It is affecting your children and it will affect your future relationships, probably your current friendships as well and needless to say: your spirit and self-esteem. You need to leave, and hopefully before you have to get wise only when it's clear your life is on the line.
I was walking outside with my son recently. He stopped in his tracks and he gazed at the sky. It was a brilliant shade of blue and filled with fluffy white clouds. "Look Mommy!" he sighed "We're in a story!" I appreciate the beauty in the world, and the sweet resilience my son has displayed. I also take pride in the courage and strength I found within myself to leave and to begin healing. The courage and strength I found that made me able to make sure we are going to be just fine.