I’d been a single mom for six years. After breaking up with a guy I’d been seeing for three months, I went back on a dating site – and that’s where I met my soon-to-be boyfriend, fiancé, husband, abuser, and eventual ex-husband.
Of course, in the beginning, everything was amazing. He was great with my then-six-year-old daughter and I was head-over-heels in love, just as he was. We had a few arguments over the summer; he’d blame them on me or, if we’d been somewhere drinking, he’d try to blame them on that. But nothing that concerned me too much.
Seven months into our relationship he proposed, and I said yes. I was so in love, so happy. We planned a cruise together in July – my first one – for a little over a month after our engagement. Two weeks before we were due to leave, we were driving to the tanning salon for a base tan. He had a female friend who texted him a question about sex, which I felt was inappropriate. We started to argue and he pulled into the driveway of an apple orchard where he got out of the car, yelling at me. I got out as well and, as we continued to argue, that’s when he slapped me across the face.
I started to cry and, as he was trying to grab me to get me to calm down, I saw a big rock. I suddenly thought he was going to kill me – he was going to throw me into the rock. I twisted away and managed to pull my driver’s license from my wallet and toss it. I thought that someone might find it and it would help the police piece things together.
Of course, things calmed down. He apologized, told me he loved me, said he didn’t mean it and asked me to forgive him. I did, because I thought he wouldn’t do it again. There were marks on my face from where he’d slapped me and that’s when I began lying to protect him – even though I tried to cover them up with makeup, my mom noticed. I told her I’d had a bad itch and scratched too hard.
I remembered I had always told myself I’d never stay in an abusive relationship, and yet here I was – in one that was emotionally, physically and financially abusive. He’d already tried to isolate me from my family, too. But he loves me, I thought, and I’ve always wanted a real family, and now I could have one.
Shortly after we got back from our cruise we moved into a two-bed apartment together. Thankfully it was in the same town I already lived in, so my daughter didn’t have to change schools. Emma was going through this relationship too; she’d never met her biological father, and my then-
fiancé was the only ‘father figure’ in her life. He spanked her once, and I lost it; that was the only time he really laid hands on her, but he abused her mentally and emotionally.
I tried hard to protect her from him, as I had always protected her. He hated that, and it was another reason we fought constantly. Every day, there was something. One night after a really bad argument I fled to the bathroom to try and get away. He grabbed me by my throat, choked me and told me he was going to kill me. I told him to just do it. I was so unhappy, but I was too scared to leave or do anything about it.
I’d come home from work and worry about the mood he’d be in and what would happen. He’d usually pick Emma up from school and I’d get home around 5pm. Often during the day we’d fight by text, going back and forth. He’d tell me what a piece of shit I was and how it was all my fault. I knew I had to leave, but I was too scared still, and he’d always tell me he was sorry and would change.
One time, we were at his friend’s house in New Jersey. We got a little too drunk, and when we went to bed he started yelling at me about how I was on my phone too much. I was checking to make sure my daughter was ok, but of course, the yelling started. Before I knew it, he was coming towards me – he grabbed my hands and bent my fingers back. I screamed in pain as I felt the crack and thought for sure my fingers were broken. I took a swing at him, hit him back. Later, I got the usual apology and I lied for him again; I said I’d had too much to drink and fallen down the stairs, breaking my fall with my hand.
I felt constantly sad and afraid – I wanted to get out, but I didn’t know how. I knew my mom would welcome us home with open arms, but I still wanted my own family and thought I would have one with him. He told me we’d have a child together once we were married. Two and a half years into our relationship, we began to plan our wedding. I knew, deep down, that it wouldn’t last but I just didn’t want to believe it. During this time, he’d isolated me from my family and I hated him for that. I missed my mom, my brother, cousins, aunts and uncles. I missed being close to them. After growing up in a very close-knit family, as one of 17 cousins, I hated being pulled away from them. I cried every night, feeling all alone.
A lot of this I kept to myself, too scared to tell anyone – even my mom, my brother George and best friend Lindsay. It was hard to keep such a big secret and it hurt me to do it. My heart ached constantly – there were so many people I no longer had in my life. A big part of it was because I’d allowed him to pull me away, but I was depressed. There were times when I thought I’d be better off dead than with him, and I told him this. The one reason I’d never do anything was because of my beautiful Emma. She needed me. She’s the reason I stayed alive – why I’m still alive.
We actually broke up at one of my cousin’s weddings, after we had a big fight there, but over the next few days I was texting him and decided to get back together with him. My mom tried to take Emma from me then – I know it was for my daughter’s protection, but at the time I was furious. I fought for both Emma and my relationship with my fiancé. Back and forth I went with the courts, battling my mom. In the end, she was awarded visitation rights. Our relationship improved after a while too, and eventually she started to talk to my still-then-fiancé. At that point, I still wasn’t in contact with a lot of my family, including my brother, but as the wedding got closer I spoke to him again and invited him to attend.
We got married and actually, during the honeymoon, everything was pretty great. Don’t get me wrong – we did have some really good times. But we had so many more bad ones. Then, we got back from a family trip and visited my sister-in-law’s house for my brother-in-law’s birthday. We got into an argument on the way home – I can’t remember what it was about – and he punched me in the head in front of Emma. It wasn’t the first time he’d hit me in front of her, nor was it the last. The verbal abuse was bad too – he’d curse at me in front of people and call me names. There were so many fights when I’d be pinned down or verbally abused.
We’d been married almost a year when we were at a party – lots of people, lots of alcohol. I noticed he was talking to a woman and flirting with her, though he might not have realized that’s what he was doing. I made a comment, which he was unhappy about, and then went to the bathroom. He followed me in to call me out on it, and wasn’t happy when I told him he’d been flirting. He started calling me names and cursing at me, and when I grabbed my bag to walk out, other people came to try and break up our fight. I told someone that life was always like this, and he hit me – and I finally realized, for real, that this wasn’t okay. I deserved better. That’s when I decided to start planning my escape.
A week later was our first wedding anniversary. We celebrated the next month with two nights in New York City and seeing Billy Joel in concert. Shortly after that, the fights got even worse. The week I finally left him, I reached out to my boss and told her everything that was going on. I cried the whole week, all day every day. I cried because I knew it was time to leave, but I was scared and trying to figure out how to actually do it.
The day it finally happened was 27 September, 2018. I’d asked my mom if Emma could stay over at hers. It was 8.30-9pm and he was on his way home. I went up to bed with him, but he was very cold towards me and we started to argue. I began to cry and went into Emma’s room, laid on her bed. Then I felt something come over me, and I stopped crying. I think it was my dad, who’d died nine years before – I felt that somehow he was giving me the push I needed to get me on my feet.
I walked into our bedroom, put on my rings, grabbed my spare set of car keys, and told my husband I was done. I was going home to my mom, and I would tell her the truth about everything. He jumped out of bed and came running after me, trying to stop me from leaving. I had my phone in my hands, trying to call my mom. He cornered me in the kitchen and threw me into the counter; somehow, I managed to run to the living room and grab the house phone, and I dialed 911. He called 911 too, and also tried to get hold of my mom, to blame me.
The last time I spoke to my husband was that night, as he cursed me out and told me he’d give me all the money in our savings account if I told the police to leave. I wasn’t going to do that, not now. I filed harassment charges the following day and got an order of protection at the Family Court. Afterwards I felt lighter, as though a weight had been lifted. I could breathe more easily.
My mom took me and Emma in, and life has changed for the better. I got an amazing attorney and filed for divorce, and that gave me the push to do what I’ve always wanted to do – become a lawyer myself. I signed up for school, and I’m studying part-time. I’ve started working out again and have become a health and fitness coach, which I also love – I’m helping other men and women get in shape and be happy. Working out is my therapy, I love it. I’ve bought a new car. I enjoy my work. I’m taking care of my ten-year-old daughter.
At one stage I thought I’d never be able to leave my abusive marriage and prayed I’d just manage to stay alive. But look at me now – doing things I’ve always wanted to do and helping others. I’m slowly getting back on terms with all my family members, and life couldn’t be better. I’m so thankful I managed to get out, to get to where I am. I hope my story will help others see that you can get away from domestic abuse – you can survive and, more than that, come out even stronger on the other side.