Today is July 22. It's an anniversary of sorts for me. Six years ago today was the day I made the most important decision of my life. It was the day I said, "Enough!," and was finally ready to leave my abusive husband.
It's not like it happened out of the blue. No woman lives in that kind of nightmare without dreaming of freedom. The hard part is reaching the point where you are ready to turn those dreams into reality.
Did I stay so long because I was weak? I don't think so. It was fear that kept me there. Not fear for myself, but a mother's fear of losing her child.
I first wanted out in early 2002. My illness resulted in the sporadic incidents of abuse escalating into near daily violence. No, he didn't beat me up. There were no black eyes or broken bones. He was a "careful" abuser. He wasn't going to leave obvious signs of what was going on.
I never knew what to expect. He would pull my hair, push me down, throw things at me, slap my face, crush my hands... It was constant little things but, it was still abuse.
On that day in 2002, I was consumed with anger by what my husband had done to me the night before. He helped me take a bath, put on my pajamas, and get settled in bed. Then he went downstairs to his computer for many hours.
I had asked him to bring me a snack, and he said he would. It was 3 a.m. before he returned to the bedroom. By that point, I was asleep.
He was furious when he walked into the room and saw that I had rolled over and was no longer in the position he had left me in. He had brought a banana up for me, and he threw it at me. The banana hit me in the nose. He grabbed my ankles and pulled me back over to the edge of the bed. He then jumped on top of me. Using his finger like a pen, he roughly printed letters on my face to yell at me for moving. "I put you where I wanted you!" His reprimand made me feel like a dog as he kept telling me to stay. I cried until I fell back to sleep.
I felt braver in the morning. I calmly spoke as he lay in bed. "You will never hurt me once I'm better and strong. If you ever treat me like that, I will take our son and leave."
My husband was not about to be threatened. He said he was taking Joseph, and I would never see him again. He grabbed the baby out of his crib and left the house. He was gone with my baby. I was terrified that he wouldn't come back. I believed I might never see my child again.
He did return. I apologized over and over again. I told him I'd never leave him. I said he was a perfect husband. I insisted that he had never done anything to mistreat me. At that moment, I would have said or done anything to keep my baby with me.
"It's not that I love you and Joseph," he said. "You are my possessions. I won't let anyone take my possessions away from me."
The threat was clear. If I wanted my child, I had to stay in that house. That meant enduring the abuse. I would do it for Joseph. I would do anything for him. Besides, I knew if I did leave and we went to court, no judge would ever give a deaf-blind mother custody of a small child. I had no choice but to stay. And so, years passed, and my hardship continued.
What changed? As far as the abuse, nothing. If anything, it got worse. I figured one of these days, he really would beat me to the point that I would need medical attention. Then maybe the secret would come out. Or maybe I would lie about what happened to protect my husband – just like many other abused women.
My savior came in the most unexpected form. As the saying goes, "Out of the mouth of babes." It was Joseph who finally helped me understand what I needed to do. It was my five-year-old son who gave me the strength to escape.
His little fingers formed the letters and words that would begin our quest for freedom. "Daddy is bad because he hurts you."
Suddenly, it all became clear. I wasn't protecting Joseph by staying in this hellhole. I was hurting him more. I was keeping him in an environment in which he watched his father abuse his mother. And most often, he was the one to comfort me as I lay crying on the floor. He wasn't being physically hurt, but he was still very much a victim of abuse. I couldn't let that continue.
That happened on July 21, 2006. The next day was a Saturday. My husband was at work. As usual, the dog had pooped on the floor, because he never let her out. The house was a mess. I could barely move around with all the clutter. Joseph was playing on the dirty carpet while watching TV. His words echoed in my head. "Daddy is bad because he hurts you."
I had reached my limit. I was done. Without really thinking about what I was going to do, I picked up my Braillenote and sent an email to my mother. I admitted to her what she had already known for years. I told her that my husband abused me. I begged her to help get me and Joseph out of there. That email set it all in motion. It was an urgent plea for help.
Six years later, I'm completely free. I live in peace and happiness with my parents. There's no more fear. There's no more pain. Joseph is with me. I went to court and I was wrong. The judge did give a deaf-blind woman custody of a small child. He did it because he knew I was the right parent to raise this child. My disability didn't matter.
I don't live in the past. I try not to look back. What happened is over. It's the future that counts. Still, it's hard to forget. The pain, the fear and the emotions that led to my decision ... they will always be with me. But as I sit here on July 22, 2012, I remember that day, not with sadness, but with relief. It's the day I decided to live again.