It Doesn’t Have to Define your Future But it Does Change the Rest of your Life

My decision to write about this painful era of my life was a difficult one. It’s a time where I felt the most vulnerable, afraid, and pathetic. No one wants to feel this way, let alone share it with others, but then you realize… it is a part of you now. It doesn’t have to define your future but it does change the rest of your life. If only one person reads my story and makes the decision to ‘leave,’ it was worth it. For the sake of his children’s privacy, I am changing my abuser’s name for this story.

The year was 2002 and I had a wonderful life. I was happy-go-lucky with very little stress. I had gone through a divorce several years prior and had 50/50 custody (week on, week off) of my only child – a son, who was seven years old at the time. I had just purchased my first home on my own and was feeling proud of my big accomplishment.

I went to work like any other day. I had a busy office job which required a lot of attention to detail. On this particular day, a presentation was scheduled but there was one major problem – we needed an extension cord. I called my girlfriend, Michele, who worked down the hall in a different office and asked if they had one we could borrow. She did, so I walked down the hall, eager to retrieve it and pressed for time. Michele greeted me as I came in, walking down the center cubicle aisle. An attractive man headed toward me, smiled, and handed me the cord. I was instantly struck by the color of his eyes. They were almost a transparent green color. He was tan and had a big smile upon his face. I thankfully smiled back then quickly exited their office to prep for the meeting. Later that day, Michele told me the man, who we’ll call Drew, had asked about me. She hyped me up to him, of course, because that’s what girlfriends do. The following day, I received an email from Drew asking if I’d be interested in a lunch date with him. This lunch outing would end up being the worst decision I have made in my life.

The days moved quickly. Lunch dates turned into dinner dates. Dinner dates turned into long, enjoyable conversations and before I knew it, everything was merging together into one big blur of bliss. Looking back, I can’t ever imagine letting a ‘stranger’ of only two months move into my home with me and my son, but I’m ashamed to say I did. He had a great reputation at work and his office mates seemed to really like him. Moreover, his 11-yr-old twin daughters, who lived in Spain, adored him from what I observed of their many phone calls. I felt reassured because he had been in the military for 14 years mostly overseas and had just recently returned back to the U.S. to begin the newest chapter of his life. My son enjoyed his company and Drew was very good to him. Life was great! I was overjoyed and in love… or so I thought…

After just three short months, Drew told me he received an offer for employment in Portugal, which was close to where his dual-citizenship daughters were living. He came to me in all seriousness with, “Melissa, I’ve been offered a job overseas and I’m considering taking it unless you see a real future for us here.” I reassured him I felt there was a future for us but said he should follow his heart even if it meant leaving me to be near his daughters. I was definitely not moving to Portugal with him is all I did know.

A few weeks later, he proposed to me. I have no memory of how or where he proposed. I guess this is a coping mechanism. I block certain things out. My mind hesitated for a moment but I accepted his proposal. I did not wear the ring to work. I was secretive about our engagement because I feared what people would say. Looking back, this was my conscious telling me something was not right but I ignored it. No one’s engagement should be a secret. Drew seemed okay with the secrecy. After a few weeks, Drew suggested we apply for our marriage license. After all, we didn’t have to get married right away, but this way, the license was ready for when we wanted to wed. I’m not sure why this made sense to me at that time, but I went along with it. Again, I was ignoring my conscious telling me this was a bad idea. But everything was going great so what did I have to fear? I was swimming in a sea of foolish love with unrealistic expectations.

One sunny day in September, Drew spoke to me in a soft tone about life. “Life is too short to spend it wasting time. We know we want to be together and there is no sense in waiting for ‘society’ to catch up with us.” I had a strong feeling in my gut that kept saying, “Are you crazy? You can’t marry this man so soon. This is a terrible idea.” It didn’t matter because his manipulation tactics overpowered my naïve ‘follow your gut’ instincts. I didn’t realize I was being controlled in that moment. A big dose of reality was about to head my way.

The spontaneous plan was swiftly into motion. We headed to the local courthouse, eloped then drove toVirginia Beach for a short weekend honeymoon. Strangely, I recall what I wore that day but not what he wore. I felt out-of-character during the drive there. Normally, I would never do something like this is all I kept thinking. Let’s just skip past the details of the ‘heavenly’ honeymoon. It was like any other couple’s honeymoon – filled with joy, love, craziness, and excitement. It nauseates me to think about it. Till this day, I struggle to rationalize my current 40s-something thinking with my 20s-something thinking.

The secret lasted only a month before the cat was out of the bag. My phone began ringing off the hook. We had no idea the courthouse automatically published your request for a marriage license in the local newspaper. I can still see the announcement. It was just a small sentence but to me it was flashing in 50-pitch BOLD font, all caps, and on the front page. I was mortified. My family was disappointed but being the Christians they are, they welcomed Drew into the family and tried to get to know him better. My step-dad, who I call Dad, gave me a long lecture about my poor decision and said, “Missy, you don’t truly know this man.” I disputed his claim with, “Dad, I’m happy. Please just let it go.”

One afternoon at work, I left my desk for a much needed little break. I walked down to Drew’s desk to say hello. To my surprise, he was on an online chat forum taunting people with rude and disgusting comments. Baffled, I asked him why he was doing that. He said he found pleasure in irritating others. It excited him to make fun of people’s pictures and distort their words to others chatting in the open forums. I was terribly distraught over this. Why would anyone find amusement in that kind of behavior? He was laughing, degrading the women in the forum and they were begging him to leave the chat room. I walked away and the journey back to my desk felt like an eternity. It plagued me the rest of the day. This should have been a major ‘red flag’ to me, but at this point we were already married and I felt it was pointless to drag it out. I told myself, “It’s not like we’re going to divorce over this, so just let it go.”

About four months into the marriage, I came home from work feeling exhausted and hoping to get Chinese take-out for dinner. My son was at his father’s for the week. I quietly walked into the dining room and observed Drew on the desktop computer. I read enough of the email to see it was to a woman and the first sentence said, “I’m with the wrong woman and I have regrets.” My heart sank and my anger shook my insides to a point that I felt instantly nauseous. I approached him demanding an explanation. I was beside myself in despair, distrust, and humiliation. His reaction was nothing of what I expected. I thought he’d console me and talk it out. Instead, he spun his chair around, got up in an aggressive tone, and grabbed me by the throat. He then squeezed my arms and walked me backwards into the kitchen where he grabbed me by the throat again and slammed my head into the wall. The painful impact forced me down to the floor gasping for breath. He then knelt down, straddled over my torso and began choking me until I felt myself go completely limp. It was as if I could feel every ounce of air leaving my lungs. The pressure around my throat was agonizing. I surrendered to a slight whisper of, “Please….” He removed his grip and stood up. As I laid there in a fetal position, he kicked me in the stomach. Even though I saw his shoe rapidly approaching my mid-section, I was too weak to move. I groaned in pain. It was like someone knocked the wind out of me. He kicked me again, but this time in the ribs. The pain was excruciating. I curled into a ball on the floor engorged in pain beyond comprehension. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what had just happened. I laid there for about five minutes as he screamed profanities at me and told me I was worthless.

During his escapade, he slammed down my wrought-iron glass-shelved hutch which held all my family portraits and sentimental pieces I had received from my departed grandmother. The crashing of the glass onto the floor was deafening as it rang through my ears. I pretended to stay calm, thinking I would run at the first given opportunity. But I didn’t run because I was afraid he’d catch up to me and kill me. He picked me up from the floor by my arms and forced me to walk across the many pieces of broken glass. I could see blood trailing from the soles of my feet. I was sobbing uncontrollably and was at a loss for words. I was a newlywed and my husband, who is supposed to protect me, is beating me to a point that I feared death. He then took a chair and slammed it through the window. He could see my feet were bleeding. Oddly, he bent down on one knee and proceeded to take the small chard of glass out of my foot. The cuts were superficial wounds that didn’t require stitches so the short-lived empathy was over. It was like he was two different people. I didn’t know who this monster was but I knew I’d never look at him the same again if I survived the attack. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife, looked into my eyes, and positioned the tip of the knife against my skin just shy of my belly button. I could see the knife indenting my skin but he was merely holding it there. There was no blood, only my terror of him forcing the knife in. I kept envisioning myself dying. I could see, almost feel, the knife sliding into my stomach sending me into a slow, painful death. I sat there very still and begged him to calm down. He looked down at the knife, dropped it as if he’d just gone brain dead and then passed out on the spot. My instincts told me to run but I didn’t. I was traumatized and in shock. It was like my brain forgot to tell my legs how to walk. I just sat there staring into space. I don’t think I blinked my eyes once for five minutes straight. That’s when I saw a parade of blue and red colors shining into the house. There was a knock at my front door and I knew it was the police. Drew awoke and with an abrupt voice said, “Don’t you dare say anything or you’ll regret it.” I cracked the door open, peeked out and told the officers I had nothing to report and they needed to leave. They asked to come in and I refused. I concurred there was an ugly argument but said no abuse had occurred. Then Drew stepped outside and spoke to them. This went on for about 10 minutes. I persistently said I was not going to file charges and there was no abuse to report. They left. I called my mom and she raced over. I will never forget the look upon her face. Her eyes filled with tears and she said, “Missy, Oh my God, what happened?” She saw the home destruction and the marks on my pale skin. The thing about being Irish is we can merely scratch a mosquito bite and turn bright red in an entire region. I wouldn’t see the real horror show of my ‘war wounds’ until the following morning.

Life would never be the same again. After those few short hours, my existence was smeared with fragility and terror. I walked with my head held down the remainder of the weekend, absorbing the nightmare I was suddenly living. How could I tell my friends and family about this? It would be too humiliating. I had left out 70% of the story to my mother when she saw me that night. That Monday I went to work wearing a long sleeved turtle neck and dress pants. I was quiet and clearly troubled. My coworker, Jennifer, asked what was wrong and I decided to finally tell someone the real story. We walked into the bathroom together and I gently rolled up my sleeves and lowered my turtleneck. I actually had an entire ‘handprint’ of bruises around my upper arm as if the hand was still grabbing me. She took a few steps backward and looked absolutely frightened. She didn’t have much to say so there was no way I wanted to tell more people considering her reaction. I already felt disgraced.

I got home that day, sat on my couch, and cried a river. Drew came over and comforted me and begged for my forgiveness.

He was on his knees pleading for me to give him another chance. This is where I began to feel a shift in my mental thinking. I felt entirely isolated, as if he was the only person who could save me. No one else was capable of fixing this nightmare but him… as odd as that may sound.

As a teenager, I watched a lot of movies on the Lifetime Channel. There was always a battered wife suffering through hell yet she never leaves her husband. I used to shout at the TV how ridiculous these women were. “Just walk away,” was my theory of thinking. As irony would have it, I now understood exactly where they were mentally.

It is because of fear, shame, humiliation, rejection, and weakness that you can’t just walk away. I internalized the pain and because I was too embarrassed to tell my friends and family, Drew became my only source of light. This was my second marriage and how could I let them think I screwed up this bad? I was petrified of losing custody of my son. That would have broken me down beyond repair. It was then I realized I still had not met any of Drew’s family or friends. He would sometimes speak to his sister on the phone but that was about it. He told me he had lost touch with his family due to being in the military for over a decade. He said the last he heard his mother was homeless and he hated his father. His only friend was a guy named Tucker but I had never met him either. I knew no one, not even my own husband.

Slowly, I watched my life dissolve into the loneliest, most depressing status I had ever been in. Friends dwindled away because I became out of reach. Drew had me believing my parents weren’t good people because they were threatening to have my son taken away from me for his safety. The manipulation worked like a charm. On top of being gullible, I felt my parents should give Drew another chance. I began to lose my spirit and my health deteriorated as a result.

Gradually, things returned to what was left of ‘normal’ as I tried to put the terrifying incident behind me. I became a snoop. I started roaming through his files in the spare bedroom and discovered he was an alcoholic. I found documents regarding his alcoholism and counseling. I also discovered several empty vodka bottles hidden in the spare room. I had no idea an alcoholic could mask their drinking with vodka because there is no detectable odor of it on their breath.

Although the degrading remarks continued over the next several months, I kept hoping he’d change or miraculously ‘see the light’ someday. My wishful, immature thinking would only create more suffering.

On a regular basis I was called useless, pathetic, loser, bitch, whore, and many other disgusting things. By this time, I was so lonely and sad I didn’t want anyone around me. Isolation became the new ‘me’. It was odd because I had always been the extroverted, bubbly girl that people loved to be around. I was funny, outgoing, and had a cheery demeanor. According to Myers Briggs, I had been an ENFP and they are ‘The Inspirers’ who loved life.

I felt things might improve once his daughters came for a summer visit. I enjoyed hearing their voices on the phone and was eager to finally meet them. Things were good the first few weeks they were with us. I bonded with them instantly. During their last week visiting we took them to a buffet restaurant for dinner and conversation carried on as normal. I don’t remember what was said but I remember Drew getting angry. He took food from his fork and flung it at me across the table. People who observed it just looked away. The food splattered on my neck and chest and I just looked down into my lap and wept. There were no words to describe how bad this public humiliation felt. The previous abuses had been in private but this time was different. Tears streamed down my face and his daughters were clearly upset. I sat there crying until he ‘dismissed’ us from the table to head home. I don’t think Drew realized the impact that moment had on his kids.

After the girls went back to Spain, I sobbed. It was the only normalcy I had lately and with their departure came again my broken spirit. Drew decided to fix this situation by buying me a dog. I’ll admit it worked. I fell in love with the new yorkie instantly. I named him Rudy. He was the little burst of sunshine I needed, particularly on the weeks I didn’t have my son home with me. It’s interesting because my son didn’t witness much of the abuse. Drew had enough decency, at that time, to put on a different ‘face’ when my child was around.

A few more good months went by and Drew suggested we get Rudy a partner in crime. yorkies are naturally born pack animals and I agreed to the idea. We drove three hours to pick up the second yorkie, ‘Daisey-Mae’. She had the sweetest little face but she wasn’t very active. I just figured she was tired and nervous about going to her new home. Rudy lit up like fireworks once he saw Daisey come through the front door. The only problem was Daisey did not want to play with Rudy. She just wanted to lie around eating, chilling or sleeping. Rudy was rambunctious and he kept pawing at Daisey trying to get her to react in some way, but nothing ever happened. Over time I realized she actually balanced Rudy out. They were a good match. Drew was an animal lover and the yorkies seemed to redefine his sense of love, even if only for a little while. Drew attached himself more to Daisey, and for me, it was Rudy.

By mid 2003, Drew’s alcoholism struggle became increasingly more difficult. He saw a psychologist and psychiatrist who diagnosed him with Bipolar Disorder and put him on a sedating-type of medication. He hated taking the medicine but I encouraged him to continue taking it. From my perspective, I’d rather him sleep more often than abuse me. We also attended a few Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He’d always abruptly stop going and the cycle would repeat itself.

Life was quiet for a while. We had moved into a bigger home by then. Honestly, I had no friends left really. My best friend, Michele, was still there for me but the distance that grew between us was my fault. She and I went to lunch together one day at A&W and we actually observed Drew spying on us. He was parked across the street behind a tree watching us eat. I shouted at him how ridiculous he was behaving. He never believed anything I ever said and was on a constant quest to control me.

Winter of 2003 arrived and it was the day before Christmas Eve. My son and I were building towers with Lego’s on the living room floor. We were having a fun time together because we’re both creative beings who like to make ‘something’ from ‘nothing’. Drew came stumbling downstairs and I knew he was drunk. I continued to play on the floor, ignoring his behavior, even though I could hear him making rude comments from the kitchen as he made himself a PB&J sandwich. He sat down on the couch in front of us and began tearing his sandwich into pieces. I had no idea why he was doing that. Suddenly, I felt a piece of sandwich hit me in the back. I politely turned to him and said, “Please, not this evening. Please go upstairs and try to sleep this off.” He continued throwing pieces of his sandwich at me. I stood up and firmly said, “Enough. This is uncalled for.” He leapt up from the couch and raised me up from the floor by my throat. Holding that position, he dragged me toward the front door. The door flew open and he spat at me as he pushed me backwards down the concrete patio steps like a piece of trash, barefooted with no coat on. It was freezing outside and my son was still in the house with him. I could see my heart pounding out of my chest. There was no time for tears. My son is my world and no way was I leaving him in the house with this crazed lunatic. I ran over to my neighbors asking them to call 911. Before the cops could arrive, the neighbor had convinced Drew to let my son out of the house. My little boy safely remained at the neighbor’s house while I waited for the police. I only wanted some clothes so we could go to my parent’s house for the evening. I could not believe how many police cars showed up at my house on that cold night. I think I counted at least seven. Every neighbor came out to watch ‘the show’ go down. I was mortified. From their perspective, I would imagine it looked like hostage situation with a gunman inside. I told the officer my story and before the cop could approach the locked front door, Drew had opened a facing window upstairs and screamed down profanities. The cop was professional yet stern, explaining to Drew that I only wanted to get some clothing and I’d be on my way. Drew opened the front door. The policeman began escorting me into the home when Drew aggressively lunged at me with a closed fist. The cops snatched me out of the way and were on him so quick; there was no time to take in what was happening. They had him face-down on the ground and handcuffed before I could even blink. I pleaded with the cops not to arrest him because it would only cause me more harm later but they said it was out of my control now. (I later read the police report and it was horrendous. Drew kicked and yelled the entire time he was in the squad car, refused to give his identification, and threatened to urinate on the phone at the police station.)

I felt frozen in time. I wasn’t going to feel safe with him spending just one or two nights in jail. I went to my parent’s house and didn’t sleep a wink. I knew I was in for misery once he got out. I made a decision based solely on trepidation. I bailed him out of jail the next morning, Christmas Eve. I dropped him off at home and went back to my parent’s house. My family was so disappointed in me. How could I bail him out of jail is all they kept saying. At that time, I couldn’t explain it. I felt that if I hadn’t I’d pay for it later.

A month went by and Drew had enrolled himself in another alcohol treatment program. This program was more involved than his previous deflated attempts he had made to keep me around. We began marriage counseling and a month later, I moved back in. I was so controlled that I couldn’t see how I’d survive without him. My name was on the home mortgage, the car loan, and I felt indebted to him now financially as well as controlled emotionally. I couldn’t escape this wrath. I felt like I was trying to walk in quick sand. My behavior made no sense to me or to anyone in my family.

I distanced myself even further from my relatives because I felt so ashamed. A few months later, a friend from work, Lori, asked if I wanted to go out dancing that Saturday night. I hadn’t enjoyed myself in ages and I was determined to go even if it involved a beating when I got home. Lori picked me up at my house and everything went off without a hitch. I had a great time and it made me realize how much I missed ‘myself’ and the person I used to be. Drew could see I was a little stronger now and he knew I wouldn’t be convinced so easily to subject myself to his atrocious psychotic episodes like before. He began to treat me better and in 2004 we sold that house and bought another roomier home in a better neighborhood.

I felt like things were coming together a little bit. I loved the new house and my son had met some new neighborhood friends who welcomed him into their skater posse. Life was ‘fair’. It wasn’t great, but it was better than the three years prior. I was willing to settle. My step-daughters called but this time something had changed. They didn’t like their step-dad and asked if they could move to America with us. They told me I was a big part of the reason they wanted to come. This was an easy decision for me because I loved them as did my son. They had formed a tight bond with my son and treated him very well. As many issues as Drew had, his twin daughters were the complete opposite. They were peaceful and loving. Their kindness was contagious. Getting the girls’ mother to agree to this would be a challenge but because of her selfless love as a parent, she agreed to let them try out living in America for a while. We were all ecstatic and I expected great things for Drew’s mental well-being as a result.

I shopped the stores nonstop, being meticulous in everything I purchased for their new rooms. I wanted them to feel special. It’s in my nature to be this way as a human being. I wanted their rooms to reflect their individual unique personalities. By the time they arrived, they were exhausted from a long flight and lengthy drive home, but nonetheless excited. They loved their rooms.

The next few months are blurry because a lot of time was spent getting the girls clothes for school, and explaining the Spanish school transcripts to the American middle school they’d be attending. School went great for them and they adjusted perfectly making friends. They enjoyed spending time with me at the mall, movies, or with my family. Drew clearly was not fond of this. He became snippy toward them and I knew he was jealous but wouldn’t admit it. I didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t loved him in years but I was dedicated to my vows and now two more children were in the equation.

One Saturday afternoon at home, Drew came downstairs and said he wanted to go to the zoo, an hour’s drive away. None of us wanted to go. We were all in chill mode watching a good movie on TV. He left the room only to come back a few minutes later screaming profanities at all of us. He called me horrible names as he ripped the TV from the stand and threw it back into the drywall causing an unsightly huge hole. He then retrieved a pair of pliers and entered every room, cutting the cords off each television. Next, he kicked and dragged the big living room TV out the front door and repeatedly shoved it until it rolled down the side of our yard, cracking into many pieces. Flat screens weren’t affordable then so you can imagine how much this clunky TV weighed. The kids were frightened and we all huddled in the kitchen. He approached me, still screaming. He threw back his closed fist ready to punch me in the face when one of his daughters jumped in the middle of us begging him to stop. He hopped back and hollered as if he was trying to contain some inner monstrous beast. He retreated back downstairs to be alone. I could see the kids were frightened but this was nothing new for me and I was somewhat numb. I’d seen this monster before and was already revolving ideas to exit this life of horror. My only problem was I didn’t want to leave the twins behind.

After this episode, one of the twins asked to move back home to Spain. She told her father she was struggling to adapt to cultural differences and he accepted that explanation. Deep down, I knew it was because she feared her father. She did what she had to. But how do you separate twin sisters? I was heartbroken. The other daughter did not want to return to Spain. By this time they were almost 14 years old. After his daughter left for Spain, Drew tried to convince me it was her fault for his ‘relapsed’ behavior. The accusation was ludicrous and I was disgusted with him for saying such things.

Drew and I agreed to put the house on the market in 2005. We thought the sale would happen quicker if the home were empty so we moved into a nice 3-bedroom rental apartment in the meantime. I was already thinking to myself, “As soon as this house sells, I am going to leave him and get my life back.” We had already gone almost two years without any intimacy whatsoever. I knew the sale would be a tough one because the ‘marks’ of abuse were all over the house… holes in the dry wall, busted doors, broken doorknobs. As bad as our house looked indoors, the yard was amazing. Drew used to get some of his inner frustrations out with yard work. The house wasn’t getting many showings and I was sweating the thought of being stuck with him another few years. I needed this financial burden gone.

I went to work and I can’t remember why I had an urgency to speak to Drew. I tried calling his desk phone and no answer for several hours. So, I decided to call his corporate office. I was placed on hold until a manager picked up who stated Drew had been ‘released’ from his job over a month ago. I was so embarrassed. Drew was getting up daily pretending to go to work when all along he was just awaiting my departure so he could come back home and chill. I got in my car, drove to the house and approached him. He told me not to sweat it because he’d have another job in no time flat. I tried not to worry but we were still paying our home mortgage plus the apartment rental costs. How could we possibly afford all of this? I knew things were going to start crashing down on us.

In the spring of 2005, I started planting seeds of doubt with him, just little comments I’d make before heading to work. One evening, I got home from work and we were alone in the apartment. I finally said it, “I’m not happy anymore and this isn’t working. We haven’t been intimate in two years. I want out.” He was pacing the bedroom back and forth and seemed inattentive to what I was saying, but I was dreadfully wrong. He boldly walked over to the bed where I was seated taking off my socks and shoes, and slammed me down onto the mattress. He had a look of complete rage, the same rage I felt the very first time he abused me. His eyes were wide open and his face looked possessed by Satan. I was petrified and I screamed, “Get off of me! What are you doing!?!” He raised my arms over my head and held them both in place with a tightly closed grip of his hand. He ripped off my pants while I’m screaming the entire time but no one would hear me. They wouldn’t hear a single scream because our apartment was one framed unit, not connected to the rest of the complex. It’s hard to explain the layout but I knew no one was coming to save me. I kicked with fury and kneed him in the chest. I twisted from left to right but nothing could stop it. I knew I was about to be raped by this stranger I had married, my own husband. He said terrible things to me throughout the act. I just laid there lifelessly wanting to die afterward. I wasn’t even sure this was a crime you could report. I mean, we were actually married and still together. How do you explain this to someone? I kept this to myself for a while before I shared it with anyone. I was so defeated, disgusted, ashamed, and broken. I wanted to escape. I awoke that next morning and I recall it a being a Saturday. I was alone and had no idea where Drew was. I took the remote and turned on the bedroom TV while I laid there feeling beyond pathetic and used. Apparently, the TV had previously been on the MTV channel. When I turned it on, a song was just beginning called “Untitled” by Simple Plan. I had never heard the song but the words captured my soul even though it wasn’t about domestic violence. It felt as if the lyrics were speaking out to me and it was time to get away from this monster. Energy surged through me like I had never felt before. I secretly started looking for another rental apartment and still had hopes our house would sell. I only called about vacant apartments because I needed to move in as soon as possible and I wasn’t picky.

I moved that following weekend with next to nothing. Drew had stolen all of the $30K profit I made from the sale of my solely owned townhouse. He also racked up my credit card $25K because I forgot he was still listed as an authorized user. He lavished himself with new furniture, laptops… You name it… All I cared about was my freedom. I prayed I’d survive divorcing this man without him putting me in a grave first. With the move came an exhausting amount of PTSD and OCD. I was constantly checking every window and door to ensure they were locked and closed tightly. Before driving anywhere, I used to repeatedly look out my windows then run to my car and lock the doors. I had severe insomnia, depression, anxiety and I missed the yorkies. I made one last trip to Drew’s apartment to get the remainder of my things. By then, I was using the buddy system and wasn’t going anywhere alone if I could avoid it. Drew was holding Rudy in his arms but he couldn’t keep Rudy from squirming and twisting out of his grip. Before I knew it, Rudy ran and leapt into my car. I burst out crying and Drew gave me a smug look and said, “Take him. I don’t want him anyway.” But Daisey would remain with him unfortunately and I knew he wasn’t going to let her go so easily. Drew never favored Rudy and had begun mistreating him. Anytime a doggie accident occurred he always blamed Rudy. He used to scream and sometimes smack him. It was just another way of controlling me because he knew how much I loved Rudy. Those next few weeks I was inundated with disgusting voicemails and text messages at all hours of the night. I had to change my cell phone number finally for some relief. I was also secretly chatting online with my step-daughter who was still living with her dad. I was hoping to get custody of her somehow.

During the summer of 2005, my aunt was holding her annual pool party and I was ready to reunite with my family as I had missed so many outings in the past. My parents were expecting me there at 1 PM sharp. If I was going to be late, I was to call them. Around noon, my step-daughter snuck over to see me. She left around 12:30 and then I proceeded to leave around 12:50 PM. When I opened my condo door to leave, there was Drew standing in my doorway barging his way in. I panicked. He demanded to know where his daughter was and I said she wasn’t with me. He searched my entire condo for her, opening every closet door along the way. There was no sign of her but that didn’t matter. He knew I was lying and made his way toward me. As he stepped forward, I kept stepping backward. Before I knew it, I was out of space and at the end of the hallway in the entry of my bedroom. He forcibly sat me on the edge of my bed, stood over me, yelling and shaking me. He grabbed my arms and was on the verge of choking me when I heard a loud, firm voice yell, “Missy! Are you in here!?!” Immediately, I knew it was my dad and I felt a huge sense of liberation. I was escaping death yet again. I was merely five minutes late for a pool party but every minute counts when you’re dealing with an abusive, psychotic person. My dad is a tall, big man and every foot step radiated through the thin floors. Thank you, God! He grabbed him off of me and gave him some stern words that I will never forget. Drew ran out of the apartment. Following that incident, Drew had my dad served with a temporary peace order which a judge dismissed in court a week later. My mother and little sister were terrified of Drew. He used to verbally abuse my mother who is one of the most gentle, loving human beings I have ever known.

I got in my parent’s car and my dad said, “Have you had enough? Are you ready to file a protective order?” I was deathly afraid but I wanted out from this man’s grip. I filed the temporary protective order with the district court then waited for almighty hell to break loose once he was served… but there was nothing, not even a single whisper. My parents came with me to the court hearing. My previous coworker who observed all the bruises, Jennifer, refused to testify in court. I was upset but I could understand her having fear for own life too. Drew’s behavior was beyond creepy in the court house. He walked in carrying a Bible. He looked delirious as he told the judge God would not allow him to divorce me. The judge took a recess to read the many emails of hatred he had sent me and came back granting a one-year protective order. The judge told us he would have granted the protective order based solely on his erratic behavior that day in the courtroom. As I was walking out a locally well-known lawyer stopped me. She said, “Look, I’ve seen guys like this before and he’s going to kill you if you don’t get out of Maryland for at least a year or two.” I began sweating not knowing what to do. Before I could even turn around another woman approached me and asked that I follow her to an office adjacent to the courtroom. It ended up being the Family Advocacy Center, a real Godsend. Their lawyer represented me throughout my ordeal and I felt at peace at least from a legal standpoint. A few weeks later I received a letter from the circuit court stating Drew was appealing the district court’s decision for my protective order. I was shocked. I had no idea a person could appeal a protective order to a higher court. Had I known, I would have filed with the circuit court the first go around. On the day of our circuit court hearing, Drew was in for a rude awakening. The police officer who witnessed his violent behavior against me was there to testify on my behalf. The protective order was upheld by the circuit court, thankfully.

Just a week later, as I was getting ready for work, I received a knock on my door. I looked through the peep hole; I could see it was a police officer. I felt alarmed and opened the door. The cop politely said I was being served with a court summons. Seriously?@#$% I felt angry. Drew was claiming I had harassed ‘him’ and was also accusing me of telephone misuse. These were 100% bogus claims as I had had zero contact with him. I realized he was trying to get back at me for filing the protective order. Now his mission was to make my life miserable from a money aspect. I wasn’t financially prepared to get a lawyer but I had to. It costs me a few thousand only for the courts to throw his case out. Why couldn’t he just move on with his life?

Two months had passed and it was a beautiful evening so I took Rudy for a walk. When I got back, I realized someone had broken into my apartment and stolen my purse. The police came and I told them about my protective order against my husband. The cop felt Drew had stolen my purse but I didn’t believe it. Who would be dumb enough to violate a protective order, I thought? I made some phone calls about my debit card and was informed that $400 had been withdrawn from an ATM at PNC bank, which in our town means ‘Wawa’. I informed the cops of this and they went over to question him. The cops came back to my apartment around 2 AM with my purse in tow. As humorous as this was, Drew actually got a ‘Wawa’ coffee while withdrawing my money. So, when the cops saw his cup on his kitchen counter, they knew he was guilty. The bank put the stolen money back into my account and Drew was arrested and went to jail. I would not be bailing him out this time or any other time as long as I lived.

His daughter went to stay at a friend’s house the next few nights. Things were about to drastically change for her too. Once Drew was released from jail, he secretly installed Spyware on her computer. Before she got home from school one day, he pulled up our online conversations and left them on her screen. She panicked when she saw it, called me, and asked me to meet her at the local shopping plaza in a department store bathroom. By the time I arrived, her dad had already told her to pack her stuff and she would be returning back to Spain the next day. My heart cracked into a million pieces. This girl had been through so much and deep down I knew she’d be safe and happy back in Spain with her sister. She didn’t deserve this type of life. We knew I could not get custody of her per my lawyer’s counsel as I had no rights to her as a ‘step-parent’. We sat on that bathroom floor for an hour just holding each other. I gave her my grandmother’s ring I was wearing to remember me. The good-bye was brutal, emotionally devastating and our tears were like a torrential downfall.

I also discovered that Drew had a fiancée, Rebecca, while stationed in Spain. She was American and had loved him enough to move to Spain with him. We spoke over email for a while and all the pieces began to make sense. I had often wondered why Drew didn’t finish out the remaining six years in the military to obtain the full 20-year retirement benefits. He told me it was because his next duty station was set for Japan and he didn’t want to be that far away from his kids. It was a lie. He didn’t finish because he was forced to get out, she said. He had beaten Rebecca and her hospital pictures found their way to his superior officer’s desk. Rebecca stopped speaking to me for fear Drew would retaliate against her and she was trying to get her life back together. She had moved back to her home state and was studying to be a paralegal.

I ended up sub-leasing my apartment and moving back into the marital home. One evening, my instincts told me to look out my front window. I peeked through the blinds and discovered Drew ducking behind my neighbor’s bush spying on my house. I went outside to confront him but he was already running down the street. I quietly walked in the distance and observed him leaving from a parking spot the next subdivision over. Drew started creating multiple fake social media profiles and began friend requesting me and my friends. Some of us fell for it because he listed himself as having attended the same high school we did. We simply believed it was an old high school friend that had slipped from our memory. Later, he’d change the profile to himself and leave ugly remarks all over our media pages. My coworker friend, Lori, ended up being my rock for years. She and her children moved in with me. She saved my life, truthfully. I didn’t feel alone because I had Lori and she had me. We leaned on each other throughout our divorces and remain great friends today. Drew abandoned his apartment and left it in shambles. I had to pay to get it presentable again as both our names were on the lease.

Several months went by and Drew wanted the protective order rescinded as ‘bait’ to sign a separation agreement. I had to take out a personal loan and pay him $8K so he’d agree to let me refinance the house solely in my name. Our divorce was finalized in November of 2006. Divorcing him was a financial nightmare but I have no regrets in doing so. He stole so much from me – my dignity, money, and my spirit. He did eventually give me Daisey. He knew she was not happy without Rudy by her side. I went to therapy for a year which helped tremendously.

In the years to come, Drew would harass me via email about two to three times a year, demanding pictures of the yorkies. I always complied because I still lived in fear. You may be thinking, “Why didn’t you just block his email address?” Well, I didn’t because every time I did, he’d create a new email account and write me from that one. I changed my personal email twice but somehow he always found out what it was. Till this day, I have no idea how he constantly knew so many things about me and my life. I’m guessing he was stalking me all along.

By 2011, I was engaged to an amazing man named John. I had sworn I’d never marry again but God had other plans for me, thankfully. A big storm was set to hit our town and I felt it best that I and my son stay at John’s house that evening. Good thing we did because the following day we discovered three huge trees down in my yard. As I walked around my yard, my roommate approached me saying Drew had come by to see the yard damage. I freaked out. He wasn’t on the deed or mortgage loan and had no business ‘stopping by’. We installed a home alarm system.

The moment subsided and life resumed as usual although I was still secretly sending Drew pictures of the yorkies as commanded. I got remarried in 2012. Everything seemed fine until New Years Day of 2013. Before I went to bed that evening, an email came demanding new pictures of the dogs and by this time, I had enough. I replied that I was happily remarried and he needed to let the dogs go. I awoke to an email horror show. I had emails at 12:30, 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00 A.M., all filled with rage and unspeakable threats. I burst out crying and told my husband about the years of email harassment. We drove down to the police station and they told us they couldn’t help us because we didn’t have a physical address to serve a temporary peace order. John told the policeman that he knew the law and would do whatever was necessary to protect me should Drew cross the threshold of our front door. The quest was on to find his address through internet research. We kept coming up empty handed. The odd thing was it had been eerily quiet after receiving those threatening emails which was unusual for Drew’s behavior. I came home, headed downstairs alone, and put his name into the Google search engine one last time. Strangely, a new thumbnail picture of Drew in his younger years appeared. I clicked on it and a bizarre sensation overcame me that I have never experienced again. There in front of me was his obituary which stated he had died from natural causes. He was only 46 years old. I didn’t believe it. Was this real? I was confused and emotional. I wanted him to leave me alone, but I didn’t want him to die. Even in his death, I felt somewhat responsible at first. Of course, that outlandish thinking was squashed by my family who talked some sense into me.

It had been nearly a decade and I finally felt free to speak to the twins. I sent them both friend requests on Facebook and they accepted. I spoke with one of them online for hours. She said he had a heart attack and they hadn’t seen him in seven years. He had been living in New Jersey. It was surreal. On the 4th of January 2013, he died alone with no one there to comfort him. His daughters did not attend his funeral. I prayed for his soul to be at peace.
Please do not view my story as a means of needing pity or to hear the words, “I’m sorry.” I am a warrior who conquered through domestic violence. My heart has mostly healed and I have forgiven Drew for all he put me through. Had I not forgiven him, I’d still be giving him control over me. I still live with PTSD and John helps me as best he can with that. I am easily startled, so he makes funny little voices before entering a room to let me know of his presence. It’s the little things in life that keep you sane. Had my relationship with Drew never happened, I wouldn’t be where I am today. That era brought me closer to God and made me a more independent, balanced person.

If you’re being abused by someone, please find a way out through family, friends and the resources available to you. Don’t let fear take over your life to where you’re willing to settle. God has a bigger plan for you! I’m living proof of that.

Ryan StillwaterThisIsDV