Just walk out the door. When you leave an abusive marriage, you are surrounded by a forcefield, making you impervious to all future harm. Once you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, end your chronic need for a relationship, conquer your fear of being alone, you drive into a new world filled with pink sunsets.
According to the movies.
I become angered whenever an individual casually says, “Why don’t you just leave?” It indicates an ignorance about the mechanics involved with abuse and rebuilding one’s life. As though a person who has made controlling and misusing a person their favorite pastime, will just let that go without a fight.
Of course, escaping an abusive relationship is a huge step in the right direction, it is just that – a step. My first real life account of domestic violence was Tracey Thurman (now Motuzick), when I was about 11 or 12. She met Charles “Buck” Thurman in 1979, married him in the spring of 1981, and they separated in the autumn of 1982. For eight months, he stalked and harassed her to the point that her friends filed a complaint on her behalf. In this time, she called the police on Thurman 19 times. On June 10, 1983, Thurman violated a restraining order, prompting Motuzick to call the police. When the police arrived, Thurman attacked Tracey, stabbing her 13 times. The police officer, in a profound lack of judgment, took the knife, but left Thurman unsecured, allowing him to grab their son, and stomp on Tracey one final time, breaking her neck. Tracey’s account of this story can be heard here. Connecticut’s Family Violence Prevention and Response Act of 1986 was essentially created after Tracey’s ordeal. The most prominent change is that the abused individual is no longer asked “do you want to press charge,” but rather it is up to the assessment of law enforcement to determine whether or not a crime has been committed. Again, progress.
And yet, Yvette Cade still happened. Yvette’s tragedy received national attention, thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey having her on her show. Again, this is the case of an estranged couple, where a wife had taken out a protective order against her husband. What makes this story different, however, is that Prince George’s District Court Judge, Richard A. Palumbo, dismissed Yvette’s protective order three weeks prior. Her estranged husband, Roger Hargrave, showed up at her job at T-Mobile, doused her with a Sprite bottle filled with gasoline, and set her on fire. She spent three months in the hospital, and has had dozens of surgeries. Her physical appearance has been altered forever, due to having the guts to leave an abusive situation.
There is no magic bullet once you find yourself in an abusive situation. Most domestic violence resources will prepare you for the threats that loom once you leave. Once you remove the abuser’s primary means of control – unfettered access to you – most times they become even more unstable. I was stalked for a year and a half. In that time, I had developed my own personal police officer (who came so often, I don’t think he believed that I was not still involved with my ex-husband), and he assaulted me in a public hallway outside of my cousin’s home. It wasn’t until he was ultimately arrested, I refused to drop the charges, and they (miraculously) had record of every single report against him I had ever filed, that he stopped harassing me regularly. (This, however, did not stop him from physically abusing his current estranged wife, including breaking her jaw.)
One of the most eerie facets of domestic violence is the offender being positively oblivious to their problem. Thurman originally was there to beg for Tracey’s return, yet when he was angered by the police presence, savagely beat her. Hargrave, shortly before his trial, attempted to call Yvette from jail. I am willing to wager that any woman who has endured domestic violence could recount a similar story. I would also believe that they would admit that they still exist with a certain amount of fear. Even now, almost eight years later, when my ex-husband was in town for a mere 18 hours for Finge’s graduation, I was ridden with an enormous amount of anxiety. It’s not something that you just “snap out of.”
I commend Tracey Motuzick and Yvette Cade for using their experiences to help other women. Tracey is still involved with The Susan B. Anthony Project. Through the Yvette Cade Fund, Yvette has used her own story and testimony to push for legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.
The path to leaving is not easy. Abusive people will use anything at their disposal manipulate you into coming back. Your friends, family, church members, children – nothing is off limits to them. There were days where I didn’t know if he would be outside of my job, or sitting in my home waiting for me. Despite the fear and uncertainty, it is all worth it. I have never regretted the day I chose my own well being, and the well being of my children, over an unstable person so mired in his own insecurities and self-hatred, his only outlet was to attack.
It can’t be said enough. Your safety is worth the struggle.