It was ten years ago this October that I figured out how playing dead could save my life. I was dating a man who twice before had indicated a propensity for violence by jumping on me and putting his hands to my throat. Red flag? Sure.
When I first met him he disclosed to me he had a criminal record for domestic violence. He elaborated on how he was blamed for injuring his (then) girlfriend when he snatched her cell phone from her hand. But he told a very convincing story of how he was falsely accused and was innocent in all of it. Another red flag? Sure.
Why did I stay after his history of violence seemed to be backed by current actions? It wasn’t because I loved him. I actually had become 100% in love with his dog that he left with me while he was on the road for work. He said if I ever left him he would kill the dog. I wasn’t sure what to do but I would never let him hurt that dog.
To this day I still mourn my dog Cali–who I managed to keep with me until her natural death two years ago. She was my first child.
One night I sidestepped into a landmine. I said something wrong that triggered a response that I couldn’t have foreseen. While moments are frozen in my mind, time has been kind in blurring much of the specifics.
So Cliff notes version: I found myself being hurdled into the brick wall of the fireplace. When I fell to the ground I was strangled unconscious.
I awoke to the sensation of being rocked and heard the sounds of my aggressor sobbing and apologizing profusely. “Wendi, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry! I’m such a fuck up, I’m so sorry.” My head was cradled in his lap as he sat on the floor rocking back and forth.
But as my eyes slowly opened, his registered surprise and then narrowed with an enraged anger and he jumped on me. My face was pummeled and then his large hands went back to my throat, strangling me unconscious yet again.
This scenario repeated over and over–even down to the sobbing, apologizing, rocking. I tried to get away and he’d grab one of my legs and drag me like discarded trash back to where he wanted me.
Cali was barking at him, so he took her and threw her across the room and into a wall. She whimpered as she slid to the floor.
It was not until I finally wisened up and instead of opening my eyes, I kept them closed and tried to shallow my terrified breathing, that he eventually left me. I heard his boots as he walked through the living room and kitchen of my house and to the garage. I heard the garage door open and smelled the smoke of the cigarette he lit. I didn’t hear him come back my way.
As quickly as I could, I got up and I silently crossed to the front door. As soon as I was out I ran as fast as I could, screaming, across the street and to the neighbors house where I beat on the nearest window.
The poor neighbor was awoken to a frightful sight. A bloody woman screaming and beating on her window to let her in.
I wasn’t followed.
The woman was in her twenties and was a caregiver to her grandmother, whose house it was. They got me inside and immediately called 911.
Everything was a blur. The cops entered my house with guns drawn and could not find him. They did find a travel bag left behind–packed with a laptop, chargers, flashlight, camouflaged clothes, running shoes, cash and toiletries. This made them believe he had every intention of killing me, that it was not a fit of rage but instead, a premeditated attempt to end my life.
I was put in an ambulance but refused to leave the dog and be taken to a hospital. So I was photographed and my injuries were documented.
I wrote my statement and acknowledged that I wanted to press charges. (Although I was told even if I did not, the police would.)
But they didn’t find him.
After that, I remember being scared. I was alone. At night I would turn off the lights in my house and walk through the dark. Even though walking in complete darkness was scary in and of itself, it seemed better than his seeing my silhouette in a window or being outside able to watch me through some slit in a curtain.
I lost weight. I couldn’t eat or drink. If I found myself in any proximity to a man I would shake with anxiety. Of course I packed and I moved away.
I called the sheriffs’ office regularly to find out if there was any information as to his whereabouts or an update on an arrest. Eventually they told me they would call with news and assured me they were working on it.
A friend loaned me a rifle and I kept it close. My life was changed.
I share this story now because I want people to know that it’s not something that happens to other people/different people/druggies/whatever. Abuse can happen to you and I.
As women, no matter how strong we think we are, if we aren’t well trained in self-defense we can find ourselves almost powerless at the hands of most men.
If you’ve been victimized and have never come forward, I want you to know you are not alone. You are not wrong. It isn’t your fault. No matter how much I never wanted to believe it, some people are just evil.
I’m passionate about joining forces with Family Promise. Maybe my story will touch someone burdened with unjustified shame. Maybe I can extend a hand to help another woman out of a dark place she was beaten into. Maybe you’re reading this and we can find the light of hope together. Learn to trust again. Let yourself love again.
Forgetting, bottling, internalizing fear and pain, knowing firsthand the sheer panic of absolute helplessness…this is what we do. But in doing so we are continuing to allow them to hurt us. The only way to stop the continuity of pain is recognize the trauma and find healthy ways to address it.
If you need a safe place, or just to talk–I’m here. There are good people here who want to help.
As we gear up for the Family Promise Bed Race 2019, I wanted to share a story. Not my story because it didn’t define me. It changed me and it’s a chapter in my life that has ended but I am putting a piece of me out there to those that I’m doing this for.
If you want to be a part of something bigger than the pain, I urge you to reach out. We can make positive changes within ourselves and for so many others, together.