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Feb 27, 2014

My domestic violence story

My domestic violence story was just one of the 1.3 million (annual) cases, but it's one that shaped who I am today and pointed me onto the many paths I've taken in my life to get to where I currently am. It's a story that I've only penned one time -- and that was to a judge in Arizona  (I'll explain that later). So I guess this is the first time I've ever told the story on a mass level. Before I get into it, I must warn all of my readers that this story may contain 'triggers' which may inflame PTSD in survivors of domestic violence. So you've been warned. **Names have been changed**

    I met "Johnny" when I had just turned 19-years-old. His dad "John Sr." moved up to the mountains with "Johnny" and his little brother "Carl," and they were becoming friendly with others who lived in the area -- which included my family and neighbors. "Johnny" was close in age to me -- 22, I believe -- and on the mountain, where we lived in the wilderness far removed from society, that was a rare find. So naturally in my boy-crazy way, I began a sexual relationship with "Johnny" that quickly turned into a more serious relationship. Within a couple of months the two of us were living together on a piece of property his father was buying. In the first handful of weeks of our relationship, everything was fine. We had a couple of acres of land. I had my dog, and we had numerous chickens and ducks. You know, the makings of that "American dream," I guess.

That all changed when his father decided we were all moving to Winslow -- several hours away from where I had known to be my home. I've lived all over Arizona, but at the time I was not familiar with Winslow, so I was like a fish out of water and dependent on both "John Sr.," and his son -- whom I had discovered suffered from clinical schizophrenia, and he was on medication for it. The medication kept him stable, and at the time I didn't fully understand what it was like to live with someone who suffers with this mental illness, so I was naive.

We lived out in the middle of nowhere -- which was something I was used to, but this time I did not have any of my loved ones within reasonable distance to reach out to when I needed them. I was fully dependent on these two men, which was not a good thing. It was during this time -- that I was removed from the lives of my loved ones -- "Johnny" decided to stop taking his medication -- which caused him to act strangely, and say strange things. His father also decided that we didn't need to "live on the grid," and he kept our home without electricity, plumbing or running water -- save for the occasional gallon of gas for his "generator" or poorly charged deep cycle batteries that ran on a power inverter (This needs to be clarified for those of you who are not aware of how people "live off the grid" in the U.S.). For a "septic," he dug a hole beneath the home (a 5th wheel trailer) and expected our waste to go into it. He also kept the home devoid of food. "Johnny" and I lived off of potatoes and eggs while "John Sr." spent most of his time a handful of miles away at his sister's where he would eat regular meals and sit in air conditioning while watching cable television.

"Johnny's" mental state slipped drastically within weeks of stopping his schizophrenia medication. He went from making odd statements ( such as laughing about rape and violence) to actually being violent. He would push/shove me any chance he could, sometimes causing me to fall in the dirt in the hot Arizona terrain where we lived "off the grid." There were times that he would kick me, or punch me in the ribs.  There were times that he'd pull my hair as I was stepping up into the home we shared, only to fall out onto my ass -- which would make him laugh. Sometimes he would sit next to me on our couch, and he would pinch me on my arms and legs -- just hard enough to hurt and bruise me. One of the worst days of abuse came when I was trimming my split ends in the little bathroom of the trailer we shared out in the middle of nowhere. I can't remember what I said to "Johnny," that angered him. I really can't. It's been over a decade, and even though I'm scarred, there are some memories of those days that falter and fade. Anyway, he had a handheld clipper/shaver plugged into the wall where it rested on the back of the bathroom counter(we sometimes used a gas powered generator and "camp showers" for hygiene purposes, hooked onto the 5th wheel trailer). He grabbed it and stuck it to the side of my head, running it up the side. This shaved off half of the hair on my head, leaving me with no choice but to shave my head all over -- something that took nearly a year to grow back. Even several months after I had left the guy, I was forced to remember him by looking in the mirror and seeing my hair -- which had once been thick, red and down my back -- cut short in a buzz cut.

I hit my boiling point one day. Again, I can't remember what caused his outburst, but he slapped me in the face and kicked my dog when she barked at him. I had endured over nine months of abuse, of senseless behavior. I didn't know what to do, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, no phone, no electricity, no way to separate myself from the situation in which I suffered. I flung a heavy glass ashtray at him, missing his face by just a hair. I punched him -- in the chest I believe -- and then grabbed his dust-covered VCR from the entertainment unit that we never used, and I walloped him upside the head with it. It all happened in just a flicker of a moment, but seemed to go by in slow motion. I was in a rage after being hit, pushed, abused emotionally and physically, coerced into sex that I didn't want to have and then seeing him physically injure my dog -- who had only just recovered after being shot by some trigger happy moron who lived near us out in the middle of nowhere. I loved my dog, and I hated him. I hated him with everything in me, and I wanted to hurt him like he hurt me.

I got what I wanted. I hurt him, but not so bad that he couldn't leave our house -- which was something I was absolutely thankful for. He never expected me to fight back because he was nothing more than a coward and a bully. I was glad he left, and hoped that he walked the couple of miles to where his father was so they could return and I could demand that my shit be packed up and I be taken back to my family several hours away from the hellhole I was in. Less than an hour later, I was greeted by police cruisers.

"Johnny" turned me in for assaulting him.

His cowardice knew no boundaries. The police had no choice, and even told me as they arrested me, noting that I was covered in bruises that were in various stages of healing (bruises that he had inflicted upon me over a course of a handful of months). He was the one who called the police, not I. Had I been the one who filed the report for all of the pain he caused me, he would have been the ones being cuffed and hauled to jail. I stayed in jail overnight -- was released on my own recognizance and given a court date. I then had to hitchhike for a half hour to get back to the property -- where my dog had been chained up for 24 hours without food or water in the hot Arizona sun. I was ready to leave, prepared to pack my belongings, take my dog and just hitchhike back home where we would be safe.

There was a problem with that plan, however, and that problem was "John Sr." He was a brute of a man and was very blunt when he told me that I would be staying with his son. He told me that when my court date came he would be the one taking me to appear before the judge. He told me that I would plea guilty, and that I would never tell what his son had done to me and my dog. He told me that his son "would never go to jail," over me, and that I would never take him away.

And if I wouldn't obey his instructions: 

"John Sr." told me clearly and explicitly that he would shoot me in the head and stuff my body into a barrel of acid, which would be thrown into either the Salt River or another body of water. He promised me that he'd done it before, and that my body would be dissolved to nothing but jelly long before anyone would find the barrel. He promised me that this would be my fate if I ever told anyone what happened between me and his son.

Again, I was only 19-years-old. He terrified me. I obeyed just as he demanded, and when my court date came by, I entered a plea of 'no contest' and repeated that I had hormonal issues (as John Sr. directed). The judge eyeballed me and gave me a light sentence -- 12 visits with a shrink for "anger management" (which I completed) and a $100.00 fine. The charge was nothing more than a 2nd degree misdemeanor of simple assault (instead of something far worse). I was never able to pay  that fine -- only managed to pay $20.00 of it. But I did get away from "John Sr." and "Johnny." They were satisfied that "Johnny" wouldn't be getting in any trouble for his abusive behavior, so it wasn't an issue for me and my dog to be returned to my family where I could finally get away from both of them. As soon as I returned home I began writing down everything that happened to me, in very graphic detail. I penned the statement -- which was several pages long -- and I mailed it to the judge who took my coerced plea of 'no contest.'

She chose to ignore it, but told me directly in a telephone call to "leave Arizona," so nothing would happen to me for refusing to pay my fine. I felt victimized again, and it hurt even more so that the judge was a woman -- someone who I expected to have sympathy and understanding for victims of domestic violence and coercion. I was forced to enter a plea that was not honest, I was forced under threats of my own murder and gruesome bodily disposal by someone who told me that he had done it before. The judge chose to ignore this, telling me that I should have had the strength to tell her this in open court (as my abuser and his father stood behind me, my dog in their possession back at their home). It became apparent to me that this judge had not only no compassion for victims of domestic abuse, but she didn't even understand what level of fear many of us live under. She didn't understand why I was so easily coerced into lying in court.

Now, over a decade later, I am free of "Johnny," but not the memories of what he did to me. I also suffer with the fact that I can never safely enter my home state unless I pay a fine that I shouldn't have to pay. I refuse to pay it. It's simply another slap in the face on top of the many that my abuser dealt me. Paying that fine would only give "John Sr." and his son the power that they had over me in the past. It would only acknowledge that I was not "strong enough" to speak out in open court as they breathed down the back of my neck. I shouldn't have had to be "strong enough." I shouldn't have ever been in that situation, but no woman expects to be sucked into a life of violence and pain and heartbreak when they are stupid, young and looking for romance.

This is just my story of domestic violence, but it's a story that I've lived -- and again, it's a story that shaped my life and who I am today. I'm a stronger person now because of the lessons I've learned -- that misogyny and domestic violence are acceptable in Arizona, as long as you know how to get away with it, and that battered women are not given the help they deserve in our horribly broken system. I've learned a lot since those days, but I've held it all inside until this post. Of course there are a lot of specific/graphic details that I am choosing to keep to myself, but this is it in a nutshell.

I'm a survivor. One of the millions.

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