Reaching Back to Help

I remember the first day I met Josh at a friend’s house in Colorado. He never seemed to care about anything going on around him, or anyone, for that matter. His lack of compassion appalled many, yet somehow it appealed to me. His infectious laugh could fill a room. He was an intense person with a dark and mysterious energy. I was attracted to him.

On the outside, he appeared fun-loving and pleasant, but on the inside, he was bitter and troubled. He had beaten up a gas station clerk while tripping on mushrooms just a year before I met him, and he would laugh as he described this event to others. He was experimenting with drugs when that happened, I said to myself. I didn’t think this would be normal behavior for him.

Then, Josh decided to join the military. We married within a week of him graduating from Marine Corps boot camp. The comparatively ambitious, hopeful, and joyful man I had first met disappeared little by little with each passing day. When he wasn’t around, he would insist that we talk on the phone for hours on end. It eventually reached the point where he didn’t want me around my best friend or family members. Our bank account began shrinking, too, and I knew the excuses he made for this were lies. I knew he was going out and blowing the cash on alcohol and maybe even on other women. Loved ones pleaded with me to stay home when it came time to join him in North Carolina. No one in my life trusted him. Deep inside, I didn’t have faith in him either, though I desperately wanted to.

Family and friends somberly helped pack everything on the back of the truck in the middle of the frigid Colorado winter with frosty winds biting at our faces. A snowstorm had moved in across the country just in time for the commute. On the way, my brother and I saw a semi-truck tipped on its side on the highway unable to withstand the harsh winds. The windshield wipers could hardly keep up with the excessive snowfall, and the brutal cold was almost unbearable. The timing and weather cast a horrible pall over everything from the very beginning.

As I pulled up to drop my brother off at the airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, the uncertainty of when I would see my family again suddenly struck me like a thunderbolt. To make matters worse, hours later, I arrived only to discover that I had no place to live despite Josh’s promise that I would. I had a hundred dollars in cash and an overdrawn account paying for my stay at the cheapest run-down hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

About a week later, someone in his command found an old house on base where we could stay temporarily. It was located next to a busy road leading onto Camp Lejeune. To the left when you entered was an outdated kitchen with fifties-style black-and-white checker tiles that covered the floor. The living room and bedrooms consisted of scratched and worn wood floors, and cockroaches scattered everywhere when you opened the front door. The house was as bad as the apartment we had lived in back in Colorado, where the inside smelled like stale cigarettes. Water leaks dribbled from every tap, and an imaginary maintenance crew never showed up to fix anything. The first time I had second thoughts about our relationship happened in the bedroom of that place when, during an argument, Josh threw all my fragile belongings into a suitcase, breaking many of them, and punched a hole in the wall. Regardless, I believed we would make it through the rough patches together.

On the night of December 30th, 2007, a few neighbors invited us to a party. Being nineteen years old, we happily obliged. As the night continued and people got increasingly wasted, a drunken neighbor made a pass at me. Uncomfortable and ready to leave, I went to find Josh outside. When he learned why I wanted to go home, he began acting like a vicious dog. A side of him I had never seen started to appear. Reminding him that a fight with another Marine could put his brand new military career in jeopardy, I finally convinced him to come home with me.

Even after we got home, the glazed look never left Josh’s eyes. Nothing I said seemed to reach him. He told me men hit on me because I dressed like a slut, and that I wasn’t attractive otherwise. These demeaning words led to a heated argument, and before I knew it, his verbal abuse quickly grew into physical violence. Several punches later, I came to, confused and in a daze in the hallway between the two bedrooms. The bright hallway light beat down on me. That’s when I heard a frantic Josh from the living room calling someone on the phone. His voice sounded fearful, almost regretful, as he told someone that he needed a lawyer. I heard him say that I would think he had beaten me when I came to. Devastated, I started to weep.

I heard his footsteps coming across the wood floor towards me. He had heard me and come to try and apologize. I took one look at his insincere face and began screaming at the top of my lungs, fearful that I would never see daylight again if I didn’t break free from him. He attempted to keep me quiet by covering my mouth. Realizing that I wouldn’t give up as I bit him in my feeble attempt to be heard, he threw another punch to silence me. I faked unconsciousness with the hope he would walk away. After what felt like ages, he headed outside. Obviously panicked, his voice had raised a pitch as he murmured, “Shit. SHIT!”

I listened for the front door to close and could make out the faint smell of cigarettes seeping in from outside. I picked up my cell phone as I hurried to the bathroom and locked the door as fast as I could, afraid he would try to stop me. I looked in the mirror and saw that my eyelid had flipped inside out. I could also see that most of the blood vessels in my eye had broken, making my whole eyeball appear a reddish purple color.

Soon, I heard footsteps and pressed my back against the door. I felt like I was inside of a horror movie. With my hand trembling, I carefully dialed my mom’s phone number. He started pounding on the door as I told her what had happened. I gave her my address just as he busted through the door. He pushed me backwards, and I knocked a piece of siding off of the bathtub as I fell. Josh quickly grabbed the cell phone out of my hand. I screamed at him that the police had already been called. In that moment, the look of defeat crept over his face. He went to sit by the door and await the inevitable.

About three minutes later, a loud knock from the front door echoed through the house. When the MPs saw my face, they put Josh in handcuffs and drove off with him in the back of a squad car. I sat on the couch as an EMT came in to assess me. I told him that I didn’t think a black eye deserved an Emergency Room visit. Yet, the EMT seemed sincere and convinced me to get x-rays to rule out fractures, insistent that when the shock wore off, the pain would set in.  For the first time in my life, I rode in the back of an ambulance.

When we reached the hospital, I called my close friends and family. My best friend and I cried on the phone together. My dad and mom made arrangements for my mom to fly out. Until then, extended family would come down in the next day or two.

Several hours and x-rays later, the doctor came into the room with a disconcerting look on his face. He broke the news to me that I would need surgery. The x-ray detected several fractures around my orbital and in my sinus cavity. However, the swelling needed to go down before we could proceed. He told me to sleep at a forty-five degree angle, and he gave me Percocet to take every four hours until the surgery was scheduled.

Sitting in my hospital bed the next morning after a sleepless night, I was surrounded by a team of photographers taking biomedical pictures of my face. A couple hours later, the crime scene investigators approached me with a stack of papers to sign. They informed me that allowing them to do the investigation while I was still admitted in the hospital would work in my favor as I would not have a chance to tamper with the crime scene. I watched my hand move across the paper as I scribbled my signature, wishing to wake up from this nightmare.

The next night when I arrived back at the house, the sight of the place tore me apart. I finally fell asleep in the recliner, feeling nauseous and confused. I awoke a little over five hours later to excruciating, unbearable pain. For the next month, I would set my alarm every three hours and forty five minutes to take the next dose of Percocet before the pain had a chance to kick in.

Two nights after the incident, I experienced my first lucid nightmare, possibly due to the heavy intake of painkillers and trauma. I dreamt that someone had my house set on fire and I couldn’t scream or do anything about it. To this day, I vividly remember every detail of the flames all around me as if it had all actually happened.

The day of the surgery finally came. The doctor said it would take two hours. I held my mom’s hand and looked into her teary eyes, trying to be strong, as the injection of anesthesia came through my IV.

Waking up and trying to breathe again, I felt a warm hand squeeze mine. I fought to open my eyes and saw my Uncle Stan. He talked to the nurse while I came to, and I heard her say eight hours was a long time for a surgery. As it turned out, while I was under anesthesia, the surgeon noticed that my upper palate also needed reconstruction, and he received my mom’s consent to proceed with this additional surgery as well.

For two months following the surgery, people would ask me if I had been in a car wreck. My face stayed swollen and bruised for what felt like forever. The physical scars eventually healed, but the emotional ones will stay with me forever.

Though a battered wife, I refused to keep my mouth shut and go back. Instead, I chose to do the opposite and never hide the truth. I left him the first and only time he hit me and rejected his wishes to have me back. Anyone who questioned why my face looked the way it did would get to hear the whole truth.

During the trial, he put in a plea of not guilty even though his lawyer advised against it. With the support of my dad, who had taken me in and even gotten me a temporary job, I filed a permanent restraining order against him in the midst of the trial and cut ties with him forever. Later on, Josh realized that his plea wouldn’t hold up in court since the proof the crime scene investigators had against him would not coincide with his story.

Regardless of the amount of evidence and physical harm he caused, he only served one year in the Brig before he received a bad conduct discharge. My lawyer told me he had been dropped off at the gate of Camp Lejeune with nothing but the clothes and few belongings he had come with. I received a letter upon his release, informing me that he moved back to our hometown. I lived an hour away by this time but was too terrified to come home to visit for at least six months. The fear that I might run into him by some rare chance kept me away for so long that when I finally came back, it didn’t feel much like home anymore.

Living in the same city and knowing mutual acquaintances, I have caught wind of the lies he tells others about how he got kicked out of the Marines. He told his friends that I fell in a bathtub and they harassed me over it for a few months following my surgery. A friend who knew Josh’s brother had heard that I beat myself up. Maybe he has really convinced himself that he is somehow the victim, or maybe he’s too ashamed to man up. I have no idea if he thought the lies would lead back to me. It alarms me to think that some people might actually believe him.

My memory had blacked out some of that night’s events due to trauma. Since then, I have seen psychologists who diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociation. Many memories have returned, but others probably never will. Accepting an apology or having a truly healthy relationship remains very difficult for me. I have since lost a man that I deeply loved because my issues overwhelmed him and harmed our relationship beyond repair. My alcohol abuse and anger issues were too much for him to handle. In the end, I showed him the exact anger that ruined me.

The lingering anxiety affects me every day. Though some days are better than others, I cannot control when the dark feelings trickle in. Certain triggers cause me to flashback. Some of them are obvious, but others surprise me because I don’t even know where they come from. Battling depression and anger has become an everyday struggle for me. My healing process starts when I attend regular counseling sessions and meditate, though even these options don’t seem to help a hundred percent of the time. Doctors have prescribed me many antidepressants, but to no avail. Therapy works when I go on a regular basis, yet funding the sessions remains an ongoing problem. All the trips to psychologists and the lack of control I feel with my PTSD have made me wonder if I will ever have a normal life again.

If I can reach even just one women involved with an abusive man, I will feel my experience was not a complete waste. It’s our responsibility as a society to awaken the battered women of the world to the reality of domestic violence. As a community, we should start creating more outlets for victims to utilize. Women need to know of places to go if they find themselves trapped in a bad relationship, whether it’s a shelter for battered women or just a friend’s home.

Abusive men do not love their victims. Instead, they seek power and control over them, which is the exact opposite of love. Real men wouldn’t dream of laying a hand on a woman, and they do exist. Though we are fragile from abuse, we are strong and have the power to take back control of our lives. There’s no need to fear leaving. Instead, we should be scared to stay. One in four women suffers abuse from a partner, and it’s far past time to change that statistic.

It’s important that our children respect others and never resort to violent behavior. We can start by teaching our daughters to respect themselves so they know when to leave. Let’s demonstrate to our sons how to treat a lady and set an example for them to follow when they become men. After all, to a great extent, everyone starts out as a tabula rasa. The least we can do for our future generations is raise pure and loving people to help end the cycle of violence.