I was barefoot and pregnant. Not in the cute, facetious way husbands talk about their expectant wives. I wasn’t in the kitchen, cooking a meal for my family. I didn’t have a sweet, satisfied smile on my face. It was nighttime and I was alone outside.
Barefoot. Pregnant. Afraid.
About an hour earlier, my husband, Phillip, and I were having a typical fight. Typical for us, anyway. Something small made him upset; I tried to fix it and only angered him more. He lifted my 8-month- pregnant body in the air, complained about how fat I had gotten, dropped me hard on the ground outside, and locked me out of our house. No matter how many times I knocked, he wouldn’t let me in. I didn’t have a phone or a watch, so I wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It seemed like forever, though. I realized I needed a place to lay down for the night, so I started walking.
A thousand thoughts ran through my head as I walked around aimlessly in my neighborhood. What if the wrong car passed by and I got abducted? What if a wild animal attacked me? No keys, no phone, no way to contact my family. I was too embarrassed to reach out to neighbors because I knew I would have to face them later. My only hope was that a kind stranger would let me use their phone to call my parents or siblings. If not, I planned to walk the few miles to a gas station and ask for help there.
I sat on the nearest curb and bawled my eyes out. How did I end up here? How did my life become this?
After six years of marriage, I was almost used to the abuse. It didn’t shock me like it used to. The first year, he would shove me and throw me. Years later, it escalated to him throwing things at me, holding me down with his weight, and even choking me a few times. His go-to response was, “Stop calling it abuse! I have never hit or punched you.”
He would be so kind to me after a violent episode that it almost seemed worth it. If only I could be a better wife, then he wouldn’t get so mad at me. I realize how delusional that sounds, but it made sense to me at the time. I spent six years trying to make Phillip happy. I lost weight, gained it, grew my hair out, took cooking classes, got a second job— I attempted to fix everything he said was wrong.
But I was always wrong. I could never make that man happy.
As I walked toward the gas station, I heard my husband screaming my name from the road. “Get your silly self in this car!” I listened to him. I got in. He was chatting animatedly as if nothing had happened. That night, I knew I had to make an exit plan. I couldn’t bring a child into this hell.
But, I did bring a child into that hell. He abused her, too, and I will forever feel guilty for that. He almost killed my daughter, and I thank God for the judge that eventually stripped him of his parental rights.
For anyone living in a toxic, abusive relationship, please know that there is life after pain. I rebuilt myself from the ground up. Phillip told me that I was ugly, fat, worthless, and dumb. I look back at pictures from my days of abuse, and I see a beautiful girl with the saddest eyes in the world. Sometimes, just seeing myself like that brings tears to my eyes. I cry because I wish I could my past self, “Better days are ahead. You will be whole again.”
I am no longer embarrassed about my past, and I have stopped calling myself a victim. I am a survivor. A survivor who took her life back, found love again, and is living happily ever after. My triumph is my testimony and liken myself to a phoenix who rose out of the ashes. I deserved a life of respect, dignity and freedom, so I took it. For anyone going through a similar situation, I beg you to take your freedom back. Choose yourself. Choose happiness.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Advocates are available 24/7 in more than 200 languages. All calls are free and confidential. If you’re not in a safe place to speak out loud, you can start a mobile chat with an advocate through their website www.thehotline.org, by clicking the “Chat With Us” link.