“I’ll never leave you” I whispered to my son as I laid him back in his crib. “I don’t know how I’m going to fix this, but I will. I’ll get us out of this somehow, I promise.”
It was the promise that I had been making to him every night since the day he was born, that I had been making to his older sister since the day she had been born, and that I had been making to myself for as long as I could remember.
It was a promise that was broken by a marriage that I couldn’t get out of; a life that I couldn’t escape from. Bound by abuse, financial dependence, the lack of a support system, a legal system that I didn’t understand, and two children that needed me, I was trapped.
There were many mornings that I stood looking at my reflection in the mirror, not recognizing the face that stared back at me; a face so lost, so drained of hope, void of any emotion but pain. “Who was that girl looking back at me? Surely that cannot be me” I would think to myself as my gaze settled upon the bruise around my eye. “I had hopes, I had dreams. I had plans for my life, for the lives of my children.”
Yet the mirror doesn’t lie and the person staring back at me was nothing more than the shell of the person I used to be, the person I could have been.
“I’ll just leave him” I would think. “I’ll pack up the kids and go. We will go to a shelter, they will keep us safe.”
“They will keep us safe until what?” I thought to myself. “They will keep us safe until my husband’s lawyer petitions for the custody of my children? I can’t afford to hire an attorney and I can’t fight a legal system that I don’t understand; especially when domestic abuse is considered a spousal issue and not always taken into consideration as a custody factor.”
Thanks to some research I had done on the subject, I knew that 70% of abused women will actually lose custody of their children to their abuser simply because they often cannot afford an attorney to go up against the one their abuser has (American Judges Council). I would never leave my children behind, I was their mother, and I needed to protect them.
Even if I was able to leave with my children, I didn’t know where I would go from there. The local shelter only provided six weeks of housing and then what? If I couldn’t afford to get divorced, I would still be legally tied to his income. I wouldn’t qualify for daycare assistance while tied to his income, so I would have no one to watch my children while I worked. If I couldn’t work, how would I feed them? I wouldn’t qualify for food stamps or Medicaid while still married. How could I get an apartment while I was still tied to a mortgage? To make matters worse, his financial control over me had used up my savings and buried me in debt over the years; I had nothing left to fall back on.
What options did I have? Leave without my children or take them with me and not be able to feed or shelter them?
So with that I stayed.
I set aside concerns of my own well being, as many mothers are forced to do, and I did the best that I could do to take care of my children in the only way I knew how; I sacrificed myself.
As I stood over my son’s crib that night, looking down at one of the only things I had left in a life that had burned down around me, I had no idea how I was going to overcome the destruction that had ravaged my life.
Eventually I crossed paths with an attorney who saw my situation and reminded me that the only way I was ever going to have a future, was if I was free from my past.
I’ll never forget him saying to me “You need to get out of this if you ever want a future” and I gave him the most honest truth that I had; “I can’t afford to get out of this, I can’t afford to have a future.”
Despite my inability to pay him, he fought for me, for my children, and for my life.
He saved my family and gave us a future.
Because of him I was able to rise from the ashes of a life burned down. I look back now and I wonder “what makes me so special? What makes me more important, more deserving than all of the other women and children still trapped in lives that are killing them?”
Nothing makes me any more important than them except that I was lucky enough for someone to look past my lack of finances and see the person that I really was.
We are all worthy, we are all deserving of a life free from abuse, and it’s about time we stop failing our women.
Everyone deserves a future and sometimes they just need a little help fighting for it.
If a woman is fighting for her life, she shouldn’t have to fight alone.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. With so many shelters, programs, and services available to abused women, let’s not forget how much more these women still need.
Take a minute to think of the women who are fighting to be not only the mother’s that they deserve to be, but are simply fighting for their lives.
We all deserve the chance for a future.
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