On This Day, My Silent Anniversary

Everyone has an anniversary they celebrate. For many people anniversaries are happy: they mark the length of time of being in love, being a friend, or working a great job. I too have an anniversary, but this anniversary is difficult to explain through feelings. It is both happy and sad, empowering and revealing. Until today, I haven’t told more than a handful of people about my anniversary. It took a reminder from Facebook for me to remember what today means. As I logged onto Facebook, Timehop reminded me that on this day, 6 years ago, I posted on my Facebook wall that I was back, and everything was okay. You see, on this day 6 years ago, I walked out of an 8 year long abusive marriage. I dropped my ex off at his friend’s house, so he could show his friend his homemade tattoo gun. I told him I would go to McDonalds and get food. I drove off that day and never looked back. I was so terrified that day that all feeling had left my body. All I could feel was a strange tingling sensation, like when one of your limbs goes to sleep. I had no idea what I was going to do, I just knew that the time had come to save my life and the lives of my girls.

The next 1.5 years were a hellish rollercoaster. My ex’s mother is an attorney and used her power to prolong all hearings pertaining to my case. Shortly after I walked out, my ex picked my girls up from daycare while I was at work and drove 4.5 hours across the state, back to his mom’s house. There he secreted away my girls, then only 4 and 6 years old, for 10 months. His mother filed for divorce in her home county and it took 4 months to get it transferred back to the correct venue. She filed a restraining order against me on behalf of my kids, only to drop it before appearing in court because she knew she couldn’t defend it. She filed for changes of judges, motions for continuances, and anything else she possible could to extend the time my girls were away from me. My girls later told me they often cried at night, longing to be with me. Their own father and grandmother listened to those cries and took some sort of sick satisfaction from it, thinking they were winning the war. They wanted absolute control over me and they would go to the end of the earth to punish me. Revenge is the only motivator for them.

I went to court in January of 2014 for my divorce. It was a long, disgusting day but at the end I was so relieved. Even though it took 5 months for the judge to hand down my divorce decree (where my ex still got joint custody, despite the psychosis he and his mother exhibited), it was so worth it to be away from that pathetic excuse for a man. I learned I could come and go as I pleased. Wear whatever clothes I wanted without explanation. I could go on dinner dates and movie nights with friends. I could work whatever hours I needed, and my performance skyrocketed. I smiled more. I laughed a lot. Everyone noticed a difference in me. The freedom a person experiences when they are no longer being abused is difficult to explain. I would guess it’s the same as being freed from prison and regaining control of your own life. 8 years is a long time to not be in control of your own thoughts or actions.

The years marched on and I met and fell in love with my best friend. He is a tall, handsome man with a heart of gold. He was single, never married and had no children of his own. He willingly chose to take on a 28-year-old woman with 2 kids and a history of mental and physical abuse. He knew it would be difficult and that we would have hard days. I think he was still surprised by how hard it was for my girls and I to recover and to fully trust a man in our life. He didn’t realize that the wounds we had would heal but would remain as scars. Scars so wide and deep and all-encompassing that sometimes we couldn’t tell where our scars end and our new growth begins. The abuse we endured affected every part of our life and it was difficult to cut the strings.

It can take years to recover from a domestically violent relationship. My oldest would go on to be diagnosed with PTSD, which she developed from being kidnapped and kept away from me. She would refuse to sleep at night because she thought her dad might come in the middle of the night and take her. She still has nightmares to this day. She deals with anxiety and depression and dozens of big issues for such a young, innocent mind. My youngest would have anger issues and it would take years for her to stop acting out at home and in school. There were times where all I could do was sit and hold her while she screamed and kicked. We both cried. It was so hard to see my little ones hurting. I felt so guilty for bringing this burden on them. Guilty for staying, guilty for not speaking up. Guilty for choosing him over them for years. Six years later, the guilt still creeps up on me, surprising me with its weight and sadness.

The birth of my son brought us all together in a healing way. I was finally able to enjoy the early years of my child’s life. I didn’t worry about our safety. I stayed at home and raised him, soaking up all the little moments that I didn’t with his sisters (I was the income provider as my ex could never hold a job for more than a few months). It was important to my husband that I be able to stay with me son and I appreciate him making that choice. My son is a bright, bubbly, hilarious boy filled with hugs and love for his sisters and his parents. Things were good for us for a long time.

And then, just like that, they weren’t good.

At the beginning of 2019 I once again found myself knee deep in legal battle with Mother Attorney and my ex. In July of 2018 I sent him my notice that I was moving to Florida. Mother Attorney responded with a motion to prevent my relocation. From there a court date should have been scheduled so that a judge could decide whether her motion would be upheld or if I could move. That court date didn’t happen because Mother Attorney is not the brightest person…she was using the wrong case number when filing her paperwork.

We had put our home up for sale and received an offer. We were shocked when the offer went through and we rapidly blew through the steps to selling our home. The close date got moved up at the last minute, so everyone could get their money before the holiday. We hurried to pack up all our belongings while my girls were at their dad’s for the weekend. We weren’t sure what we were going to do, but it had been such a long year up to this point that we decided to go to the beach for Thanksgiving/my daughter’s birthday celebration. We would think about where we were going and what we would do after vacation.

A week on the ocean was exactly what we needed. It was a great time and we got to do a lot of fun things. We had all lived in the Midwest our entire lives, only seeing the ocean for brief bits of time on vacation. The prospect of living a completely different life was so exciting.

While on vacation we put out a couple of applications for housing. We had applied for places in August to no avail: so many people move to Florida during that time that every rental has a waitlist a mile long. To our surprise, we received an acceptance letter and could move into our new home rather quickly. Again, we were shocked. After years of things being difficult, dozens upon dozens of setbacks, having to fight for every little thing…we couldn’t believe our move was being made so easy. My husband was ecstatic. I was nervous.

As I typed up the letter with our new address on it, all the dread and anxiety came flooding back. I felt the same as I did when I had left almost 6 years prior. I knew in my heart that I would be in for a fight. The biggest loss an abuser can suffer is loss of control. My moving out of state meant that my abuser could no longer drive down to my home and drive slowly through my neighborhood while attempting to peer in my windows. He couldn’t slink around my town and sit in the parking lot of our work places with his flesh colored binoculars. Stalking me gave him a sense of power and control. He loved it. He lived for it. He referred to himself as “the shadow man” and thought he was truly the slickest, smartest guy in the world. I took that illusion away.

Christmas was fast approaching, and I received a call from the County Sheriff. My ex was stating that he showed up for his visitation weekend with the girls and I didn’t show up. He was stating he didn’t know where his children were. This was a blatant lie because I had sent him an email 2 days prior to his scheduled visitation with our new address, as well as a request for dates when he would like to see the girls and I would fly them up. I provided this email to the sheriff. The sheriff stated he knew that my ex was lying because my ex had told him months prior that I had sent a letter notifying him of my intent to relocate (they live in a very small town and my ex and Mother Attorney are well known and mostly disliked). He ended the phone call, advising me that everything would be fine, and he would let me know if he needed anything else. 5 hours later he called back and stated that he was being forced to forward the case to the prosecuting attorney, at the demand of Mother Attorney. I had my lawyer provide Mother Attorney’s formal response to my letter as evidence that both she and my ex knew the girls would be moving. He advised me that he detailed everything my ex had said and pointed out each time his story changed. At the end of the day they wanted me to be arrested for kidnapping (in front of my children).

A few weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. We moved into our home and began to get settled in our new life. My girls love Florida. They loved the warmth, the sunshine, the palm trees and oranges in our back yard It was a whole new adventure for them. Things were really starting to look up. Even my oldest was optimistic that everything was going to be okay.
Christmas came, and I made arrangements to fly them to their dad for the holiday. They went reluctantly with me promising them everything would be all right. It was a promise that I broke. Shortly before their plane landed my ex had filed a restraining order to have the children remain in the state. A hearing was scheduled but I was not notified until a few days before. I paid another retainer to my attorney, who continued the hearing until after the first of the year. I was not required to attend the hearing, but my attorney told me that my ex and Mother Attorney attempted to have a hearing on my motion to prevent relocation. They had noticed it up at the last minute, knowing that I wouldn’t be present, hoping that their sneaky move would have custody taken from me.

They did not get their hearing, but the judge did order that my girls remain in the state, enroll in school where their dad resides (completely messing up their educational records) and remain there until our next hearing on 2.28. I was devastated. I had to call my girls and tell them they were not able to come home. They were so upset. They missed their things, their brother and stepdad, their animals and of course, their mom. There was nothing I could do. Again, all those old feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness, distress, anxiety and fear came roaring back. I was once again reliving my old nightmare. I once again had my children taken from me. There are moments where it feels like this will never end.

Most days it is hard to find the strength to get out of bed, to keep going, one foot in front of the other. All the “what-if” scenarios play endlessly in my mind. What if I lose, what if no one testifies about his violence, what if the judge doesn’t believe us, what impact will this have on the girls’ futures? Today is one of those hard days. My heart and soul are so tired. My mind is so angry. My body craves peace.

I think back to that day, 6 years ago, and remember how terrified I was as I drove away. I can see how far I’ve come in the last six years. I remind myself of the little things I know take for granted: I can take a nap when my anxiety is too much. I can escape the house and spend hours wandering the mall, enjoying time to myself. I can get a massage. I can get a pedicure. No one controls the minutes of my life. I owe no one an explanation of my every move. And I am thankful for that.

I know that by this time next year things will be very different. Regardless of what I am going through, I know in my heart that I have made the right decisions. It was time for us to move. It was time for us to start a new chapter, on our own in a city where no one knows our past. We can be unapologetically us. We can be happy. We can live out our dreams. We do not have to succumb to the fear that is instilled on us.

One day I will have a new anniversary, a new day that completely redefines my life. I look forward to that day, because in my heart I know it will be a good one. All things, good and bad, come to an end. New chapters begin whether we are ready or not. I’m here. I’m ready.

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Happy Anniversary to me.


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