Today I was told that I, “must have one heck of a backbone”. I can’t tell you what that meant to me. (It was said to me at work and in regards to one of the clients that I “handle”.) I sat a little taller today, my friends…I must admit.
For those of you that knew me before 1995 and we had distanced for a while, and for those of you that didn’t know me until after 2006 , what follows may be quite a surprise to you. The fact that it may be a surprise is probably a good thing. It means that you knew (or now know) the real Melinda.
However. I lost myself along the way. Between 1993 and 2004, I met and married a man that treated me like a queen. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband, or so I thought. He was kind, sincere, funny, and loving. He was my life.
Nearly two years into our relationship, he started to change. It happened slowly. He became angry, arrogant, cruel. I don’t know why or what triggered it, but I’m sure it was something that was “in him” forever. It began as random hurtful words and cut-you-to-the-core comments.
At first, I retaliated with my quick tongue. I don’t think he liked that I could outwit him in conversation (something I quickly “outgrew” and have since gained back, I must say). The hurtful words manifested into turned into something else…slowly but surely. A little smack there, a little shove, a threatening word. And before I knew it…
I had been physically beaten, emotionally abused, and broken down to almost nothing for eight long years.
I was thrown against walls. I was dragged across the house by my hair. I was kicked in the back with steel-toed boots and strangled until I passed out. I was punched, slapped, and held against my will. It was quite violent and it was often. The physical abuse was horrible, but don’t get me wrong: the words were worse. I was NOT a weak person. I was strong-headed and intelligent. And I was allowing this to happen.
I lost all of my friends and most of my family. (At one point I had even lost the family I did maintain.) I went to work but didn’t really communicate with anyone. At a point, I rarely left my house at all.
It took the best of me for a while. People often don’t understand why women stay in abusive relationships. What keeps them there? I suppose the reason is different for everyone. For me, it was the love I had for my stepson that kept me there. I couldn’t imagine life without him. I had raised him for over eight years (he was 10 years old when I finally left) and he was as much mine as anyone else’s. His father had custody of him, so he was at our home 95% of those eight years. Of course, I had no legal rights to him. Leaving meant walking out on him as much as it meant leaving my marriage. I had to walk away from my child.
My strength was found one hot summer day. My ex and I had a little arguement over the fan on our computer. (When I say “little”, it was all of 20 seconds in length. It didn’t take much to set him off.) In the end, I “came to” after being knocked out for the 4th time and said to myself, “that’s it”. I didn’t act like anything was different. For two weeks I carried on as if everything were just the same as before.
But behind the scenes I was planning my escape. I began separating my things from his in very discrete ways. (I was trying to make the packing and fleeing easier.) I’d have to leave while he was at work one day and would not have much time. I filed the photographs that I wanted to keep in a safe place. I gathered important documents, files on the computer, and had mail stopped and redirected from places I would still need to receive.
I left on a Friday of a holiday weekend. My ex-stepson was at his mother’s for the weekend. I didn’t say goodbye. I couldn’t. I’m sure he wondered why I didn’t. I pretended to be sick that night. (I really was in some ways, I suppose.) All that it would take was one look at my face, and my ex would know that something was not right. I stayed in the bedroom. The next day I gathered some friends and we moved everything I planned to take with me. Not much, just the essentials and sentimental things—I didn’t want anything that was “ours”, to be honest. I just wanted OUT.
I left everything. My marriage, my child, my business, my home…it was hard, yes. But it was perhaps one of the proudest moments of my life. I didn’t think I would ever have the courage to go. But I did. There was a rainbow in the sky that day. It choked me up. A rainbow was God’s promise that the earth would never be flooded again. It was a message of hope for mankind. It was my message of hope from him that day. This kept me moving.
My parents were gracious enough to allow me to stay with them until the divorce was final. I was terrified. I was worried for my parents as much as myself. I didn’t know if he would seek me out, or what his plan would be. He waited.
He called four days later and I quickly hung up the phone. He then called the police to report me as a “missing person”. The police called my parents house immediately because they said that is the move of a homicidal person. They told me that typically when a person is truly “missing” and there is nothing abnormal going on, the report comes well within the 24 hours they allow for waiting time. This was four days. It scared the police. That call solidified my decision.
I stayed with my parents for some time afterward and tried to get myself back together. Panic attacks in the middle of the night haunted me. Nightmares and fears consumed my thoughts each and every day for months and months…and months.
I met my Corey within that time during a visit to South Carolina for some time “away” with a very good friend who became like a second mother to me. Corey and I began to speak quite often. He helped me through some of the darkest and most dreadful days of my life. He is an amazing soul that I am blessed to have in my life. Corey has perhaps the kindest heart I’ve ever known.
I ended up moving to South Carolina months later. I stayed there for a while with my friend that I mention above. She and her husband were just amazing to me and I only refer to them as family and I always will. I found a job in a local daycare center. I started to find my purpose again. It was a slow process, but I was finding “me” again.
Nearly a year later, Corey and I did decide to marry. J I moved to Georgia in April of the following year and stayed with his parents while we planned our wedding. We were married in June in a beautiful little ceremony outside of an old family home. It was such a defining moment in my life.
This is when I learned that no matter how awful things are, you always have a chance to start over. You can always pick up again tomorrow and start walking towards another path. You may not feel like you have the strength, but if you are still breathing, if you can feel the wind on your face, that strength is within you. You just have to believe that it is there. You may have to dig for it. You may have to search like you’ve never searched before…but it’s there and it’s waiting on you to make your move.
I started coming out of my shell more and more as time went on. My job helped with that. I moved to a new area where I was in direct contact with people daily. I started to see the old “me” coming back, little by little. Each and every day I got stronger.
I still have moments of weakness where old insecurities from my past come back to haunt me, sure. I still have to fight off the demons every now and then. (Satan get behind me!) I’d like to forget my past, but remembering the dark place helps me to be grateful for what I have and proud of where I am now. I made it. Whatever faces me now, I can handle. I feel the love of my husband, my friends, and my very forgiving family. I look into the eyes of my precious, precious son and I know that everything is always going to be okay. Who I was then is NOT who I am now. Who I am now?
That’s the person I was meant to be. I am a work in progress–absolutely! But now I know where I am going.
This “backbone” comment today was unexpected. It sort of took me back a little when it was said, to be honest. I am quite confident that the look on my face screamed, “Who ME?”. I’m also sure that it was quickly followed by a look of pride and a huge smile. I really have made it.
My grandfather told me, “Don’t let the bastards get you down”. I can’t tell you how many times in my life that has come back to me. Grandpa, never will I ever allow it to happen again for very long.
My hope is that someday I can show someone else that they have this strength to get out of a situation like mine. And that this one person can do the same for someone else. I hope that I can give my children the confidence and the self-worth to know that they always have a way out—and a home with an open door.
I hope that if they find themselves in a situation where there is no one that CAN help, that they know they always hold this strength inside. I hope they always know that God is there when no one else seems to be. I hope they always know that their Mama understands what struggle is, but better yet, that she knows triumph as well.
I hope that they know that they can always talk to me when they feel themselves slipping.
This isn’t related to Logan’s adoption story directly. I realize this post is out of the “norm” for what you see here. I am putting it here for Logan. He will need to hear this story someday. I hope he never, ever allows anyone to break his spirit. He has such a grand spirit. I also hope that he never thinks it okay to break anyone’s spirit. I hope that he remembers that at one time, that was his mama in those shoes.
You do your best to raise your children with good morals, to love God and follow his will, to treat people right. It’s not a guarantee. You do your best and give them wings. Right now my son has wings to spare. I hope he always holds onto them and uses them wisely.
Logan, always remember who you are and where you came from. Always remember that your story started out as a story of hope and of love. Daddy and I promise to always do our best to be sure that you grow up in a bounty of hope and love.
It’s up to you to be sure that your story always stays that way. I trust that you will. Your heart is good. Even at just 9 ½ months old, you are so warm and caring. Please hold onto that. Don’t ever let anyone EVER take advantage of that or tell you that it is a weakness. Having a good heart that is true? It’s the greatest strength one could ever have.