by Esilda Prentice

In 1987, I was a 15-year old girl who wanted someone to care, who  wanted to be an important part of someone’s life. I wanted to be loved.

I was visiting my friend Cindy and there he was: the one—tall, with blonde hair and beautiful green eyes. I fell in love. Brian and I got along instantly. Now Cindy and I had even more in common: We were in love with the boys of our dreams. Our guys liked the same music and also enjoyed dancing; both Cindy and I loved the way they made our bodies feel. I was just a 15-year old girl who felt mature enough to be in a relationship.

For the next couple of months, Brian and I went out on dates, until he officially asked me to be his girlfriend. He was sweet, caring, and loving—everything a girl could ever hope for. Out of nowhere, however, he sometimes became very possessive and jealous. I thought that was normal. It must be love. After all, anything was better than the way my father mistreated my mother. In fact, Brian was my way out of my parent’s house. When I mentioned the jealousy to Cindy, I learned that her boyfriend, too, was jealous.

Brian and I became more “serious” after I got pregnant. When he asked me to marry him, I didn’t want to wait. I didn’t care about a wedding, and we were married soon after my son was born.

After a great first year, our relationship took a turn. Brian became moody. Then he became violent. He grabbed me once and pushed my head against the wall. That day, I was in shock and I was scared. I was also blinded by love. It’s probably my fault. Maybe I’d pissed him off and deserved to be abused?

It continued for years. Brian became more and more undone; jealousy overpowered him and every word out of my mouth made it worse.  Brian controlled my every move, slapped me, pushed me around, and even held me at gunpoint. I felt he needed my help. I felt he was my responsibility. Even though he hurt me and said he hated me, I felt sorry for him.

So, I stayed.

By 1995, we already had four kids. I still saw myself as the problem and internalized his cruel words.  Brian apologized every time and we went back to our “honeymoon stage.” I felt as if I’d married two different people—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I wondered, Am I the only one going through this? I came to realize after a long conversation with Cindy that she was going through the same cycle of violence.  She was harassed, pushed, shoved, verbally and physically abused. I had no idea! We both asked ourselves: Why? Why we were allowing this to happen to us?

The fact is that it’s not easy to take action when you are scared and feel guilty. In an abusive relationship, the abuser intimidates.

For several years, Brian worked in construction. When he lost his job, he decided not to look for a new opportunity. Even though I was already overworked, he expected me to become the only breadwinner. Around the same time, something unthinkable happened.

Cindy was brutally murdered in front of her two-year old. When the cops arrived to the scene, all that came out of her son’s mouth was: “My mommy was shot by my daddy.” The child was found wiping the blood off of his mom’s body.

I had to get out.

After 12 years, I decided to leave Brian for the children’s sake.  Enough! I was going to protect my children. I was going to be the survivor, the one who can tell my story to women going through the same ordeal. My ex-husband abused me both physically and economically but I found the courage to stand up for myself.  My message to anyone battling domestic violence is to get out while you can.  Don’t continue to be a victim: become a survivor. There is help in the community. No one should have to go through the pain alone.

In December 1998, I went back to my parent’s home. It was hard to trust people after first, but with the help of counselors and the support of my family and friends, I started over. During the healing process, I met a wonderful man—a kind soul willing to go through the chaos that was still to come.

Brian continued to harass me. He had people follow me around. He set my cars—yes: plural!—on fire. It broke my heart to hear one of the kids scream, “Daddy is trying to hurt us.” When the court system got involved, my ex-husband retaliated by going into hiding with my two older children. He ordered me to drop all the charges; only if I did would I see the boys again. Unfortunately, I was not able to drop all of the charges, as some of them had been picked up by the State. As a consequence, I didn’t see my children for years. I only spoke to them occasionally, when Brian called to threaten me with more misfortunes. My new husband believed, however, that some day the boys would come home. He told me, “Leave it in God’s hands.” I tried to remain as positive as he was, but I lost faith.

One day, my nephew introduced me to MySpace, a site on which old friends can find each other and converse. Following my motherly instincts, I opened an account and searched for my oldest son. I had no luck when I looked him up under his full name, so I tried his nickname. Eureka! There he was. We talked for hours. The next day my husband purchased plane tickets and, with the help of my ex sister-in-law, the boys were flown in. They  moved into our home. The adjustment was hard at first but now we’re all fine.

My ex-husband has not harassed me in years. For domestic violence victims, there is more help now then what there was years ago. I am a survivor and so can you be. My friend Cindy was the unlucky one. She is greatly missed. She will always be my strength. I think about her and how that could have been me or how that could be you. Stay strong and get out while you can.

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Esilda Prentice lives in South Florida