Survivor Story – There is Hope, Even After a Real-Life Nightmare
This story was submitted via our “Share Your Story” page on our website. We encourage survivors of violence to lend their voice to our movement to offer hope and healing for those still in their survivor journey. Some details have been omitted to protect this individual’s identity.
My now ex-husband and I had been together for 8 years. I don’t think it was until the last 4 months of us living under the same roof that I realized I was living in a nightmare. I was living my life constantly telling myself that today is just a bad day and tomorrow will be better because we love each other. Then the episodes of heavy drinking and violence started seeping out into public view and I couldn’t sugar coat what I was experiencing any more. I couldn’t trick myself into thinking it was acceptable anymore.
My ex-husband and I got home from work one Friday afternoon and decided we wanted to go on a bar crawl. We lived in midtown Manhattan so a bar crawl was something we could do easily without leaving our own neighborhood. We went to the corner bar and started with cocktails. After an hour or so we moved on to the next bar. I know I was on my third drink by then, but then my memory fades into darkness.
For years since ending my marriage I’ve been haunted by this memory. I recall walking into the second bar and speaking to the bartender, but everything goes black after that. The next thing I remember is the next morning. I was woken by my phone ringing, followed by knocks on my front door.
When I answered the door, my neighbor was standing there. She had a bath bomb and an expression of worry and fear on her face. She asked me in a whisper to step into the hallway outside of my front door. When we were in the hallway between our apartments standing alone, she asked me if I remembered the night before. I told her I couldn’t remember a thing and was anxious about it because my wedding ring was missing and one of my shoes.
We sat down on the staircase together and she began telling me what she witnessed the night before:
“This isn’t the first time your relationship has scared me, but it was the first time I saw what was happening and not just heard it through the walls. When I got to the front door of our building last night my husband and I heard yelling at the end of the street. We looked toward the commotion and realized your husband was screaming at you. You were almost unaware of what was happening. You both had been drinking, but you just stood there staring at him.”
“Within seconds of us looking toward you all we watched as your husband rushed toward you. He slammed into you with his hands out. You were shoved a couple feet back but just remained silent. Then we watched as he hit you. You fell backward into piles of trash bags a neighboring apartment building had put on the curb, that’s why I have the bath bomb as you need to clean yourself up.”
“When I saw you fall, I asked my husband if we should intervene. He told me not to get involved. We just kept watching from down the block. My heart was pounding, and I just kept breathing the words, ‘please get up, please get up.’”
You never got up. You just laid there in the trash as your husband screamed at you and eventually started kicking you to get up. You didn’t move a muscle. He grabbed your foot and started dragging you down the sidewalk toward our building as if you were a lifeless sack of potatoes.”
“There as no way I could stand back and watch you be dragged down the block. I ran to you leaving my husband behind. When I got to the two of you your husband looked at me and dropped your foot. I held my breath worrying he was going to turn his anger on me but he told me to deal with you if I felt compelled to get involved and he stormed to our apartment building and went inside.”
“You rose from the ground as we wrapped our arms around each other and walked to our building together. When we got inside the lobby you took three steps up the staircase to get to our floor and you sat down. You refused to move. I begged you, but you didn’t want to go home.”
“Your husband must have heard us because he appeared at the top of the flight of stairs and started yelling at you to get up. You found the strength and together you and I got you to the third floor and in front of your apartment.”
“I asked if you wanted to come home with me, but you said it would be best if you went home. I ran to my apartment as you shut the door between us and sat near the AC vent so I could hear into your apartment. I was terrified your husband was going to kill you. Do you get that? I was terrified he was going to kill you. He screamed at you for hours, but you were so unresponsive overall I had no clue how things were playing out. Did you just go to bed and let him keep yelling? Did he beat you while yelling? I was terrified. I was just listening for any sign that you needed me to break down your door.”
“The screaming stopped eventually and my terror just increased. I waited as long as I could before coming over this morning. Sweetie, I’ve heard your blowout fights before. I’ve heard you scream for help. I’ve heard sudden terrifying silences. It’s time you think about leaving. It’s time you think about your safety.”
I was mortified when my neighbor came to me with this. I’d almost rather have not known. I later learned I set my husband off that night by losing my wedding ring. Something that would continue to be a trigger for him until our marriage ended.
A week later my now ex-husband and I got in another argument in the privacy of our own apartment. We both were worked up. I was crying. We were yelling and both a bit out-of-control. I couldn’t handle the screaming and I feared our neighbors hearing us. My brain was overwhelmed, and I just needed to get everything to stop. I grabbed a Yankee Candle I saw on a bookcase next to me and I threw it at my own feet. It crashed down to the hardwood floor. I looked down at it broken at my feet then up at him standing across the room from me. I stopped the screaming, but then I saw the look in his eyes.
His eyes were cold, dead, soulless and full of rage in that moment. A chill ran down my spine. Without thinking I rapidly apologized, turned and ran down the hall to our bedroom fearing his reaction. I wasn’t wrong about what I was seeing in his eyes. He was in a rage. As I ran, he ran after me. I tried slamming the bedroom door shut to keep him out. I had my back against it and was using our dresser to brace myself. He got to the door before I could get it all the way shut. We battled on either side of the door. Me fighting to keep it shut and him fighting to get into the room with me. Eventually, with a very strong push with my legs I managed to get the door shut, but with his pushing I was struggling to lock it. I reached desperately for the dresser and started pulling it toward me and the door.
That’s when I heard the door cracking. I knew if the door broke and that’s how he got in I’d be in worse trouble. As the cracking of the door distracted me, he gave one more big shove to the door that sent me flying into the dresser. As I whipped around to see him entering the room I instinctively jumped backward onto our bed and started scissor kicking the air screaming for him to stay away from me.
He jumped on top of me. The kicking wouldn’t hold him back. It was like he was the Terminator. Before I knew it, he had his full body weight on me. My legs were squished into me under his body. His forearm hit my neck and pinned me to the bed. I stayed silent with tears stinging down my face. I tried to say sorry, but I couldn’t get enough air due to his arm cutting off my ability to breathe well.
He started repeating, “you’re out of control. I have to do this.” The air in my body was disappearing. As I looked at the ceiling over his head, I started seeing speckles of black and light. It felt like the life was being drained out of me. I could feel him calming as he lectured me that he had to do this because I broke the candle. I don’t remember what he was saying to me as he spoke inches from my face beyond that, but a moment came when I noticed he was releasing some of his tension and strength being used to hold me down. My laying lifeless was lulling him into a false sense that I wasn’t going to keep resisting.
He went to adjust his body and with that movement I pushed against him with my feet and legs. Having used all my might he flung off me and off the bed. I stumbled to the door of the bedroom and into the bathroom. I slammed the door and locked it. I threw my body against it and laid there on the floor to barricade it.
Within seconds he was at the door banging on it to be let in. He told me that I’d regret all my bad behaviors. I crawled over to the edge of the bathtub and started running the water to drown his yells out. I pulled my bath towel off the rack and over my body. Sobbing, I laid there on the tile floor.
I learned a few days later that in that struggle he got a hairline fracture of a rib. Something he’d hold over me and use to convince me I was the person with a problem.
The entire experience of those two weeks weighed on me heavily. I didn’t know who to talk to. I was ashamed and scared. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed for my actions that I now know was self-defense. I was embarrassed knowing my neighbors had to have heard again.
I asked my husband if we could move. Not to a new city, but a new neighborhood. A fresh start. He agreed if I put the lease cancellation fee on my credit card as well as any broker fees and security deposits. That cost me over $10,000 to do, but the excitement of finding a new apartment served as a distraction for a couple weeks.
We found an amazing new apartment on the upper westside. We packed up a U-Haul and made the move. There wasn’t room in the U-Haul for me, so I took a taxi and met my husband at the new building. As I saw him round the corner to our new street I could see his face was stressed out. Driving in New York City is overwhelming for anyone, so I didn’t think much of it at first.
As he got near our building he started drifting to the side of the street. Then unexpectedly he hit a parked car and pulled the bumper off. As he jumped out of the U-Haul yelling at the owner of the parked car who was running out of her apartment building asking what happened I knew nothing had changed. With in four months the fighting, violence and fear in my life reached a boiling point once again.
I came home one day to see him pouring vodka into a Gatorade bottle. I asked him if he could just wait to meet his friends at the bar to drink. I set him off once again and found myself locked in the bathroom of our new apartment watching as he continually slammed his entire body into the other side causing the entire door to look as if it would break. Then it stopped. I heard the front door open and close. I waited a while then peeked my head out into the apartment and he was gone.
I slumped down in the living room and held my dog crying. My phone buzzed so I reached over to see what notification was coming in and saw it was a text message from a friend. I opened it to find a picture of my husband yelling outside of a bar. The expression on his face sent a feeling of terror through my entire body.
In that moment I finally realized I needed to leave, but how? Throughout our eight years living together I had become isolated from most of my family. My sister and I hadn’t talked in years and neither had my father and me. I hadn’t spoken to my extended family either. Who would I call? I couldn’t call my mom. She would freak out.
For some unknown reason to me I dialed my sister’s phone number for the first time in years. When she answered and heard me crying, she simply said, “I love you. I’ve always been here for you. You’re my brother. Let me call mom and both of us or one of us will drive up there and get you. You’re coming home.”
I sat there in silence soaking those words in and crying. She sat on the other side of the phone. For the first time in years I wasn’t alone. She told me to grab my dog and grab a change of clothes and leave the apartment. I couldn’t believe this was the life I was living. I couldn’t believe I was in New York City trying to figure out how I’d escape my husband.
I wound up staying with a colleague that night. I fell asleep with my colleague hugging me as I cried into his chest.
The next morning my mother was in the city. She took me to my apartment while my husband was at work. We took what we could fit in her car and we left. I called my office and explained to my boss what was happening. He told me to take as much time as I needed and if I wanted, I could eventually work remotely until I was safe and healthy.
A community came around me and I never saw my husband again. I spent thousands more to cancel the new lease and pay for legal fees, but for the first time in years – I was safe and loved.
Violence is complex and multi-dimensional. We hope that by sharing more survivor stories we can help to offer hope and healing for those who are hurting and don’t know where to turn. Love shouldn’t hurt. It should never be a cage or a weapon of isolation and pain. If this is how you feel, it is NOT the way your story has to end. This young man’s story reveals that peace and safety are on the other side of turning to trusted people for help and guidance.
Individuals who identify as LGBTQ may experience unique forms of intimate partner violence as well as distinctive barriers to seeking help due to fear of discrimination or bias. We are here to help. If you’re experiencing violence and threats by your partner or an ex, please contact our 24-hour crisis team at 757-430-2120.