Domestic Violence – The Shame is Not Yours

I left my home state in 2013 after a marriage marred by emotional and verbal abuse escalated to the threat of physical abuse. There is no more sobering realization than accepting that the wall/door/kitchen island that cracks under punches and kicks could have been your face.

 

Both of my daughters supported my decision. They never said it out loud, but I suspect they wonder what took me so long.

The decision to move almost a 1000 miles away before I filed for divorce seemed wise when Kelly J Robarge of Charlestown NH disappeared the day she filed for divorce from her husband. He was eventually convicted of murdering her, but in our court system being convicted of murdering your wife or girlfriend is harder than you’d imagine. (Yes, I’m thinking of OJ Simpson).

On October 20, 2014 my daughter’s boyfriend, Caleb Linart of Walhalla, called me and asked me to come to his house to get my daughter as they’d been fighting and he couldn’t get her to leave. I arrived to find her half clothed, face down on the bedroom floor. I stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher as I attempted to start CPR, but she had been dead so long she was too stiff to even turn over. After the paramedics ushered me out of the house, and the police arrived I texted Caleb a short message, “Alana is dead.”

When he arrived back at his house, crying and distraught, I didn’t have a lot of questions. My mind reeled, thinking perhaps Alana had an accidental overdose of pain pills and alcohol from an injury she suffered a few weeks before. She’d returned home from a weekend with Caleb with a bruise that stretched over her entire side. It was so painful I wondered if she’d broken a rib and when I asked how it happened she’d had a plausible story: Caleb and her were moving a couch and he pushed it too hard and the arm of the couch hit her in the side.

I didn’t think twice about it.

A detective introduced himself to me and asked questions. I patiently waited on the lawn in the hot South Carolina sun, knowing my daughter’s lifeless body was behind the front door of the house I stood in front of and having no idea what to do next.

Eventually the medical examiner came out and asked if I wanted to come inside and see her before they moved her. She was in a black body bag, unzipped just enough so that I could see her face. I had no idea that underneath the bag her body was covered with bruises and markings from being beat. I had no idea they’d asked to photograph Caleb’s hands to document any evidence of his fists being the ones that beat her. I had no idea they’d bagged her fingernails to protect any evidence they might provide.

I had no idea.

The next day when the medical examiner drove up with a woman he said was the victim’s advocate assigned to Alana’s case, I was more than a little puzzled. It had never crossed my mind her death was to due to domestic violence. No clue her autopsy showed signs she had been both beaten and strangled.

They later told me she also had a lethal level of heroin in her system. Another surprise as she was not an addict.

Two medical examiners, two different outcomes. Both agreed she’d been beaten and strangled. The Oconee one said the heroin killed her before the strangulation. The other maintained she’d died of strangulation. On some level it didn’t matter, she was still dead.

And I will never know exactly how she died. The State of South Carolina Victim’s Assistance Fund heard the testimony of the detective in charge and paid for her funeral as a victim of violence. The court downgraded Caleb’s charge to attempted murder and eventually, after Caleb’s former girlfriend withdrew her statement that he had a history of domestic abuse, the solicitor encouraged me to file a civil complaint as we would not prevail in a criminal case. The police never found the heroin that contributed to her death, and even the pictures that Caleb snapped of her that morning, dead on his bedroom floor, didn’t show any drugs. By calling me to come to his house, he’d left open the defense that she had taken the drugs herself and I had covered it up.

As so often with murder victims, our court system would not extract a price for her death.

What I do know is the part I played in my daughter’s story of domestic violence. I, like so many other women, endured years of verbal and emotional abuse and explained it away. I was the one who made excuses, kept the peace, and normalized a relationship that was not normal.

Some of you may see yourself in those words. You tell your children things like daddy didn’t mean it or dad had a hard time at work or dad just had too much to drink, he really does love us. To you, I want to say stop.

Just stop.

Teach your daughters that they are deserving of relationships that are founded on love and respect. That alcohol or stress or jealously is no excuse for abuse. Be clear there is no acceptable level of abuse. Most of all, show by your example and if that means leaving an abusive relationship, seek the proper help so you and your children can escape without becoming victims of further violence.

Most of all, don’t blame yourself. On Alana’s facebook page she posted:  “So there were two choices: I could close myself off, resign myself to the fact that the world is an imperfect place and I could carry my hurt like a security blanket. Or, I could forgive myself. I could decide that loving people isn’t a weakness and trusting people isn’t a flaw. I could decide when others wrong me that’s a reflection on them, not me. That’s the beauty of it. Something that could have damaged me and made me bitter ended up opening my heart in ways I never knew. So yes, I believe there’s always a chance.”

Think on the line that says “when others wrong me, that’s a reflection on them, not me.”

It is not your fault. You do not deserve to be abused.

In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and my daughter, who never got a chance to escape an abusive situation, consider donating to Safe Harbor, Turning Points, or any group providing services for victims of abuse.

If you are a victim of abuse, call The Domestic Violence Hotline  at 1−800−799−7233. Your mothers, your fathers, your sisters and brothers, and your children are all counting on you. You deserve the chance not to be another statistic in a government national domestic violence report. There are already too many women that are.

If You Ever Come Back

Sometimes when I’m missing Alana, I listen to the Script song “If You Ever Come Back.” I don’t believe in zombies or wish to attract ghosts, but I imagine what it would feel like if Alana Concetta walked in the door one day. Even though there have been so many milestones since her death, some silly like she would be pissed to have missed the Sons of Anarchy finale or at least Bobby’s death, and some I avoid thinking about, like how fiercely she would love her two nieces.

And what she would have been like as a mother.

When the song says, “I wish you could still give me a hard time,” I first thought it said “I wish you could give me a high five” which is a hearing impaired person’s inadvertent substitution. Our minds make up what our ears can’t hear. Still a high five would be more appropriate. Alana giving you a hard time was not a pleasant experience.

It’s strange how you can know someone is dead, either cremated or decomposing in the ground, and you could still imagine a situation where they could walk in the door and surprise you.

Unfortunately though the key might be in the same place, and the kettle on, life moves on. The longer someone has been dead the more jarring I imagine the experience would be. Imagine coming back never knowing smart phones, cable television, the internet, self-driving cars, Twitter, and a host of other technological and societal changes. It would be disorienting to say the least.

So though I like to think about Alana coming back, I know the world today is not the world she left. Wanting her back is selfish on my part.  She’s moved on.

I’d still like to hug her one more time and have, at least for a moment, the feeling that she had never gone.  Too bad that only happens in fantasies and songs.

al key west

There Are No Tears For You

This morning I buckled down to go through all of the court papers, emails and bullshit of the divorce settlement that has dragged on for two years as my ex sporadically hires an attorney to file motions when his obstruction and non participation don’t work. I long ago decided not to spare another tear for him, and I’ve remained stoic each time a roadblock has been placed in the way of selling our properties in New Hampshire or getting money the court has ordered him to pay. When I left, I had no job, a $500.00 bonus check from work, a cashed in investment and the belief that anything was better than remaining near him.

Eventually, I thought, we’d come to an agreement to split what we’d both worked hard for over the years and I would have the money to buy a house, fix it up, take my daughters on vacation, have some fun.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

And I am crying today, not because of the thousands in legal fees I’ve had to pay while he’s ignored the court and made excuse after excuse not to do the right thing. I’m not sobbing because he ignored my pleas when he wasn’t paying the mortgage on our NH home which jeopardized my ability to buy a home here. I’m not even weeping because he told me “no one died on his watch” and I am responsible for the death of my daughter.

I don’t cry for him.

I cry because the last weekend of my daughter’s life, when she needed me, I was too busy going through the last minute papers he’d filed with the court for an upcoming hearing. Instead of having a little patience and time for her, I was sucked into the giant fucking abyss of his trying to get out of splitting our marital property when I should have been with her.

That is why I break down and dissolve into tears. Every court notice, response, email, and summons is a reminder that I wasted the last few days of my daughter’s life worrying about this man who lives on spite.

Alana and I dreamed of the day the divorce would finally be over. She talked about finding me a man who loved and respected me and twirled me around a dance floor. We fantasized about the trip we’d take to Key West, the place we had the best vacation ever, and the things we would do. We’d straighten out her school loans and get her back to college. We’d live the life we deserved, away from the belittling and bullying we’d lived under in New Hampshire.

Our lives, already better in South Carolina, would only get better.

And now, every moment spent on fighting my ex is a reminder of all the things Alana and I never got to do because, as the Taylor Swift song Alana said reminded her of her father goes, “he’s just mean.”

So today, through the blurriness of my tears and the despair in my soul, I dive into the dirty business of my divorce and pray that this will be over soon.But make no mistake, I don’t cry for my ex or what he has done, I cry for my daughter.

 

 

 

My Runaway Heart

Have you ever loved someone so much that you would suffer any indignity to remain with them? Someone you loved so fully you’d forgive them anything? Someone you couldn’t imagine living without?

I have. In time, I hope someone will love me with that level of intensity.

Leaving a relationship like that is hard. The mind is a great deceiver when the heart is involved. Sometimes to protect ourselves, we have to flee. And that’s what I did.

How many miles do you need to put between yourself and your broken heart? In my case it’s 1027 miles. That’s how far I had to run to allow my mind to accept what my heart had known for over five years.

It’s been a tough year. So tough that it’s been difficult to write and too dangerous to blog. Most of the venomous, mental vomit I’ve had to spew has been confined to composition books inked with my favorite Pilot G2 pens rather than committed to the internet to live on forever, a toxic reminder of a difficult time. Because even though I know leaving was the right thing, late at night my inner mean girl whispers that if I’d been stronger, I could have stayed and detached rather than running.

Image

But in leaving I found boldness and courage and the opportunity to remake my life into something I’m proud of. I’ve found that the things my old life told me I sucked at aren’t true. I can finish things. I can stick it out. I can take care of myself financially. I can be alone. I can make friends. I’m not great at everything I attempt, but I can ask for help. I make mistakes. I recover from them.

I’ve found my voice.

It amazes me how much of my old life was based on fear: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking foolish, fear of being thought of as weak. Now I base my decision on my needs, and if things don’t work out the way I want them to, I make a new plan.

I’ve learned that even the worst plan can be reworked.

Most of all, I’ve realized that there is nothing worse than being with someone that makes you feel alone.

I left New Hampshire because I was weak. In leaving I discovered how strong I really am.

 

 

Toilet Seat Secrets

No one wants to sit on someone else’s toilet seat, particularly if it’s one of those soft padded seats. Doesn’t make a difference how much bleach or Mr. Clean with Febreeze is used, the warm little squish it makes as you settle your buttocks down is a constant reminder that someone else’s behind has come before you. My recent move came complete with a padded toilet seat. I added a new toilet seat to the Wal-Mart list and, though it was a DEFCON 3 priority, I didn’t change it out until a few days ago.

DEFCON explanation

Now, I understood that long, plastic screws fasten down through the seat and into the actual porcelain of the bowl. I’ve always considered it an inferior design as there’s no purchase for the screws, they sort of drop through the holes and hope for the best. At least that’s what I thought.

A few years ago, one of my husband’s friendshits (see previous post on the difference between friendship and friendshit) renovated our bathroom. As befits the motto I bestowed upon him after enduring many years of his repairs and hearing the horror stories of others who hired him, “crappy work doesn’t come cheap,” he made a mess of the bathroom renovation. A corner shower, the identical model that I’d had installed in another house, was obviously not plumb and a gap of 3-4 inches between the walls and base was liberally plugged with caulk. He lost ambition after installing 3 out of 4 shelves in the medicine cabinet. The sink stopper was never installed and never found in the wreckage. Couldn’t hazard a guess as to whether he didn’t know how to install it or thought we didn’t mind losing toothpaste tubes down the drain on a regular basis. All of these mistakes paled, though, next to the toilet seat.

Though he is a contractor, wiki how has this helpful post on installing a new toilet seat to avoid unpleasantness. Basically, in addition to what I believed were useless plastic screws, toilet seats come with plastic nuts. If our fearless, friendshit carpenter had installed the toilet seat properly, it wouldn’t have come loose on one side. Not loose enough to slide off, but loose enough to jump if you sat on it wrong.

Nothing more unpleasant than a loose toilet seat.

My husband, good friend that he is, cautioned us all not to jump on the toilet seat or make hasty movements. Like somehow we were responsible for the problem. And then I changed my first toilet seat.

Imagine my surprise when I unscrewed the plastic screws and couldn’t pull the seat off. I tugged, and swore, and tugged some more. Then I felt underneath.

OMG! You don't have to settle for a moving toilet seat.

OMG! You don’t have to settle for a moving toilet seat.

At first I thought perhaps the nuts on the bottom were new to toilet seats, the result of class action lawsuits from people falling off them. See, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But, I knew I was once again the victim of 21st Century Roofing‘s shoddy practices. Strangely enough, when I googled the name to ensure I had it right, they had a Better Business Bureau Rating  of F. Wait, that’s not strange at all. This man has left a trail of incompetence and screwed up jobs in his wake. He works damn hard for that F.

Anyhow, I installed my new wood toilet seat correctly. Bye-bye former tenant germs and no fear of knocking the seat loose if I come in for a hard landing. As far as my former toilet seat, that’s now someone else’s business.

I Miss My Things

I miss my things.

Missing: My Things

Missing: My Things

It’s been 2 weeks and 2 days since the moving company arrived at my house and ushered all of my most prized personal possessions into their big truck. When they were done, I received a copy of the packing list and they drove off, promising to reunite me and my things within a week.

It didn’t happen.

I’ve called my relocation specialist several times and received vague promises of a delivery soon. “I’ll call you back in a few days to firm it up,” he assures me. But no call comes.

It’s amazing how empty a house is with only two beds, a dining room set, and two folding tables. It echoes.

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden claims “The things you own end up owning you,” and I wish I could be more zen-like and unattached about not having my things, but that would be a lie. I miss my things. My desk, mostly, and my comfortable desk chair. The asthma medication I ran out of several days ago that I can’t refill because there’s a three-month supply on the truck. A cookie sheet. My spice collection. Extra vacuum cleaner bags. The whiteboard for my refrigerator. Even though it seems like a random collection of stuff, it’s the stuff that makes a house a home and grounds me. I need it.

Okay. I don’t need it. I want it.

The things I need are already here. The love of my family. My dogs. Good health. A creative mind. A sense of peace and rightness in my world. The truck didn’t take any of that, I did.

Having a desk to put it on doesn’t seem that big a deal after all.