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It was spring of 2007 and I stood in my apartment at a closet door. It hurt to breathe.
“Though you slay me, yet I will praise You; though you take from me, I will bless Your Name; though you ruin me still I will worship, sing a song to the One Who is all I need.”—Shane and Shane
It was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. When I decided to leave, I knew that I had to also leave my hometown. There were a few places that I could have picked but none better than my college hometown. The weeks leading up to my exodus were filled with secret phone calls and wired money transfers from my cousin in Canada. I had at least 5 suitcases scattered throughout the city at friend’s houses. We worked hard and planned wisely, the plan was ready to execute.
The proverbial last straw, as some may call it, came one dark night about 3AM. As was common in my household, he was up at 3AM drinking and partying. I often heard him on the phone talking to girls on x-rated phone lines. I learned to block it out after awhile. Usually, he would eventually come to bed, and that was the beginning of the nightmare for me on these nights. Most of the time I was able to lock myself in another room and let him sleep it off. This time, however, I was asleep. Suddenly, I felt a cold metal object pressed firmly against my head. As soon as the thought connected in my mind, suddenly there was a bright flashlight pointed right in my eyes. He pressed the barrel of the gun so hard that I began feeling blood trickle down the side of my face. Operating on pure instincts (and knowing he was going to unsteady on his feet), I threw him off of me and ran to another room and locked the door. I fell asleep sitting up in front of that door. The next morning was filled with “I am sorry” or “I will stop drinking” or “it will never happened again”; and I just played along with it. I decided to green light the exit plan. I only needed one more thing to happen before I could leave. I needed him to leave for a few days. And, just like that, he left for south Florida. He promised change when he got back, he promised more support. He promised it would be better.
The next day, I was sitting in front of a divorce attorney with money that Emily, my cousin, sent to me. As soon as I retained her and I signed the papers, I left town. I needed to stay in the states until he was served. He was back from south Florida, so I went to Tampa under the guise I was seeing friends. As soon as I found out he was served with divorce papers, I jumped on a plane to Toronto. Cell phone would not work there, and the sheer distance protected me from him. I stayed in Toronto for several weeks and flew back home just in time to sign the papers. It was then time for me to go back to the house and get the rest of my stuff.
Lisa (my sister) and George (brother in law) took me over there to get the rest of my things. I was not looking forward to seeing him, I knew it would be hard, and that is a bit of an under statement. I had already taken my wedding ring off—he had not. His son was there, and my heart was broken as I helped raise that kid, but I knew there would be complete separation. I was losing both. After almost all of my stuff was loaded in the U Haul he pulled me outside, pulled his sunglasses off and cried as he told me how sorry he was. My mind would go back to that moment the years following, and even now my heart responds to typing that as if it were happening right now.
I don’t remember much about the 3- hour drive to my new digs. Somewhere in my heart I knew each mile meant being released from the bondage of domestic abuse. I would learn, the hard way, much later that miles only made it more difficult to be abusive, it did not stop him from being abusive.
After 3 hours, I arrived at my new digs. Michelle, one of my life-long friends arranged to get me an apartment. When we arrived, she had friends of hers from work with her and they had all brought something for me. The things they gave me ranged from forks to a couch. It was a sweet time as community stepped up to help. People I didn’t even know—those who had only heard the story—helped in any way they could. Lisa and George were still there too. Viv was there—I had known Viv since I was 15 years old. None of them wanted to leave. They helped me make my bed, they helped me put things away and Chris—Michelle’s husband, set up my TV so that I could watch football the next day. I was grateful, but I wanted them all to leave. They did finally leave.
I stood in the middle of that tiny apartment stunned at the events of the days and weeks before this day. I was over-whelmed by all that had to happen and externally grateful that my people managed to pull it off.
After they were all gone, I threw my blackberry across the room and went to sleep. I slept until 4 pm the next day. I had 24 voicemails on my phone. The days and weeks and months following that were brutal.
After a few months and his first post-divorce attempt to hurt me, I stood at the closet in my tiny apartment clinging to the door- frame for dear life. I was slightly bent over because that was the only way I could breathe. It felt like then and sometimes still does now, like somebody ripped my heart from my chest. I had just walked away from everything. And now, now I had to figure out how to do life in an apartment 1/3 of the size of my house. I had to find a job. I had nothing. My friends here needed to continue with their lives and I needed to figure out how to restart mine. Living alone and feeling rejected will take the life out of a person. It will drain the light out of your eyes. It will, literally, break your heart.
Two weeks later I was in a hospital fighting a virus that attacked my heart. It was way too broken to fight anymore and so was I.
My Cousin Emily & Me right after I arrived in Toronto.