Once upon a time there was an 18 year old girl named Sarah*.
She was talented and beautiful and in love. She'd just graduated from high school and was set to marry her sweetheart. The dreamy and mysterious Henry*. She loved music and acting and kids. She was the oldest of five so she knew a thing or two about taking care of little ones. She had a dream, like many kids, that she would marry and have babies and live a life in love with her people. What she didn't see coming was the nightmare.
See Henry was living a violent and terrible childhood and Sarah thought she could save him. Save him from the pain of his father's fist and the deep wounds of his mother's biting words. Sarah thought that if she could love Henry enough, he would be ok. But he wasn't ok. And for the next five years Sarah lived in a world of unimaginable pain. A world where the man she loved wounded her both physically and emotionally.
Out of that five years came two little boys. They were Sarah's only solace. They were her perfect babies and she loved them fiercely. It wasn't lost on Sarah though that she was raising her babies in a world of fear and pain just as Henry had lived. But it wasn't very easy to just up and leave. In 1974 there were no shelters to go to or police to call. Well sure, she could call the police, but they would tell Henry to take a walk and cool down and they'd leave -- leaving her there to endure the payment for having called them in the first place. So what could she do?
He'd tell her that he would kill her if she left him. He had a gun. She knew because he had placed it to her head before. He'd beaten her so severely before she thought she could die if he didn't stop. So what would keep him from killing her if she left him?
Not a damn thing.
So she stayed and she tried to keep him happy. Walking on thin cracked ice and trying not to fall through. Trying to obey his rules to the letter but the rules kept changing and she couldn't keep up. She watched at family gatherings as Henry's father berated, belittled and even still struck him, knowing that when they got home, she would pay for the shame that it brought him.
It was a terrifying life.
Then in the winter of 1975, pregnant with her third child, she had a moment. It was a very clear moment. She knew she had to try. To hear her tell it, the world fell away and there was a calm that washed over her. She knew that staying meant a life of violence for her and her children. She knew that eventually he would kill her and she knew what that would mean for her kids.
So she stood up. She left. She had nothing but her and her babies. She lived in fear of Henry for quite a while. She lived off government assistance and scraped and survived. And she stayed gone. And in the summer of 1975, she gave birth to her third baby. A girl. This was especially remarkable, because for years Henry had bragged that he just didn't make girls. Girls were weak. He only made boys. Yet there she was. A pink and screaming baby girl.
Now, I know Sarah by another name. I call her mom.
Growing up, our family was never perfect but families never are. I will never forget the first time my mom told me her story. She was very brief and didn't give a lot of detail, but because I was at the age where I started hearing things (read: eavesdropping) and asking questions, she had no choice but to give me a few answers. I am nothing if not persistent (read: horribly naggy until I find out what I think others are not telling me).
I remember at first being a bit confused but that passed quickly and was replaced by awe. I was in awe of her. The self-esteem of young girls can be a fragile thing and at the time, mine was at an all-time low. So here was my mom telling me that she escaped this violence and kept us safe. My tween ears heard, "My mom's a badass!"
Today as an adult and mother to my own babes, I still think that. I remember after Mr. Pants was born, I called my mom. All I said was "Mom, I get it. I get it."
Because of her bravery, I lived a life that was safe. So do Mr. Pants and Plum. And one further? Because of that clear moment when the world fell away for her and she stood up and took her life back, she gave me mine and made it possible for my babies to live in this world. Because of my mother's love, I am loving my babies. I'm starting to go down that Fate Train again, I know. But just thinking about the other side of this coin gives me shivers. Knowing that in that moment, my brave mom pointed me, yet unborn, in the direction of my loving husband and my children. What a gift. What an amazing moment.
So I'd like to tell her that I love her. And that she is the bravest woman I know. And that it doesn't matter that we are imperfect. Because we are perfect for each other. I have to tell her she is amazing. I have to thank her a million more times. She stood up.
And because she did, I am free too.
I love you mom.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you or someone you know needs help, start here.
Photo Credit: photokraft.