Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project?
"I did have a domestic violence situation earlier in my life as an adult and have experienced that myself, first hand."
I am participating because my daughters asked me to, number 1 and I always try to support them. And the other thing is that I did have a domestic violence situation earlier in my life as an adult and have experienced that myself, first hand.
Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did it have on you?
"My body physically started shaking."
I have discussed it primarily with my brother and my cousin about twenty years after it happened. It made me very nervous. My body physically started shaking as I recalled the situation and typically that’s the way I respond when I speak about it. I do start shaking at some point when I talk about the violence that I did experience.
What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?
"I didn’t close the drawers all the way."
The worst abuse that I experienced in my marriage (I married at 18 and was about19 at the time), was during the holidays, right before Christmas. I was making an outfit for my mother; sewing an outfit for her. I guess that day, I was rushing around the house, trying to get out of the house and go to work or school; I can’t remember, because I did both at the time. And I was looking for some particular blouse to put on and I opened the drawers to find it, and didn’t close the drawers all the way. When my husband came home (he came home while I was away), he apparently had a stash of marijuana in the house and he thought that someone had come in trying to take his stash and it was just…obviously it was just me. But he didn’t know that because I wasn’t there. So when I came back home, he was very upset about it and he basically just kinda baited me into a fight. That wound up being the worst one that we’ve ever had and there were never many, but that was the worst.
So I was sitting by my sewing machine, doing some handwork on the outfit for my mother and he snatched it out of my hand and started trying to rip it. Fortunately, it was a fabric that didn’t really rip easily so he couldn’t destroy it like I think was his intent. When that didn’t work, he then followed me into the living room; it was a very small duplex and our apartment had maybe just a bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room, and they were in very close quarters to one another. As I moved away from the bedroom, he actually came after me. He picked me up and threw me against the wall and [swallows, deep inhale] I just kept saying: “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” I was trying to figure out quickly, what I could do to get out of the situation. I knew that I had very powerful legs and that’s where my strength is versus my hands and arms, so I ran away from him somehow. And I laid on the bed and put my legs up to fight him off of me. And so I was just kicking and kicking and I guess that some of those kicks landed and actually hurt him because he talked about it later, that I did hurt him; that I was very strong with my legs. After that, I fell on the floor, in the process of being hit. And he started kicking me and stomping me. And somewhere along the way in that process, I wound up with a…I don’t remember if it was a foot or his fist or whatever, but my mouth was hit. All of a sudden, he stopped.
I got up and went to the bathroom and I saw blood running down my cheek and I just thought “No. This is not the life for me. I’m not going to tolerate this. This will never happen to me again.” Just seeing that blood like I was in a movie shoot, just really had a big impact on me. So I knew right there in that moment that I needed to get out of the situation. I started to grab my things and I started loading my car because we both had our own cars; both of our parents gave us the cars. So I took my stuff and started packing it in the trunk and I was intent to get everything out that I could and then just go back home. And the reason why that’s significant is because I did elope…and so I felt in the past when I knew it wasn’t the right situation for me that um…[swallow, deep breath] I needed to get out of it, but I was too embarrassed to ask my parents if I could go back home. But at that point it didn’t even matter because of the severity of the violence. I knew I had to get out. So I started packing up the car and he was saying “No, please don’t go! Please don’t go!” That kind of thing, and I kept packing.
He fell to his knees and started crying and I had never seen him cry, so that had an impact on me. Even though our relationship was such that I frequently cried—even before we were married and we were just dating as teenagers. Things that were said to me, made me cry, quite frequently. Anyway, once I saw him crying like that, I just…broke down too. We were both crying and hugging one another. He was saying how sorry he was, and that he would never do it again; “please don’t go”—that kinda thing. And, I believed him. But I also said: “I don’t know if I could love you again, the way that I have.” I just didn’t know if I could after experiencing violence at his hand. So, we left it like that. And I said: “Don’t ever touch me again. Because if you do, I’m gone—for good.” So, he didn’t. Many, many years went by and he never touched me again like that…violently, at all. Until close to our divorce which would have been18 years later (we were married 20 years). It took a couple of years to get the divorce final.
"I told him, if he touched me again, it would be rape."
That last and final episode was...he had come home drunk; I think he had alcohol as well as drugs in his system. He came home with an attitude, and you could see that right away in his eyes that there was going to be some trouble that evening. So I tried to stay away from him and definitely took the kids and put them in their individual rooms to make sure that they weren’t going to be the focus of his attention. It was at night and it was pretty much bedtime at that stage. He came in the house and was upset about something; I don’t know what. But he went to the backdoor (this was in a different residence), which had a wrought iron screen door on it and he flung it open so hard that it bounced back and hit him in his head. He had a big hickey on his forehead.
Later on that evening, things just kinda escalated more and more with him trying to bait me into a fight. I was upstairs in the hallway near my daughter’s bedroom when he really came up very close to me like he was going to hit me. And this was the first time after 18 years and I said to him “Please back up. Please back up. You’re getting too close to me! Please back up.” He kept coming toward me so close that I was able to get his lip in my mouth and I kinda bit down on it. I said “You’re too close! Please back up!” and he was all pumped up [motions arms as if filling up, sits up taller, sticks chest out to demonstrate] ready to battle I guess you could say—that feeling of superiority starting to come over him; very intense. So I knew there was going to be a problem. Right across from where we were was our wrought iron stairwell. The first thought in my head was that he may try to pick me up and throw me over the banister. But that didn’t happen. I knew I did not want to sleep in the same room with him. That was the first time. We always slept in the same room.
So I went to get my clock because I had to get up and go to work in the morning. I was going to put it in another room where I was going to sleep that night. But I forgot something and I went back into the bedroom. As I passed him in the hall, all of a sudden I [deep sigh] I heard this noise and then the next thing I knew; I was thrown to the ground. He pushed me from the back so hard that I was like flung to the ground. I thought, ok, this is it. This time, I have to really fight for my life. I had the clock in my hand and I knew he had gotten hit in the head earlier, so I got that clock and as hard as I could, I banged it up against the injury that he had. And I was just struggling, trying to get my legs out from under his grasp. And all of a sudden, he just stopped [pause]. I don’t know what went through his head, but it was almost as if he recalled my comment: “Don’t ever touch me again, because I’ll leave for sure.” So, with him stopping like that, that was the last violence we ever had between one another physically. And I did not sleep with him. I told him, if he touched me again, it would be rape [long pause], not to ever touch me again. Then I filed for divorce and that was the end of that. We had other issues* after that, but no more violence against me.
*As often happens, participants continue to recall details of their experience after the interview has been completed. The following details were mentioned by the participant after the cameras were off. Please note the following information has been paraphrased:
After we separated, he began to stalk me. He was calling me at work to tell me the freeway exit I took to go to work, which street I turn on, this way or that way. A coworker saw me crying and upset in my office and told HR, who came over asking me about what was going on and if I felt he was capable of following through. I said "absolutely." Shortly after, he called me again at work to tell me all of these horrible things and threaten my life. This time, the conversation was recorded. He thought I would never tell because he said things on the phone that he thought I would be too embarrassed to share. He was wrong. I took that tape to the police (funny enough, he used to be a cop, but was no longer in LAPD at this time) and got my restraining order on him. I still have that tape.
During the divorce proceedings, I had an attorney and so did he. When I went into the court room, I was so terrified. I didn't know if he was going to attack me; shoot me in the parking lot or something. The judge made me pay HIM alimony - $400/month, and I was taking care of my children; he wasn't. I had to pay him for 2 years. I went into the bathroom and collapsed crying. It was devastating because I did everything right, and he still had the upper hand. The judge gave him joint custody of the kids and I would pray every time they had to go with him that they got back safely. I knew him wanting joint custody was temporary, because he could not handle the responsibility and it was just a way to manipulate me.
When I came back in that court room to get full custody of my children, I had evidence of all his cancellations of his visits, letters he wrote me, and all the horrible things my children had experienced because of being in his care. This time, I was a different woman. I worked with a paralegal to get my documents in order, went in the courtroom with my head held high, and represented myself. I got full custody that day and he had to pay me child support.
What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result?
"My faith definitely helped me get through all of the misery."
Anger is gone. Hatred for him is gone. I know to just release it. Let it go and leave everything up to God and the Universe. I know that things will happen to him for what he did to me and his children, our children. And other people, because it wasn’t just me and my children that suffered, it was other people around him that he had physical battles with (his cousin, sister, mother in law and strangers). I just knew that for ME to go on and be healthy as an individual and help my children get over it [I had to release it]. Because they never saw any physical violence toward me at all and that’s how I wanted to keep it, because I did not want them to grow up with that frame of reference in their minds and not wanting them then to pass that along to their mates or their children. So they didn’t really know that we had that event unless they heard something; they never physically saw any of that activity.
To keep sane and helping myself, I had to release it and turn it over to God to handle and that’s what happened. That allowed me to move on with life; knowing that I was a good person and that I don’t bring harm to others. Just knowing who I was and that I’m the type to try to help others as much as I could, versus hurting them... that allowed me to go on, just move on. My faith definitely helped me get through all of the misery. And I don’t have a regret, whatsoever about being married because I had the blessing, the best blessing in my life [voice begins to shake, cries—we break for a few minutes, she collects herself] was [sits up tall and smiles] my children.
What is your definition of love and how does that love feel?
[Deep breath, smile] The definition of love; that’s a great question. I would say a feeling of immense gratitude and happiness and just peace for me would be love.
What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you?
"Bring her life and her existence back into focus...my life was threatened...it could have happened to me."
I think the Unconventional Apology Project is just a phenomenal project and Chantal honoring her grandmother this way is just beyond words [exhale]. I know that she’s looking down and she’s extremely proud of what she’s doing to bring her life and her existence back into focus because she was a very important and integral part of the family and allowed it to function as it had all those years up until her life was taken. Because I have actually experienced violence and I was threatened; my life was threatened as part of the scenario with my ex-husband, it could have happened to me [deep breath]. But, I just had faith in god that he would carry me through and not allow anything really significant to happen to my children or me and that we could exit and get away from him safely. I think also, the fact that it was so many years between the abuse with me, has a significance because it just is an indication that people who have that within them to be harmful to others and really cause pain and hurt, that it’s not something that can just go away. If not treated, you never know when it’s gonna come back.
Do you have any parting thoughts?
"I survived. WE survived."
I survived [laughter]. WE survived [portrait taken].