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Jessica Gonzales

 

Why are you participating in Unconventional Apology Project? 

 

“I wanted to participate because I’m alive.”

 

I wanted to participate because I’m alive. Because I survived something I didn’t think I would. So it just seemed like I wanted to finally talk about something that I was actually able to overcome and that was tough, but now looking back, it feels good to have survived.

 

 

 

Have you ever had the opportunity to discuss the story you are sharing with us today? What impact did it have on you? 

 

“I think that’s a big reason why I am really open about it so that people do know that it happened and I went through it and that I survived it. That’s the biggest thing. I want people to know that I was actually strong in it”

 

I have talked about the story quite a bit. I’ve been pretty open about it, but I find that I kind of rush through it. I kind of almost apologize while I’m telling it. Like, I feel bad for having to tell the story and I feel bad for bringing people down. And I’m not sure if maybe it’s ‘cause I remember not being allowed to talk about it and so I’m just trained not to talk about it. So, I’m pretty open. I have scars so I tell people about the scars when it comes up or when they see them or if I see them looking at them, but I still rush through it and say like “Oh, yeah.” And then tell them pretty quickly about it and then and with a “I’m great now!” so they feel like they don’t have to do anything. I don’t know, I guess I’m protecting them from the story.

 

I find that when I’ve told people, especially people I’m close to, that it kind of just…I just kind of start talking. Once I kind of start and they seem open to me continuing, I just kind of naturally end up telling them. Everybody gets a different version of it because my memory does that. Some days I remember this part and some days I remember that part or it just seems more relevant to come out. But it always feels like I’m closer to them now. They kind of understand the scars. People look at them, they see them. It’s on my arm you know, so, I know they know something’s there. And I always feel like there’s this big secret and I don’t want them to feel like I did it to myself because that’s always my fear. I’ve had that; people think it’s a cutter type of thing and it’s not. And that’s like my biggest fear. It’s like, I will not own that, that is not what happened. So it’s always good to make sure they know that’s not what occurred. And then they find out what did occur and they kind of learn that huge part of my life. It didn’t last long, but it was very impactful. So, I feel like it’s a huge connection builder once I can tell people about it.

 

When people know about domestic violence, they know about a story. You hear about it in the third person. You know? Like, “Oh, so and so was walking down the street” You never hear them say “I was walking down the street.” Or, “I was doing this.” You just hear about it. You hear it sensationalized mostly. You don’t hear what lead up to it and you never hear what happened after. I think that’s a big reason why I am really open about it so that people do know that it happened and I went through it and that I survived it. That’s the biggest thing. I want people to know that I was actually strong in it; that I had strength, that I wasn’t a victim the whole time. I mean at some point, yeah, there’s a weakness that you feel, but it’s actually not. I actually was much stronger than it looked like. If it was in a movie, it’d look like, “Oh gosh, she’s going through all these things,” but if you actually knew what was inside, there’s a huge amount of strength in there, it just looks not typical.

 

I moved back home from college and my mom actually got me into a therapist that was provided by the county. And they approved me for like twice a week free therapy. So I went to the person in this little bungalow at a school. And I didn’t always go, because it was hard. I went most of the time, but every so often, I did stand her up because I couldn’t handle it. But, I went there for about 6 months, twice a week, meeting with her and talking to her. And then I was able to talk to family about it and I started talking to friends about it. It was very slowly unraveling, the kind of walls that I had up and then bringing down some of the PTSD that I kind of had too deal with. But yeah, I had total support once I opened up about it. That actually was my biggest fear. I was worried they were just gonna think I should’ve done more or I shouldn’t have been there to begin with, or that I was the reason that it happened. And as soon as I stepped out of it, I realized that nobody thought that, and that’s not always the case. Luckily for me, it was. That was a big fear that I had and really, part of the delay that I had was I don’t know what the reaction is gonna be, and I’ve dealt with enough blame that I can’t deal with anymore from anybody else. So I’m just gonna keep going.

 

I actually found therapy to be kind of fun sometimes. Not all the time. It was hard fun. But, she knew that I was very creative. I’m a photographer, I did art back then and all these things, so she used that. She definitely saw me and used my strengths to heal. So, like one of the activities that I did was, we rewrote the story. So we wrote part of it and then she scrapped the ending. She said, “You need to change the ending. The ending is something different.” So, one time the ending was I fought physically, back. I became this superhero and you know it was kind of a fun…it was a way to heal it without confronting it directly. I could in a fictional way. That was actually kind of neat to do. And then we used that tool so when I had flashbacks, I could use that as, “Ok, this is not gonna end the way it ended.” You know? “It’s gonna end differently this time.” So you know using that tool definitely helped me move forward in other relationships because it’s gonna end differently now. So that was actually pretty good.

 

PTSD is, you know, it’s PTSD so it’s not easy. But she did it step by step so I didn’t feel like I got thrown into all this work right away. It was very small. My first assignment was to go to Wal-Mart and ask where the cherries were. And that was it. That’s all I had to do. I didn’t do it right away. It took me a week, maybe longer, I don’t remember, but it was too hard. I didn’t wanna ask somebody. And then I felt bad if they didn’t know where it was. And it was this whole scenario of “Oh my gosh this is gonna be a lot of work.” You know, I was nervous. And when I went back and told her I didn’t do it, I wasn’t in trouble. That was my biggest fear was that…I skipped out on one session because I didn’t do my homework and I thought that I was gonna be reprimanded ‘cause I was so used to being reprimanded. And I found that therapy was not. Therapy was where I finally wasn’t in trouble and it really helped me feel safe in a one on one conversation with somebody. Because I didn’t even feel safe having conversations when I first started. 

 

 

 

What domestic abuse experience do you want to share?

 

"I was financially stuck. I couldn’t leave for that reason. Then she would not let me go to class; I was in college. So, I couldn’t leave physically to go to school. I would be escorted to work"

 

So I was in a relationship with a woman and we moved in together. Up until that point, there was nothing to say, “Don’t move in with this person.” We moved in together and shortly after, maybe even weeks in, it just got to be a lot of yelling and pushing, like light pushing and stuff like that, but we had just signed a lease, so you don’t just walk out on a lease especially when it’s just, everything has been fine up until now. And now, there’s just a little bit of this, like maybe there’s stress or something. I made excuses thinking that might be the issue. And then it did evolve into pushing and then there was a lot of punching. Sometimes while I was sleeping, I would wake up being punched in the face or anywhere else. It seemed like there might have been mental illness involved in the reasoning why, I’m not really sure, but it was very confusing to me because I didn’t recognize it. I wasn’t familiar with what that would look like or what drug use might look like. I had no clue what the reasoning was, I just knew it was occurring.

 

So it evolved into being kicked and she pushed me down sometimes in the apartment for the most part. I was kicked. I wore glasses at the time and they were broken, so I didn’t have access to sight pretty much anymore. And then it actually moved into where she took my debit card, so my money that was direct deposited to my account, I didn’t have access to. She would spend it all and then I was overdrafted and we didn’t have money for rent, so I was financially stuck. I couldn’t leave for that reason. Then she would not let me go to class; I was in college. So, I couldn’t leave physically to go to school. I would be escorted to work and then she would wait for me at the end of my shift and we would walk home from there. I couldn’t afford metro money, which was $2.50 for the trip, but I wouldn’t afford that so we would walk about 6 miles home and then it would just continue. And there were time where it would become in public. There was one time where we were actually in the parking lot of the apartment complex and she started hitting me and punching me and I fell to the ground. And there’s balconies, like it’s just a garden style where there was 13 floors of balconies and people were outside on the balconies, and so I looked up thinking, “Ok, I’m gonna get some help now.” And people just started cheering. I think they thought it was a fight. I’m not sure, but they just started cheering like, you know, “Just keep going.” And so at that point I realized nobody’s gonna help me. Because there were times in the apartment prior to that where I would scream and I knew the people next door, I knew they lived there, I didn’t know them, but I know they lived there and I would yell like, “Stop, you’re hurting me,” or something where they would know this wasn’t like a kid or something. And the police never came, not even for like a sound violation so I kind of at that point thought, nobody else is gonna help me, I’m gonna have to figure it out myself. And I didn’t know what options I had because I didn’t have many resources. I didn’t wanna use my cellphone because the call log could be seen and I was afraid she would see who I called. I didn’t even call my mom very much anymore, I was on a hiatus of talking to her even. And I didn’t talk to friends from school. They would text like, “Where are you? You haven’t been in class.” But I just ignored those. And so one day when I was walking to work, I had the thought of like, “How am I gonna get out of this?” And I used to have to cross the busiest streets. It was Washington D.C. so you know, 6 lanes on a regular street. And so I thought about, “What if I just walked out in front of a car?” And then but as soon as I thought that, I realized, “Ok, that is a terrible idea. That is not gonna be how you get out of this situation.” So I thought “Ok, we gotta regroup.” And it wasn’t that smooth [smiles], like “Oh, I’m gonna be a hero here.” It was just like eventually I made it across the street and thought, “Ok, that’s not a good idea.”

 

"...she just cut a couple times and then she stopped and it was bleeding a lot. And I don’t remember my reaction at all. I remember she yelled at me for it. It didn’t hurt, ‘cause it was too sharp to hurt, I don’t know what I did, but she was upset about it."

 

So when I got home that day, I hid all the knives. I thought, “You know what? It’s getting to the point where it’s dangerous.” So I hid every sharp object. We had scissors, we had a knife block and all of them just magically disappeared. And sure enough, a day or two later, she was home. She came up to me and she was like, “I don’t see any knives. I need a knife.” And I knew what she needed the knife for. There was no food in the house. I said, I don’t know, I threw some down the garbage disposal.” You know? I just tried to make up lies about that. I threw a couple away because we had an ant on it or something. And what I didn’t know is that she had a box cutter that was in her work back. She was working at Whole Foods and she had stolen the box cutter. So she came up to me and she went straight for my neck. And I put my hand up and she got through. There were scars before on the collar bones, so I put my hand up and she went right over the knuckles. Like, I had scars like just a straight line through there. Those healed up. But when she did that my fight was like, “Ok, you’re not gonna get my neck because I don’t know much about anatomy, but I know you can bleed there.” So I said, “Here, take my arm.” And I had a long sleeve rolled up to cover the elbow, so I thought “Ok that’s usually where people really get it.” So I gave her my arm and that’s where she cut it. And she just cut a couple times and then she stopped and it was bleeding a lot. And I don’t remember my reaction at all. I remember she yelled at me for it. It didn’t hurt, ‘cause it was too sharp to hurt, I don’t know what I did, but she was upset about it. So I went to the bathroom and I just rinsed it. I didn’t know First Aid so I just rinsed off the blood. And then she went to the bathroom and rinsed off the blood. And as soon as she went to the bathroom, I ran. I got outta there. I didn’t have my glasses. I had a cell phone, but I had no glasses. So, I ran down like 8 flights of stairs and I ran like 3 city blocks towards the Metro, but I didn’t have Metro money, so I wasn’t gonna get on the Metro, but when I was hanging out by the Metro, I called my friend and said, “Hey, I’m at this Metro can you come get me?” It was probably like a 15-minute drive for her and in that time, she found me. So, she comes at me and she’s like you know, “What are you doing?” And she grabbed my hair and she just started dragging me. And it was like midnight so there was nobody on the streets. And so she just starts dragging me. And as she was dragging me back, I knew that if I went back to that apartment, I didn’t think I’d ever leave that apartment. So, I just, my fight kicked in again and I steered my feet. I knew there was a homeless man who slept on this bus stop bench, so I steered us really crooked towards him and as soon as we got within ear shot, I just screamed. Nothing, no words I just screamed. And he stood up and looked, “What’s going on?” And as soon as he did that, she let go, and I just ran again. And at that point, my friend came up and found me and then I was free. I was finally outta there. I never went back to the apartment. I never got anything from there. I lost…I don’t know what. It didn’t matter [laughs]. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if there was like jewelry, money, I don’t know what’s in there. Nothing really. But even if there was, it didn’t matter. I just needed to be gone.

 

And at that point, I moved back on campus for a few months and then I moved home and I was done. I didn’t go back to DC for 5 years. I wouldn’t step foot in the city. I was done. I was afraid to kind of relive it or to run into somebody, but yeah it was awesome getting out, you know? That part was good. And looking back on it, I can see where there was a lot of fighting that I did. I couldn’t fight back physically. I would not have survived it. Like I know a lot of people who say “Why didn’t they fight it?” Or, “Why didn’t they say something or tell somebody?” But I know if I told anybody, she would’ve hurt me if she found out. And if I had hurt her, she would’ve hurt me stronger, even if she wasn’t stronger. It’s just the adrenaline, you know?  Their will to hurt you is so strong that you could know some black belt stuff and you’re still not necessarily going to be able to get out physically. So I had to figure out other small ways to fight back day by day. Because you have to only fight day by day. I couldn’t make a plan for “Ok, in a week I’m gonna do this.” I didn’t believe in a week. I only believed in the next hour. Because I didn’t sleep, ‘cause I couldn’t sleep because she would wake me up a lot of the times. Also, I mean trying to fight back when you’re operating on no sleep, very little food, no money and you haven’t talked to your friends or family in like, weeks, it’s really hard to like come up with that plan. There’s no planning. There’s just surviving. But I did [big smile]. So that was the best part, was getting out.

 

And then as soon as I called my friend and she found out what happened or what I was going through, she was like, “Of course I’m gonna be there to help you.” And then she came. She brought like a troop [big smile]. There were like three other people in the car they made only room for me, you know? Like they were ready [big smile]. They were like “We don’t know what we have to take on but we’re here.” ‘Cause she saw that group, and once she saw that there were PEOPLE there to help me? I was inside the car and they were outside the car like, “You’re going away, you’re not coming here.” And I was protected. Like, I had a physical barrier. And like even seeing that was like [puts hands on chest and smiles] “Oh, ok I’m not as alone as I felt for months.” [We were together for a year]. But that’s their job. Their job is to make you feel alone. You know? She did a very good job of isolating me. Not forever.

 

"I was so happy to be in Oklahoma. It wasn’t Washington, D.C.; I’m from LA. I was out in Oklahoma and you know what? It was the best. Because college was not taken from me. Like, you can’t take any of this from me. I got my degree."

 

I didn’t finish college because of that. Like, I was at 92 credits out of 120. So I went home. And my mom was a little worried that I wasn’t gonna finish because I didn’t wanna go back to DC. I wasn’t gonna do it. I was like, “I cannot go back to that city.” I applied to 22 colleges with all my credits. I got into 2. I finished college in Oklahoma. And you know what? I was so happy to be in Oklahoma. It wasn’t Washington, D.C.; I’m from LA. I was out in Oklahoma and you know what? It was the best. Because college was not taken from me. Like, you can’t take any of this from me. I got my degree. I did a semester of 21 credits because I just wanted to finish. And they made me take Oklahoma History and I had to take Keyboarding. It was ridiculous [laughs]. They were mad I didn’t take English composition because I tested out of it, so they made me take Creative Writing, which actually was good. I wrote about my stuff, but nobody knew that it was not fictional, because it was supposed to be fictional. And it was interesting though because I presented a “story” that I had and they were like, “Well, that wouldn’t actually happen this way.” I was like [shrugs] “…ok.” I made the main characters straight because it was Oklahoma and there was a lot of safety needed there, and nobody knew why I was in Oklahoma. But, yeah a lot of people were like “Uh, I don’t know” A lot of critiques on my story. I was like “Ok, you think what you wanna think. I’m not here for that, I’m here to get my degree and I wrote a story, whatever, we’re done.” I got an A in the class. You know? Like, I don’t care [laughs]. It’s not like I wrote about aliens. I wrote about two human beings you know? I think they were like, “Well, there’s too many examples of abuse in here.” And I was like, “Well, that’s life.” Like, that’s just how that goes. That occurs. They didn’t believe that that many types of abuse would happen. That that many actions would’ve been taking place. They were just like, “Well, it wouldn’t been the same thing over and over.” Like, they think it’s always gonna be punching or it’s always gonna be kicking you know? I was like that’s interesting that that’s their observation that it’s always the same tool. But yeah there was financial, there was isolation, there was physical, verbal and they were like, “No, that’s too much.” And I was like, “It is too much, thank you” [laughs] you know? I came home from school in like December/January and I went to Oklahoma in September, so you know it’s not even that long in the scheme of my life. It felt like forever, but it wasn’t that long to go from being unable to really…I mean the UPS truck would scare me…to I’m in college now. So it was pretty awesome.

 

And I think having gone to school and knowing the narratives I knew helped me know not to go back. Like when she was pulling me, I was like, “I can’t. I don’t know exactly how, but I know what is going to happen.”

 

 

 

What no longer lingers in your heart and mind about your experience? What has opened up for you as a result? 

 

“…it’s a story that I live with, but I don’t live anymore.”

 

I don’t have fear of relationships anymore. I don’t fear getting close to people or trusting people. I’m very trusting now. Now that I’ve healed a lot. What’s opened up is that I can be very close to people that I know. Just friends and family. I’m able to talk to them about this part of my life has really let them get to know me. And let them see that I trust them, to tell them the story and just that I am past it. It’s a story in the past. It’s not a story of now. And so seeing that it’s a story that I live with, but I don’t live anymore.

 

 

 

What is your definition of love and how does that love feel? 

 

“It’s just you in being you, scars and all; you can be loved in that form. Your whole past is included in that. It’s not, ’except for this part of you.’”

 

Love is free. It doesn’t cost anything. And it’s freeing. You’re liberated. You can be you and still be loved. You don’t have to be anybody else or do anything or say anything specific. There’s no formula to it. It’s just you in being you, scars and all; you can be loved in that form. Your whole past is included in that. It’s not, “except for this part of you.”

 

 

 

What does leaving a Trail of Existence mean to you? 

 

“Leaving a Trail of Existence means that I existed. That the stories existed and that they mattered.”

 

Leaving a Trail of Existence means that I existed. That the stories existed and that they mattered. And that there’s so many stories that mattered. A lot of times we hear the tragic stories. Those matter, but there are other stories that also matter. And they all look different. They’re all gonna have different dynamics, different ways they looked or different feelings that were felt at the time and different ways of surviving or different strengths you know? So because I didn’t feel that my story should’ve happened…like I didn’t feel like it was gonna happen to me, like I didn’t have that model of, “Oh, well it happened to so and so, so now I understand how to fight it.” You know? I want people to feel less alone knowing that there are so many people who have dealt with it helps that.

 

 

 

Do you have any parting thoughts? 

 

“There’s hope beyond abuse and that’s the best part.”

 

I feel like this talks about a chapter of my life, but I’m a lot more than this chapter. A lot of times when I talk about it, I always make sure people know that there’s more to me than just that one story. And it’s a powerful story and I’m proud of part of it you know? The end result of it, but there’s so much more beyond that story now. I didn’t see that when I was in it. I didn’t know that I would survive it. And then when I survived it and I was kind of a shell for six months, I didn’t know that I would thrive beyond the shell. I thought I just survived. And so now, I have such complexity to my life and so many successes and so many things that are awesome that are way better than anything that I ever went through before that and so just that there’s a lot more to people than just the one story or just the one chapter. Nobody wants to be judged by just the one chapter in their life, but I feel like a lot of times the people who go through abuse, are. They’re labeled as that chapter. It’s like, “There was a lot before that,” or “There was a lot after that,” or even during. I was still thriving in some ways, you know? But you just get stuck in that bubble of abuse victim, or abuse survivor even. But, there’s so much more. There’s so much more available beyond that. There’s hope beyond abuse and that’s the best part.

 

And like, I went to a women’s college. My mom was a member of NOW [laughs]. You know? Like, it wasn’t supposed to happen to me you know what I mean? Like my economics class, I never took micro, I never took macro-economics, I took women in the economy [laughs] you know? Like, I knew all the signs. I knew everything that’s supposed to happen. I knew the statistics. You know? I knew all that stuff, textbook wise. So, I didn’t think it’d happen to me. And when it did I had tools to think about, but it’s just like, I had no example. I had nobody in my family that I had seen go through this or anything. My parents were married for over 40 years and they met when they were young. They had a really amazing marriage. I had no cycle of abuse that I saw. So this, it was very out of the blue. It really just surprised me. But that’s my biggest thing. You see people…I read them online you know, “Oh, well if that were me, I’d would do this,” or “I would’ve fought” or “It’s never gonna happen to me ‘cause I’d hit them as soon as they’d do it.” And I was like, “No, that’s not really the case.” You don’t know until you’re in it. It doesn’t even matter. Like, this was not a man, it wasn’t a giant person. It wasn’t anything that was stereotypically supposed to be scary or supposed to be able to dominate, but it still happens. It happens in all sorts of relationships.

 

I didn’t find it when I was in the situation. And even before I was in it, I would have like friends or something…people would say like, “police don’t take it seriously.” They think that it’s a fight as opposed to…and I never wanted a record you know? I was real nervous about being accused of having hit somebody or hurt something you know? Like, I don’t wanna have to stand there and argue that it’s abuse, so I never called. I never dealt with the police. I didn’t want to because I was just afraid of having to go to trial and have to be questioned on whether it was me. And the police were actually called that same night when I got out. The police ended up coming, it was right by the Capitol, so it was Capitol Police. And they asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said no. And they took her away to a mental hospital. But, the reason I said no was that whole dynamic. I didn’t want to become equal fighters in this fight type of thing, where they thought I was doing something. I don’t know in retrospect if they would have, but I didn’t wanna find out. And then the other issue is that her father was a lawyer…a defense attorney. And I was like, “I’m not gonna win this fight.” I don’t have any money to get an attorney and I know there’s like prosecutors but they have to decide to fight the case in the first place anyway. And I was like, “I don’t have any evidence.” I wasn’t in the heads space to really logically think it through anyway. I’m glad I didn’t. I never regretted not pressing charges. I mean, maybe something would’ve happened to her, but I’m at peace with what happened to me and I’m good with that. Because having to go through trial and having to hear somebody say, “Oh, that wasn’t really abuse,” that would’ve been too hard. Like, denying the story.

 

I already feel like that was part of the reason I wanted to participate was a lot of times people think that this was one time. And that denies a huge part of the story. It wasn’t one attack. It wasn’t an attack; it was abuse. It was structured. It was built in. It was evolved into [puts hand on arm] this scar. This is not the first time at all. And there were little steps that it took. So denying all those little steps that built up to it makes it seem like it was one time, no big deal and that’s the end of it. But, that erases a lot of memories that I have and that I’ve had to overcome dealing with and healing. It didn’t look like the typical story, so I didn’t think I had the typical resources available to me.

 

 

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WARNING: this website contains accounts of domestic and sexual violence that some may find graphic or triggering and not appropriate for all ages.

 

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Domestic Violence Stories