I vividly remember my mother breaking down one night after my father left for work when we were supposed to be asleep. I walked in to the kitchen to find her holding a butcher knife to her stomach, sobbing, debating whether to cut away the extra layers of skin that lingered there no matter how much she exercised or dieted, for she no longer saw anything beautiful or worthy in herself.
Through tears she admitted that she could no longer take how the man who had pledged to love her would compliment other women in front of her but then call her a fat, worthless bitch time and again. How he would go out of his way to fix up homes for attractive, single women at cost, but he couldn't seem to find the time or the funds to fix the home they shared that was so badly in need of repair it was later deemed uninhabitable by the city. She shared how she had often contemplated committing suicide, but she couldn't bring herself to do it because she was terrified of what her husband would do to us in her absence. However, it was what she did next that stopped me in my tracks.
My mother apologized.
She apologized for bringing us into a home with a man she knew she couldn't trust, who had hurt her for years before their three kids had ever entered the picture. My mother admitted how one of his more severe outbursts of rage even put her in the hospital, her face bloodied and skull cracked from being beaten with his old combat boots. But she had refused to press charges because she was afraid of what he would do to her afterward. She spoke of how she had lied to the hospital staff who questioned her about the source of her injuries, and instead of telling them my father was to blame, she claimed she had fallen down a flight of stairs instead. She said she knew the hospital staff didn't buy her story, but they didn't press her for the truth either.
My mother held out hope that having children would help soften my father, that the role would change him into the man she had long prayed for him to become. But she admitted herself a fool for holding to that notion. She then apologized profusely for not having the strength to get us out of there before, for not having the means, the resources, to get far enough away that she wouldn't have to fear the repercussions of an enraged spouse hunting her down.
This encounter stuck with me until a couple of years later, when in the midst of battling breast cancer a second time my mother finally found the strength to move out. She pulled out all of the savings she had been putting aside, maxed out every single credit card she had, and purchased a double-wide trailer all the way across town in her own name.
And she took us with her.
I wish I could say that this courageous act was the beginning of many years of freedom and of happiness. That my mother went on to divorce my father and found love with someone who truly treasured her and loved her for the incredible woman she was. But that fairy tale ending never took place.
My mother ended up passing away a year after she moved out of my father's house. The cancer she had been diagnosed with, and successfully battled, twice before returned with a vengeance and would no longer respond to treatment. However, before she passed, she told me one of her biggest regrets was not getting out earlier and not standing up for herself years ago. On her deathbed, my mother begged me to raise my own newborn daughter to see herself as someone worthy of so much more than being subjected to domestic abuse. She begged me to make sure the cycle of abuse that had plagued the women in our family for generations ended with me.
I was fortunate to become involved with, and later married to, someone who treats me as an equal, who loves me for who I am in the midst of my brokenness and faults. He has never laid a hand on me in anger. He believes in me regardless of what I do, and encourages my efforts in all things. I am fortunate to be in a relationship with a man who loves me with a sacrificial love and who sees me as a person instead of a possession.
My sisters have been less fortunate in their relationships. A cousin was less fortunate with her own but found the strength to get out with her children. My grandmother lived five decades with a man who regularly threatened her life, even going so far as to hold a gun to her head and threaten the lives of their children to keep her under his control.
My mother's story is not unique.
But my mother did something my father has never done, something he refuses to do even to this day. My mother apologized to me. And she did everything she could up until the day she passed to make a bad situation better.
The cycle ends with me.
My husband and I started Broken Hearts and Calloused Hands to be the bridge so many women need in order to get out of abusive relationships. My mother had very little outside support and little access to resources to be able to get on her feet after she left my father. We hope that our organization will change that reality for other women out there who are in my mother's shoes.