It was a car accident, I insisted.
I didn’t have my seatbelt on and my head hit the dash.
But that’s not what happened.
I had to come up with some excuse for the baseball-sized lump on the left side of my head. For the black eyes that swelled shut. For the black, purple and blue streaks that trailed down my face, behind my ears, to the front and sides of my neck and chest. For the swollen lips that could barely whisper my pathetic lie.
Yes, October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But I’m not going to go into statistics or warning signs of abuse. I just want to tell you my story, because I’m one of the women who survived.
My “boyfriend” of one-and-a-half years and I operated a home remodeling and painting business. We formed the company after the recession hit, my unemployment benefits ran out and work was beyond scarce.
After applying for countless jobs, I had to find a way to support my three children, who ranged in age from 9 to 13. Being the breadwinner during my 12-year marriage left me with no child support.
It was Jan. 21, 2010, the day before the foreclosure hearing at which I would learn I had to short-sell my beautiful home to avoid a black mark on my credit. After finishing a particularly grueling drywall job, my boyfriend and I celebrated with a few drinks as I tried to relax ahead of what I faced the next day. It was approaching 9 p.m. and the physical and mental exhaustion was overtaking me. I needed to go home.
He was not done drinking.
I dropped him off at a bar close to my house and said he could walk home or get a cab. After arriving home, I took a bath, put on my comfy cotton T-shirt and pink yoga pants, and drifted off to sleep.
Somewhere around 1 a.m., I heard the front door slam. He was swearing and yelling my name at the top of his lungs.
The dog slunk into the bathroom and hid behind the toilet. My two cats scurried under my bed.
I ran downstairs, thinking something bad happened to him. He was slurring so badly, I couldn’t really understand what the problem was, but I managed to conclude that he was angry because he had to walk home. He drank all his cab money.
He pushed me. My back slammed into the wall of family pictures I had carefully hung near the front door. They rattled and some crashed to the hardwood floor.
“What are you doing?! Stop it! It’s not that big of a deal!”
That made him angrier.
“You said you were fine with walking home! Stop it! Why are you doing this?”
He continued pushing me into walls and doors down the hallway, which I never thought of as long but now felt like the Westminster Abbey aisle as I tried to fight him off until we were in the kitchen.
I begged him to stop with guttural sounds as his hands closed around my throat. I kicked the side of his knee as hard as I could multiple times. Yes, I was trying to break it. Absolutely.
I was pounding his torso with haymakers that seemed to be doing nothing. And I am a very, very strong woman.
His shifty, dead eyes looked down and to the right. My eyes followed his to the granite countertop. He kept one hand on my throat and moved the other to the back of my head and lifted me off the ground.
“Don’t do this! Oh my God, don’t do this! PLEASE! NO!”
That is the last thing I remember until I woke up the next morning with my clothes on inside-out. I was missing my underwear. The abuse hadn’t ended when my consciousness did. I’m thankful I don’t remember that part.
Apparently, I had also called 911 because I had a police officer’s number on my dining room table. I never used it because I was too embarrassed and scared to come forward.
At the foreclosure hearing the next day, I was so dizzy I could barely walk. The two gentlemen obviously saw something was very wrong, and they postponed the meeting for two weeks.
There was not enough makeup in Saks Fifth Avenue to cover up all the damage to my face, so I stayed inside for several weeks. But my neighbors came to check on me, horrified by my “car accident.”
I have a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. I am intelligent and creative, smart and funny. I am kind and empathic to friends, family members and strangers alike. But there is no mystery shrouding why I became a victim of domestic violence.
After a horrific divorce, and losing my 15-year career and my home, I had zero self-confidence, zero self-love and zero perspective. I fell for a charming con-man at the lowest point in my life, and stayed trapped there because he was my only source of income.
That’s it. Bottom line.
I packed his things and kicked him out shortly afterwards. But unbelievably, I had to keep working for him. Yes, I had to see him every day for three more years until I was working three part-time jobs to make ends meet.
To this day, I don’t know the full extent of my physical injuries. Eventually I got an MRI when my now-fiancé encouraged me to apply for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, but the doctors didn’t see much.
What I do know is that every time it rains, my left temple throbs uncontrollably.
When I see granite countertops, I feel nauseated.
I wear hats constantly to hide the large dent in my forehead.
I hate having my picture taken – the photo that runs with my columns is from before the incident.
And I have to admit that I regularly look for my attacker’s obituary.
My parents still don’t know what really happened, and I trusted only a handful of friends to keep my secret.
Until now, almost a decade later.
I’ve been feeling brave lately, seeing and hearing stories like mine from women all over the world and from every walk of life.
If you’re like I was, I hope you will feel the same way and unburden yourself.
Tell your story. It will make a difference.
It already has for me.
I think I’m going to wear hats less often.
Elizabeth Durocher is a writer in Mooresville. Contact her at email@example.com.