| This is the 228th story of Our Life Logs |
The past cannot be rewritten. This is the price of lessons learned.
My feelings of self-worth had never been more than a percentage point above 0 since growing up in an abusive and violent home. I had a mom who tried so desperately to survive the rages and abuses of my father that she had little to no time to let me know I was loved. But I never blamed her. I lost count of how many fights there were, how many times the police were called, how many times I lied about my bruises or how many times, I heard my mother lie about hers.
Still, I survived. I finished high school and went to college in Charlottesville, Virginia and met Ali. We fell in love and were married shortly after my graduation when I was 22 years old. Ali was funny, loving, and never used his fists when we fought. I thought fate was giving me a chance to live the life I was meant to have. Unfortunately, it was busy elsewhere.
From almost the beginning, Ali cheated and did so over the 13 years we were married. At first, I blindly accepted the vague reassurances that all was okay, but it was hard to keep the rose-colored glasses intact. I began to notice the hang-up calls in the middle of the night. His clothes usually wore another woman’s perfume, and finally, I found underwear in the glove compartment of his car that wasn’t mine. I was so torn as to what to do. We had two beautiful daughters during our 13 years together, and Ali was an amazing father. He just couldn’t stop cheating. At least not with me and not during our marriage together. So, I filed for divorce.
By then, I was 34 years old and carried a self-esteem that was damaged far beyond what I had in childhood. In the searching and survival of life, I didn’t really stop to think how this could affect what was in store.
About a year later in 1996, I met a new man at a bar that my girlfriend had taken me to for a “you are free” night after my divorce was finalized. The guy I met was Steve. He was four years older than me and had three children from a previous marriage. Talking to him gave me a spark of confidence and I was easily swept up by his kindness. He went out of his way to make sure I had everything I needed—even when I didn’t know him yet—and seemed so concerned about my safety. In fact, that evening after I left the bar, he made me promise I would call him when I got home so he knew I had made it. I remember thinking how sweet that was, and how no one had ever cared if I got home safe and sound. My father never had, and Ali never asked one way or the other. Despite my childhood, despite my first marriage, I believed in happily-ever-after and true love…maybe Steve was the one?
Six weeks after we met, Steve proposed by saying he couldn’t live without me and he loved me more than he had ever loved another woman. Two weeks after I said, “yes,” we both said, “I do.”
For the first month of marriage, we bought a house, we had our kids with us except for the weekends when my two were with their dad, and his kids came and stayed with us on his “dad” weekends. Our lives were full, busy, and filled with happiness. But as it goes, that happiness lasted about as long as our engagement.
One night, about six weeks after we married, I got home from work 45 minutes late. Steve was standing in the driveway when I pulled up, he grabbed me by the arm as I got out of the car, and dragged me into the house. He started asking so many questions about why I was late that I had trouble answering them in a coherent fashion. I had never lied to him, but because I was stumbling in shock at this new, scary side of Steve, I stopped thinking. I stopped breathing. By the end of the question-and-answer session he was shaking with rage. Finally, he slammed me up against the wall, tore at my clothes, and then raped me.
It’s funny what a person can convince themselves of when they want to believe anything but the truth. After the fight and assault was over, Steve apologized for a week, sent flowers to my work each day, he left handwritten letters on the windshield of my car, met me at home with dinners and bubble baths, and picked up and dropped off my daughters at school with such kindness that I started to convince myself that I must have made it worse in my mind than it really was. Steve couldn’t have done anything wrong.
A cycle formed over the next six months. An argument would break out, followed by the same violence, followed by weeks of the same apologies, gifts, and letters. Six more times I convinced myself I was crazy and that I was just imagining being physically and psychologically abused and assaulted.
But one night, the doorbell rang. And when I went to answer it, a policeman and a man from the district attorney’s office were standing on my doorstep with a warrant in their hand for the arrest of Steve for murder. I thought I was in an alternate reality for a moment. Steve? Murder? I was still alive, wasn’t I? Did he murder me during one of his abusive episodes and I just didn’t know I was dead? Was I that crazy and delusional? I told the police that Steve had to work late that evening and my kids were at their dad’s house. I asked them to come in and so they could wait for Steve, and they did. They then proceeded to tell me a story straight out of hell.
Two years before Steve married me, he’d been involved with a woman who was a divorced, beautiful blonde. After a few weeks together in love, they decided to get married. A week before their wedding, someone broke into her house and beat her to death with a baseball bat. As they told me the story, I had to get a trash can to throw up. I remembered seeing the news on TV when I was still married to Ali. I remembered they could never find the killer, and that this woman had been so badly beaten that her ex-husband and daughter couldn’t ID her. They had to use dental records. I threw up again and again until the police officer gave me a Tums he’d found somewhere and a bottle of water. The police and DA left late that night after they determined Steve saw their cars and wasn’t going to come home. They would have to go get him.
That night, I packed a suitcase for me and each of my daughters. I locked the door behind me, booked myself into a hotel, called into work sick, and went to a divorce attorney the next morning.
Steve was caught, stayed in jail for a few days, but was given a bail amount he could meet and was free once again. When he had received our divorce papers, he started calling me incessantly every few minutes, 24 hours a day. He cried, pleaded, yelled, screamed, and begged until I could get my phone number changed. I got a restraining order based on his current criminal charge, and the fact that he had abused me at least seven times in eight months of marriage.
After the phone calls stopped, I thought I was safe enough. The police promised me they would keep an eye out for me if I kept them abreast of where I was living, and I did that religiously. While I was living out of hotels, waiting for paperwork to go through that would let me sell the house Steve and I had bought less than a year ago, a sense of calm and acceptance swept over me. While I boxed everything up from our home, I thought I was past the worst of everything. I told myself that I was going to start fresh and have a safe future and—most of all—I would never marry again. It would all be okay.
Though the charges had been dropped against Steve on the murder of his previous fiancé, I told myself that I had a restraining order against him. Again, I would be okay—except I didn’t know that was about as worthless as the paper it was written on. At least not until the middle of the night on August 20, 1998. Out of a sound sleep, I woke up to breaking glass. In fact, it seemed that my entire house was shattering around me. As soon as I realized this, I rapidly came to the realization that smoke was filling up my home. Fire ripped at the ceiling above me while flaming sheetrock and debris fell on me and around me in what seemed like slow motion. When my brain finally kicked into gear and I tried to stand up and run out the bedroom door, my coughing got so bad that I fell to the floor gasping for air. With a veil of smoke over my eyes, I reached for the phone and dialed 911. I don’t remember anything after that.
I was told a neighbor dragged me out of the house when one of the bedroom walls partially collapsed and after he had seen Steve running from my house with something in his hand. Both my neighbor and I were immediately taken to the hospital to recover from our severe burns. The police caught and arrested Steve before I was discharged from the hospital. They charged him with attempted murder—and this time—he was not given bail.
I don’t know how many times I berated myself. I felt stupid, ashamed, horrified, and the guilt I carried was almost unbelievable. The hatred I felt for myself grew and grew for putting my kids through everything I did by marrying Steve. For this reason, the past became a mirror I kept covered.
In early 2000, I got a call from the district attorney’s office asking that I needed to come in for a meeting. Steve’s attempted murder trial was due to start in a couple of weeks. So, I went, thinking I would be able to put all this behind me. Instead, I sat in the office of a DA I had never met before, and was told they were dismissing all charges against Steve due to a lack of evidence. Though I had kept in touch with my old neighbor who risked his life to save mine, it was no use. In 1999, my neighbor was involved in a hit-and-run on his motorcycle and died before he reached the hospital. They were never able to make an arrest for his death. I was convinced it was Steve. The DA had no choice but to drop the charges. Yet again, the devil had escaped the flames we all still lived in.
The only thing that even resembled something good in the shadow of fear I lived every day was that Steve had moved on to another woman. He had slowed down his harassment, stalking, and threatening behavior with me, though I assumed he now unleashed it on his new lady love. As time passed, I broke the promise to myself to never marry again when I met Brad, my third husband, in 2001 (though I only agreed to date him after a thorough background check, many dates in public places). I fell in love very slowly, double-checking myself along the way.
The police called me almost 12 years later to ask me if I would testify as a previous victim of Steve in a trial against him for assault and battery against wife number three. I agreed—against the advice of everyone who loved me—because someone, somewhere, somehow, had to try to stop Steve.
Finally, Steve was found guilty of assault and battery. But he was given probation. I never found out what happened to his ex-wife, but the years had not been good to Steve. Maybe it was karma. Maybe it was justice. Maybe it was God—but while I looked at him after the trial, Steve looked 20 years older than he was. He had gone completely gray, walked with a cane, and had a crooked back condition that he never had when I knew him.
One thing was for sure, nothing in my past would ever disappear. But as I looked at Steve’s crooked back, I was no longer afraid of him, or of the insecurity of my first marriage, or the abuse of my childhood. In that moment, I realized that my past was not as strong as I had become. I allowed myself to finally let go of some of the fear that lived with me, in exchange for the lessons I had learned.
While smoke and flames may be behind us, our future can be filled with the rebirth of new wisdom—if we let ourselves learn from the past.
This is the story of Samantha Seconds
Samantha grew up Virginia in an abusive home, followed by a failed marriage which left a lasting impression of insecurity on her heart. In an attempt to redeem her life, Samantha became involved with a man who seemed to be nothing short of a gentleman. Unfortunately, their marriage brought more abuse and assault upon Samantha, eventually leading to a narrow escape from a fiery death.
This story first touched our hearts on October 19, 2018.