Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Barefoot & Pregnant

It all began with asaltos, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. When my co-workers showed up at my house that night I didn’t think twice about tagging along with their roaming holiday party. After leaving a note for my husband, I took my young daughter and my 6 month pregnant self and joined the festivities as they headed off down the road.

If you’ve never been in an abusive relationship yourself, you may not understand what came next or my own inability to predict it. I guess the signs were there but when you’re in that situation you just hope it doesn’t get any worse...until it does.

When I got home, he was awake and insanely mad. I knew it was going to be bad. To be honest, I don’t even remember everything that happened that night. I guess it’s my “borrar cinta,” it means to “erase the tape” or the ability to forget the bad in order to protect yourself. We all do it to some degree. It’s what allows us to move on from a trauma. What I do know is that he physically dragged me outside and locked the door. I tried to fight back but there were no winning with a 6’3”, 250-pound, drunk and anger-driven man. I had no shoes, no belongings and, worst of all, no daughter. Barefoot and pregnant, I walked several miles to the closest government building where I spent the night on a wooden bench. The next morning, I went before a judge to request a police escort back to the house. I don’t recall much about that journey just that in the end there was a report of domestic abuse, I’d moved in with my sister and I had my daughter back.

I guess it’s true that we see the past with 20/20 vision. If only we could have that kind of clarity in the moment. I did ignore red flags and dismissed my instinct and intuition. Should I have known our relationship could come to that? Probably. But men like that can make you believe it’s somehow something you did wrong. Abusers rationalize their abuse and make you doubt what really happened and your role in it all...and they’re really good at it. There’s also part of me that wanted to believe things would get better -- the eternal optimist. But that night was a deal breaker. I ended up leaving my husband and within a year-and-half I was living in the United States.

When I was considering divorce, I was torn with the belief that when you get married it’s supposed to be forever. But there were two things that kept me going in the right direction -- my toddler and the new baby I’d just had. I didn’t want my daughters to grow up thinking that’s how a man treats a woman, or that was marriage. I didn’t want them to one day excuse someone else’s bad behavior by thinking it was love. Today, both of my girls are in wonderful relationships with men who in no way resemble their biological father. That was all I could hope for as I made that long walk in the dark all those years ago. This place I’m at now -- where we are happy, safe and well-grounded and I am strong and independent -- was the place I was heading towards as I trudged on, barefoot and pregnant.

During this time in my life, I felt very alone and I was convinced I was the only one with this type of secret struggle. Time and wisdom have taught me that, unfortunately, abuse is all too common. If this is something you are dealing with, you don’t have to be alone. I invite you to email or call me, reach out to another friend or get in touch with one of the many support organizations available. Love isn’t supposed to hurt, and life can get better.

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