Good evening. I would like to begin by apologizing in advance for making you feel uncomfortable. But, I won’t. I need to ask you to do me a favor. Help me carry this burden. I never wanted to be the voice for thousands of women. But, I am. I never asked for this honor. But, it’s mine. Please, take some of the responsibility for domestic violence in your community. Help me carry the burden as I tell you my story tonight.
My parents were in love. They loved one another and they loved my brother and I. I thought all men treated women like my dad treated my mom- with respect. My ex-husband’s father beat his mother on a regular basis. Drama and violence were common occurences. So, the cycle continued. It started with small things. His jealousy was immeasurable. He played me against my family. He didn’t want me to associate with them. He said they thought he wasn’t good enough for me. He called me names. He drank a lot and I made excuses.
We were together 5 years when we married. I thought things would change. I was an educated young lady with a bright future. I made excellent grades. But, nobody ever taught me how to deal with an abusive man. Nobody gave me the tools. I honestly thought that when he told me, “If I can’t have you, no one will.”, it was a statement of endearment.
As the years passed, the alcohol abuse escalated and came to include drug addiction. The abuse was mental. It was verbal and emotional. Not long after we married, he began to threaten suicide regularly.
One day, I tried to leave because he was intoxicated. He said he would kill himself if I left. I walked out the front door and heard a gunshot. I screamed his name, terrified. No answer. I was afraid to go back in the house. I was sure he did it this time. After what seemed like forever, I ran in the house only to find him sitting on the couch with a gun in his lap.
This was my abuse.
Then, the day came. He stayed out all night and came home very early in the morning. I thought he would go to sleep and I would leave for work. When I told him I was leaving, he threw my keys in the woods, pulled the spark plugs out of my car and ripped the phones out of the walls. Over the next 6 hours, he terrorized me. He loaded a gun and told me I was not leaving. He crushed my prized possession, a jewelry box my late father had given me when I was a little girl. He stomped it with his boot and told me that was what he was going to do to my head. I remember laying in the corner of the room in fetal position begging him to stop. He shot the gun at me many times. About a foot above my head, to my left and to my right. He would unload a gun and go load another. This went on for hours.
Finally, when he went to the bathroom, I ran. No shoes on, in my nightgown. I ran across a pasture to the nearest house. I remember hearing 4 or 5 shots and I knew he was going to kill me. I had no trees to hide behind. I honestly couldn’t believe that I made it to his aunt and uncles house alive. I begged for the police not to be be called. His aunt insisted and she didn’t even know the half of it. When the police came, I didn’t tell them everything. I wouldn’t cooperate. It was only when my best friend convinced me to cooperate that I did. She said, “Kay, you have to tell them. He is going to kill you.”
I didn’t want to press charges. That is when I met Rhonda Morgan, the Oconee County Victims Advocate and Chrissy Adams, the prosecutor. I was relieved when Rhonda told me that I didn’t have to press charges. She told me that the state would press charges. This took the pressure and blame off of me. My house was so bullet ridden that I never returned. I was given an emergency cell phone, legal advocacy and a restraining order.
I could have greatly benefitted from a shelter. I slept in my car countless nights over the ten years we were together. I had nowhere to go. I was so afraid for the safety of my family and the few friends I had. I thought I could fix it myself. I never discussed it. It was my, “dirty little secret”. I tell everyone that my parents didn’t have to waste any money on acting lessons. The carefree smile that was seen on the outside was, indeed, masking so much shame and sadness on the inside.
Everything changed in 2012. After hiding my abuse for the ten years we were together and then not talking about it for another twelve years, I found myself at a Safe Harbor community meeting where Becky Callaham, the Director for Safe Harbor, asked me if I would consider sharing my story to a small group of people the next week. I agreed, honored to be a part of the movement. I thought, “hey, type A personality, I am in sales and can talk to anyone… No big deal, right?”. WRONG. Revealing my story to the room that night was life-changing. My life’s passion was revealed to me. Little did I know, I shared my story that night with several of the people who formed the Capital Campaign to raise $990,000 for an Oconee County shelter just a few months later. We became a force. I don’t think that there was one person in Oconee County who didn’t know that we were raising money for a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Last March, I went to my first counseling session with Safe Harbor. I decided to get counseling after filming the documentary Chronicle: Living in Fear that aired on WYFF 4 last summer. I really just wanted to work through my feelings and anxiety involved with going public with my personal story. I really thought I didn’t need counseling. I thought that I had dealt with my problems and moved on. Boy, was I wrong. Everything that I thought was my “problem” really wasn’t. My counselor recognized things about me that I wasn’t even aware of. As a 43 year old woman, 12 years divorced and in a new marriage, I stood up after my first session and shook my counselors hand, thanking her for her time. She said, “You don’t think that you are done, do you?”. We laughed. I wasn’t done. It was the beginning of my journey.
Safe Harbor gives women HOPE. The capital campaign raised $1,178,000 to place a shelter in my hometown. My generous community came together and again and again reminded me of the all the good in humanity. Safe Harbor provides women with so much more than shelter. Counseling, advocacy and support are available to victims of domestic violence and their children. Your support is necessary and greatly appreciated.
So, thank you for helping me carry this burden of abuse and violence. It is simply too much for me to bear. It is uncomfortable, heavy and shameful. Please, volunteer, make donations and get educated. You can make a difference. Give the gift of hope to a victim and her children today.