Behind closed doors

Teen recovers from abusive relationship

As Kate* sat listening to her teacher lecture, her mind drifted back her to relive childhood memories.

Preschooler Kate sat playing with her toys. She stopped when her dad, Rick*, stumbled through the door with a red face and messy hair. He beckoned his wife, Kate’s mom, Emma*, who inched her way towards him.

He snatched Emma’s arm, dug his fingers into her and demanded dinner. Emma shuffled her way back into the kitchen and explained that she hadn’t prepared anything. He started to throw cups, chairs and anything he could at her. She dodged the objects while Kate watched.

“It was heartbreaking because as kids we couldn’t do anything about it,” Kate said. “We were so young that we couldn’t stand up for her, and she’s not the type of person that stands up for herself.”
He screamed in her face that she was a disappointment. The stench of alcohol lingered on his breath.

He slammed her against the wall, and his hand quickly moved to her throat as he started to choke her. She barely managed to get away. She grabbed Kate and her other daughter, Sophie*, ran out of the room and drove to her parents’ house.

Kate mentally returned to class. With an uneasy expression on her face, she blinked a few times, and began to listen again to her teacher’s lesson.

• • •

In the beginning, Rick and Emma were happily married but soon something changed. One evening Rick was driving Emma, who was pregnant, home after work.

The gas light flickered on, and Rick huffed, breaking the silence in the car. He started screaming at her for not refilling the car’s tank then slammed on the brake, flinging Emma forward. He ordered her to get out in a dangerous neighborhood. Emma told him to keep driving and promised she would buy any gas that he car needed.

Suddenly he leaned in to unbuckle her seatbelt. He then opened her door, pushed her out of the car into the night and drove away.

Emma lay on the ground shivering. She got up and walked around the town in search of a pay phone. When she finally found one, she called her mom to pick her up. She got in the car wordlessly, and they drove to her mom’s house.

• • •

After their children were born Rick would grab them by the arms and shake them while screaming, claiming the crying children drove him to be aggressive.

“I remember him always grabbing on to me and my sister and holding us so tight that we got bruises on our arms,” Kate said. “It was scary.”

When their dad was away in the military for months at time, Kate said these were happier times. They would bake every Sunday after church in their baker hats and aprons. Her mom would play the song “Three Little Birds,” and they would dance for hours.

“Me, my mom and my sister have always been the three musketeers,” Kate said. “We look so much alike that people think we are all sisters. ”

Their mom took most of Rick’s abuse to protect her children, but he still managed to hurt and degrade them. He said it was because of PTSD, but he was never diagnosed.

“He would tell us we were worthless kids and we didn’t deserve to be alive,” Kate said. “He would say he wish he didn’t have kids and how awful it was being a parent. He would call us dirt.”

His abuse consisted of throwing items, hitting and shoving her. When Amelia and Sophie were born, the abuse progressed and spread to all of them.

“I was broken,” Kate said.

Kate described how she saw her mom deteriorate in front of her. She would sleep all day to avoid hearing her husband screaming at her.

“She would put on a happy face for everyone else, but when it was just us she would cry all the time,” Kate said. “It was more of a ‘I’m going to pretend to be happy because my kids need support’. She was more of a robot than she was a person because she was so numb from everything.”

They divorced when Kate was young, and they took Richard to court. Kate talked to countless therapists and judges. They would ask her question after question, but told her that she was too young to understand. He eventually got remarried to Olivia, but Kate said staying with her dad was still traumatic because both her stepmom would yell derogatory racial slurs at them.

• • •

Katie and Sophie were at Richard’s house for their court ordered visit. Eight-year-old Katie was taking a bath with the help of Olivia, whocounted to three and dunked her under to wash off the shampoo in her hair, and then Kate would pop up with bubbles on her face laughing. She giggled and played in the bubbles as Olivia got ready to dunk Kate under the water.

“1…2…3…,” Olivia said.

She dunked her, and after a few seconds passed Kate was still underwater. Olivia’s hands were still on top of Kate’s head holding her down. Kate panicked as she failed to reach the surface for air.

Kate heard muffled yelling that turned out to be Richard yelling at Olivia her to stop. She released Kate’s head from her grip, and Kate popped up and took large gasping breaths of air.

Kate ran to her room crying until her sister came in. Sophie sat by her on their bed and held her as they both cried for hours.

• • •

Rick made a habit of getting angry, leaving the family for extended amounts of time, then later coming back into their lives. Each time he brought promises of change. Every time they trusted him, he left again.

“I blame myself for a lot of stuff that happened between me and my dad even though I know I shouldn’t,” Kate said. Rick sent one of his friends to spy on the family, causing them to live a life of fear, looking over their shoulders. Emma, Sophie and Kate now sleep with knives under their pillows.

“I always have this feeling in the back of my head that he’s going to come back one day, he’s going to take me away from my mom and force us to live with him,” Kate said. “I am always scared.”

Kate and her family found themselves unable to tolerate his empty promises. The decision to cut him out of her life took prayer and family to lean on.

Kate stopped returning his calls and texts and saying she loved him. She said that she felt reassured knowing he could no longer abuse her. If she were to see him on the street today, she said she would disregard him.

“Even though he’s my dad ,I have no feeling for him in my heart anymore because he has hurt us so bad,” Kate said. “It got to the point where I was emotionally done with how he treated [us.]”

For the first time she feels like her home is happy and complete even though he is not there. She felt powerful to finally end something that caused so much pain.

“I will always be somebody who is labeled ‘daddy issues,’ and somebody who is labeled as a broken home,” Kate said. “My home really isn’t broken, there’s just somebody who’s not there.”

Once he was out of their lives, things started to look up. The family was baking and singing on Sundays again. Emma openly discussing everything that happened with her family.

They feel like this experience bonded them closer. They are all protective of each other and a force to be reckoned with.

“We grew, and we are stronger,” Kate said. “I feel like if he came after us again, he wouldn’t stand in our way.”

Because of her experience, Kate encourages others going through abuse to get help.

“Seek help first because safety is a number one priority,” Kate said. “Nobody is going to get mad for telling your story because someone cares and wants to listen. Please get help because that really helped our family and made us stronger.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.