Nearly 60% of the women who attend Caroline Center are or have been victims of domestic or relationship violence. Below, in her own words, is one of their stories. All names have been withheld to protect the innocent.
My story begins when I fell in love with a wealthy and intelligent French man. I was young and beautiful and optimistic about my future. I met him on a study abroad trip I took to France while I was in college. He was so charming. When we were together, it seemed like time stood still. We would talk for hours and hours. When I came back to the United States, we kept in touch through emails, phone calls, instant messages, love letters, and cards. His words were like poetry. Finally, he told me he loved me and I felt as though I was in a fairy tale. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. I thought it was a dream come true. He insisted that we marry on the beach in my home state where my family could witness our commitment to love each other forever. Afterwards, he made plans that I would move to France to live in the apartment he owned. I didn’t protest since all my dreams seemed to be coming true. We lived in an enchanting city in the north of France. It was captivating, with medieval cobblestoned streets and churches as old as France itself. Sadly, that’s where the fairy tale ended.
Not long after I moved to France my new husband began to lose his temper with me frequently and “out of the blue.” It was anything from not ironing his shirts the right way, to disagreeing with him in front of his friends and family, to going for longs walks and not telling him where I had gone. Even though I couldn’t understand why he would get so angry, I wanted my marriage to be perfect, so I tried harder to please him. But the more I tried, the more it seemed to get worse. His outbursts began to include him smacking, pushing, and shaking me. I tried to understand what I was doing wrong. I decided it must be because I had not bonded enough with his family. So, I made time to spend with his mother but she was even more aggressive with me. She would slap me in front of company, call me “une salope,” a derogatory French word meaning “slut or bitch”, and she would say to family, friends, and neighbors that I was too stupid to learn French. I decided that all my problems were because I had not integrated enough into French society. So, I enrolled in a French course and took a part-time job as an English instructor. Though I was making great progress learning French and was earning my own money, my husband allowed me no freedom. My money was deposited into his bank account to which I had no access. Finally, out of frustration, I demanded he allow me access to my own money. He beat me, he beat me bad. He punched me in my chest and stomach over and over again so bad I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I screamed for him to stop and nobody did anything. He beat me so bad that it hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. It even hurt to cry. After that, the beatings came more regularly and were much worse. I remember staring at my body after he had beaten me. My natural olive-toned skin was masked with shades of purple, yellow, and blue. I would often stare at my broken body and think to myself that I was no longer human. I was an animal, a beast to be disciplined and controlled. I was an insignificant nothing, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
Then, I discovered I was pregnant. Never in my life had I felt so terrified. I didn’t want to bring a baby into my marriage, which at that point had become more like a prison. I wanted to leave my husband but I knew he would never let that happen. His control over me was complete and unquestionable. Though I was pregnant, he continued to beat me and more frequently . Often, he would threaten me by saying, “if I left him while I was carrying his child that he would kill me .” After one horrible beating, I waited until he left and went to a church where I knew a priest. I cried and told him that I wanted to go home to America but that I was sure my husband would kill me if I left him . He took me into a room and made me wait for what seemed like a long time. When he returned he had a policeman with him who spoke English. I explained everything to the policemen and he asked me if I wanted to contact the American Embassy. I told him that I just wanted to get my things from my husband’s apartment and that was all. So, he escorted me back to the apartment and unfortunately my husband was there . I took everything I could, including cash that was laying on his desk. I called my mother and bought a plane ticket for the United States.
I returned to the US seven months pregnant, frightened, and uncertain about my future . I went to live with my mother. But, my husband called my mother every day telling her how much he loved me and wanted a second chance. Finally , he came to stay with my mother and me because, as he said, “A baby must have a father.”
On a warm spring morning, I gave birth to a son. It was the most beautiful moment of my life. I knew what love at first sight was because I felt it immediately for my tiny little boy who depended on me for everything . After his birth, my husband’s temper began to rear its ugly head again. I knew I had to get away and for good . I knew I couldn’t depend on my family because they were under his spell and thought the world of him. So I took my son and I ran. I went from place to place, friend to friend, shelter to shelter. Eventually, I ended up in a Baltimore domestic violence shelter. I was finally safe and away from my husband . And though I should have felt overjoyed, I was petrified. Alone, I had to start all over again. This time, with a baby son.
With only a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and no other tangible skills, I knew finding a job would not be easy. I tried temping agencies and volunteering but nothing seemed to be what I was looking for. Then my caseworker at the shelter recommended I check out the Caroline Center, a place known in the community for exceptionally good career training. I liked the Pharmacy Technician program since I loved math and precision. So, I applied and was invited to an interview. It felt like I waited an eternity but I finally got an answer. I was accepted! I realized that it was a new chapter in my life.
The first day I was a bit overwhelmed at being the only Caucasian in the group, but soon realized what an exceptional and kind group of women I had encountered . They all had stories of hardship and they all overcame difficulties that made them stronger. We began to bond in a way that I had never known was possible. We cried together, laughed together, shared our joys and our pains together. We developed a camaraderie and a sisterhood that surprised us all. And then, there was the staff at the Caroline Center. To a person, they were the most caring people I’d ever encountered. They believed in us and never gave up on us. Because of the women I studied with and the staff I confided in and learned from, I began to feel human again . I was no longer an insignificant nothing . I was a person! I have heard it said that a bird with a broken wing flies higher than all the others, once healed. I guess if life has taught me anything it is that strength is not earned in fearlessness but in the ability to face our fears and reclaim our humanity.
Postscript: Domestic and relationship abuse is not the stuff of fairy tales turned horror stories. It is all too real and happens far too often. One woman is too many. Help us help other brave women find the courage they need to reclaim their humanity and start anew. Click here to learn how.