Let me see if I can get through this. Our separation was crazy. There’s no other way to describe it. I will take full responsibility for my part. Some of you who have been supporters, fans of my writing and our story might find yourselves judging, even hating my choices and actions. I won’t lay blame or speak of anything but my own part. Besides, there is NO excuse.
“Let’s get you down here and get ya yer kids back,” he promised. I truly felt that I had lost everything and everyone I knew and loved. I was desperate and foolish. So, I went to Tennessee and lived with a family there. Yes, there was a man. My shame is beyond what I can bear, even still. My children were left motherless for three months. It isn’t fair that I skip this part. I meant to keep it private. But they deserve better. I’m better than the catastrophic choice I made. I feel like I might vomit. That’s how hard this is, setting my privacy aside, being vulnerable, laying bare my shame for anyone to see. This will take some time to get through writing.
I packed everything I could fit into my duffel suitcase. Took a taxi to the airport where a ticket was waiting for me. I remember little of the journey. I cried the entire time. How I got through Chicago O’Hare airport to a connecting flight to Knoxville is beyond me. Arriving in Knoxville, I then rode in a pickup for how long, I don’t know, to get to Smithville. A family awaited me there, opening their arms and home to me. I thought I was going to receive help and love. The home consisted of his parents, daughter, grandfather, sister, her two children, Scott, and then me.
I soon found myself living at the mercy of a monster. His family did nothing to help me. I stayed in a basement room with no windows. There were cave crickets everywhere, the ceiling, the walls, the floor. The home was a filthy pig sty. I cried non stop. I saw my children everywhere, it seemed. Any blond-haired little boy was one my babies. I pictured my son, Ben, stoic, even at the age of seven. He cried rarely. But when he did, his eyes welled with tears, no expression on his face. His tears would well until they simply ran down his sweet face in complete silence.
Scott treated me with sympathy, concern, and consoled me the first two days. On the third day, we were riding in his pickup. I was crying, when suddenly the switch went off. He pulled over and yelled at me, “That’s enough! I’m sick of yer wallerin. Ya need quit thet shit NOW!” I was shocked into submission. I would save my tears for when he was at work, for when I was in the dungeon, completely isolated from the world.
He was often angry with me and found ways to punish me. I was denied phone calls home. My greatest comfort was a little girl, McKayla Shae. She was three years old and full of joy and mischief, often running around in nothing but her underwear, sun tanned, wild long golden brown curly locks of hair flying everywhere as she danced and sang. She had big brown eyes, and she took to me. I held her as often as she would let me. My arms were bare. My body physically aching for my children. One night we were watching the CMT award show, McKayla was curled up on my lap, as I sat thinking of my own babies who were sure to be watching the show at home. What I had done, I don’t know. He suddenly yanked her off my lap, spanked her, plopped her down hard on the floor, and said, “Go on! Git yer ass off here! Sit yerself there and don’t ya move!” She sat, little wildling that she was, inching her seat closer to me until she was at my feet, her sweet head leaning against my leg. I glanced down at her tear stained face, and our eyes met. I tried to convey comfort to her with my eyes, her big brown eyes staring up at me with love and now contentment. We were both hurting, and denied comfort, punished for reasons neither of us could know. I was helpless to protect her, helpless to comfort my own hurting bewildered children at home.
Another day, I went with Scott’s sister to Walmart. She purchased necessities for me. I also picked out a small lamp, as the lighting in the room I stayed in was harsh. I only wanted a soft light to soothe me as I was stuck in that dungeon for hours at a time. He arrived home before we did that day. I was greeted with anger, “I come home after a hard days work and where the fuck were you? Out spending my money on this shit!” He held up the tiny lamp. It was nearly a week before I earned the privilege of that lamp. “I expect your ass here when I get home!” His family had never before intervened. But this time his sister stuck up for me, “Scott, the rest of this is things a woman needs. Yer showin’ yer ass right now! I paid for it. Keep yer fuckin’ money!” This did not sit well. He was having none of it, “You need mind yer business, bitch! And watch that mouth of yer’s. Ya stay the fuck outta this, ya here me? She’s mine and I’ll pay for her damn shit!” He owned me. I was a possession, a prisoner at his merciless hands.
That night, I was punished by being forced to sleep with no clothes or covers, ceiling fan turned on high. “Can I please just have a sheet or a t-shirt?” I begged. I was denied with, “Ya done fucked up. Now lay there and don’t ya fuckin’ move a muscle or a inch!” I obeyed until I couldn’t hold my water any longer. It was pitch black, but I could tell by his breathing that he was sleeping soundly. I carefully inched my way off the bed, hoping the sound of the cave crickets squashing under my feet would not wake him. I was used to the crickets squashing under my feet, but one fell on me from the ceiling. It took everything in me not to react. No door hinge has ever sounded so loud or terrifying to me. I prayed I would not encounter anyone in the hallway, at the shame of my forced undignified nudity. I didn’t dare turn on a light nor flush the toilet. Yet he was awake when I returned. I was afraid of what his reaction would be. I was let off easy, “Ya done gone and woke me. Use the damn bathroom before ya get into bed from now on. I ain’t puttin’ up with bein’ woked up in the middle a the night.” I apologized, laid down, defiantly turning my back to him. “Oh hell no. Ya don’t ever turn yer back on me. Lay yerself on yer back and don’t ya move again.” I think my affinity for linens and nice pajamas stems from that particular punishment, his favorite and most severe punishment.
We went on a fishing trip to Florida, meeting up with his brothers in Kissimmee and dropping his daughter back at her mother’s home from her summer visitation. We went to Sanibel Island to fish. It was strange that no one questioned my presence, nor even my existence. By then I knew my place, to be seen, look pretty, and not heard from. I remember saying something at dinnertime with everyone there. It made them all laugh. My eyes darted to him, and I knew he was furious. Of course, he couldn’t inflict anything on me but the silent treatment. Everywhere we went I thought of the kids. Any moment of joy was quickly replaced with guilt, shame, and remorse. The telling of this is not to vindicate me, nor to evoke sympathy. My choice led me to that existence. What I went through, I deserved. It was nothing compared to what my estranged husband and babies were going through at home. However, this is part of me and part of them, who we are and what we’ve become.
When Scott went on the road for work, I went with. I spent days in the hotel room, not allowed to leave the hotel without him. We were in Merrillville Indiana when Serrah’s birthday came around. I thought hard about calling her. Ultimately I decided to err on the side of calling and possibly upsetting her, rather than causing her more pain by not calling. I didn’t want to upset her on her birthday, yet I could not, would not let the day go by without the phone call. I woke, a bundle of nerves. I was going to be taking a huge risk. I dared not use the phone in the room. I scrounged up every bit of change I could possibly find and went out to find a pay phone. How hard could it be? I started nearby at the restaurants that surrounded the area to no avail. I crossed the highway to more businesses, still no phone. I eventually found myself at a huge mall, nervous at how far away from the hotel I was, hedging my bet that I could return before Scott did. In the farthest recess of the mall, I finally found a phone. I never thought to ask. I was already conditioned to talk to no one, even when he wasn’t around. I deposited my huge fistful of change into the phone and dialed, riddled with anxiety and excitement, having no clue how much time I had purchased. I inhaled deeply, mustering courage, “Hi can I talk to Serrah?” Lyle’s girlfriend answered. I’d never spoken to her and had no idea what to expect when I heard her voice. “She’s with her friends having fun, but I’ll see if she’ll come to the phone. It seemed forever, and I prayed my minutes would hold out. “Hi Mama,” Serrah answered as if no time or space between us was of any consequence. I was relieved, timid. “Happy Birthday, sweetie. Are you having a good day?” “Yeah, I’m having fun with my friends. I gotta go, Mama.” My heart was breaking, yet relief also was present at the reassurance that her day was going well. “Ok, honey. I love you.” There was something in her voice. Was it anger or resentment I was hearing? “Love you too, Mama. Bye.” Jannell’s voice came back on the phone. I timidly ventured, “Are any of the other kids around? How are they doing?” I couldn’t blame her for her response, “They’re all across the street at the soccer complex playing.” There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice, “How do you think they’re doing?” I wanted off the phone as quickly as possible. “Yeah, I know. Thanks for taking care of them.” “Not a problem. We’ll all be fine,” click! She wasn’t wrong. I sighed, and the tears began. My babies were playing, and my birthday girl was having fun. Serrah would know I hadn’t forgotten, so my mission was complete. Not a birthday of her’s has ever come and gone without me remembering that day, and knowing the gift of celebrating each one of my children’s birthday ever since. Suddenly I felt panicked. I needed to focus on where I was in the monstrous mall, completely turned around, having no idea where I was, and facing the challenge of getting back to the hotel before Scott did. I hadn’t realized how much ground I covered. The walk back was nerve wrecking, and seemed vast, taking forever. But I made it back.
Scott’s partner, Willie, surprised me one night as we returned from dinner. He was near me, Scott nowhere to be seen, “You know you can ride back with me, come stay with my wife and me. We’ll get you home.” I was suspicious. Was this a test? “Thanks, but I’m staying with Scott.” He looked at me with the kindest eyes, and I knew he was sincere, “You might could be afraid of him, but I ain’t.” I hoped he saw in my eyes what I tried to convey, gratitude and hope, pleading for rescue. It was the beginning of a plan to get me home, though I didn’t realize it yet.
It was the middle of the third month when Lyle let me in on what they were up to. After talking to the kids one night, Lyle got on the phone. “I’ve been talking with Willie. We’re going to figure a way to get you outta there.” Terrified that someone might be listening on another line, I took the chance, “How? There’s no way I can get out of here. Someone is always watching me.” He was unwavering. I thought He was crazy, “We’re working on it. I’ll keep you posted.” All of the possible consequences ran through my mind, “Scott will kill Willie if he finds out.” Typical Lyle, “Yeah well, don’t you worry about that motherfucker. Willie can handle Scott.”
Then a miracle happened. One night, I overheard Scott’s sister and mother, “You need to get her back there to settle her divorce. This just ain’t right, Scott.” I was all ears in the next room. “This ain’t none of y’all’s business,” he was having none of it. My heart sank. His mom put her foot down, “Damit, Sott. I ain’t askin’. I’m tellin’!” His sister chimed in, “If ya ain’t gonna pay for it, we will. But she needs to get back there!” He caved! “Fine. Fuck it!” He threw up his hands as I walked into the room. I knew I would be punished again, but that night I slept flat on my back freezing, waiting for cave crickets to fall, but with the knowledge that I was going home.
Scott was angry as I packed, watching my every move. “Oh, hell no. That ain’t goin’ with ya.” I looked at him bewildered. He picked through my things, setting aside all of the things that meant the most to me. Th hardest was a book that Lyle and the kid gave me on our last Christmas. There was a note written inside, and it was signed by everyone. My heart was beating out of my chest, yet they were just things. So be it. “That’s fine,” I forced my face to give nothing away. As far as he knew, I would be back. I had a round trip ticket that would be taking me one way, and that was home to my babies. He could keep my things. That next year, the kids gave me a new copy of the book, appropriately titled Undaunted Courage by Stephen E Ambrose. Of course, I cried. I’m a crier.
Four in the morning, as we were loading my suitcase into the back of the truck, I witnessed the only meteor shower I’ve ever seen. It was glorious, breath-taking. It will forever remind me of the day I began to live again, the day I was set free, the moment that changed my life forever. That glorious meteor shower ushered in my second chance at life and motherhood. It’s indelibly etched in my mind. The ride to Nashville was quiet except for Scott’s bitching. “You done cost me a fuckin’ fortune, girl.” I didn’t know how to respond, yet I sat silently with the knowledge that he could never punish me again. As we stood at the boarding gate, there was no hug or kiss, no “goodbye,” nor “I love you.” He simply got as close to my face as he could get, hands on my shoulders as if he were about to shake me, “If you don’t come back, I’m burnin all yer shit.” Part of him knew. I wasn’t about to blow it, “I’ll be back. Promise.” He was cold as Ice, “Ya fuckin’ better.”
As the plane got close to Fargo, I looked at the familiar surroundings from the sky. I was home. Yes, I was home. I was a shattered human being, more broken than I could have ever imagined, but I would heal. My mom and dad tenderly began to put together the shards that were left of me. I grew strong in faith. I knew God had moved mountains to get me where I was. And as I grew stronger, my mission became clearer and stronger. I came back from the abyss with a vengeance. I would live my life to serve my kids. I would love the heck out of them, and nothing else in life has mattered more since.
Have I forgiven myself? I do, and then take it back. Then I forgive myself again. It doesn’t matter. I can’t change it. I can only move forward, spending the rest of my life with one goal, to do anything for my kids, to be available twenty-four/seven. That was nineteen years ago. We lived a nightmare that has faded to a distant memory.
I’ve been watching a friend go through something similar. She’s a prisoner and trying to escape to get back to her children. I listened to the severity of her situation this morning, and it became crystal clear to me, what I was to write today. I was reliving it in my mind anyway. I can never give my children back the time I was away, but if something good can come of telling my story. If there can be some meaning to it all, I would do anything to get this wonderful woman back to her children. I was brought back from an abyss and my life restored. She deserves the same chance. gf.me/u/bc8th2 is the address of her go fund me page, if you wish to help.
I realize this post is ridiculously lengthy. My thanks to everyone who is still reading at this point. It is a story I needed to tell. I’m acknowledging my children. It might seem as if this is my story, but it really is their story, a story about their courage and the grace they gave me. Unfortunately, it’s a story more common than anyone realizes. What I want to convey more than anything, what is paramount, is that this story is about second chances. “If it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.” Gregory Alan Isakov