The Story of Jasmine
Written by Holly DeHerrera
Monica wanted to see her boyfriend, so I went along with it, even though I knew Mom would whup my butt if she found out I’d ditched school. I couldn’t afford to lose friends by being a rule-follower. Besides, Monica didn’t put me down like the others, and I owed her for that.
We stepped into the apartment, where a group of older guys stood around the room talking. Monica spotted her man, Mark, and the two disappeared through a door. I folded my hands in front of me, then commenced looking around awkwardly. What am I supposed to do while she does who knows what with her boyfriend?
“Hey, there.” One guy approached me as if he knew I needed to be rescued. I could tell he wasn’t 15 like me. He had to be in his 20s.
“Hi.” I didn’t have moves like Monica. I wasn’t used to talking to older guys and holing up in rooms with them, so I just looked up at him and smiled so he’d know that I appreciated him caring.
“I’m Derek. What’s your name?” He rubbed a dry hand over his prickly jaw.
“Jasmine,” I said, feeling uncomfortable with my friend gone.
He eyed me for a minute, then raised his eyebrows. “Feel like watching some TV?”
I figured it was better than standing around waiting like an idiot. “Sure.”
He led me to a room upstairs, but there was nothing in it, no furniture or anything, just a hollow room. I stepped over to the window and looked out at the street below. Busy people holding bags walked by, some with hands in pockets or standing on the street waiting for the traffic to ease before crossing to the other side. Cars honked at the traffic light.
I looked over my shoulder, then turned because I could feel Derek approaching from behind. “There’s no television,” I said. “How are we gonna watch TV?”
He squinted his eyes like I was a fool. “You know we didn’t come up here to watch no television.” And then he shoved me so hard I fell backward, my tailbone making contact with the dirty floor. Pain seared up my back as he dropped down like a weight on me.
I blinked rapidly, wondering what was happening.
No, no, no, no!
But he was so strong and his hands so forceful. I heard my own whimper above the sound of his ragged breathing in my ear. Please, no! But then he was stripping away my barriers, and I didn’t scream or tell him to stop or beg him to let me go home. The only thing I did was cry.
Just because he wasn’t my biological father didn’t mean he wasn’t the nicest daddy around, even after going to the doctor’s to get his blood all cleaned out and put back in. He sat on the recliner in the living room looking tired but still offering his biggest grin, and I couldn’t help but crawl up into his lap for a snuggle. He’d been in the military but had gotten sick and couldn’t work anymore, so he stayed home with us kids while Mom went to her job every day.
“How’s my baby girl today? Doing all right?”
I rubbed my hands over his fuzzy black hair, then down his chocolate-colored face and nodded. Then I told him all about my day at school and about wanting to take cello lessons and about the funny thing my teacher said. He listened like he had nothing better to do in the whole wide world.
Mom came home dressed real nice and her hair pulled back in a pretty bun, and she eyed me on Daddy’s lap but didn’t say anything. Pretty soon, dinner was ready, and we all sat around the table. I knew better than to jabber on with Mom there like I’d done with Daddy. She said not to talk unless I was spoken to, but sometimes I felt like my tongue might just forget. Then I’d be in trouble for sure. Mom loved us, but she didn’t have sweet words for me like Daddy, and she didn’t waste time on cuddles or long talks. Nope. She acted like those things might make me forget my place. Like kindness would spoil me clean through.
When I started my period, it was Daddy I told. He didn’t make me feel ashamed. He just got me the supplies I needed. When I had a bad day, he’d listen and nod and say, “It’s all gonna work out, Jasmine. It’ll be all right.”
So the day when he sat there with his eyes so, so sad, Mom sitting straight as a board from her place on the couch with all us kids gathered around, saying words like, “Things are gonna be different now,” I knew everything had turned upside down.
I watched Daddy’s mouth because I knew he’d make it plain. He cleared his throat and said, “We love you guys. This is not your fault, but things are gonna change. Your mom and I aren’t going to live together anymore. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t love you. Understand?”
We all mumbled, “Yes, sir,” but I lied.
I didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how I’d live without his gentleness calming the churning in my chest.
We moved from the suburbs of Philadelphia to a cramped and shabby apartment on the busy urban streets of the Olney area where cars and sirens and hollering could be heard more often than birdsong. When I asked why I couldn’t just live with Daddy, Mom said that he wasn’t my real daddy, anyway, and he would be keeping his real kids, not me. Said he didn’t want me anymore. Daddy had never treated me any different from his other kids, so I couldn’t believe Mom’s words, but they had to be true if she said them. I missed him so much my chest hurt, and I missed my sister, Hayley, too. Nothing felt the same — even the air didn’t even smell the same. It smelled like the trash needed taking out and old urine.
The subway train rumbled as it sped over the track. I looked out the window, my chin in my hand, and watched the flicker of fluorescent light on the cement pillars and walls we passed. I could see the faint reflection of my face in the smudged glass with the world whizzing by without my say-so. This was my daily commute to school, and it felt like I barreled headlong to a place I’d rather run from, where I didn’t fit.
I sat at the lunch table with my leather jacket sagging over the back of my seat, trying to pretend I enjoyed eating alone. Laughter and the buzz of conversation echoed like we were in a metal chamber heightening and magnifying the sound. Magnifying my isolation.
Some loud girl cackled and said, “I don’t see why she don’t go back to her white school. She act more white, anyhow.” I pretended not to hear, pretended to be far, far away in Daddy’s living room, telling him how I hated it at my new high school, and how I wished everyone would just quit bothering me, saying I don’t talk or dress black. I wanted to ask him how come people minded so much about all that. I didn’t know how to change being me.
I wanted to ask him why he didn’t want me anymore, too. I swallowed down the ache in my throat, washing it down with a lukewarm swig of milk from the small carton.
“What’s going on, Jasmine?” Monica plunked herself on the seat beside me and grinned. She was the only one who didn’t dog me constantly. I wouldn’t have trusted her to defend me or anything, but it was nice having at least one person to talk to. “What happened to your jacket?”
I turned and snatched it off the back of my chair only to find slashes in the back.
Monica laughed and said, “That’s just wrong.”
“Wanna go with me? I’m going to see Mark.” I knew all about Monica’s boyfriend, who wasn’t even in high school anymore, and even though I didn’t really want to go with her, I didn’t want to be at school, either. None of the teaching challenged me since I’d gotten so far ahead at my old school, and I had way too much downtime to just think.
“All right,” I said.
So we left, took the subway to Broad Street and went into a redbrick duplex. Monica took off the minute she spotted Mark.
And I followed Derek up those stairs when he asked me to watch TV, believing he really just wanted to hang out. I didn’t do anything when he climbed on me like he belonged there, like my body was his place to occupy and conquer. I just cried and cried. Afterward, he rolled off me and stood as he tucked in his shirt. “Go wash up.”
You didn’t even say no. You didn’t fight. So, were you raped? Or did you just let it happen?
I did as I was told, the ache in my throat burning like I’d swallowed a ball of fire. I washed up, and I opened the bathroom door as quiet as I could to see if he was still there. But the room stood empty, and the place where he took a part of me looked the same. Nothing showed the violence of what had transpired there. But everything had changed inside me.
I took the steps down, tears flowing on autopilot, and I didn’t bother to wipe them away. They’ll never stop, anyway. I stepped out the front entrance into the humid day, and I walked and I walked down the city streets to my house, miles away. I walked and I cried, arms wrapped over myself because I felt so cold and so bare and so alone in the middle of the sweltering, packed-with-bodies city.
Traffic blurred past, and I watched the littered pavement, lined with cracks and jammed with debris, watched my feet carrying me to my home that wasn’t a home at all. I had no room, just a pillow and a blanket on the couch each night, barely ever seeing Mom because she worked so much. But that was all right.
I only wanted to get there and hide underneath the blanket’s protection and pretend that I was brave and that I was back on Daddy’s lap and that I was safe and that he was listening to me and saying it would be all right.
When my cycle didn’t start, I knew something wasn’t right. Naive as I was, I knew that at least. Strange things were happening to my body, things I couldn’t voice to Mom, but I told her that I needed to see a doctor, that my period was late, so she took me to the clinic just a few doors down from our apartment.
The doctor looked at Mom, then at me. “Well, the pregnancy test came back positive.” With me just being 15, he was wise enough not to act like we should celebrate the news.
I looked down at my hands, my fingers knotting so tight that my dark skin there looked ashy. My face felt so hot and my throat so dry, I couldn’t respond.
Mom didn’t say anything, either. We walked home in silence, into the apartment.
Once the door clicked shut, she turned on me. “You little ass! I knew this would happen!”
I couldn’t find the words to explain. She’ll be so mad if she knows I left school without permission. She’ll beat my butt for sure. Besides, she won’t believe me. She’ll say I’m making it up.
“Who is it?” she screamed in my face. Normally beautiful, she looked contorted and ugly yelling like that.
I only studied the linoleum flooring, wishing I could disappear inside it. The shake of my head only brought on more anger from Mom. “You don’t even know who it is?” She spit out profanity until I felt more like a roach than a girl.
After that, I got a job at a hair salon, sweeping up the pieces left behind after a cut — scraps of people and decisions and bad color choices, piled up and tossed away. If only I could make everything right that easily. My world was like that floor, all tangled and messy, but no matter how hard I tried, I never could make it clean. I listened as women droned on about their problems while the stylists clipped their hair and it feathered to the ground. My life narrowed to a pinpoint, a pattern with no getting off the cycle or hoping to make things different. School, salon, pregnancy checkups paid for out of my meager wages. Mom took on another job to help make ends meet, but it was never enough. One afternoon, Mom called me at work. “You’re going to have to get an abortion.” Her voice sounded like the edge of a razor over stubble.
Her words pummeled me like rocks thrown against my stomach. Despite how this child was conceived, through force and violence, I felt connected and was determined to follow it through. Why should this baby be punished for what he did? With strength I didn’t know I possessed, I growled into the phone, “If you make me kill my baby, I will never forgive you.” Didn’t matter in that one moment that I spoke that way to my mom.
Push a girl too far, and she’ll stand up and push back.
The line went dead, and I picked up my broom, my chest in knots, and began sweeping the hair into a pile again. The swishing sound calmed me, and the repetitive action slowed my heart rate.
I’m gonna make things right. I’m gonna raise this child to know love and to do more in life than clean up other people’s messes.
At my six-month checkup, the tech moved the ultrasound wand over my belly, all greased with clear jelly.
“See that?” She pointed at the gray-black screen at a roundish blob.
“That’s a head.” She smiled as she moved the wand again and added, “And see that?”
I took a stab at it. “The head again?”
She paused and waited until I looked her in the eye.
“No, it’s not the same head. It’s another head, Jasmine. You’re having twins.”
Hayley leaned her head on my shoulder and placed her hand over my belly. “I can’t wait to be an auntie!”
My stepsister had been staying for longer and longer visits, and I cherished the closeness that hadn’t dissipated after so long away from one another.
“You’ll be a great auntie, sister.” I sat up a bit. “Hey, I have a little money left over from work. Wanna get a pizza? I’m starving!”
“What, you think I’d say no to that?” We laughed, and I picked up the phone and ordered our dinner. I ate half the pizza before I started getting cramps in my belly. I wondered if I’d eaten too much. But the cramping didn’t let up.
“You should probably call the doctor, just to be sure this is normal,” Hayley said.
I hung up after that conversation, confused. “He said it was Braxley Hicks or something. I don’t know what he was talking about, but he said not to worry.”
But the intensity of the pain deepened. I called Mom, and she clarified that the doctor was probably referring to Braxton Hicks contractions, normal in the months leading up to delivery, but that they shouldn’t be that painful and continue that long and hard.
The pain clamped down, a deep, burning vise grip. The only thing that alleviated it a little was getting on my hands and knees and rocking, rocking. Mom entered the house and stood over me. “Show some decorum. What’s the matter with you?” She stood there, arms folded over her chest.
“This is the only thing that’s helping,” I said, pain pressing in again. I moaned and breathed out slow and steady.
Mom must have seen that no amount of scolding would make this go away, so she took me to the hospital. I walked the block down there, pain twisting in me like a drill every five minutes so that I could barely make it.
They checked me in, a flurry of people rushing around saying words like too early and C-section. They prepped me and, sooner than I would have expected, pulled out one, then another impossibly small baby from the center of my body. I was only able to brush my fingertips over their tiny heels before they were whisked away and flown into the sky to land and be attended to at a bigger hospital, where my babies would fight for their lives.
Tears burned my face as everything went dark.
I stayed in the hospital for eight days, a blur of one leading into another and then another. “When can I see them?” I needed to hold my children — a little boy and girl, I was later informed.
But I had pneumonia and gonorrhea — the second thanks to Derek and not a sign of an uncomfortable pregnancy, as I’d assumed — and I needed to remain on strong antibiotics and medications. Finally, they released me, and I stepped through the doors in the place where my babies lay without their mama and without names. Just baby girl A and baby boy B.
I looked at them through the see-through barriers incubating them, warming and nourishing them. I looked but couldn’t touch. My little boy was as small as my hand, and my girl was only slightly larger. Together they weighed less than a small sack of fruit. I gazed through the incubators at their bodies with tubes and lines taped here and there. And a profound love surged up, so deep and wide I knew that it reached to the very edges of my world and poured over.
I named my little ones Samuel and Samantha, their lives a gift I would do everything in my power to protect.
The routine began, as it had during my pregnancy, of me taking the train to school, then to work, then to the neonatal intensive care unit. Eventually, I was allowed to touch them, only lightly with my fingertips at first and, much later, holding them against my chest, skin-to-skin.
“I love you. I love you so much,” I whispered against the soft velvet fuzz of their faces. At night, I dropped into my place on the sofa, the smell of my babies still on my skin. I recorded my voice to be played for my little ones throughout the day — mimicking the comfort of hearing their mama almost constantly, a sound they would have received had they remained inside my belly until full term.
After eight long months of growth and strengthening tiny organs and muscles in the NICU, Samantha came home with me. I was told it would be best to first get her settled before bringing home my little boy, him being another high-need infant. She’d always been the healthier and stronger of the two. So I did. I brought her home and put her in the crib prepared for her so long before.
The following morning, I received a call that my little boy had flatlined and that they’d had to trach him, tapping in oxygen to his small lungs. Maybe losing the warmth of his sister left him too fragile to fight, but whatever the reason, my son did not come home that week as we’d hoped. He did not come home for two more years.
My days flitted by, time defined by my children, defined by the sweet in-between places where we cuddled together and laughed. The struggle remained a constant of how to do all and be all to these sweet treasures in my life. I graduated high school, and I eventually moved into my own place with them. As I decorated the space, our lives seemed to become our own. My little bubble of time with them was continually being popped because of having to work. The money was never enough with my minimum-wage options. So, I relied on friends and neighbors and my sister to fill in the spaces that I couldn’t.
When I worked late, my neighbor above me would meet the twins after school and make sure they ate and were tucked into bed. Another friend, when I didn’t have enough to feed my kids, would provide the other half of a ham and cheese sandwich.
“I’ll bring the ham,” I’d say into the phone.
“I’ll bring the cheese.” I could tell she grinned as she spoke.
In these ways, pockets of goodness and light dotted my otherwise isolated existence. It was just me and my kids, and I was mostly good with that.
Thunder rumbled and ricocheted through the windows overlooking the street. I knew to find Samantha and Samuel. “Come on.” I reached for my little boy’s hand, Samantha trailing behind. I snatched a flashlight just before the lights flickered and then went out entirely.
They knew the routine. I clicked on the flashlight, and we made our way to my room, where we climbed into bed, their warm bodies snuggled in on either side of me. I pulled the blanket over our laps and reached across for our favorite book of children’s poems, Where the Sidewalk Ends.
Together we giggled over the funny rhymes, and in time, the lights came back on with a flourish.
I’d been dating Dale for some time before his true colors emerged when thrown up against a backdrop of me changing our plans. He stepped in the front door, and I offered him my cheek.
“I’m just about ready,” I said, getting the kids settled with a movie. My neighbor would come down to babysit in a few minutes. Outside, through my front living room windows, the rain came down in sheets, and intermittent lightning punctuated the thunder.
I hoped it wouldn’t make the lights go out. The wiring in the apartment was temperamental and nearly always responded to storms with some downtime — as if it was too tired to keep things running when there was a storm wreaking havoc. I went into the kitchen to grab the flashlight, just in case, when all the electricity died.
Samantha and Samuel instinctively moved to me, expecting our routine of cuddles and story time.
The light from the setting sun left the room shadowy but not impossible to navigate. “Hang on, all right?” I said to the twins.
I walked over to where Dale waited and explained about how I couldn’t leave them like that, with the electricity out. I explained that they’d be scared; I’d have to wait until the lights came back on. Even though the rays fanning through the window offered minimal light, I could see the dark look Dale shot me. He crossed his arms over his chest and tipped his chin down.
“I’m sorry. But every time the lights go out like this, we have a routine.”
I didn’t wait for Dale’s approval. I just whisked my kids into my bedroom and shut the door behind me, locking it without knowing exactly why. We climbed onto the bed, pulled the covers over our laps and read Where the Sidewalk Ends. The thunder continued in the skies, flashes of purple-gray flickering across the space. The sound outside became broken by another one — things crashing and thumping and breaking in the living room.
What’s going on?
I pulled my little ones to my side when they looked up at me as if to see whether that ruckus was a part of the weather or something else. I only smiled and pulled them in tighter and read louder to make sure they knew all was well. The rain pounded the window, my heart pounding, too.
Finally, it stopped.
I told my babies to stay in the bed, and I pulled my door open carefully.
The place was empty — Dale must have left — but my kitchen chairs were tossed at odd angles across the room, like skeletons, landing where they were thrown. A scattering of glass glittered on the linoleum, and couch pillows slumped against the wall. He’d trashed the place because of having to wait, because I had put my children’s needs first.
I told Dale we were through. I told him my kids behaved better than he did.
He insisted that he didn’t know what had gotten into him, that he’d had a hard day and was just disappointed in not being able to have our date, but that wasn’t enough.
I didn’t need his kind of love.
Hayley called and said, “Jasmine, Dad wants to see your kids. He’s not doing well.”
“Why? Why would he care? He didn’t want me around; now he wants to know my kids?” I didn’t like the bitterness I heard in my own voice.
“He always wanted you. It was your mom who kept you away.”
The world seemed to tilt just then. Why would Mom lie? How could she be so cruel?
I brought my kids to see my dad, who looked ashy and frail. His kidney transplant was failing, and he didn’t have a good prognosis.
“Daddy, Mom said you didn’t want me anymore, that I wasn’t really yours, anyway.”
My kids swam in the apartment complex pool, squealing happily, oblivious to the sharp pain threatening to pierce me right through.
He covered my hand with his and said, “I don’t know why she said that. But I’ve missed you and love you, and I never wanted you to go.” His eyes glittered in the light of the setting sun. “Never.”
I struggled to keep from yelling out, “But I’ve missed all this time with you! I could have been with you. I wanted to be with you so much.” Tears dripped from my chin, and I swiped them away with the back of my hand.
“I know. But you’re here now.” He smiled gently, and I chose to treasure the time I had with him, regardless of the loss that hung over me.
Later, I spoke to Mom about it.
“Why, Mom? Why would you lie to me about that? Why did you say Daddy didn’t want me?”
She wouldn’t address it. She only moaned, “Why are you doing this to me? Why are we talking about this?”
I knew there would be no apology and no explanation.
Six months after my breakup with Dale, he called, said he’d gotten help and knew he’d be better and do better this time if I’d only let him prove it to me. So I did.
Dale was perfect after that. Thoughtful, attentive and never lashing out in anger. When he asked me to marry him, I said yes, much to the disapproval of my mom and sister.
The day of our wedding, I was getting my nails done when we experienced another torrential downpour, so much so that vehicles were floating down Broad Street. I called Dale and said, “Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe it means we shouldn’t be doing this.” Something in my chest told me to listen to the warning, to listen to the arguments my mom and sister gave that he was no good.
“Nah,” he said. “Rain is a sign of good luck.”
I married Dale that day.
None of my family attended.
We moved to Washington, D.C. with Dale’s job, and the nightmare unfolded steadily. First, it was little things, like him picking out my clothes for the day, insisting I look just so. Then he told me where I could and could not go while he was away at work.
The hitting followed soon after. Never the twins, only me. I received a beating whenever I stepped out of line. When I spoke up and said I’d leave, he screamed in my face, a wildcat spray of venom, “Who’s gonna love you and your bastard children?”
I shrank inside myself until it was as though I watched someone else going through the motions of life. As I curled inward, new life curled there, too. I had my baby girl, Hannah. Before she was a year old, Dale lost his job, and we moved back to Philly. He took me to my sister’s house and told me he’d be back once he got the rest of our things in D.C. Only, he had other plans. He called just a few hours after he’d left and said, “I’m not coming back. It’s over.”
I’d been uprooted, but I still had some strength to move forward — I had to, for my children. They deserved more. Lying down and dying wasn’t an option. Church had always been a part of my life, though it was a borrowed thing, a routine like everything else. I even sang in the church choir, lifting my voice to an almighty God whom I’d never truly encountered, at least not that I could see. But going to church made me feel more planted, less like something with no footing at all.
I began to feel settled again; I even moved in with Mom to help with some health issues ailing her. She’d calmed down, too, her words less biting and sharp.
But when Dale called out of the blue and said that he wanted me back and that he’d never filed for divorce, I felt I should be willing to try.
We moved into an apartment around the corner from Mom and played house again, but the old ghosts returned, and I fell into my place as the woman with no voice. Counseling at our church hadn’t improved anything.
One afternoon, the pastor leaned forward and said to both Dale and me, “You know God hates divorce. He wants kids to have both Mom and Dad around. He wants a whole, intact family. But he loves you more. Jasmine, God did not call you to be abused and to be treated like this.” He paused and looked at my husband. “And God did not call you to treat her like this.”
Though there were lulls in the violence, my husband would not be healed for good.
It was New Year’s Eve. The kids slept in their beds, and I lay on the couch, watching the flames in the fireplace dance and lick blue over the logs.
Dale had been gone for hours, but I didn’t mind. I needed a break from his overbearing presence. I listened as the fire crackled, closing my eyes.
I awoke to the squeak of the front door and Dale staggering inside. I pretended to be asleep, hoping he’d leave me alone — hoping my silence would keep him from finding cause to hurt me. I listened as he fumbled around in the kitchen, making far too much noise for the late hour, then I felt him standing over me, his frame breaking up the soft glow of the sluggish flames.
He pressed a knife up to my neck, and I blinked at him, fear nearly strangling me.
“I could kill you so easily,” he whispered. “It would be so easy.”
He waited and waited, his indecision like a living, breathing thing. My chest hurt from holding my breath. Then he dropped his hands to his side, the knife still gripped in his fist, and he turned and set the knife down as he staggered out of the house.
When the door closed behind him, I stifled a sob. “Jesus, I can’t do this anymore. The pain is too strong. I can’t fix this. I can’t fix my marriage. If I just went to sleep and didn’t wake up, I’d be okay with that.” I spoke my prayer into the quiet apartment, the only sounds coming from the ticking clock on the wall and from the soft hiss of the nearly extinguished fire. Though I’d been to church and knew all about God, none of my history with him had been personal. But I was desperate and knew nowhere else to turn.
I stood and shuffled to the kitchen when I spotted a bottle with brown liquid in the bottom. Dale must have left it there. I picked it up and carried it with me to the bathroom. I rummaged through the cabinets, looking for something to take, something to ease the pain and bring quiet.
All I could find to accompany the liquor was a bottle of aspirin, so I snatched that out and climbed into my bed. “I just don’t want to hurt anymore,” I cried, covering my face with a pillow to keep from waking my kids.
A day before, Mom had said, “I don’t know what it means, but I feel like you need to get ready for the fight of your life.” I hadn’t known what to make of her ominous prediction then, but it became clear. You’re right, Mom. But I don’t have any fight left in me. I’m just ready for it to be over.
“God, I’m ready to die.”
And in that space, which screamed with my sorrow, I somehow heard a clear voice say, “But what about your kids? Who will take care of them?”
I answered the voice, though I had no idea whose it was. “My sister. She’ll take them in.”
There was no delay in the response. “You know Dale won’t let them ever see Hannah again.”
I curled into a ball in the center of my bed and just cried. “But I’m so tired.”
And the words that came next felt like warm liquid poured over my hair. “Give it to me. Give me your pain.”
I was tired of holding it all in like a water balloon filled with gasoline. The ache hadn’t gone away with just pressing forward, going through the motions. No amount of being busy did the trick. And on the underside of all the doing, doing, doing was a little girl who ached to say the hard words, let out the burning anger toward Dale and Mom and even Dad, the burning loneliness, too, and be seen and healed. I cried and cried, and I curled up on my Daddy’s lap and let him have it all. Even though the situation with Dale remained the same, I trusted that the maker of heaven and earth heard me and would never, ever leave me. He’d been there all along, extending his care through the hands of the nurses and volunteers who held my babies in those first years, in the smile of my neighbor who brought the cheese for the sandwiches we put together for our kids, in my sister who cared for my babies and who cared for me, in the woman upstairs who tucked my kids in late at night when I had to work. I could see it clearly, the way they’d lifted me and held me up.
Jesus had always been there, using people to reach out and help when I didn’t have it in me to do it all. He’d only waited for me to choose to let go of the pain and offer it up to him.
Though I had a newfound security knowing I could give every hurt to the Lord, my marriage disintegrated into dust.
Dale threatened me again one morning, holding the knife up to my chin, a glint of hatred in his eye. This time, I scrambled away from his grasping hands and ran down the steps and yanked my car door open, locking myself inside. He bared his teeth as he screamed at me through my car window.
Jesus, help me. Please.
As I struggled to push the button to lock the doors, he shoved a heel into my headlights, shattering them, then used the knife to slash one of my tires. I punched 911 into my phone and waited, then told the dispatcher where I was and to please hurry. Dale ripped my windshield wipers off and continued to scream, pounding his fists on my hood. I waited and waited for the police, but they never came. Hours later, Dale gave up and stalked off, getting in his car and peeling out onto the road.
I ran up the apartment steps to get my kids, who’d been huddled inside, and drove the 10 miles to my mom’s on only three inflated tires. Along the way, I tried to reach AAA, but the woman on the line said Dale had canceled our account. Then I pulled up to an ATM to get money to repair my vehicle and found that our bank account had been drained to nothing.
I stayed with Mom, and finally, Dale filed for divorce. Even when that went through, I’d come out to my car on a cold morning only to find all four of my tires slashed, or I’d see him in my rearview mirror following me. Even with the restraining order, he haunted me.
One day when we met so I could drop off Hannah, since he had half custody, I drew the courage to tell him, “You keep following me and bothering me. One of these days you’re gonna realize that someone is following you.” I bluffed, but he seemed to believe I’d do it and backed off.
The end of my marriage meant a new beginning for me. I knew I needed to set some things straight. Having things squared with Jesus made me see the need for truth in the places I’d hidden, the pain I’d curled up around. Mom sat in her chair with her hair pulled back from her face. I sat across from her. I told her about how my twins were conceived, and she looked down at her hands for the longest time, then up at me.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered.
“You wouldn’t have believed me. You had already decided I was just sleeping around.”
She didn’t deny it and only offered a quiet “I’m sorry.”
“Mom, I don’t know why you do the things you do. I still don’t understand why you said Daddy didn’t want me, making me miss all that time with him and making me have to live here when you knew I just wanted to go home. But I choose to forgive you. I’m choosing to walk in love.”
A measure of healing began between us.
I began to soak in the word of God, studying the verses from the Bible and finding my grounding in the truth I found there. I went to college and completed a business management degree. And for the first time, my kids and I received counseling for the trauma inflicted by others. I believed that my future involved reaching out to hurting people and knew I needed to be whole and healed first, in order to not spill my past wounding on others.
Then, I knew it was time to share pieces of my story as opportunities arose. When I saw pain in the eyes of people I met, I gently told what I felt would help them know that I understood suffering, and then I shared about giving it all to Jesus. None of it is wasted. He allows it all to be used for good.
I met Zach during this time of rebirth and saw the differences in the plan of God versus my own. This man loved the Lord and asked me to pray about a relationship with him. I knew from the start that he wasn’t about himself but about living for Jesus. There was no forcing or manipulating, only gentleness and truth. We married and both invested in our relationship, knowing it needed to be fostered to grow and remain healthy. We began attending Macedonia Ministries and were drawn in by the message of the church ultimately being “out there” — speaking to and connecting with everyday folks in the community — versus merely staying within the walls of the building. I longed to talk to people and share what I’d dealt with, how I’d found joy. It seemed like so much of my life had been about going through the motions, doing what needed to be done, watching from the other side of the window, not really letting myself get out there away from the sidelines. But I was ready for a new thing to happen. I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I knocked on her door and waited. She eyed me for a good long while before pulling the door open. I’d gone every week to check on her, bringing food or diapers. At first, she’d considered me uppity, taking in my clothing and hair and way of talking. Just like in high school, the educated way that I communicated put some people off, making them assume I’d lived a charmed life.
“I understand what you’re going through,” I’d told this single mom who lived on the brink of poverty.
That first visit, when I’d stopped by to introduce myself and asked if there was anything she needed, she’d only eyed me.
“What could you possibly help me with?” She huffed and turned. “How could you understand anything?”
I shared my story of being a teenage mom of twins conceived through rape. I told her about my abusive marriage and that I’d stayed in it far too long. And I told her about that night when I wanted nothing more than to die.
“But God met me there, and he took my pain on himself.”
She listened and opened the door a fraction wider. She seemed to be processing the words, weighing them for authenticity. “It’s not a Sunday.”
I smiled. “I know that.”
Her posture relaxed, and she looked at me this time, really looked. And she said, “I could use some milk.”