Almost 4 years ago, I sat down and wrote out a blog piece about the birth of my first grandchild. It’s a piece of writing I’m proud of. It was one of those times when the words poured from me without pause or editing… they simply flowed from the heart as they were meant to be.
I love the words and the poetry of them… telling the story of those first moments after that precious child came into the world. But as much as I love the words and despite my pride in how well inspiration and language came together, I have a hard time reading it.
In that piece of writing I shared about the moment when a family came into being. A joy it was my privilege to witness… but in the year that followed, that poignantly captured dream became a nightmare.
I watched as the father of my granddaughter began to drink more and more often. Watched as he became physically threatening to my daughter. Watched as she desperately tried to convince us and herself he needed to be in his child’s life. Watched, with a sense of helplessness I can’t ever put into words, knowing my power as a parent had limits. Watched as my adult daughter made choices about this increasingly violent young man I had no right to change.
I’ve never been a big fan of letting go. It’s painful and not a natural part of my skill set.
But I’d learned as a mother that you can only hold so tight to your children without smothering them. You can’t clip their wings and when they choose to fly, you have to let them… even knowing they might fall.
I didn’t agree when they insisted he’d feel more like a man and provider if they moved out to their own place. All I could see was his attempt to isolate my child and grandchild from their family’s support and influence. I didn’t agree with my daughter’s determination to hold her shaky family together at all costs. I didn’t agree with her decision not to leave him when his rage finally became physically abusive.
I didn’t agree when the court decided 3 weeks in county lock up was sufficient punishment for a man choking the mother of his child then driving drunk to flee the police. I didn’t agree with her decision to go back to him.
When he punched her so hard the entire left side of her face was unrecognizable and her entire eye red from burst blood vessels, it was all I could do not to hunt him down and flay him alive.
The day he walked into our home, wielding a butcher knife and demanding to talk to my daughter, I didn’t agree with her decision to talk to him.
When things went badly and he raised the knife, I didn’t agree with any of the 3 of us who tackled and disarmed him for kicking him out rather than killing him then.
I know why we chose to get him out and allow the police to take him… his 10 month old daughter would have witnessed our own violence.
I didn’t agree when my daughter continued to allow this man visitation with his daughter.
No one in the house slept peacefully in the next few weeks. We waited, pepper spray on a shelf by the door and loaded gun hidden in our room, for him to come back.
I spent those nights fantasizing about killing him. I spent those nights questioning the decision as parents to wait and allow our daughter to break ties with him on her own. I spent those nights agonizing over the fear of losing our child and grandchild to an out of control manchild desperate to regain control. I spent those nights weighing the options until I finally came to a decision.
We’d known for many months that among the countless lies he told, one of the most important was about his status as a citizen. We knew his papers were forged and he was in the country illegally. I began researching options only to find that there was little we could do. A restraining order is nothing more than paper. It provides no real protection. Our country’s domestic violence and stalking laws are laughable and pitiable all at once.
ICE was far more concerned with potential terrorists than a domestic violence case involving a 21 year old kid from Mexico.
But I made the call. I made the call without telling my daughter until after the fact. I made the call knowing I might drive her from the protection of our home by taking control of her life. I made the call only to get the run around and hear apologies and suggestions for victim’s support.
But I kept calling. I called repeatedly over the course of several days, demanding each time to speak with someone higher up until finally, finally, I spoke with someone who admitted that they only had the resources to go after violent criminals. I then asked this person what about a domestic violence conviction didn’t count as violence?
Finally, someone listened long enough for me to detail all we had witnessed. I poured out to a stranger every fear and nightmare I’d only shared with my husband. Finally someone agreed they had cause to act. He couldn’t make any promises but he would make calls and keep in touch with me until he could arrange a “raid” at his place of employment.
I didn’t hear back for 2 weeks. I’d given up that anything would happen.
The evening after we’d left him, passed out drunk on a bench in a Walmart, after he’d cursed and pushed my daughter before throwing money at her and storming away in a public place… After I’d reached my limit of waiting in the car so they could shop without my husband and I watching his every move… after I’d found my daughter with her daughter sobbing in the baby department… I finally got the call. If I could tell them when he’d be at work, they would pick him up and detain him.
I comforted my daughter for weeks as she sobbed her grief and regret… as she feared for her little girl growing up without a father… accepted her hope he’d ever change was gone… questioned her every decision since the day she told him she was pregnant… berated herself for believing him at all… held her as I silently raged at my powerlessness to ease her pain… choked on my own sense of guilt for not stopping it sooner and for being the one to set in motion the final crushing of her dream.
I wish I could say the nightmare ended there. I wish I could say that when he was finally deported, he didn’t immediately try to come back. I wish I could say my daughter wasn’t harassed by coyotes during the same time bodies were piling by the hundreds in Juarez.
But I can say he was caught trying to come back and he’s 1 year into a 10 year sentence in a federal prison. I can say that he no longer has any way to find my daughter, his daughter or any member of our family…
And I can also say without any hesitation whatsoever, that if he were to somehow ever find us again… and he’d be more likely to find my husband and me before ever finding our daughter… that if I’m ever face to face with him again, I’ll end him. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I could and would put a bullet in his brain before any rational argument for nonviolence could enter my thoughts.
For months, I have been writing in a blog which includes a background filled with family photos. The background was created almost 4 years ago, just after the birth of our second granddaughter, 3 months younger than her cousin. This background includes pictures of the man his daughter, who should have been too young to remember, talks about as the bad guy with the knife who was in her first birthday photo.
I know I could simply remove the background… but a website change has been coming for some time. It’s time to move on from that place, and with it, the silence I’ve kept about the nightmare of violence that held our family for that year.
A couple of weeks ago, this bright, talkative, nearly 4 year old girl blurted out to me the story of the time Pawpaw took the knife from the bad guy… and everything I’ve tried to emotionally bury about that time came rushing over me in a crashing wave.
Since that day, every day, some new story of domestic violence has crossed my tablet. Facebook, Google, Twitter, the news… it’s everywhere… and each new story reignites the rage I’ve tried to quiet and control since the man who haunts his own biological child’s dreams as the “Bad Guy” first raised his hand to my pregnant daughter.
I’m not going to go back and reread or proof what is written here tonight. It’s an incomplete but true story, shared piecemeal with a trusted few and recently ranted about in 140 character or less… but which I’ve never truly told until tonight.
It’s my story, not my daughter’s because her story is hers alone to truly share… and she does. I’ve watched her blossom into an incredible woman of strength who is unafraid to speak out and act against domestic violence. I’ve seen her share her story with other young women trying to find the courage to leave… and do so with what I can only describe as fierce compassion.
Don’t dare judge my daughter or my family for putting up with what we did. You cannot know until you live it how you will handle a given situation. You can’t know what it is to live something using only your imagination and sense of self-righteousness.
If you take anything from this, I hope it’s a greater awareness of a nightmare all too common. I hope you take with you a shred of rage… not to haunt or hurt… but enough to speak up if you see someone hurting another. I hope you take away a sense of determination to act if someone you know or love is in danger. I hope you take away a sense of compassion for those who feel trapped and unable to escape… enough compassion that if you know such a person you choose to love and support them as they fight to break free and heal.
More than all that, I hope you take away an understanding that silence can damage, destroy and kill… not just the body but the spirit, the hopes and the dreams.
So speak up. Never let silence win.