The girl was feeling exhausted but happy when she pulled her car into her driveway. She’d run one of the last high school cross-country meets of the season, and she’d placed well. Her mother had gone to watch her and told her daughter to meet her back at home to celebrate the victory.
Their house was lit up as the girl got out and walked down the drive, but it was pitch black outside. It was late autumn, and the sun had set hours earlier.
As she approached her back door, she spotted pieces of fried chicken strewn in front of her, as if someone had gleefully thrown a bucket of it into the air. A leg, then a breast, then another leg were spread out before her. She felt unnerved by the deep-fried scene.
She went inside to meet her brother and sister dividing Halloween candy on the kitchen counter into categories of delicious and merely OK. All seemed well.
“Did mom buy KFC?”
She had to pee so badly that she didn’t wait for an answer from her siblings, bounding up the stairs to take the wee she’d been longing to take for at least an hour.
It was then, while she was in mid-pee, that she heard the freakish sound she would never forget. It was a high-pitched sound, like a deranged owl, but alarmingly human. Her body flooded with adrenaline.
Her sister threw open the bathroom door, and for an instant the girl thought to protest in anger. Then she saw her sister’s terrified face.
“That was mom.”
The girl pulled up her trainers and flew downstairs. She pulled open the back door, letting the nightmarish scene flood in – a scene that would divide her into two girls: one before, and one after.
It was her mother standing there with a man’s arm around her neck. He was hiding behind her mom’s tiny frame so that the girl, presumably, could not see his face. The back deck light glared on her mother’s panicked eyes, and there was a terrible pause.
“Jami, close the door and lock it. Call 911.”
The girl protested but was finally obedient. She was learning a new level of fear that was so violently foreign to her, despite what she’d already endured in her young life. She closed the door, locked it, and stumbled toward the phone. Grabbing the receiver off the wall, she pushed the buttons 9-1-1.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“There is a man in my back yard, and he’s trying to hurt my mom.”
“Ok. Are you alone?”
The girl exhaled in exasperation, putting her forearm smooth across the counter and sweeping every last bit of candy off the surface and into mid-air. She heard the pieces bounce off floor and land with slow-motion individuality.
“Can you just get someone here? Someone is trying to kill my mother.”
“Ok, just stay calm. Are you alone?”
“No, I’m with my brother and sister. They’re with me in the house.”
“Ok. We need you to see stay on the line. Try to stay calm, and I’m going to ask you some questions.”
The girl slammed the phone down and ran to the back door, unlocking and flinging it open, desperately wanting to see her mother still standing there.
But she was gone. The back light that had shed light on her mom’s beautiful face just moments before, now only shed light on blackness.
The girl ran out into the night with a fear that denied the safety of her own life. She screamed the name of the one person that meant more to her than anything.
It was as if the weakness from her cross-country race had left her completely. Her exhausted body suddenly knew no tiredness. She flew, as if she had wings, to the edge of their half-acre property. In the black night, she ran down the hill and through the woods.
She ran back toward the light of the house after several minutes of searching the back yard. She imagined her mother being raped. She imagined her mother being pulled into a car where she would be tortured and murdered.”
She saw the man standing there in the drive. He had curly black hair, the only evidence she had spotted behind her mother’s panicked face. He looked familiar but was still too far away to identify.
He ran from the house and in the direction of the city, and she ran after him. He ran, and she ran, down city blocks in the night, and she lost him, agonizing over the possibility of never see her mother again.
The girl finally stopped and looked down at the dark sidewalk. No 16-year old female track star would catch up with a full-grown man running in terror of being caught for whatever hideous crime he’d just committed.
She turned back to scour the property of her own house. It was the only thing she could think to do. Prayer was beyond her in these moments. It was only hysterical will pulsing within the instinct of a young woman who could simply not live without her mother.
And as she screamed her mother’s real name, she saw her mother stumbling down the drive.
Her mother had lost all control of her bladder and bowels. She’d been kicked under the deck and left for dead.
And as the girl approached her mother in the driveway with suddenly no energy left, she could see that every blood vessel in her mother’s eyes had burst. Her eyes were literally blood red. She had been strangled, and the girl learned later that her mother had thought herself dead until she heard the girl, her eldest child, screaming her name.
The police pulled up, and then the ambulance. It was all a blur from there for the girl.
Years later, she only remembered kneeling beside her mother as she lay on her grandmother’s couch the following day, eyes still blood red. The young girl swore to herself that she would not leave her mother’s side ever again. She would protect her.
The man had called the girl’s
older step-brother later that night, his own flesh-and-blood:
“I killed the bitch.”
He thought he had.
My step-father had run from me that night, leaving behind the broken glasses my mother had torn from his face as she’d tried to escape him. He went on to try to kill himself in Illinois by opening a gas line in his father’s trailer, one state over and a four-hour drive away. My step-brother must have alerted someone, as he was rescued soon into his suicide attempt.
The reason for the occasion: my mother had finally gathered the courage to leave his abuse, and to take her children with her. We also suffered his attacks. He’d threatened her life plenty already. She knew he was serious in his threats, and that her life would be in grave danger when she left him.
I don’t remember the year after that night. I only remember celebrating Christmas with my mother and siblings as she recovered from the brutal attack of a man that had once professed to love her.
He served exactly one day in jail. The reason? It was a crime of passion since they were technically still married. Clinton went on to change the laws, which made it easier to implicate violent spouses as attempted murderers in cases like this one.
20 years later, we’ve recovered. My mother is now married to an absolutely wonderful man. She’s also stronger than ever, even though she was always strong.
Every minute, 24 people in the United States alone experience a form of violence from their intimate partner (2012 stat).
Number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614:
Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766