“In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month I light this candle of gratitude for my mother, Lynn, who had the courage to leave an abusive husband with three young daughters in tow. I am certain she saved our lives, and she taught us that love shouldn’t hurt.”
Every Sunday at worship at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair we light candles of remembrance to shed a fountain of light on our congregation. On Sunday, though shaking with nerves I lit this candle for my mom. It was the first time that I ever publicly acknowledged the sacrifice she made and the fears she had to overcome to do what she needed to do to keep her children safe. I had eluded to this sentiment before when talking about my childhood but having spoken a true expression of gratitude was more emotional than I had expected it to be.
I don’t know much about my mother’s relationship with my biological father. I was six when they separated, seven when they divorced. What I know is only what I remember and I know it is just a snapshot of her experience. My mom was my age when she left her first husband. At 33, I still find it hard to believe that I have a nearly four-year-old son. I feel much too young for that. But my mom had three girls between the ages of 5 and 13. She and my father had been high school sweethearts, meaning this man was all she knew in her adult life. After a year with my ex-husband I felt like I had lost my identity and ability to stand on my own, so how must it feel after fifteen years?
What I remember is being told we were moving closer to Grandma and Grandpa, and at six that was great news. I don’t remember being sad about it when I found out our father wasn’t coming with us. I don’t know what led to it or inspired her to leave. Later that year my father moved in with us in our new house and later that year we all moved into a new house together. There is one night that I remember so clearly from my perspective, I think it was after the divorce that my father came to our house and sent my older sister upstairs. My little sister lay asleep in the bed across the room from me, or so we thought, and my older sister and I held each other and cried while we listened to screaming and destruction downstairs. I only remember this one instance.
Studies find that it takes a woman on average 7 times before she finally leaves her abuser. How many times did my mother try to leave but not know how? Studies find that a woman will finally report abuse to the police after being hit 35 times. How many blows did my mother suffer? I will likely never know. I’ve never asked. She’s now happily married to the man I call “dad”. Like me, she is a typical survivor: she got out and started over. Some might say that I learned nothing from my mother’s story because I ended up the victim of domestic violence, too. To this I say I learned enough to know that the moment my ex-husband laid a hand on me was the moment I knew he was not the man I deserved to have in my life and he wasn’t the man I wanted my son to grow up being influenced by every day. If I had watched my mother continue to be a victim as I grew up I am sure I would have been on a very different journey now. On that journey I doubt I would have gotten out before it was too late. I thank my mom for giving me the chance to experience childhood in a much healthier, happier way. And I thank my mom for teaching me that love should never hurt. I love you, Mom.