Most kids have hopes and dreams growing up. They want to be athletes, lawyers, doctors, musicians. They look to their future and see limitless potential. The world can be anything they want it to be. From a very young age, I looked to my future and saw nothing but struggle and hardship. Good things didn’t last in my life. Not for any length of time, at least. So when I fell into an abusive relationship, I assumed I didn’t deserve anything better. I spent four years with a man that needed to control every aspect of my life. I was a perfect target. I was just out of a relationship with my high school sweetheart. My self- image was low. I was 18 years old and had never been on my own. In the beginning, I saw him as rescuing me from my nightmare. It didn’t take long for things to go downhill. We lost our jobs and he took that as an opportunity to keep me locked in the house. I wasn’t allowed to get another job. I met him at work, so what was to stop me from meeting someone else and leaving him. I wasn’t allowed to get my driver’s license, because then he would not know where I was or what I was doing while he was at work. He couldn’t hold a job, so we became completely dependent on his parents to pay our bills and keep groceries in the house. He constantly accused me of being unfaithful, but I was never alone long enough to be. There wasn’t much physical abuse, because I made sure to be the obedient puppy. I never questioned his authority, never stood up to him, even if he was wrong. When I did try to stand up to him, I was slapped across the face, thrown over the couch, or choked. He knew I had mild claustrophobia, so he would lie on top of me and hold my arms so I couldn’t move. He cut me off from all of my family and friends. He told me that if any of them actually cared, they would come and see me, instead of expecting me to go to them all the time. He told me I was alone in the world, and the only ones that cared were him, and his parents. And I believed him. About a year and a half into our relationship the unthinkable happened. I was pregnant. I can still remember how thrilled he was. I also remember having to fake the same excitement. I was devastated, but there was no going back. I thought maybe a baby would change him. Make him softer maybe? He told me every day that I was worthless. I was good for nothing. I used to be beautiful, but I wasn’t anymore. No one else would ever want me, and no one would ever love me the way he did. Six months into my pregnancy his parents began putting the pressure on to get married. I didn’t see life getting any better, and no one else would ever want me, so why not? We exchanged our vows on November 8, 2006. As I walked down the aisle, my stepdad kept telling me I didn’t have to do it. I could run if I wanted to. We could be gone before anyone even realized what happened. I laughed as if he was joking. I hoped that wearing his ring would convince him once and for all that I was his, and didn’t need to be controlled. That he had nothing to worry about. Two months later I gave birth to our son Daniel. I fell in love as soon as I laid eyes on him. He was beautiful and perfect. And he would love me without question and without motive. We spent two days in the hospital. All I asked from Dave was to put the bassinet together before we came home. I spent two hours putting it together myself when we came home from the hospital around midnight. He slept on the couch. He rarely changed a diaper, or made a bottle. If he had not had dinner yet, and the baby was hungry, the baby had to wait. There were nights where I didn’t even get to eat my own dinner until the baby was asleep for the night, because he could not be bothered to help. About a year after Daniel was born, devastation hit again. I was pregnant again. He was thrilled again, and all I wanted to do was cry. I didn’t want another baby. I made my first prenatal appointment, and then two days before the appointment, I miscarried. The miscarriage was rough. I lost so much blood, that I had to be rushed to the hospital. I remember lying in the hospital bed drifting in and out of consciousness. I could hear my breathing alarm go off every time I started to fade out. I was losing so much blood, that I no longer had control over my body, and all he could do was berate me for sleeping, and leaving him awake all by himself. I thought I was dying, and I didn’t even care. The last thing I remember as my eyes closed, was thinking that I would finally be free. I woke up the next morning, still in the hospital. The bleeding had stopped, and my vitals had stabilized. I was free to go home. I asked him again about getting a job, and again he shut me down. I completely shut down, emotionally. I didn’t feel anything anymore. Sex was no longer consensual. It wasn’t exactly forced, it was just easier to let him do what he wanted, than to fight. Even if I said no, he took what he wanted anyway. For all intents and purposes, my husband was raping me every night. Six months after my miscarriage, I was pregnant again. I prayed for another miscarriage, but it never came. During one of my prenatal appointments, they discovered precancerous cells on my cervix. The doctor strongly suggested terminating the pregnancy, so they could eliminate the cells that were growing. Dave refused to allow that to happen. He didn’t care what happened to me, but they were not ending the pregnancy. The delivery was horrible. The baby went into distress, and every time I had a contraction, his heart stopped. When he finally came out, he wasn’t breathing. When I finally heard him cry, I didn’t know what to feel. I was emotionally numb, and I felt ashamed that I didn’t feel that instant love that I felt the first time around. I felt like a horrible person. It wasn’t his fault. He didn’t ask to be born, but I felt like I was taking it out on him. I didn’t want to hold him. I didn’t even want to look at him. Eventually the love came, and I felt somewhat normal again. As normal as I could have felt in my situation, I guess. I just didn’t care about life anymore. I started standing up to him and fighting, just so I could feel something. The more I did it, the stronger I got. The more I realized that I wanted to live. I wanted happiness. I wanted normalcy. Mostly, I wanted to be free of him. I started to realize, I DID deserve better. I started picking fights, instead of waiting for them to happen naturally. I started talking about getting my GED, going to school, and getting a job. When he shut me down, I fought back. I fought back with a vengeance. And eventually, I told him I didn’t love him, and I wanted to leave. He responded by calling his mom. His mom came down and told me that I NEEDED to work things out because we had children together. I told her I did not have to do anything, and I called my dad to come and get me. His mom took the kids so that I could not take them with me. I spent a week at my dad’s, experiencing freedom for the first time in 4 years, and it felt amazing. I started to reconnect with old friends. I was smiling again. I remember going to watch a friend’s softball game one day, and getting back in touch with a very dear friend from high school, in the process. His first words upon seeing me were, “Holy shit! Did the warden give you a day pass?” It wasn’t until that moment, that I realized how disconnected I was from everyone that I cared about. I finally realized that no matter what he had said, these people DID care about me. It mattered to them that I wasn’t in their lives anymore. I don’t think my friend knows just how much those words impacted me. To him it was a simple joke, but to me it made me realize that I mattered. I was not forgotten. As happy and free as I felt that week, it was short lived. I went back, because my children were still there, living the nightmare I left behind. For three days he would not let me out of his sight. His parents didn’t trust me anymore, and did not want to leave my kids alone with me. He finally went back to work, but he called me every hour to check up on me. His mom would randomly stop by unannounced; to make sure I was still there. My every move was watched, and I felt even more like a prisoner than before. My final burst of strength came from an unexpected source. I had been talking to an old acquaintance on MySpace. I began opening up to him about the issues I was dealing with. I don’t know why I chose him to lay my burden on. He was the best friend of my dear high school friend. We didn’t know each other very well, but he had always been kind to me. He had a lot of the same qualities as my friend, and at that time, he was more accessible than my friend was. The strength I needed came from him. He barely knew me, but he expressed genuine concern for my well-being. He never once told me it wasn’t his problem. He never ignored me. He was always there, to listen and give advice. He was a friend when I had no one. If he hadn’t been a steady voice of reason in that moment, I may have stayed forever. I hope he knows how much his friendship meant to me. In a way, he saved my life. I walked out the door eleven years ago and never looked back, but the psychological trauma took its toll on me. I’m still trying to work through a lot of it. I’ve avoided relationships because I don’t ever want to be in that place again. I guess I still don’t trust myself. I know now that not everyone is like that. Not everyone wants to hurt you. Not everyone wants to control you. But how can I be sure who is genuine, and who is not? It seems easier to keep people at a distance.