The Penalty for Surviving
The 911 operator tries to talk me out of hysteria. Don’t stop! You are being followed! She spouts off directions to an unknown place. I listen, obeying every turn and exit. Finally, I arrive. It is a police station. I thrust the car door open and jump out, only to retrieve a terrified infant in the back seat. I rip Joshi out of the car seat and clutch her to my chest. I can feel her wiggling skin against mine. I start running and burst in the door to the building, frantically looking for someone to keep us safe. A nice officer offers his help. He stays with me until someone can take my story. Am I safe? I feel a momentary sense of security and pour out my story.
It’s 9 on Friday morning. I’m breastfeeding my 11-month-old, Joshi, on the couch. She occasionally peeks up and giggles at the antics of Wallykazam, her favorite show. Joshi’s infectious smile between her chubby cheeks makes me chuckle along. We are safe. We are together.
The common sound of a door opening makes us look up. I get momentarily excited at the thought of my husband, Adam, coming home from work early. I hear a familiar voice. “Sam?” My mind screeched to a halt. My nightmare. Arya, my ex-husband.
I jumped up from the couch, placing Joshi on the floor between my legs for protection. Arya darts towards us, grabs my phone, and pulls a machete from its scabbard around his neck. My eyes slide down the slick, shiny metal only to see Joshi at the tip. My mind goes blank. I can’t protect her. I freeze. The innocent child I swore with my life to protect is no longer safe because I am in danger as well. I wanted to feel anything, but my mind wouldn’t allow it. My mind had shut off.
“If you scream, the baby dies,” Arya threatens. I remained quiet; frantically trying to think of my next step with my dysfunctional mind. Why won’t you work? Oh, pepper spray! My eyes quickly catch the multiples cans of pepper spray I had stashed around the room for this exact moment. They are too far. What about running to the door? My eyes shot over to the door and it’s locked. Then, I feel the strangling grip around my wrist and the feeling of the cold blade against my neck. I start to cry uncontrollably, trying to think of anything to get out of the house even though I know we are trapped. My attention shifts only to hear the most heartbreaking sound: my little Joshi crying. I know she wants to be held and told mommy is okay. I try to bend towards her. Arya tightens his grip and says a harsh no. He says he should just kill the baby now, so I would know he was serious. I begin pleading for Joshi’s life. If there is a God out there, you can come save us anytime.
Arya starts screaming in my face, keeping steady control of the pressure applied by the machete. His words go over my head, and I can’t comprehend his crass tone. My mind won’t let me. Why is he yelling? What have I done? My mind starts to grasp what he is saying. I listen while Arya talks about Adam’s early morning. He says he was waiting by the van to use a 6-inch loaded spring knife attached to his wrist to kill my one true love before he even turned around. Instead of taking the van, Adam took my car today. Arya notes he is upset that the plan hadn’t worked out, but he has another. He lays out his original plan: break into my apartment, slit mine and Joshi’s throat to watch us bleed out, and wait for Adam to see his reaction before slitting his throat. Arya tells me the only reason it isn’t happening that way is because he wanted my oldest daughter, Elle, and he wasn’t on the pick up list for her at her school. He wants Elle. He was trying to take away the daughter he gave up and consented to be adopted by Adam in September. I am confused at this. I’m not sure why he wants Elle, but I know if give her away, I will never see her again.
Arya leads me over to the couch. I feel the sharp sting of the cool metal against my skin as I move. He works through a plan of what I was supposed to tell everyone about Elle. I watch my beautiful endangered Joshi play with Arya’s shoelaces while he coerces me into agreeing. I have no choice. I craft a plan to hand her over after school to get him to leave, so I could call for help. He says he should stay there to make sure I follow through with the plan. I have one last try. I convince him I needed to go to a doctor appointment for Elle’s benefit. It was my last play from the psychology class I took in community college years ago. He agrees to let me go, telling me he is watching my every move. I see the words come out of his mouth, but they register a different way in my head. You can’t tell the police otherwise he’ll kill your whole family. He says he had no traceable address, bank account, and even took the battery out of his phone so it would only hurt me if I told.
Arya puts on his mask and black hooded sweater and watches me walk out of the building before slipping away to his hiding place. My mind was still blank. What should I do? I call Adam only to hear his pained, frightened voice in response to my hysterical crying. “It was him,” I sob into the phone. Adam tells me to call 911. I hesitate, but I listen mindlessly.
The police found Arya later that day in the park across from my building. Finally, they caught him after all the years of abuse he put me through. I thought I would feel better when I saw my attacker pepper-sprayed and in cuffs. The truth is, it made it much worse. Oh no. I told. Suddenly, the realization of fear came flooding back.
After the attack, I couldn’t even enter my own home. The story played over in my mind like a broken record. I went days without eating, and I couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw Arya with the scary smile he wore during the attack. I un-enrolled at St. Kate’s, grabbed my family, and moved over 500 miles away a week later. I am unsafe, frightened, violated, empty, and scarred. I couldn’t stay and did not want to be alone.
I was lucky enough to have Adam tell me to call the police. Most of the incidents that have happened to me have never been reported. It wasn’t about being weak. It was about being scared and controlled by someone else. I finally did it. I told. I stood up for myself.
Arya pleaded guilty to First Degree Burglary: Assault person on property.
My sentence: a lifetime of pain, flashbacks, PTSD, and terror. I may have lived, but I wish he had killed me. If I had been dead, there would have been no pain or justice system to jump through.
His sentence: probation. He now walks free.
As far as the court was concerned, this was his first violent crime. This was the second time I reported him. The first time it was pled down to a Disorderly Conduct. He also got probation.
Adam does a walk through of our house and yard every night because of the anxiety caused by the attack. The pain never stops. To this day, Elle still barricades the door to keep herself, sissy, and mommy safe. She never wants to see Arya again.
Domestic violence affects everyone. It is time we all step up and do our part to prevent domestic violence from continuing. For some, it may mean the difference between life and death.