“They’re my blood…you’re not.” Those were the words Vincent used to let Linda know that he expected her to take care of his mother and his siblings, as well as him. Vincent’s belittling words and bullying behaviors supported Linda’s already low self-esteem so that she believed she had no real worth except to him…and that was enough to keep Linda submissive. If she ever complained or didn’t do what he wanted, Vincent beat her. And just in case Linda would ever think she could have a life without Vincent and his family, he promised her, “If you leave, I’ll kill your family.” Linda feared leaving as much as she feared staying.
Abandoned at six months by her parents after they split up, Linda’s treasured the tiny family that included the paternal grandparents who raised her and an aunt, uncle and four cousins. Though her father would come around from time to time, Linda’s mother visited her only once during her early teens. Linda wasn’t receptive to the reunion. “It was awkward,” Linda remembers and confesses, “I didn’t even talk to her.” Linda never saw her mother again.
While growing up Linda was a good kid, well-behaved and diligent. In high school, she excelled in her studies. Linda graduated in the top one-third of her class and earned a scholarship to study at St. Frances Hospital in Delaware where she planned to become a radiologic technologist.
At the same time, Linda’s aging grandmother decided to move to Florida. Linda could have gone with her but if she did, she’d lose her scholarship. If she stayed, her grandmother told the teen she would be “on her own.” With all the optimism of youth, and believing she was resourceful and capable, Linda didn’t think twice; she decided to stay.
When she started school, Linda met and traveled around with a typically teenage crowd. That’s how she met Vincent. First Linda befriended Vincent’s sister and then met Vincent through the group. When Vincent first asked Linda out, she felt safe because she felt she knew him. She liked that he “didn’t let anyone walk on him and he didn’t let anyone get away with anything.” Linda also noticed how he took care of his mother and sisters. She liked that too. “He was hard core,” Linda admits, saying that Vincent made her feel safe and “I think I needed that.”
Yet almost immediately after their first date, Linda had a fearful feeling and wanted no part of a relationship with Vincent. She tried to put distance between them, but it seemed impossible. In the days before society understood stalking, Linda remembers, “Wherever I went, there he was.”
During those days, Linda was used to visiting Vincent’s house and, since her apartment was an hour away, she sometimes stayed overnight. At first Linda compared living at the house to living in a dormitory. But there was a mother and sisters and brothers, so it quickly felt like family and Linda liked the feeling. It was easy to stay and before long it was her home. Between Linda being in the same place and Vincent’s persistence, they soon became intimate.
From the beginning, Vincent was abusive. He smacked her and beat her. Once he even doused her with kerosene and then, like some kind of crazy joke, flicked matches at her. Still, in those early days, Linda says stayed for two reasons: Vincent protected her and she knew “he wouldn’t let anyone hurt me…but him” and “I had no place else to go.” Looking back at those days, and understanding her history of abandonment, Linda now thinks, “I probably would have gone with anybody.”
While her home life was crazy, at school Linda found peace and fulfillment in her studies. She did so well that she graduated at the top of her class. Before leaving school, Linda was offered a scholarship to continue her studies, but she turned it down. She knew that her home life would make further education impossible.
Instead, Linda got a job. She was skilled, liked her work and was making good money.
Meanwhile Vincent did very little. He got into trouble in the neighborhood and if Linda complained, his mother defended Vincent. He did odd jobs and his income was, at best, sporadic. Whatever little money Vincent made went to his mother. Then his mother got into financial trouble with her house and was going to lose it. Linda was the main wage earner in the house and Vincent convinced Linda to purchase the house; she agreed. Everyone – Linda, Vincent, his mother and siblings – lived in the house…and Linda paid the bills. Complaints about being used were pointless. If she said anything, Vincent denigrated her. Linda got used to keeping quiet.
When Linda found out she was pregnant, life didn’t get better. Vincent wanted to marry Linda but she resisted. But a few days after giving birth, Vincent demanded that they get married, telling her “You’re not going anywhere.” Linda gave in because, she explains, “I had that much fear…I lived in constant fear.”
Though married and the mother of his daughter, Vincent continued to beat Linda. Everyone knew but no one helped. Vincent had grown more violent and, Linda says, “Everyone knew his demeanor and knew he was dangerous. They were afraid of him.”
Even though Linda was making enough money to support herself and her child, and could leave, Linda described the common complexity of domestic violence, “Everything was my fault. And I felt, ‘I made my bed and now I have to live with it.’”. Also, when abusive to Linda, Vincent would say he was sorry. Linda wanted to believe him.
Linda was pregnant again.
For a brief moment in time, after their son was born, Linda thought parenthood might have changed Vincent. He was working steadily, making good money and taking care of their daughter and son. While the abuse didn’t stop, at least Linda felt like she had some hope. But the change was short-lived. And, in the 1980s, there was little consideration and even less help for victims of domestic violence. Others often blamed the victim.
One day Vincent told Linda they were moving. He found a house fairly far away from their families and moved Linda and the children there. “That’s when the real horror started.” Vincent started drinking and doing drugs. He became paranoid and often accused Linda of cheating on him with his friends. He would disappear for days at a time. When he returned, not only did Vincent beat Linda, he would sometimes throw her outside without her clothes or hit her with chains. During his most paranoid nights, he would make he stand in a corner for hours watching over him while he slept. He would insist that Linda check and recheck the windows and doors to make sure they were locked.
Vincent’s friends told Linda that Vincent was having an affair. She hoped he was and would leave her. But he would always come back, and demand cruel and sadistic sex - the kind that continues to haunt Linda to this day.
Linda’s turning point came through an experience with her church and a woman who encouraged and helped her practice radical forgiveness. At first Linda balked at the idea of forgiving the man who was her tormentor. But the woman convinced her to try. During that time, Linda had her first ah-ha “God is real” moment.
As a result of her prayer work, for the first time in her relationship with Vincent, she no longer feared him but started to see Vincent differently. Instead of the powerful bully she’d lived with for almost ten years, Linda saw a man who was a weak, sad individual who needed help. I didn’t see his power anymore. I had the power.”
Afterward, Linda’s life changed. The next time Vincent raised his hand to her, she stared into his eyes and challenged him. Instead of hitting her, he backed down. Then Linda saw fear in Vincent and realized, “He knew he didn’t have the power any longer.”
One night Vincent left. Linda expected him to return in a few days. When he didn’t, she wasn’t sure if he ran off with the woman he was supposedly having the affair with or if he was in trouble with drugs, or if something else happened. She tracked down Vincent’s friends but all she got were vague answers about some man who owed Vincent money. When she found Vincent’s truck, Linda pressed the friends again and one of them told her, “He’s never coming back.” Shaken, Linda went to the police and filed a missing persons report. Though Linda believed Vincent was dead, she needed to know for sure. Until she did, Linda couldn’t feel safe or be free.
Over the three years that followed, Vincent didn’t return and Linda’s life got worse before it got better. She couldn’t pay the bills or the mortgage. She went bankrupt and lost her house to foreclosure. Linda and her children moved into a small apartment. In order to protect herself financially, she filed for and was granted a divorce from Vincent. All the while, she stayed connected to her church and felt supported by the congregation.
Linda’s life eventually turned a corner. She gradually got back on her feet. Though in the back of her mind there was some fear about what would happen if Vincent came back, she didn’t let that thought overwhelm her. Instead Linda put one foot in front of the other. Day after day, step by step, Linda moved forward.
Within a few years, two good things happened. First, the police told Linda that Vincent was, in fact, dead. He was shot through the head and they were looking for his killer. Then Linda met and married a man who was kind, gentle and who loved her and her children. Life was good.
To this day, Linda admits she still experiences a kind of after-shock from her years with Vincent. She works hard to keep thoughts of those bad days at bay so they don’t interfere with the good in her life today. She also played a part in finding Vincent’s killer and putting him in prison for the rest of his life.
Linda has advice to other women who are living with domestic violence. “I understand what it’s like for you to believe you're safer staying than leaving,” Linda whispers, but then gives this unwavering and adamant message: “GET OUT. “Have two plans – one for safety and another for leaving and GET OUT NOW.” Linda also tells women that, unlike the 1980’s when there was little or no help, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act provides for domestic abuse crisis centers in nearly every town.
Victory usually comes in small steps that lead to wonderful successes.
You took those small steps in victory and your triumph is a model for other women!
You can safely find information about domestic abuse crisis centers at
http://www.thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE
Read about more Women Who Inspire at www.VictoriousWoman.com
Annmarie Kelly is an author and motivational speaker from Chester County. Her mission in life is to help women empower themselves so that they can live stronger, happier and on-purpose lives. Learn more at AnnmarieKelly.com.