Michelle’s Story

I have been asked to share the story of my mom. However, I don’t know how to tell her story without also telling my own story. My parents were divorced when I was eight years old. My brother, our Chihuahua, Buttons, and I went back and forth between my parents houses for several years. My mom had a 10th grade education and found it hard to support herself and two children while working at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. She eventually ended up marrying the person that would become our worst nightmare. We moved into a small trailer in Omega, GA with him and his 4 children.

I am pretty sure the beatings started immediately after we moved in with him. The first time he hit her was a slap across the face for “talking back” to him at the dinner table. The hitting continued to escalate into more serious “beatings” shortly after that. One afternoon, while we (his four children, my brother, and I) were all playing in the backyard, he locked the back door (locking us outside). A few minutes later I heard my mom begging him to “stop, Kenny” and “please don’t”. Her screams stopped and he walked outside and threw a lit match on the ground. Without ever looking at any of us he got in his truck and left. At that age (around 10), I did not understand what had just taken place. He had knocked my mom unconscious, poured gas around the bed and walked outside and dropped a lit match, and he just drove away. The match, thankfully, went out before it hit the ground and didn’t start a fire. My mom would have been burned while we were outside playing.

The first time I ever remember him directly attacking either my brother or myself, he busted our fish tank with an iron skillet. We were playing Monopoly at the table when he came in from work. He took one look at the clothes on the couch that needed to be folded and became angry with us. He started yelling about ungrateful children, and how he would show us not to play when there was work to be done. He grabbed that skillet off the stove and smashed the front of the fish tank with one swing. We were running around trying to save our pets from flopping all around the floor. We ended up hiding in a closet until the argument stopped, and all of our fish died. He never hit either my brother or me; sometimes I think I would have preferred that to him hitting my mom. Thinking about her bruises and her sad eyes still breaks my heart.

My dad heard about the situation with mom’s husband and gained full custody of us, even Buttons. My brother and I lived with our dad and would spend school breaks and most of the summer with our mom. She lived in many different trailers, in different trailer parks all around Tifton/Fitzgerald, GA. The addresses changed often, unfortunately her situation never changed.

Every time he would hurt her, he would soon be apologetic and try and make it up to her. He always told her how he would change, and how things would be different. Nothing ever changed, things only got worse. My mom loved animals, and someone gave her a Chihuahua for her birthday one year. Skippy was an entertaining little dog, and my mom’s protector. He would follow her everywhere she went, and I believe he kept her going on some of the darkest days she could have had.

One summer, while I was visiting and my brother stayed with my dad, my mom did actually leave him after the violence got to be more that I could take. He had hit/slapped/kicked her several nights in a row. The fourth night, he again came in and started pushing her around and yelling at her. He picked up Skippy and put him in the oven and closed the door. Luckily, the pilot light was out or he would have killed him. I remember shaking; all I could do was shake and cry. The neighbor called 911 and three officers arrived to help. One of the officers put me in his car and gave me his jacket and talked to me until I calmed down. The officers offered to take us to safety, knowing my mom had no transportation. The women’s shelter would not let my mom bring her Chihuahua, Skippy. She refused to go and leave Skippy with an angry abusive husband, and we ended up going to stay at a motel in the center of town. The officer, knowing the motel didn’t allow pets, let me sit in the car with him and Skippy while my mom got a room key. We snuck Skippy into the room, and no one at the motel ever knew he was there. However, we could only scrape enough money together for one night. We returned to the trailer and a calmer husband the next day. Skippy was the smart one, he never trusted him. After that day, Skippy stayed away from him, but stayed closer to my mom.

During my teenage years, I would go for months and not hear one word from my mom. It was much later, after I was married and had children of my own, that I realized those were the times that the violence was the worst. I do not think she wanted us to know what she was going through, and I do not think I could have bared knowing. My mom stayed married to him for 19 years. That was long enough for his children to grow up, her children to grow up and for Skippy to pass away from old age. He died in August of 1998, and in September of that year, my mom finally left her abuser. She no longer had to worry about what to do with Skippy if she left. He was her baby, and she felt she needed to protect him. She had asked for a divorce, and he told her he would kill her before he gave her a divorce. Over the next ten days, my mom moved out and his children helped sneak her things out of his house. Her husband went around their small town, Fitzgerald, GA, and told everyone that would listen how he was going to kill her if he caught her.

By this time, my brother and I were both married and had children of our own. I was living in Augusta, GA with my husband, Paul, and our son, Kyle (11), and daughter Lee (4). My brother was living in Macon with his wife, and their daughter, who was 3 at the time. I had always felt this connection to my mom, and never more than the last few years of her life. We talked on the phone almost every day, and sometimes it was multiple times a day. My mom was awesome, brave, funny, loving, caring, understanding, and she was my best friend.

On the night of September 28, 1998, she left work and arrived home around 11:00 p.m. She was living in a rented, tiny, one bedroom trailer on the edge of town. My mom walked in her trailer, went to the bedroom and put her purse down and her estranged husband broke the lock on the front door and came in after her. From the number of bruises, and the placement of the bruises, she truly fought for her life. Neighbors reported hearing her say, “Please don’t shoot me, Kenny” several times. She managed to somehow head for the front door, and had her arm stretched out to the doorknob, when he shot her in the back with a 12 gauge shot gun at almost point blank range. That was the worst day of my life.

It has been a little over 15 years now and there are still time that I can hardly believe this whole thing is not some nightmare. My children were in preschool and 6th grade when my mom died. My daughter graduated from high school last year and my son was married this fall. They have missed out on knowing one of the most loving, caring, wonderful people to ever live. My brother committed suicide three years after my mom died, he had some other problems, but my mom’s death really broke him. My niece was three when my mom died, she does not remember my mom at all.

I think about my mom every day, and miss her more, the older I get. I know she loved me, and I know she knew that I loved her. There is really nothing that could ever take away the pain and sense of loss that has become a constant part of our lives. Everyone that that I talk to, that knew my mom tells me how very sweet she was. I believe them, she was the sweetest person I have ever met. I hope I have made her proud of me, and I hope that, by sharing our story (or at least part of it), others will know they are not alone.