I got married at 21 to my high school sweetheart. That was in May 2009.
Two months later, I was lying in a bed in the emergency room at Providence Hospital in Southfield because my then-husband had busted my head open.
Domestic Violence Awareness Month has come and gone, with people who support the cause having participated in fundraisers, shared their stories and sported the color purple to recognize survivors. But the problem didn't end when the calendar flipped to November. The scourge is persistent.
For some, those colors, and the words "domestic violence" evoke deep personal terror. And for me, it knocked right at my front door. This is my story.
I remember it like it was yesterday: My then-husband and I were staying at The Westin Hotel in Southfield because he was visiting home for the 4th of July after joining the armed forces the year before. We stayed at the hotel so we could feel like any other married couple.
It was about 2:30 a.m., and we were on our way back to the hotel when his phone started going off. I was driving because he had been drinking and was asleep in the passenger seat — or so I thought. I ignored the first time, but when it rang again, I picked up, because I thought something could have been wrong with his young son. Fortunately, the person on the other end of the line was just trying to make sure we had made it back safely.
When I hung up the phone, the chime to his text messages went off, and the newest one came across the screen. It was a woman. Someone I knew of, but not in the capacity that she was texting him. When I opened the message, I saw she had been sending my husband inappropriate pictures and made comments that alluded to them sleeping together. And his responses indicated that he was entertaining that idea, too.
Thinking back, I don’t recall exactly what I was feeling in that moment. But I know it wasn’t anger. It was more of a feeling of confusion. And I wanted some answers.
When we got back to our hotel room, he was still inebriated, so he went straight to sleep. But I didn’t. I started calling his name, but he didn’t budge. I knew there was no way he was in a deep sleep, because we had only been in bed for five minutes. So I kept calling his name. But this time I started shaking him to wake him up. Eventually he woke up. But the personality that came with him was someone I wish I never met.
The next part happened so fast that it's a little harder to remember in exact detail. I remember being tossed back-and-forth across the room, from the dresser that sat on one wall to the nightstand on the other. He tossed me around like I was a ball. And each time I tried to stand up, he would toss me again to the other side of the room. All the while, he was saying to me: “This what you wanted, huh? You wanted me to give you answers to the pictures!? This what you wanted?”
I screamed, asking him to stop. Finally, he did, but only after he had tossed me into the corner of the nightstand and blood was streaming down my face. I stood up, dizzy and crying, and stumbled into the bathroom to find blood pouring from a 3-inch gash on the top right corner of my forehead.
I remember him coming up to me and hugging me at that moment, saying he was so sorry. But sorry wasn’t going to change the fact that I needed stitches, and that I would be physically scarred for the rest of my life.
'In the middle of it all'
After that incident, we separated for three-and-a-half months. He had to return to duty. But the following October, I moved from my home in Detroit to Texas, where he was stationed. He’d gotten housing for us, and I still wanted to be with him, because I loved him. While we were apart, he had told me repeatedly he would never hit me again. And like the vulnerable young girl I was, I believed his lies.
The whole time that I lived with my ex — one year in total — I got abused. Some days it would be verbal abuse. On other days it would be physical abuse. It happened so much that I blocked out many of the incidents. I remember times when I was scared to come home after going out to eat with friends because he was in one of his moods. I used to hold my head down when we were out together because if a man looked at me the wrong way, or said something as innocuous as, "Hi, sweetheart," I knew my husband might have a fit when we got home; a rage that could escalate into physical violence.
The year that I lived with him, even while I loved him, I was so scared of him. I learned him so well that I knew when an attack was about to happen. His already small eyes would squint, and his 5-foot-10-inch frame would come charging toward me in a stance that looked like the Incredible Hulk. If he had too much to drink, that would be another sign that I might wake up the next morning sore from whatever physical blows I took the night before.
Of course, I tried to defend myself. But I couldn’t fight him, and I didn’t really tell anyone what was going on at the time because I was ashamed and afraid of being called a failure. I knew some of my friends had expected it not to work.
I used to listen to a song called "In the Middle of it All," by Irma Thomas:
I gave that guy all the love I had, had to give
And the love I gave was really, really real. ...
Now I ache with heartbreak and pain, and the hurt that I just can't explain
It looks like my life is about to fall.
This is where I would break down crying every time. I was stuck.
Every day wasn't a bad day. And the good days gave me hope. But I eventually realized I was trying to make something work that wasn't meant to work.
I finally decided to leave in the wee hours of an August morning in 2010. We were back in Detroit, visiting my mother, and I had been talking to a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a long time. My then-husband thought I was being disrespectful. He snatched the necklace he had bought me for Christmas the year before from my neck, stripped my wedding ring from my finger and pulled a bracelet that he had just bought me for our first anniversary from my wrist. Then he smashed my face into the cement on my mother's front porch.
I had to go back to Texas with him the following week, because that was where all of my belongings were, including my car. But I left the airport without him, and didn’t talk to him until the next day, even though he was preparing to deploy. I knew when he got back the following year, I would be gone.
I left Texas for good that October. A friend flew in to share the 19-hour drive back to Detroit.
But it wasn’t over.
After settling in back home and getting back on my feet, I started to get lonely. I had worried about him when he was stationed overseas. And I won’t lie. I had loved this man since I was 14; I said I was going to marry him the first day we laid eyes on each other at Northland Roller Rink.
So when he reached out to me after he returned to the states, I heard him out, even though I had already filed for divorce. We both agreed that we didn’t want a divorce. And so, for the rest of 2011, we worked on our marriage. I continued to live in Detroit but I visited him in Texas from time to time. We still had arguments, sometimes vicious ones, but I had begun to hope we might have a future.
An end, and a beginning
All that changed on the last day of 2011.
I was visiting my husband in Texas. We were leaving our first New Year's Eve get-together, en route to the second. He was driving, and he was mad.
He was convinced our host, a non-commissioned officer in the military, had been flirting with me. I didn’t know what he was talking about, and I told him so. He laughed and kept saying, "Yeah, OK."
But I had a feeling where this was going, and this time I wasn't playing. We pulled up in front of his friend's house for the second function of the night and once we stopped, I yelled “I can't do this anymore!” I pulled off the ring he had just bought me for Christmas and threw it into a cup in the car.
As soon as I said those words, I saw my husband staring at me with the squinty-eyed look I remembered from our worst times together. Before I could say anything more, he had grabbed me by my neck and thrown me halfway into the back seat, just enough for my head to hang over the center console. "You gonna leave? You gonna leave?" he yelled. He stuck four fingers down my throat, moving them in and out of my mouth as I choked. "Bitch, I’m going to kill you!"
I believed him.
Then, just when I started to lose consciousness, he let me up. I leapt from the car and started screaming for help, but when I tried to call the police he knocked my phone out of my hand. I found it and took off running.
I ran to the porch of a neighbor who I didn’t know and begged him to help me. I called my mother in Detroit, who told me to go to her house. “Ma, I'm in Texas!" I cried. "Remember?”
I ran two blocks to a friend's house, but she wasn't home.
At that point, I knew I had to save myself. So I hid in her bushes for two hours while the man I had married circled the neighborhood in his car, looking for me.
I was so, so scared
I finally reached a second friend, who came and got me and took me to her house for the night. When we got to her house, I phoned my cousin Tee, who returned my call the next morning. She had always been like a big sister to me, and I wanted her to save me, but by the time I finished telling her what had happened, she was crying as hard as I was.
I didn’t have a dollar to my name. My debit card was at my ex’s house, all I wanted was to leave Texas and never come back. By the time I hung up with Tee, her husband had wired me the $200 I needed to fly home to Detroit. I was on the plane the same day.
You may be wondering why I'm telling my story now. I've achieved success. I've earned a master's degree from New York University, become a reporter at the Detroit Free Press, and begun mentoring youth in my home city. But to be honest, I didn't think I would ever be here. To say it was a challenge is an understatement.
Last year, I began thinking I might have an obligation to tell my story. I was inspired to speak out after talking to other survivors of domestic violence during a roundtable discussion the Detroit Free Press held in late October.
Our stories were so similar. All of our abusers were controlling. They all apologized after they attacked. And some of their abusers had enablers like my ex-mother-in-law, who asked, after my then-husband busted my head open in the first summer of our marriage: what I had done to make her son do such a thing.
And while my physical scars hurt, the mental ones, that I will be forever healing from, hurt just as much.
I am speaking out today because, as a reporter, it is my job to tell the truth. And this is mine.
I want every victim of domestic violence to know: You are not alone. And if you get out, I promise you, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And if you want it, a whole new life.
Jasmin Barmore is born and raised in the city of Detroit. She covers the city's neighborhoods and communities using her passion as her drive to give the voiceless a voice.
How to get help
My Sisters Keeper Domestic Violence Organization, for men and women in domestic situations, can be reached at 248-509-4616 or by going to mysisterskeeperdvo.org.
HAVEN women's shelter in Pontiac, can be reached at haven-oakland.org.
24-HR CRISIS & SUPPORT, call 248-334-1274
YWCA Interim House Metro Detroit, in Detroit, a domestic violence service providing help for people dealing with domestic abuse, can be reached at 313-861-5300
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How a Free Press reporter survived domestic violence, what she learned