‘Desperate, I sent her a message.’ Except for our abuser, we had nothing in common. ‘Come stay with me,’ she said right away. ‘I can’t picture life without her,’ says one woman who has become best friends after surviving the same abuser.

“I met Mark for the first time on August 10, 2013.” I had recently gone through a tough breakup, which only piqued his interest in me. After reconnecting on the online dating site Plenty of Fish, we met at our city’s waterfront in the evening. Since high school, I hadn’t seen him.

He was a large man, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 300 pounds. That’s precisely my personality. He was dressed in a black hoodie, shorts, and his Reebok zigzag runners in black and white. We wandered around the marina for approximately two hours, talking and looking at the new additions. Later that night, we headed to Boston Pizza and shared some nachos before calling it a night.

His brown eyes drew me in immediately. He had a big smile on his face and a loud, booming laugh. His hair was cut relatively short, and he had a worn look. I’m not one to proclaim love at first sight, but it was for me. My feelings for him were completely genuine. He was always so sweet to me and adored me. Everything I required was available to me. I had no idea he was grooming me at the time.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

I found out I was pregnant in September of 2013.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

Mark surprised me with flowers and his full attention. In March of 2015, I moved in with him. This was the turning point in my life.

I was expecting my second child, Logan, and had already given birth to Bishop. I didn’t have any money and had nowhere to go. I wasn’t only looking for Mark. I felt as if I was in desperate need of him. Today, I’m confident that was all part of his plan all along. Almost immediately, things became rocky.

Like a lion pursuing its prey, he was patient and slow at first. He became passive antagonistic against me anytime I attempted to speak with the father of my children, even though we were merely discussing routine co-parenting issues such as school updates. I believed it would go away because it was moderate at first. But that didn’t work out.

Then, all of a sudden, Mark became possessive. My prior spouse was not permitted to communicate with me at all. ‘Your father is poisonous. He told me, ‘You can’t see him either.’ Everyone was toxic to him. I didn’t even get to see my grandmother as she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.

He made it a point to keep me close to him and occupied at all times. It got to the point where I didn’t want to speak with my family or friends because I didn’t want to get into an argument. I quickly lost contact with my friends and a few family members. He never had an issue with my children. It was only with folks from my past that I felt this way. He was in command. I was his property.

I attempted to flee a few times between March and August. He was controlling, possessive, and verbally and emotionally abusive. He was enraged if I was on my phone. He’d accuse me of concealing something if I wasn’t. He was sneakily snatching it and reading all of my communications behind my back while I was gone or asleep. There was no chance of winning at all.

He was going to make me weep a lot. Every name in the book was used to refer to me. He’d look at me and say, ‘You’re useless,’ whenever I sobbed. After that, he’d console me and apologize. He was laughing in my face the next thing I knew. The cycle continued indefinitely. ‘There’s no way I’m getting out of this,’ I recalled thinking. Suicide seemed to be my only option.

I tried to move in with my father, but he was overburdened, and it didn’t work out. Then I attempted to rent an apartment, but the rent was prohibitively expensive. Mark worked his way back into my life softly but steadily. He began to show up at my workplace. He didn’t like the fact that I worked in construction among males. While I was at work, he continued to bring me food and make repairs to my van.

In mid-August, I returned to live with him. I fell into his trap of apologies, “friendliness,” and justifications. Despite our best efforts, I became pregnant with his child during this period. I was torn, broken, and depressed. I couldn’t reveal my dissatisfaction with the exterior. I couldn’t possibly insult him by refusing to bear his child. I was frightened of what would happen if I did. I considered having an abortion at one point. I even scheduled the appointment but was unable to keep it. ‘Maybe now that I’m pregnant, he won’t be so bad,’ I reasoned in the back of my mind. But I had no idea it would escalate to a whole new level of terror.

He physically assaulted me for the first time in September of 2015. As usual, he was enraged at me. I’m not sure what he was unhappy over at the moment. It may have been a simple case of me being late. He was enraged by a variety of things. I’m not going to tell you about every single minute of my day, minute by minute. Suppose I didn’t have a single $1 in my bank account. Other times, it was because I was on my phone in the toilet, forgot something on the grocery list, or wasn’t paying attention to him enough. If he drove by my place of business and noticed that my car was missing while I was out to lunch with coworkers.

I yelled back at him when he started ranting at me. Then I walked away to my bedroom, wanting to get out of the situation. He did, however, accompany me into the room. He screamed right in my face, grabbed my neck, shoved me against the bed, and walked away.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

I abandoned him once more. I attempted to charge him, but the cop I spoke with was named Mark, and he chose to be the victim. That was something he was always good at. ‘She punched me, and I pushed her away in self-defense,’ he explained. My photographic proof and apparent astonishment were not enough to convict him.

I started Couchsurfing. I was pregnant, worried, and attempting to balance a twelve-hour workday with two boys. I began at Brad and Emma’s house before moving on to my father’s. Unfortunately, our landlord was a chain smoker who organized loud parties below us. It was not a safe environment for my children’s health. I planned to go to a shelter, but Mark appeared, pleading for pardon.

He began to cry. ‘My father was abusive, and I’m so sorry I’ve acted in the same way!’ he said. He stated that it was not his fault and would begin anger management training and counseling. ‘I’ll even seek medical attention.’ ‘I believe I’m a bipolar manic.’ You may not comprehend how men like them become addicted to women who have never experienced abuse. They keep you trapped in a cycle, and you’ll go to any length to reclaim the ‘nice’ man you thought you’d fallen in love with. As a result, in December of 2015, I returned him to him.

He grabbed my hair and yanked me to the ground a month later, in January of 2016. My entire body felt numb. He said he was going to murder me. ‘All I want to do now is wait for our daughter to be born,’ he said. A part of me wished he would simply do it. I wanted the pain and suffering to come to an end.

In March of 2016, he publicly chastised me. ‘Do you have the five dollars I gave you earlier?’ he questioned as we stood at our neighborhood dollar store. No, I said with a shake of my head. ‘It’s in the truck,’ says the driver. I’m going to get it.’ But, rather than allowing me to do so, he became agitated. ‘You’re a thief!’ he exclaimed. Everyone turned around and gazed at me, their faces flushed with embarrassment.

He wasn’t pleased with how shaky I was when I returned home. As a result, he sat up in bed and choked me against the wall. He put all of his weight on my eye socket with his massive fist. He then yanked my hair back onto the bed with his hands. When I tried to take a breath, he tried to suffocate me with his fingers down my neck, but I bit him. I vividly recall picking the skin from my teeth.

He had seized my throat and thrown me to the ground by this time. My vision became hazy, and I blacked out half. He ripped my entire shirt off of my body; that’s all I remember. I screamed for him to stop because I was in excruciating pain. I curled myself into a ball to save my baby girl from his punches. He eventually rejected me and refused to hand me the keys to my car. Before going out into the Canadian snow around midnight, I managed to grab my phone and hurriedly put on some clothes. I didn’t have anything else with me.

I requested that friends pick me up and drive me to the hospital. I didn’t even want to prosecute him because of my bad experience with the cops. I knew I would, but I just needed a little more time. I begged the physicians to help me. ‘Please don’t contact the cops!’ Simply take photographs.’ I was covered with bruises, had a black eye, and a gash on my back.

Courtesy of Jenn S.
Courtesy of Jenn S.
Courtesy of Jenn S.

But here’s the scary part: I knew I had to go back to him to buy myself some time to figure out what I should do. I needed a strategy. I called him three days later. ‘Could you please come to pick me up?’ When we came home, the first thing he did was pointed out my black eye. ‘Wow, that looks rough,’ he murmured as I opened the truck door, sore, bandaged, and broken.

He was enraged the entire night because I refused to speak to him. I started thinking a lot about my past. Before all of this, a girl named Natasha had previously dated Mark and warned me about him. I wasn’t convinced she was telling the truth. ‘You’re insane and a liar,’ I recall telling her. Before we started dating, I wasn’t eager to give up my vision of him.

I messaged Natasha that night, desperate and alone, apologized for not trusting her account. I was heartbroken when I remembered what I had said to her. What she did next is something I’ll never forget. To her, I was insignificant. Nobody knew who I was. She had been accused of lying by me. Except for our abuser, we had nothing in common. ‘Stay with me,’ she replied as soon as I informed her what had occurred to me.

My escape was scheduled for April 12. While Mark was at work, Natasha, her mother, father, and I arrived at his house. Natasha joined me inside. She was afraid, but she pretended to be courageous for my sake. We stormed into the place with rubbish bags in hand, grabbing everything we could fit into our cars: clothes, toys, and beds for my two sons. We took as much of my clothes, shoes, makeup, and hair items. Then we all drove an hour out to her folks’ place.

We proceeded to the police station for assistance after being semi-settled and safe. He was arrested and pleaded guilty simply to avoid facing more severe consequences. He was not sentenced to prison. The Canadian legal system is, at best dubious. The girl who saved my life has been my best friend for three years. She is my pillar.

Natasha was initially distant when I first moved in with her parents. Through me, she was reliving all of her nightmares. Because I was carrying our abuser’s baby, she wasn’t sure how involved she wanted to be. I’d always feel connected to him.

On the other hand, conversations become more accessible and easier over time. She’d assist me in collecting food and cleaning when I was allowed permission to return to the house. When she was with Mark, she’d even come over and sit on the couch SHE had chosen to console me.

My adorable daughter was born on April 23, 2016.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

Due to the protective order, Mark was not permitted to enter. Natasha arrived just as I was about to go into labor and held my hand the entire time. She encouraged me and sobbed beside me, for me. She was the first person to have Alora, my newborn daughter. She grew to care deeply about her over time. She no longer considers herself Mark’s daughter. She recognizes Alora for who she is.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

We now do everything as a team. We socialize, go to the movies, and visit the park. We joke about not being able to get rid of each other.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

Almost every single day, we communicate from sunrise to sunset. I surprised her with tickets to a Taylor Swift concert last summer. It was an expression of gratitude for saving my life.

She is a person who always puts the needs of others before her own. She is entirely selfless and never expects anything in return. We were both victims of the same horror. I adore her and can’t picture my life without her in it.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

I’m in the process of charging him once more. He’ll plead guilty to another assault I suffered while living with him later this month. But here’s the thing: I’m content. I’m no longer bound. I’m not gone.

My daughter is a lovely young lady, and my sons are flourishing.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

I have my own home, a new car that I paid off, and I intend to return to school shortly. I’m still in court fighting for full custody, but I’m sure everything will work out. Even though I can’t control the system, I’m doing everything I can. That was something I had to learn the hard way. I’ve also known to see the bright side of everything. I wouldn’t have the best buddy if it weren’t for him. I wouldn’t have my daughter in that situation. They’ve made a difference in my life.

Courtesy of Jenn S.
Courtesy of Jenn S.

Many people are skeptical of my story. I used to be bothered until I understood they could only see the same Mark as me. I can’t say that I blame them for their ignorance. He’s a monster hidden in plain sight.

Abuse is so rampant these days that it’s frightening. You CAN, however, escape. Make contact with your local police and shelters. I didn’t believe I’d make it out alive. It’s terrifying to envision myself accepting my fate at some point, entirely apathetic and unconcerned about whether I survived or died.

Today, I adore myself once more.

Courtesy of Jenn S.

I stepped into an elevator with another woman during the custody dispute. I’d overheard her sobbing in the corridor. She was going through a similar experience. She was a broken mother who had fought tooth and nail for her child. I grabbed her and hugged her tightly as she entered the elevator. She sat me down and sobbed furiously. I cried as well. On every level, I felt her anguish. She smiled at me and said, ‘Thank you,’ as we left ways.

I have no recollection of her appearance, yet I often think about her. I’m optimistic that everything will work out. That she, too, will live to see another day.”

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