Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series. Look for part two on January 15, 2020. Names have been changed to protect the author.
My first year out of homelessness was one of great challenge. I had left everything for a life that was free of the constant overwhelming fear of abuse and rage. Free of the all too common scenes where we (my daughter and I) would be left cowering in the room we shared for years, me promising her ONE DAY we’d be out of there. One day we could live a normal life. To which Grace would reply, “I really hope so.”
I could tell by her tone she had grown as weary of hoping as I had of figuring out how we could achieve this seemingly monumental thing. We had already lost so much. Our family was split. My four boys from my first marriage were with their dad out of necessity after a foreclosure. Also gone was my first attempt to be free. I had tried and failed before due to a lack of resources.
To complicate matters our abuser had found a way to control every part of our existence. It was as if he knew I would leave if ever given the right opportunity. So, he’d do helpful things disguised as charitable acts – but it was not charity at all. Over the years, bit by calculated bit, he made sure I depended on him.
Even though we were divorced and even though the plan was one day I’d leave, Leon had no intention of letting us go without a fight.
Our belongings were in a shared storage unit, and I had tried without success to figure out a way to extricate ourselves from this situation with steady employment, and a way to save our belongings.
That was never to happen and circumstances went from bad to worse.
The last night an argument ensued over his mother throwing away some leftover Chinese food. I can’t begin to know why, but that night she decided to stand up to her bully of a son. She told him he was not to disrespect her in her house. The argument ended when he smacked his mother with so much force it knocked her glasses to the floor.
Leon didn’t stop there. Our daughter had gone upstairs, and hearing the commotion hid behind a dresser. She was told to come out from behind it. Scared she refused.
“COME OUT!” he demanded standing directly next to and hovering over the dresser. She told him okay, but could he please step back.
This had happened before. Leon had a history of backing people into corners, screaming and spitting. And, in our daughter’s case, she’d have an asthma/panic attack. She begged us for her inhaler. He told me I was not to interfere in any way. She was a “drama queen” he said and continued to scream.
Her lips began swelling and turning blue. I didn’t care what he did to me; I was giving her an inhaler.
This infuriated him all the more and he yanked her and the dresser so hard both she and the dresser came crashing down. It landed on her, and he raged “pick it up!”
Her wrist, head and ankle hurt and she was scared. All she wanted to do was lie down. Of course, I was told not to help her. Like a broken scared little animal, my sweet daughter did as he said then got into bed.
Leon thought he had won.
He told me not to baby her. She was wrong, and if I hadn’t gotten in the middle he wouldn’t have reacted so badly.
Leon was in his room now and we could hear him saying nasty things about how I had turned her from him. How I already had four kids and now I was ruining the only one he had. When he finally quieted down, I told Grace how sorry I was. I told her I wanted her to get through the night and in the morning no matter what she was to go to school. I would come get her. We were done!
The next morning I made up an excuse why I needed the car. As I was leaving, Leon’s mother called me to her. “You don’t tell anyone what goes on here,” she said.
“Who would I tell?” I asked.
“His father, if his father knew what happened, I don’t want to think about the trouble that would cause.”
That was the last time I spoke to her.
In my heart, this woman was guilty of all the damage her son had caused. She began it. Her choice to live in that HELL she created had hurt everyone I loved. She enabled her son, a violent horrible man, to act in a horrific manner demanding his way as if it was his birthright.
I drove to the school and explained I needed to pick up Grace, but also to speak to the school social worker.
I had reached out to him a couple months earlier and explained our situation and asked for referrals. He had witnessed an outburst at the beginning of the school year in which Grace’s father was frustrated about getting into her locker. He had gone to get the combination but someone else had already come to give it to us, after seeing us struggle.
Leon thought we were wasting his time, pretending not to know the combination and I was a CU** and she a bitch. The social worker remembered observing this, but never offered to help. This had happened before. Leon, feeling slighted, would lash out and food would fly, be thrown at us. He’d rant and rave, drive erratically, threaten to drive into a tree and all anyone would do is stare then walk away shaking their heads.
DCFS and the police were called. The DCFS worker told the police officer that she would not be going to “that house.” She felt unsafe there.
The next day, my birthday we went before a judge seeking an emergency order of protection. He denied it. But not before he told my daughter, “You keep chewing on that gum and we’re going to have problems.” I didn’t think to tell him she was only chewing it because we left without toothbrushes and toothpaste. A piece of gum split between us was all we had to freshen our mouths. I was too stunned.
Shattered and afraid we left that courthouse.
Without an Order of Protection we were on the run. If Leon found us, he could demand I return her. The officer in our case told me not to tell him where we were. I was to keep her safe and give his report to the DCFS worker and wait. I called the DCFS agent who told me to stay safe and document everything and wait for her report. Two weeks later, there was another report to add as Leon had called demanding the officer have me return both his daughter and car.
Again the officer refused, and told him I was not breaking any laws. Leon called him every name in the book, screamed at the man, demanded his Sergeant’s badge number then told him to get the “F” off his property.
The officer then reported he told him no one else would come out for this reason and turned to leave. As he was walking away, he could hear yelling and crashing coming from the house.
Despite this, the day the DCFS report was due, she called and said she had to see Grace one more time. When we received it, my heart fell. “Unfounded” it said.
I find it odd that this woman, who refused to even go to the house for fear of her own safety, would put my child at risk. It’s something that’s bothered me ever since.
After the tragic death of little AJ Freund, an investigation was launched. Both a supervisor and caseworker were let go. It would not surprise me if the Judge and Caseworker were the same as in our botched case.
We had left everything and trusted somehow everything would work out. We were homeless, penniless and now we felt afraid.