It’s been three months since I left San Francisco. I’ll admit, I’ve had my share of struggles since my arrival. I really miss San Francisco. I miss my friends and I really miss my church. It’s been very hard to heal without the peace and comfort I felt when I was at St Dominics. If you’ve ever been to St Dominics you can certainly understand. St Dominics is not only a church, but it’s a place you can easily call home.
The past year and a half was so tumultuous. I struggled to fight cancer while enduring the hardship of an emotionally abusive relationship with a very evil and cruel man. I spent most of my time at doctors appointments or at St Dominics church on my knees crying and asking God to give me the strength to get through each day. Somehow lighting candles at the Shrine of St Jude, praying to the Blessed Mother asking for her intercession or attending mass every Sunday singing the chants were the only peace and hope I had in my life at the time. At times I would just sit in my car while parked in the parking lot if it was late and my ex had treated me poorly. I had nowhere to go so I would go to the church to try and find peace. If I wasn’t praying, I was at the Lima Center volunteering my time feeding the homeless. The few hours I’d spend helping others a few days a week allowed me to focus on others who were in worse shape than I was. It was a very rewarding experience and its one of the things I miss the most.
These past three months have been difficult. I continue to have nightmares every night. I have to sleep with a night light, I wear a scapula around my neck and I have a cross right next to my bed. Every night I sprinkle holy water from St Dominics all over myself and I pray asking God to heal me from the trauma I’ve endured from such an abusive relationship and I pray the the nightmares will stop. It’s embarrassing but true. I continue to struggle with memory loss as well. I met with my oncologist and she explained that while the side effects from treatment continue to linger, the trauma I endured has compromised my recovery.
The other day I received an email from a woman from my church in San Francisco. It was a lovely email filled with words of encouragement. Her email brought tears to my eyes. She even commended me for having the courage to leave such a horrible man but I couldn’t take the credit. It wasn’t courage that got me out of there, rather it was God and the wonderful people from my church. I’m thankful every day for that miracle.
The other night while on my evening drive with my mother she shared something that sparked a memory of a Hispanic woman who used to be my cleaning lady. Her name was Obdelia. Obdelia was a wonderful woman who had a young daughter who at the time may have been 10 or 11 years old.
Obdelia had been referred to me from a neighbor. She was a single mother trying to make ends meet. Her English was not very good so we struggled to understand one another. Obdelia and her daughter lived at a very trashy hotel. It was all she could afford. They had a hot plate and a small refrigerator but Obdelia was doing her best to care for her young daughter on a very small income.
I shared the story of Obdelia with my mom. I recall when Obdelia had first come to work for me, she asked for some supplies that would make her job easier. One of them was a rope mop and the other a cleaning supply she called “Ahocks”. I had never heard of that product, so I asked her what it was. Obdelia told me it was to clean the bathrooms. That weekend, my son Derek and I went to every store possible looking for that particular product. No store carried it nor had they ever heard of it. The following week I told Obdelia I could not find the product anywhere. She kept telling me I could find it at Walmart. Finally, I asked Obdelia to write the name of that cleaning supply on a piece of paper so I could show it to the store salesclerk. I handed her a piece of paper and she wrote the following: “A-J-A-X”. I looked at it and said “Ajax?!” Obdelia replied “yes….Ahocks!” My son and I couldn’t stop laughing. Obdelia and I certainly had a communication problem.
Every week Obdelia came to clean. Every week she either broke something or had some sort of accident but every week I paid her $90, I gave her $20 worth of groceries for her and her daughter and who knows what the cost was to replace whatever Obdelia had broken that week. She was very clumsy. My kids would say “mom, you need to fire her!” I couldn’t. I suppose because my heart went out to her and her daughter.
As I shared the story with my mom she asked “how did you finally get rid of her?” I looked at my mom and said “dad died”. After my dad passed away I couldn’t bring myself to deal with the frustration brought on by my clumsy cleaning lady.
The months before I left San Francisco, My ex had become increasingly aggressive and was exhibiting some bizarre behaviors. His actions were nothing short of frightening and insane. The Tuesday before I left, he had left that morning and never returned. I have no idea what he had been up to but I’m confident it wasn’t anything good. He was extremely verbally and emotionally abusive. I was beyond myself. That night I went to my prayer group at St Dominics. Deacon Dan led us in Taize prayer. I was very teary eyed that night so the woman next to me told me to take my prayer and leave it at the cross. I walked up to the cross that night and I got on my knees and prayed. My prayer was “I can’t take this anymore. What is your will for me w that man?” I left it there and drove home crying.
When I arrived I found my ex on the couch. He was plucking the hairs off his face and he had surprisingly taken a shower. He hadn’t taken one for three weeks so I looked at him and said “I see you took a shower. Either you got lucky or you’re going to get lucky!” I said this because a shower for him was his cue to be romantic. He began calling me the usual derogatory names I had become accustomed to. I asked him why he had been so cruel to me for the past year as I fought cancer. His reply was “because you became unattractive!” Ouch that hurt. Later that night at about 11:30 he put his coat on and said he was leaving. He went on to tell me that the hookers he was with were much better than me. He kept yelling asking “did you hear that?!” He said it multiple times. I was devastated. The truth is I not only heard him that night, those words are on replay every night and every day playing in the back of my mind. He didn’t return so at about 2:30 am I got in my car to see if his car was still parked in the ally. I drove down the ally and found him standing on a street corner. It was as if he was waiting for someone. I won’t go in to detail but he really frightened me. I convinced him to get in the car. As we drove in to the building I saw his Latina Stripper friend waiting at the building. I was crushed. I told myself it wasn’t her but I knew the truth. I just didn’t want to face it.
The following day I went to the Lima Center. I shared my story with the Deacon and the sisters. They finally cornered me and told me I had to get out. They were worried he might be dangerous. They kept insisting this man was abusive. I argued and tried to defend for this man but they wouldn’t budge. They finally convinced me I had to get out. I had prayed the night before and when I heard their words deep down I knew it was god instructing me to get out. I went home that afternoon and told him I was leaving. I’ve never packed so fast in my life. The following day I went to my doctors appointment, I also had a hitch put on my car and I got new tires. I returned around seven that night. My ex had been gone all day. I packed furiously. I was so scared. He returned around 11:00 that night and began threatening me. I was so scared I couldn’t breathe but I had the sense to not allow him to see my fear. He finally left. That night I was having anxiety attacks. I couldn’t catch my breath and I couldn’t close my eyes. I was scared half out of my mind. I’m not sure what time he returned but the following morning I found him on the couch.
I went back to the Lima Center. The sisters advised me not to go back. We called the police station and put them on alert for the next day when I returned with a Uhaul to pick up my things. I booked a room at a hotel that night and flew in my girlfriend from Washington to San Francisco that night to help me with the drive home.
The following day we arrived with the uhaul in tote. My ex started in on me but quickly stopped when he realized I had a friend with me. I’m not sure how my friend and I were able to fit every box in that uhaul but we did. There was only a small opening which was just enough room for the dolly. God was certainly with me that day because as we drove home that day neither my friend or myself had phone service as we drove through the mountains. The only thing that worked was my google map and on my phone only. We left at 10:15 that morning and I arrived at my moms house at 12:30 that night. I had just had a hysterectomy and had been bleeding for days. I never bled once that entire day until I arrived at my mothers. I’ve been traumatized ever since.
You might think I exhibited courage but the fact is the real hero in this story is Obdelia, my cleaning lady. Obdelia had been living in a hotel because she was hiding from her abusive husband. You see, Obdelia’s husband was so abusive he had tried to shoot her. Somehow in the midst of everything Obdelia had gathered the strength and courage to flee with her daughter and left that abusive and frightening man. She left to protect herself and her daughter. She had escaped with nothing. No clothes, no money, just her and her daughter. My heart went out to her then and continues to do so today as I write this.
As I told my mom the story about Obdelia I realized that maybe Obdelia wasn’t clumsy at all. Rather she was traumatized, frightened and was trying to hold herself together for the sake of her beautiful daughter. I only wish I had been more understanding. I wish I had known then what it felt like to be so frightened and broke down by such an abusive and cruel man. I do now.
I met with my counselor today. She said the trauma I experienced will take a long time to recover from. As I think about the road ahead of me, I find myself thinking about Obdelia. I have no idea where she is today but I pray the lord is taking care of her like he’s taken care of me.
Abuse is abuse. A man doesn’t have to hit you to be labeled an abuser. Emotional and verbal abuse is just as damaging. I should know. These men are predators. They exhibit the same characteristics in the beginning and before you know it, you’re in a nightmare that you feel like you can’t get out of. But you can. There’s hope. And when you feel like there isn’t, read my story and think about Obdelia. If she could get out so can you. Your guy will never change. The man you meet in the beginning is an illusion. My dear friend said to me “you can’t change an illusion so stop trying!” With that said I pray for all those women who are suffering in an abusive relationship. May the lord step in and provide a way out for them before it’s too late.