I’ve received some stories where the writer has asked to be anonymous. Writing is an outlet for me and I think some of you have found it to be helpful as you’ve sent me your stories. Some of you have pointed out that knowing someone on the other end is reading it, even though it’s a stranger, has been helpful. Some kind of release.
This is a story from a 25-year-old mom. I cried as I read her email, which made JP rush over to find out what was wrong. His heart broke for her.
By society’s standards, I used to be “normal.” I was fun, outgoing, had a lot of friends, spent most weekends out, worked my ass off at a job I loved, and so on. When I was 20, I met a guy who I thought was the end all, be all of men. He was sweet, funny, and kind. He treated me well and we always had fun together. But when I started seeing red flags in our relationship, I started distancing myself from him and eventually broke things off. He didn’t take the break up well and immediately showed his true colors (which he had done amazingly well at hiding up to this point). He started stalking me. He’d spend days at a time outside my house taking photos, calling me, texting me, threatening my family. I bought two guns to keep at home: one right next to my bed and one next to my front door. I was terrified of him. Whenever I called the police, he’d be gone before they could catch him. When they finally did, he was arrested and sent to prison. I spent almost an entire year in court with him. One court hearing per week, every single week until the case was finally closed. It was draining, to say the least. I had to change my phone number several times to avoid getting prison calls. By the second month of court hearings, the judge suggested I see a counselor. I was barely eating, I was having trouble focusing at work, and I was having nightmares so bad, I was afraid to go to bed at night. I gladly took the judge’s suggestion and met with a counselor. She was amazing and helped me through a lot. She even got me set up with an advocate who came to the remainder of the court hearings with me and spoke for me so I wouldn’t have to face my ex alone. The case was finally closed and I felt like I was starting to heal and get back to my normal life. I had no idea what was coming soon after.
Fast forward about a year and a half later. I was happily married and pregnant with my daughter. I went into labor on a Saturday, my husband and I took our daughter home from the hospital on Monday, and my world fell apart on Thursday. I was sitting at home with my 5 day old newborn, enjoying every second with her. My mom was at our house helping me with the baby. She picked up her phone to check the news and her face went white. When I asked what was wrong, she turned her phone toward me and a picture of my ex was plastered on the front page of the news: he had been released from prison and had brutally and violently murdered someone. My husband quickly grabbed my daughter because he knew I would fall apart. And I did. I fell to the floor and could not control the crying. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what to think or how to feel. Was it true? Maybe they had the wrong guy. The next few weeks went by in a blur. I was terrified. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t leave my house. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. Most of all, I didn’t understand what the hell was happening. Everything was back. The fear, the nightmares, the paranoia. But a thousand times worse than before. I had nightmares of him escaping from jail, breaking into my house, and killing my family; killing MY baby girl. The story was on the news for two weeks straight. All my friends knew. Everyone tried to call, everyone wanted to talk to me. I stayed off the internet and social media as much as I could and tried to ignore it all. But then I got a letter in the mail. It was from him. I didn’t know how he got my address and that scared the hell out of me. The letter was long and detailed. He blamed me for the murder. He went on for pages about how if I had never left him, he would have had a normal life and he never would have murdered this person. Any sane person would have understood the absolute ridiculousness of such a claim. But me, in my mentally unstable state, completely believed him. He was right, wasn’t he? I shouldn’t have left him. I could have prevented that murder.
My mental health deteriorated so fast, it was unbelievable. Three weeks after the murder, my mom came over to my house and found me lying on my kitchen floor staring at the ceiling crying. My 3-week-old daughter was lying on the floor next to me. My family called the police and I was taken to a hospital for observation. I spent 3 days in focus groups with other “mental” people. We had to talk about our feelings and share why we were there. Looking back, I can honestly say that 3 days saved my life. Was it weird? Yes. Did I feel like a freak? Yes. But I needed it. I needed the break. I needed sleep and food and peace and quiet. And something about being locked up in a place with bars on the windows gave me an odd sort of comfort. I knew that he couldn’t get to me. When I got to go home, my family worked hard with me to restore some of the balance in my life. I started seeing a counselor again and I was determined to work as hard as I could to be a good mom and take care of my daughter. But within days, the police were at my door. They needed me to testify in the trial. If I wrote about the next year of my life, I could fill a book. Long story short, my life changed for good. I’m no longer outgoing, I have very few friends (I chose a small circle of people to keep in my life) and I keep my family closer than ever. It’s been a while since the trial ended. My ex was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Some days are great, some days are awful. The awful days are usually the days when I can’t control all the thoughts that fill my head. Most days, I still can’t connect in my head what my ex did. I can’t seem to connect the fact that my sweet, loving, kind hearted (or so I thought) man had violently taken someone else’s life. This man that had told me so many times that he loved me. This man that had planned romantic dates for us and wrote me love letters. Some days, it still just doesn’t make sense.
About 6 months after the murder, through a VERY strange chain of events, I ended up on the phone with the mother of the man my ex had murdered. We talked for 5 hours straight. I told her all the things my ex had said to me and that he blamed me for her son’s death. And I let her talk for hours about her son. She told me all about him. His likes, his dislikes, what he did for a job, what he was like as a person. It was a relief for her. But at the end of the phone call, she said something I’ll never forget: “Forgive yourself. My son is not dead because of you. And you can’t live your life believing that he is.” I was floored. This woman had tragically lost her son and here she was comforting ME? What?! We cried and thanked each other. A few days later, I visited her son’s grave and placed a bouquet of yellow roses at his headstone. I took a picture and sent it to his mother. She appreciated the gesture and said she thought her son and I could have been good friends. We haven’t talked since. I guess we just needed that one 5 hour time period to cry and talk and vent.
Very few people understand my story. Most people look at me and say, “Um, someone was murdered. You have no right to be affected, you’re still alive.” In a way, they’re right. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I am affected. I was and still am. I never would have imagined that this would change my life so much. You see murder everywhere: in the news, on TV, in movies. But it’s never so close to home. It’s never someone you know. Nowadays, I’m a stay at home mom. I do nothing but spend time with my family and do my best to make amazing memories and appreciate the time I get with the people I love. But he’s still in my head. I still have nightmares. Fairly often, I sneak into my daughter’s room and crawl into bed with her just to remind myself that she’s safe because the nightmares are so real. My ex is in a level five facility in the middle of the plains of Colorado. He is guarded by some of Colorado’s finest and there’s no way he’s ever getting out. But some days, that doesn’t matter. It’s still terrifying. I do my best to choose happiness and peace every day, but of course some days I fail miserably. I’m thankful now to have a beautiful, healthy, and happy 3-year-old who loves life and lights up every room she walks into. I’m thankful to have a husband who supports me no matter what, even on my terrible days. Life goes on and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way.