When most people see me, they see the image that I put forward; I’m a young successful man with a good job, a nice car, and a stable life.
What they don’t see is that I come from a broken home where violence was the norm, and that I know all too well the pain that domestic violence can bring.
I've spent years trying to keep the struggles that my family has endured a secret; I tried to make sure that people only knew the version of me that I wanted them to know. However, in recent years as I’ve become involved with domestic violence awareness, I realize more than ever that it is important for people to share their story so that victims can understand that they are not alone.
When I was only nine years old, my mother entered into a relationship with a man named Carl. He would end up changing our lives forever. What began as a loving and caring relationship quickly began to spin out of control as drugs, alcohol, and jealousy led to violence. After a night of drinking my mother and stepfather began to argue and things became physical- my mother was slapped, kicked, and had her hair pulled. As things began to escalate, I instinctively ran to the phone and called the police begging for help, they came and helped to calm everyone down and asked my step-father to leave for the night. I laid in bed awake the entire night, confused and scared; I prayed that this was just a one-time situation that had gotten out of hand, and that things would simply go back to normal. And they did. For awhile.
Before long it became a regular occurrence to see an argument quickly escalate until things were being thrown across the room, or my mother was being thrown to the ground and beaten. During the day I went to school and became an expert at putting on a happy face and pretending that everything was ok, but by the time the bell would ring at the end of the day, I was usually terrified of what I would find at my home. I knew that any day could possibly be the day when he took it just a little too far, when he hit her a little too hard and she would be gone forever. On many of those days I would find her in tears and terrified, often times with visible marks of abuse.
Studies show that the most dangerous time in a domestic violence situation is after the victim leaves their abuser, and this proved to be the case for us. Just 2 months after we left the home that we shared with him, on May 12th 2001, after spending the day out for my 13th birthday we returned home and found that Carl was in our house waiting for us.
He had broken in while we were gone, cut the phone lines and waited for us to return from our trip. Almost immediately he began to beat my mother as she fell to the ground begging for him to stop, I jumped on his back and tried to pull him off of her but he easily threw me off of him and into a wall. I apparently blacked out for a short time, and when I came to I was lying on the floor next to my mother and Carl was kneeling over both of us with his hand around my throat and a knife held up to hers. I was able to pull myself from under him and pull him off of her long enough for her to get back to her feet. Carl was now standing between the two of us and my mother was screaming for me to try to run out the back door. I know that she was worried about my safety but I couldn’t move, I couldn’t leave her to face him by herself.
We spent the next several hours trapped in the house with him; it would shift from vicious beatings to moments of him attempting to explain away his actions before the anger would take him over again. We were finally able to persuade him to let us go; we agreed to drive him to his mother’s home and promised not to go to the authorities. The last thing he said to us was a threat- if we went to the police, then he would kill the both of us and my older brother, who was living with his father at the time.
After dropping him off, we immediately went to the police station for help. We were quickly taken to the hospital to treat the wounds from the attack. My mother had a black eye, busted lip, bruising all over her face, and the doctors were initially concerned that bones in her face were broken. We spent the rest of the night at the hospital, both reeling from the events of the day and terrified about what would come next. We were beyond grateful when a crisis advocate from a domestic violence shelter came to meet us at the hospital. She was extremely kind and compassionate with us as she offered us a place to stay where we would be safe. We spent the next few days in the shelter, enjoying the thing that we used to take for granted- the fact that we were safe.
The next few months were extremely frightening; we left Texas in hopes of getting away from our problems, only to have Carl track us down in Oklahoma. We again turned to a local domestic violence prevention organization and they helped us get into another shelter and to investigate legal options we could pursue to keep him away from us. Ultimately he was caught several months later as police staked out a payphone he had been using to call and harass us for months. We eventually went to trial and he was sentenced to 45 years in prison, which was later reduced to 8 years on a technicality. For the first time in years we could walk out our door without having to look for someone who might be waiting for us. It was an extremely liberating feeling.
My mother ultimately remarried, and I went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology and have had a successful banking career. After years of rebuilding our lives and attempting to move on from our experiences, we were dealt a very harsh reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence. On June 23rd 2013, my younger step-sister Kayla and her friend Alex were shot and killed by Kayla’s estranged boyfriend. The shooting came after many months of violent episodes. Shortly after murdering Kayla, he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Kayla was only 19 when she was killed, and left behind a 5 month old little girl that will never get to know either of her parents.
Just over a year after Kayla died, we learned that my mother’s ex-husband Carl had been arrested for killing his girlfriend following a series of domestic disputes. We had been concerned when he was released from prison, but had heard that he had moved on and gotten married. We had gone for years without hearing from him, until shortly before he killed his girlfriend, when we began to receive threatening messages from him again. After the tragedy we immediately felt for her family; not only had we gone through a very similar loss with Kayla, but we also understood all too well that it could have very easily been us.
What I’ve learned over the years is that domestic violence does not make sense. There is no way to ever understand why something so senseless happens, there’s no way to spot those affected, and there is no easy answer to this problem.
What we can do is work to make sure that we get rid of the stigma that is attached to domestic violence; it can and does affect people from all walks of life. The next time that you feel like you’re the only one struggling with these issues, just look around at the grocery store, the restaurant, or the bank and know that many of those people have been forced to deal with similar situations and they understand how it feels.
I strongly believe that had an organization like Family Support Services not given us a safe place to go during those difficult times, we could have very easily been killed at the hand of our abuser. There is help available, and because of organizations like Family Support Services, we were able to feel safe.
Jay Polvadore is a Bank Officer at Amarillo National Bank. He serves on the Board of Directors for Family Support Services, and has volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club as well as many other agencies.
FSS is here to help.
Main Office: 806-342-2500
24 Hour Crisis Line 806-374-5433 or 800-749-9026
Outside of Amarillo?
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)