Suicide by Default

Rest in peace Anthony Bourdain. Stop. Look. And Listen.
You may save someone’s life.

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By Teresa G. D’vall

http://linkedin.com/in/teresa-g-d-vall-b5019472

This is a story about the time depression killed my mother and not one you should read if you’re in a good mood. Chances are, you’re not aware that suicide can be committed by neglect. I made this discovery three years ago, on a chilly gray morning drenched in November Rain.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so this tale is belated but remains pertinent, even though it’s October, the month we’re supposed to be aware of Domestic Violence, Breast Cancer and Bullying Prevention.

Shortly after 7am, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014, I threw my favorite red coat and Coach purse onto a hospital floor without hesitation.

My ex niece-in-law offered the purse in lieu of rent when I let her stay with us. I could barely afford to feed my 6 kids, let alone hers, but I was 21 with a baby…

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Why I’m Raising Your Next School Shooters

By Teresa G. D’vall

While the country heaves a collective sigh of grief over the Parkland tragedy in Florida, know this:

School shooters are created over a lifetime, not in a single instance.

As a survivor of domestic violence and Mom of six I warn you, with dreadful certainty, that one of my kids may end up killing yours because violence in the home gives impetus to apathy; and is contagious.

I have been trying to get counseling for my aggressive children since August of 2017 and have encountered one roadblock after another. The reason why should incite you.

A recent article by CNN describing the Florida shooter’s history of violence as a youth and failed attempts to get help infuriated me.

I currently have an active, permanent order of protection against my ex husband. There is a clear and present history of violence in our home. Still, the schools, police, and NY State Child Protective Services are failing my family too.

Followers of my blog may recall reading “How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon” the story of how I escaped my abusive marriage. That piece focused on the difficulty of leaving and the battles I overcame to do so. Nearly FIVE years later, we are still struggling in aftermath. Despite efforts to convey the gravity of my circumstances; our newly assigned judge has done more to hinder than help.

I filed four pro se motions in 2017 and four orders to show cause; requests for emergent assistance. All were denied, almost in their entirety.

The only victory I achieved was after my second motion in April. The judge agreed to prohibit my ex from bringing the children to the station when he filed police reports. I hold the dubious distinction in The Town of Warwick for most domestic incident reports. There was a point during the summer when the police were literally at my house every week, sent there by my ex husband. It is not unusual for an officer to stop me as I attempt to explain and say:

“I already know this story.”

Each time I interact with the Warwick, NY police I am told there’s nothing they can do. After almost 40 calls in 2017 alone, only three police officers offered any type of help or hope. Officer Serviss offered to speak to my son & did. Officer Pascal spoke to both of my sons and told me about the PINS program that helps youth in peril. Officer Kearns listened to me & gave me hope.

Twice in November of 2017 & again in January of this year I filed orders to show cause seeking help to resume the counseling my children have been getting for the last three years.

All three motions were denied by Judge Franzblau of Sussex County NJ Family Court. Then, shockingly, my pending motion, asking for the same help, returnable 12/15/17 was adjourned; Indefinitely!

I appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of NJ begging for my case to be heard.

My ex husband was able to remove the counselors that my kids were seeing for three years in August of 2017 due to a loophole in ‘joint custody’ that allows him to participate in decisions about the children’s healthcare. Their behavior has deteriorated exponentially since, including severe disruption at school.

Students who are compromised emotionally suffer consequences few would expect. They are more susceptible to bullying and prone to outward displays of inappropriate or negative behavior. I am shocked and dismayed almost daily as I listen to the horror stories of middle school. If the general public knew how prevalent bullying remains in schools despite the fact we are 20 years ‘wiser’ after Columbine; they would be horrified. Bullying has also mutated in its severity. I have heard tales of physical violence going unchecked while innattentive lunch monitors play around on their cell phones. Today’s middle schoolers are more ruthless than when my older children went through school just a few years ago.

Recently, one son, who hasn’t wanted to leave the house with me in months asked if I’d bring him to Walmart so he could buy Valentine’s treats for a few girl friends he had at school. That night when I asked how candy giving went I was flabbergasted to hear that a girl took the bag he gave her and threw it on the floor.

Imagine how devastating such an act can feel when you are 12. The cruelty of adolescence remains incomprehensible to me. Middle school stress combined with the long term effects of domestic violence can devastate a young mind.

During a particularly bad episode of misbehavior my sons revealed that they were being exposed to details they were incapable of processing.

“You’re trying to declare me ‘mental’ so you can get more child support.”

To their older brother:

“You’re not our real brother, you don’t even have a father. Your father left because mommy is crazy.”

Judge Franzblau stated in his last decision that “there was no clear evidence or danger of irreparable harm”, even though I submitted violent drawings my son made of ways to kill himself. He stated that I had a remedy in law; filing a motion.

It shouldn’t take this long or be this difficult to get help. My children are in peril, drowning in a system that does not recognize the long term effects of domestic violence.

I am watching helplessly as my children display increasingly alarming apathy. They are beginning to lie about the smallest indiscretions and refuse to take ownership of their actions. I have a 5 year old little girl who laments she wants to kill herself if I won’t buy her candy at the supermarket. When questioned by a police officer about why he called me a name, my 11 year old replied that he wouldn’t use such language if he didn’t hear it from his “Fucking Fat Ass Father.” I looked on helplessly, shocked by both his words and lack of accountability.

I emphatically believe that both parents in domestic violence situations should be required to undergo mandatory psych evaluations. A parent who repeatedly exhibits inappropriate behavior in the presence of minors should have supervised visitation until it can be determined that the children are no longer at risk to exposure of negative influence. When necessary, joint custody should not be granted if a parent has a history of serious mental illness.

School shooters aren’t born, they are created by a series of missed opportunities for help.

Perhaps tragedies like Parkland can be avoided in the future if the mentally ill receive adequate intervention. Gun control will only resolve part of the issue. It is imperative that we create a system that does not fail the most vulnerable members of society.

Call your state representative, or anyone who will listen and demand change.

Epilogue

Nearly seven months after my children lost the right to have counselng, I had my day in court on March 9, 2018.
During the course of a thirty minute dissertation I sprawled 45 police reports, a dozen closing letters sent by Child Protective Services and six denied court orders across the table in front of me. I implored the judge to look at them with scrutiny; then closed with this:

“These are the documents that an investigative reporter will dig up after one of my children commits a violent crime.
This is my family falling though the cracks.
And the paper trail will lead back here, to this court, where I have pleaded before you for the 6th time in a year’s span to help my family.”

Less than a week later I received Judge Franzblau’s decision by mail.

He signed an order permitting the children to receive counseling and prohibited my ex from sending police to our home unless there is a life threatening emergency.

A week after that, another “anonymous caller” made a report alleging child abuse, and this time the state ploice were sent to my house.

I envy the woman who gets punched in the face. Society and the Courts recognize physical abuse. If they don’t, eventually, her abuser will kill her and she’ll finally have an end to the game. There is no end for me.

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Suicide by Default

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By Teresa G. D’vall

http://linkedin.com/in/teresa-g-d-vall-b5019472

This is a story about the time depression killed my mother and not one you should read if you’re in a good mood. Chances are, you’re not aware that suicide can be committed by neglect. I made this discovery three years ago, on a chilly gray morning drenched in November Rain.

September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, so this tale is belated but remains pertinent, even though it’s October, the month we’re supposed to be aware of Domestic Violence, Breast Cancer and Bullying Prevention.

Shortly after 7am, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2014, I threw my favorite red coat and Coach purse onto a hospital floor without hesitation.

My ex niece-in-law offered the purse in lieu of rent when I let her stay with us. I could barely afford to feed my 6 kids, let alone hers, but I was 21 with a baby once too, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

She actually gave me two Coach purses, and a great pair of Crocs that I still wear, three summers later.
My ex sister-in-law would have a fit if she knew because those things were hers, and she never liked me.

I leave the purse in my car when I go to the food pantry but it shouldn’t matter to strangers how I acquired it.

That morning, it didn’t matter where I threw it. A short stretch of hallway was the last obstacle impeding my destination. I had just violated the speed limit and multiple traffic lights; littering the floor with my purse and coat was an afterthought.

The ICU corridor was lined with solemn personnel in surgical scrubs. Their silence was deafening; somber gazes of pity revealed the grim reality I already knew. My mother was moments away from death.

Waking to an early morning phone call with bad news at the other end is a moment we all dread.

The doctor said she was very, very sick and suggested I get there as soon as possible.

It was just after dawn and only my teenage daughter was awake. She looked on helplessly as I ran out the front door with the phone in hand screaming:

“I’m coming right now! Don’t turn off any machines! Please!! I’m her oldest child and I do not give you permission to stop life support!!”

I made the 45 minute drive in 30, during a torrential downpour, and was the only one of three siblings to arrive before it was too late.

Her head was so enlarged I could barely recognize the first face my eyes ever beheld.
Fluids injected to prolong life had caused swelling and a purple discoloration of her skin. Images of her that morning have lingered in my mind much longer than I want them there.

I sat on the gurney & said
“Mom, I’m here. I’m here mom.”

A doctor, probably the one who caused the cardiac arrest by moving her out of the ER said,
“She can’t hear you.”

“Yes she can.” I asserted, not really caring to whom.

Instinctively, I began to stroke her forehead, the same way she did mine during early childhood.
I held her hand and said,
“I love you. You were a good mom.”

The nurse who’d been pumping air through a tube into her mouth stopped making compressions. My gaze turned to a beeping monitor and I watched until the line went flat.

Our relationship ended as it began
with just her and I,
my head on her chest;
in a hospital bed.

My mother spent so much of her life unhappy that when she drew her last breathe, my first thoughts were that she was finally getting what she wanted. Death isn’t a popular gift but it’s what she requested most during the last decade of her life.

Septic shock, preceded by a urinary tract infection that went untreated had caused heart failure. She acquired it by not taking care of herself, because she was depressed.

Too depressed to shower.
Too depressed to leave the house. Too depressed to ask for help.

Or want any.

Depression is spoken about freely now, but September wasn’t Suicide Prevention Month when my mom grew up. I didn’t realize my mother suffered from depression until after she died. I thought she was just a negative person. A complainer. Someone who was bitter because life hadn’t turned out the way she planned.

I never knew how severe her depression was until I stumbled upon the picture that accompanies this story. Tucked away in a portfolio of drawings I never knew she made; I recognized the face immediately as my mother’s.

Depression is suicide’s silent accomplice, and the most sinister.
It masquerades as apathy, anger, and other behaviors that we wouldn’t immediately associate with sadness.

It took 69 years; but depression caused my mother’s death.

Suicide Prevention Awareness shouldn’t be confined to a month. Be aware, every day, that depression has many faces.

Stop, look, and listen. You may save someone’s life.

 

 

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How I Manage My 157 Hour Work Week

By Teresa G. D’vall

Dear Absent Parent,

Raising six children means that nothing is ever quiet, clean, or routine. We always need milk, the lemonade pitcher empties in minutes and a box of cereal only lasts 3 days if I hide it before going to bed.

Our children are 3, 7, 9, 10, 17 and even though the 23 year old mostly visits, my house is always chaotic.

You said I need to do my share since I don’t work. Here’s what I do on a typical day during the 157 hours of the week you don’t have them:

6:50-7:45am:

Awake to tormented wails:

“He’s copying me!”

“She spilled Cheerios on me!”

“I have nothing to wear!”

“There’s nothing eat!”

Vacuum Cheerios from everywhere while my coffee gets cold. Start the laundry. Clean up after the dog who was just let in but prefers to pee inside. Clean the cat litter.

Scrub a 1/2 dozen cups and sticky dishes in the sink because there’s nothing to eat and the only dishwasher is me. Mumble to myself that peanut butter is nearly impossible to get off a spoon after being left in the fridge all night.

Pick waffle off floor. Ask why there’s toast in the bathroom.

7:45-8:15am:

Gather book bags, coats, the homework Lou left on the counter, find my purse.

(I stash it somewhere new each night because the kids are always looking for gum).

Ask kids to clean up Cheerios. Again. Mop the floor on the way out the door to catch the school bus wearing slippers because it’s quicker than searching for my shoes. Remind myself of the time I arrived at school wearing one black boot and a brown one.

8:15-10:00am

Start second load of laundry. Hang first load on makeshift clothesline. (It dangles precariously over a fence and if I don’t hang strategically, the longer garments get stuck on it; then fall off).

Make 5 beds. Pick up clothes, remnants of toys, empty wrappers, dirty utensils, duct tape stuck to floor and Cheerios in boys’ room. Empty water bottle that doesn’t have water in it without attempting to find out what it is.

Worry about finances. Apply for employment.

(22 applications so far this week) Child support isn’t enough to cover rent. Even though I went back to school and finished my bachelor’s degree, most available jobs pay little more than childcare costs a week.

10:00-10:15am:

Email our fifth grader’s guidance counselor and exchange a dozen texts with his therapist while trying to make an appointment at three different psychiatrists, all of whom don’t accept Medicaid.

Email our fourth grader’s teacher to make sure he turned in his homework.

Ask 3 year old why there are Cheerios stuck in her hair.

10:16-10:30am:

Wash 3 year old’s hair.

Vacuum Cheerios that were spilled, along with milk; while I hung clothes on the line. Mop the floor. Twice, because spilled milk is reluctant to be cleaned up.

11:00-11:30am:

Arrive at food pantry. Wait in line. Go to Walmart Supercenter for everything the food pantry didn’t have.

Realize the kids have a 1/2 day of school and l’m going to be late for the bus unless I abandon my cart immediately and leave.

Noon:

Collect children from bus, drive home. Hang second load of laundry. Throw third load in washer and realize I forgot to get more laundry detergent. Drive to the dollar store because household supplies are cheapest there.

12:30pm:

Leave dollar store with a renewed certainty that I will never, EVER go there with children again.

Realize I have 20 minutes before fifth grader’s teacher conference and no one’s had lunch.

1:00pm:

Arrive at Burger King and manage to feed 4 kids with the six dollars in my wallet that’s there because most of it is change.

1:15pm:

Apologize to fifth grade teacher for being late.

Explain that I didn’t realize the kids had a half day of school when I scheduled the appointment for 1:10.

1:40pm

Apologize to teacher who entertained three year old because her brothers argued during conference and she fell over during the scuffle.

Feign shock as teacher down the hall recounts lecture she gave boys about using the word ‘balls’ inappropriately.

Leave in shame.

Interrogate fifth grader about missing homework and having a 50 in social studies on way to car.

2:00pm:

Arrive at playground to fritter away 25 minutes until the high school bell rings even though boys deserve confinement instead of fun after ‘balls’ faux paux.

Try in vain to look in three directions while being commanded to push a swing and “Find a potty” because 3 year old has to pee.

2:15pm:

Create provisional toilet out of Little Mermaid ride on toy that we’ve been traveling with for no apparent reason. It has a liftable seat compartment so I line it with Walmart bags that I keep for when the kids get car sick.

Rapidly walk to closest garbage can at farthest end of playground with leaking Walmart bag. Hope no one’s watching.

2:30pm:

Pick up moody teen age daughter. Affix magnet of shame that warns:

“Please be patient, student driver.”

3:00pm-Almost 9pm:

Arrive home safely with student driver and headache.

Take second load of laundry off clothesline. Hang third load.

Start dinner.

Ask Lou to do his homework.

Email fourth grade teacher to determine that Lou’s lying about not having homework. Again.
Console 7 yr old. Send 10 year old to his room for hitting him with a “sticky hand” toy; in the eye.

Lecture 10 year old about sticky hand which is broken, no longer sticky because it landed on Cheerios and also, not his.

Plead with 7 year old to stop hopping around the kitchen, holding his eye and screaming:

“He broke my sticky hand!!!” at a decibel level so loud it sends a flock of birds out of the tree Lou’s now climbing instead of doing homework.

Ask Lou why he’s on a tree wielding a stick he wrapped in duct tape and not wearing a coat. Beg him to do homework.

Refuse to discuss why I only give Cheerios as a snack.

Find 3 year old. Order boys to stop fighting. Again. Pack everyone in car amidst protest.

Drive moody teen to work. Command 3 year old to get back in her booster seat. Resort to threats. “Hurry! The police are coming!”

Arrive home and realize the cat’s with us.

Serve dinner and almost sit down to eat it then realize the dog peed on the floor again. While cleaning dog’s ‘accident’ she pulls 3 year old’s dish onto floor.
Ask for the vacuum because rice is nearly impossible to wipe off a floor, but everyone’s finished eating and gone already.

Call for help clearing dishes, receive none. Declare 5:30 bedtime since they’re too tired to help with dishes. Only the 3 year old returns to help. (Clears every dish with a smile, proclaiming she’s a big girl).

Give her the dollar I found in Lou’s sock drawer earlier because I know he took it out of my purse without asking.

Bribe Lou to do his homework with gum. Bathe 3 year old. Wipe flooded bathroom floor because shower door leaks and I forgot to buy caulk.

Exit bathroom and find kitchen curtains knocked off rods, a broken mop, and Louie wrestling his older brother who he claims just stabbed him with a fork.

Realize it’s almost 9 and send everyone to bed.

8:45-9:30pm:

Tuck everyone in snug like a bug in a rug. Lay with 3 year old who asks to sing me ‘Muffin Baby” tonight instead.

Savor the moment as she belts out her version of “Hush Little Baby”

Notice she fell asleep clutching the dollar I gave her earlier.

Pick up moody teen at work. Listen to her tell me I shouldn’t complain about leaving the house to get her after 9pm because I don’t do anything all day.

10:00pm:

Sit down to “relax” for the first time and begin to answer various emails from teachers and therapists, apologizing for doing so at such a late hour.

Delete to junk employment scam emails.

Wonder if I’ll ever find a job using my degree.

Worry about finances.

Realize the third load of laundry is still on the line.

Fall asleep with dinner on my shirt because I forgot to shower.

Repeat.

Signed,

Your Lazy Ex-Wife
For my mother, because I grew up to have one just like me.

 

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Dad’s Greatest Gift was Free

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Teresa G. D’vall

My dad taught me many things, but the lesson I remember most is the one about the value of a good home. I knew we didn’t live in the best part of town, but I never thought we were poor. Instead of fine furnishings and  luxuries money could buy; our house was filled with laughter, happiness and meals we still recall with satisfaction

We never took a fancy vacation but I have many fond memories of camping trips, fishing excursions and long hikes in the woods near home where we spent hours engaged in our best talks. Thirty years later, I still think of my dad whenever I see purple and white wildflowers in fields like the ones we used  to walk through.

Dad loved beagles and we always had one as a family pet. They were pure bred and worth several hundred each as pups.  One year after Angie, or Beauty or Sally had a litter I asked him, excitedly, how much money we’d earn after selling them. There were many needs we could have satisfied with the proceeds from the sale of one beagle.  Dad told me that most of the people he knew couldn’t afford to pay for the pups and he’d rather see them go to good  homes, places where he might even get to see them as they  grew up.

I’ve told my children many stories about their  grandfather, but the one about our bargain beagles is my favorite. I strive to raise all six of them the way dad raised me; with the knowledge that some assets are priceless.

My best memories of growing up were  spent with my dad. He is still the richest man I know.

 

 

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Why You Shouldn’t Miss the Moment

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Teresa G. D’vall

Uncle Wiggly is a board game introduced by Milton Bradley in 1916 and themed around a rabbit who does a lot of hopping through the forest for reasons I no longer recall. My mother played it with me as a child and I was thrilled to find an edition on Amazon as an adult. It’s also the only game she  played with her grandchildren, reluctantly, the last time she visited my home for Christmas, too many years ago.

My three toddlers couldn’t really follow or remember the rules and Mom was beginning to suffer from short term memory loss so neither could she. I was desperately trying to manage a house still floundering in a disarray of leftovers and strewn with gift wrap. When I saw her on the floor with them I stood still; mesmerized by the novelty of it all. Even though they didn’t play very long and no one reached Dr. Possum’s house; there was a lot of laughter that day. It would be the only memory I have of my mom with her youngest grandsons. They called her Uncle Wiggly instead of Grandma after that. There weren’t many things that made Mom smile; but that moment did.

On October 25, 2014, I said goodbye to my mother for the last time. I wouldn’t know it until almost exactly a month later, when she passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69, and was only able to pinpoint the date because I’d brought a sick child to the pediatrician that morning. Afterwards, I was about to drive past her neighborhood and knew I hadn’t taken the time to see her in awhile. Visits were always uneasy because she’d repeat herself often, without realizing it. As my mini van approached the steep, familiar hill with the sign at the base welcoming me to Pleasant Valley Country Club, a nagging feeling urged; even though I was busier than usual:

“Turn now, go see her.” 

Tumultuous would be a kind way to describe our relationship throughout most of my life but early senility had softened my mother. Forgetfulness made her less critical. Rarely, if ever, did she reminisce about mistakes made during my youth now. The downside was she couldn’t remember accomplishments either. When I earned my bachelor’s degree the year prior, I never told her. V.K. Ezzo was an author too, who also wrote under a pen name, yet I never revealed that I had published my first book. For some reason, I chose to tell her both that day. Although brief, the visit would have been memorable even if it hadn’t been our final one. My Mom did two things for the first and last time that day. She said she was proud of me; then she hugged me.

Glancing back at her in the front yard, I noticed how frail she seemed, and thought that if it was the last I ever saw her, it was the most meaningful time we spent together. She was smiling as I pulled away. There are only a few moments in life we remember with the kind of clarity that remains etched in our minds whether we want it to or not. As the one year anniversary of her passing approaches, I am reminded how important it is to savor each one.

Meetings, deadlines, unfinished projects, children and the school activities that accompany them tend to keep our focus on what needs to be accomplished instead of enjoying the moments we think there’s no time for. The future we’re planning shouldn’t impede the present; but it often does.

Laundry can wait; work will be there tomorrow. Our house is cluttered because we live in it. The urge to complain about vacuuming bits of uncooked spaghetti from everywhere because the kids think pasta is a toy wanes with thoughts of how clean it will be once they are grown. Why is there a rock in the refrigerator? Who cares.

I turn my head more often now when they say ‘Look!’,  whether I’m busy or not. They tell me about their score and I listen, even though video games ceased being important to me long ago. If they say “Mommy come here!”  I go. I feign attention if I don’t have time to pay it. 

I visit my dad for no reason whenever I can.

Other than the early basics, there are only a few things I remember my mother teaching me. When to use my high beams. How to look at the white line to guide me in the dark while I drive. At 43 years old; I wasn’t expecting any new lessons.

During an impromptu visit, because I turned up her hill at the last second; even though I didn’t have time to; my mother taught me for the last time.
The briefest moments can become a cherished memory. You never know which could the last one, or the only one, so don’t miss any of them.

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Why I Celebrate Independence Day on July 29th

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Teresa G. D’vall

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=257238636

The co-founder of Youshareproject.com invited me to share my story “How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon ” recently and of course I obliged, even though it meant editing the piece by half to fit submission guidelines. It publishes today, by chance, on the 2 year anniversary of the day I escaped my abusive marriage. Although I welcome any chance to help others in an abusive relationship; reading through the piece to adapt it brought back a flood of memories, all of them bad.

Most people think of black eyes and broken bones when they hear the term domestic violence. Few understand the scars left behind that you can’t see. Abuse is a family affair that hurts everyone. Like most affairs; domestic violence has a secret. If you’re being hit, and you leave, your problems go away. Emotional abuse is physical abuse’s uglier sister; and more insidious because it leaves with you.

Since 7/29/13, no one has called me lazy. Or hag. Or Crazy. No one has forced me to have sex when I didn’t want to. I haven’t worried once that an angry person would barge through my bedroom door and yell loud enough to wake my sleeping children. Or call me a whore in front of them. Yet, last month, when a magazine in Baltimore invited me to review their site, which focused on women’s issues; I had to stop reading an article after one paragraph because the story reminded me of my own.

If you’re reading this and have no idea what I’m talking about; good for you. For those who do; take solace knowing you are not alone. Bruises on the inside take longer to heal, but eventually they don’t hurt anymore.

Today is my Independence Day, and extra special this year because it’s the first one I’m celebrating divorced. I’ll spend it enjoying my kids, and later, at a concert in the village with the person who understands as much as me why July 29th is the day I found freedom. Happy Independence Day to Me! If you stumble upon my story at youshareproject.com today and find the courage to leave; Happy Independence Day to you too.

(Thank you Mr. Colman; you were a dishonest ‘friend’, a bad broker and most of your emails are misspelled; but that last one was correct: The best thing I ever did in my life was move on from my marriage. You saved my family. For that; I will always be grateful.)

http://www.youshareproject.com/how-left-abusive-marriage/

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The Secret Life of Wyatt Colman: Realtor, Fish Whisperer, Liar

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By Teresa G. D’vall

stephen king  agent email

Stephen King once compared the short story to a kiss, brief, yet intimate and sometimes more memorable than reading a good novel, which he described as an affair. If you’re a Constant Reader, you know what Introduction he wrote that in, and may recognize the first name of the main character in this short story. I chose to borrow it because mine ends with a kiss.

Real Estate Brokers are essentially salespeople with a license to embellish and as you know, Merriam-Webster defines the word salesperson as ‘fabricator of truth.’ Not really, but I’m using my license, the poetic one, to illustrate the fact there is good and bad in all professions. Selling your house and a business concurrently is an emotional process that requires trusting your agent will never do anything wrong to you and certainly not steal your cookie jar, but Wyatt Colman did both. Anyone who’s been lied to understands that broken trust can take longer to heal than a broken heart so allowing an agent to be your friend is not something you should try. Of course, all real estate agents aren’t liars, just the unscrupulous ones, and those who routinely text you after midnight then deny it afterwards.

Entering into the covenant of friendship can be fun but placing your faith in another person, or Wyatt Colman, is risky. I suggest you safeguard yourself against the pitfalls of friendship and distrust everyone now. A failed friendship can leave a lasting impression on the soul and not the kind you want to remember.

Wyatt Colman was my Realtor for nearly a decade and a shameless prevaricator who claimed he could change a diaper in 9 seconds. He spoke fluent cat (sppsppspp), was prone to injury and that red spot you get in your eye from strain. Always a complainer, Wyatt falsely accused his fish, Salmon, of being a bad hugger, poor dinner company and fond of red wine. Even though he was tall enough to change my light bulbs by raising his hand; bugs scared him. Wyatt Colman was also a race car driver, a bartender, enjoyed pot roast, watching Lost in Space on Sunday nights, and the company of a Tito’s Martini.

Hapless, yet well-intentioned, he spent over 7 years alternately trying to find me a new house, sell my old one, or my business but never succeeded. This is probably because I never saw one listing agreement or a signed purchase contract, even though he showed me over 100 properties and, presumably, wrote offers on at least a dozen. I simply took him at his word, which he later revealed wasn’t worth the paper my offers were never written on. Real Estate may have been his chosen profession, but he was much better at making me laugh when nothing about my day was funny than securing a place to live. His name wasn’t really Wyatt Colman either, but Wyatt has two t’s, which is only pertinent to me and Not Really Wyatt. Mostly me. Besides, I don’t want to embarrass the guy.

Not Really Wyatt  declared we were friends by text one afternoon while my hands were full of partially made meatloaf. I was trying to leave an abusive marriage then and didn’t really have time to respond  but did anyway because it’s not often you receive a text from your real estate agent’s pet. It read:

“Salmon says hello.”

An afternoon spent debating the merits of cats versus fish as affectionate companions generally does not involve real estate but Wyatt was funny and laughing wasn’t something I did much with a husband who worked tirelessly at scaring all of us.

Until his fish started texting me, I rarely gave Not Really Wyatt a second thought. Raising six kids on no budget at all leaves few spare moments for a stressed out Realtor who needed me to remind him what property we were seeing on any given day. He was persistent though, kept nagging me about moving out, locking my bedroom door at night and deleting his texts so my husband wouldn’t kick his ass. I didn’t need Not Really Wyatt to tell me I was in an abusive relationship. Any survivor of abuse can pinpoint, with clarity, the moment they were first threatened.

The decision to leave is made over time and not one you embark upon because your Realtor decides he wants to be your ‘friend’. Getting out is what I needed help with and Wyatt promised he’d do that, in between instructing me to ‘sleep well’ every time the clock struck 12:20 am. A creature of habit, Not Really Wyatt often stayed up later than me but always said good night before bed. Consequently, I had to sleep with my cell phone under a pillow the last few weeks of my marriage.

Wyatt Colman was the worst best friend I ever had; and a bad kisser. Although he did help me leave, he didn’t stick around for the aftermath, which was explosive. He abandoned me when I needed his support most and never offered an explanation. Instead, I fought all the battles he promised to fight with me, alone. Friendships don’t usually start with a text, or end with the words: ‘The last thing I need is to be seen leaving here with a bottle of Vodka!’ but ours did; mostly because Not Really Wyatt was not really a friend.

Friends don’t ask you to wear a hula hoop so they can watch, stare at your legs when they think you’re not paying attention or nickname you feral bobcat. They don’t leave voicemail about being in jail that only the two of you understand, text at 8:14 am to say good morning or late at night to confess they’ve accidentally thrown their air conditioner onto the streets of Warwick. A friend doesn’t suggest you go outside and admire the sunset because it’s particularly beautiful, then send you pictures of it. Buddies don’t drunk text after midnight to proclaim they like long hair and nails or that you’re funny. And pretty. Pals don’t spend two hours texting molly screw directions then disclaim them as being given while  ‘Tito’s upped’ and suggest you come by to be shown instead. Most of all, a friend doesn’t randomly acquire amnesia and forget he did all those things, then tell anyone who’ll listen you were just his client.

Sometimes Realtors hurt you and there is nothing you can do but feel bad until enough time passes that it doesn’t matter anymore. The last promise Wyatt Colman broke was the one in which he swore he’d text me the name of his plumber so I could get the heat working again because he couldn’t. Then he kissed my cheek, softly, as he always did when visiting to make household repairs or drop a door on his foot and said I’d see him again. I never did get that text.

I spent more nights wondering what exactly went on between us than I did anything else the last 22 months. Even after we stopped seeing each other as friends regularly, he continued to offer me advice and support but in sporadic intervals that were more confusing than helpful.

The last text Not Really Wyatt ever sent me read:

“I’m not mad, never was mad. I can’t put all this in writing now, but I will.”

I wasted a lot of time waiting for Wyatt Colman to put ‘all this’ in writing.

Self help articles about mending a broken heart abound but few writers pontificate on healing a broken promise. Common sense dictates a cheating partner is not one worth holding onto but forgetting a promise breaking friend is more complicated, especially when you were more than amigos but less than lovers.

So how do you get over nothing?

Start reading Stephen King again, even if its been 25 years since you last tried. And follow the advice he gives you in the Introduction to Skeleton Crew because it’s true. Writing keeps you from feeling bad; it heals a broken soul.

Posted in family, Happy, Health, humor, inspiration, Real Estate, Relationships, Self help, success | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How I Almost Became A Convicted Felon

By Teresa G. D’vall

Few women would be brave enough to leave an abusive marriage with six children and no source of income, but I did. There were some days that my husband was not a mean bully, but not many. I spent 15 years living with an enemy who threatened to take my children, have me arrested, ruin my credit, break my neck, set me on fire and, when I was pregnant, gut me like a fish. Once, when we were driving down a highway, he shut the car off in a fit of rage, leaving our children screaming in terror. When I finally managed to get away, he made good on most of the threats within a week; and the legal system seemed to be helping him instead of me.

The day my husband was removed from our home by police was a surreal one. I remember waking in the middle of the night and realizing for the first time that no one would call me lazy for leaving dishes in the sink or demand sex if I went downstairs for a drink of water. I actually skipped through the kitchen that night on my way to the fridge for an uninterrupted glass of juice. Still, things like the sound of the garage door opening gave me chills, even though I knew it was my oldest son and not him coming home in yet another bad mood. I longed for things others took for granted, like a full night’s sleep without being awakened at 3 a.m. and asked why someone left an empty yogurt container on the counter. Even so, I looked forward to getting out of bed the next day for the first time in 15 years.

Respite was replaced with angst when I answered my door the next morning and was greeted by a man from children’s protective services. My husband had reported me for being an unfit mother. A disgruntled looking man half my age told me to wait in another room while he interviewed my five oldest children one by one. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely dial the friend who’d been helping me through my long ordeal. I wanted to tell him what was happening, but I opened my mouth to speak and could only gasp. I tried to form words choked by tears and wasn’t even able to leave a voicemail. I hung up and sat on the floor crying as I waited for my turn to be questioned.

The social worker asked me to open my fridge and prove there was food in it. Next he inspected all of my children’s bedrooms. I had to deny I was an alcoholic who drank a 750 milliliter bottle of wine every night. I didn’t even know what a 750 ml bottle of wine looked like. I was 42 years old, and I’d never even had a beer. It was humiliating, insulting, and terrifying all at the same time. My greatest fear was unfolding, and I was paralyzed with dread. Years of abuse flashed through my mind as if I were watching a movie on Lifetime television: 

The night he called me a whore at the dinner table in front of the kids. The mornings he threw toys at them for waking him up as he slept on the couch in the family room. The day he threw a mattress at my 8-year-old daughter and I jumped in between to block her, even though I was six months pregnant.

It all came flooding back. My husband always said that if they knew what was going on I’d be in trouble too for not leaving sooner. It was impossible to leave when I was pregnant or caring for a newborn, which was every couple of years. Now the day of reckoning was upon me—
and nothing happened.

No one took my children, no one thought I was unfit. I felt like I had just been paroled. I was free. The feeling was short-lived.

We were enjoying a peaceful dinner filled with laughter when I received a call from the police department. The officer asked if I would come down and talk to them about some charges my husband filed. I assumed it was some kind of retaliation for the restraining order but never expected what happened next. I made my way to the station after the kids were asleep. The sergeant sat me down in a small office and began the conversation by saying;

“I just want you to know that you have the right to remain silent…”

I stopped him right there and said, “It sounds like you’re reading me my rights?! Am I under arrest?”

The walls seemed to close in around me as I thought of all the times my husband threatened to have me “thrown in jail”:

If I took the minivan out, because it was in his name.

If I used the credit card, also in his name.

My mind raced as I tried to think of what I could’ve done to find myself being asked for ‘pictures’ (mug shots!) with pork chop still on my shirt from dinner and my waist-length hair piled in a greasy bun full of coconut oil conditioner atop my head.

I was being booked for grand larceny and forgery. I could have had my husband arrested dozens of times, yet I was the one placed in a cell, fingerprinted, and read my rights. I had been signing his name to household checks for 10 years, but now that I had the restraining order, he remembered he never gave me permission to do so.

The charges were eventually dismissed, but only after months of enduring the emotional and financial strain of retaining a criminal attorney and facing the possibility of a grand jury indictment. His message was clear; it was the same one I always heard: If you leave, I’ll make your life a living hell.

My husband was very persuasive. For years he had me convinced I was a lazy housewife, bad mother, and a person of little worth. He spent all his time at our restaurant, even though we were barely breaking even most years. I spent my entire marriage alone; we never even slept in the same bed. He was always angry and constantly reminding me how incompetent I was in every aspect. Over time, I learned that feeling nothing was better than feeling bad about myself every day, and as the years ticked away I shut down.

In 2010, the economic downturn began to affect business, and our $3,200-a-month mortgage was crippling us financially. We listed the house with the same realtor who’d been trying to sell our restaurant. Kevin first started showing us properties in 2007. As the years went by, he became more of a friend than a real estate agent. After nearly 38 months of languishing in real estate purgatory, it became clear we couldn’t sell our house for what we owed, despite having put over $200,000 down when we purchased it.

During 2011, I was able to convince my husband that completing my degree might help our finances. By the time I returned to school, the house was deep into the foreclosure process. Shortly after, I discovered I was pregnant with my sixth child. Still, I managed to graduate in 18 months, after returning with just 49 credits, mostly out of sheer determination because my husband said I’d never do it.

It was April of 2013. I had been looking at properties with Kevin almost weekly for over three years, and the pressure to move was mounting. I saw houses with him nearly every day at this point, and we were talking more as time passed.

By father’s day I still hadn’t told my husband I was leaving, so he insisted on seeing the house I was meeting Kevin at. I really liked this particular house, and it was Kevin’s job to convince the owner I was a good buyer. We were standing in the driveway about to leave and I said, 

“Please help me get me this house.” He leaned over, grabbed my elbow, promised to do his best, and kissed my temple.

My husband stared incredulously and asked,

“Did you just kiss my wife?” 

He insisted Kevin and I were having an affair after that. Neither of us took him seriously, but we would find out that he actually believed something more than friendship was going on between us.

About two weeks after “the kiss,” I had a particularly horrible argument with my husband and announced I was leaving. Hours later I found my daughter upstairs packing. I looked around, astonished; her whole room was in boxes. I realized then that I wasn’t the only one anxious to go.

I discovered that he had been bothering her on nights when I went to bed early to avoid him. I’d hear the garage and escape to my room, hoping he wouldn’t touch my chest and feel my racing heart. My daughter would rush to shut off her lamp, then hope he wouldn’t touch it and feel it was warm. When he wasn’t criticizing me, he was doing it to her. She was eventually diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, and her father was cited as the precipitating factor. It would take six months of counseling, but she eventually recovered. 

Once I realized how my children were being affected by my husband’s constant bouts of anger, I was more determined than ever to get away.

My husband was becoming increasingly jealous of the time I spent with Kevin, and his paranoia reached a boiling point on July 29, 2013. Kevin was carrying the baby as we left a house. Suddenly, he asked me what kind of car my husband drove, but before I could answer it came screeching down the driveway at both of us. He sprang from the car screaming,

“You’re dead bitch; I caught you! I want you out of my house.”

Kevin and I scrambled to my car, while my enraged husband took pictures of us, citing it as “proof” of our illicit affair. When he finally left, a cold chill came over me as I remembered the threat I’d heard most from him during our tumultuous marriage:

 “If I ever think you’re having an affair, I’ll kill you and the guy.”

I went straight to the police and told them my fears. I had been there many times before, and they had been to our house as well over the years, but this time was different. I had a witness.

Women who are emotionally abused are often overlooked, because their scars are not visible. I often wished he’d hit me, because it would be easier to prove and then leave. Broken bones and bruises heal, I still cringe when someone raises their voice.

If you are reading this and looking over your shoulder or worrying about how you’ll delete it from your browsing history, it may be time to do what I did: run for your life and never look back. There is always a way around an impossible situation. For instance, my laptop is broken so I wrote this entire 2,000 word story on my iPhone using a stylus. I leave you with the words I have recited to each of my six children for the last 22 years: If you try; you can do anything.

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