This story, as told to Melissa Jeltsen, is part of "Why Didn't You Just Leave?", a HuffPost series on domestic violence in which six women share their reasons for staying in abusive relationships. Each story explores one of the following themes:
This story involves extreme violence and may be distressing for some readers. It has been edited for length and clarity.
We met online. I was a divorced single mom living paycheck to paycheck. He was a very handsome officer in the military with money to burn. He whisked me away with his extravagance. A bouquet of flowers on the first date, expensive jewelry on the second, a Mexican resort vacation within a few months. I was in a vulnerable place and was genuinely flattered by his attention.
At that point in my life, all I wanted was a husband who loved me, and a family. While I was getting to know him, I expressed those hopes and dreams. He absorbed them and spouted back to me exactly what I wanted to hear. I thought he was perfect.
There were early warning signs that I shrugged off. I caught him telling little lies — about his age, about his previous marriages. He wouldn’t let me join Facebook because he said it would open the door for infidelity. No matter how much I reassured him, he wouldn’t bend, and it was easier for me to just do what he asked than to keep arguing. I was caught up in the romance of the relationship, and his jealousy came off as endearing — he just loved me so much.
Like many abusive relationships, it progressed quickly — too quickly. We were engaged within three months, married shortly after that and then I was pregnant with my second child. The day after our wedding, he told me — very offhandedly, while we were driving in a car in Vegas — that after his ex-wife left him, he plotted her murder in his head. I wrote it off as talk. I had to.
We moved to a military base in Virginia and I became completely isolated. I worked at home for an insurance company and barely saw any of my civilian friends. He took complete control of our finances. He waited until after we were married to tell me that he was thousands of dollars in debt. Because his credit was so bad, he said, any big purchases for our family would have to go on my credit cards. At that point, I didn’t even have a credit card. I had zero debt. He assured me that he would help me pay off any purchases. But he wouldn’t allow us to have a joint bank account, so all his money was kept separate. I thought it was odd, but he wouldn’t budge.
Three years later, we moved to Florida and bought a house together. He asked me to buy all the furniture on my credit cards. I said yes — I wanted to do my part for my family. I knew he had money and I had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t help me pay it back. But I didn’t realize what was happening: I was shouldering all the debts, while he was keeping the assets. He was hoarding his money and forcing me to spend all of mine.
In the new house, the emotional abuse ramped up. He knew I hated firearms, but he would take out his handguns and shotguns constantly to “clean them.” I wasn’t allowed to hang out with male friends. When I hung out with female friends, he would get upset and would text and call the entire time I was out, creating faux emergencies. Nothing I could do was right. I was incredibly anxious and on edge.
Three months after we moved in, he raised his fist and threatened to hit me. It was the very first time I felt physically threatened, and I called 911. When the cops arrived, he went outside and schmoozed with them. He told them I was just being “dramatic.” He was calm and collected while I was traumatized and crying. Of course, I looked like the hysterical one. One cop did say to me: “Go get a restraining order. If he didn’t hit you this time, he will do it next time.”
I listened. I broke up with him and got a restraining order. He left town. Almost immediately, I started to struggle financially. I began the process of divorcing him and he fought it every step of the way, making it extremely costly. The judge who granted me the restraining order refused to make it permanent, so every six weeks I had to appear in court to have it extended. Over the next eight months, my legal fees were an astronomical $20,000.
Meanwhile, I was unable to keep up with the mortgage. He stopped paying altogether. It was $2,500 a month. My son’s day care was $1,200 a month. Plus groceries. Car payment. Credit card bills. I was drowning. Soon, my car was repossessed. My parents had to help me. I felt awful about being a financial burden. The bank was bombarding me with mail about the consequences of nonpayment. I was terrified. I didn’t know how long it would be until my kids and I were out on the street.
“The mortgage was $2,500 a month. My son’s day care was $1,200 a month. Plus groceries. Car payment. Credit card bills... I was terrified.”
After eight months on my own, I was in a bad place. I was exhausted. I couldn’t afford the life we had established in Florida by myself. It was at that time when we began talking again. There were lots of promises and apologies. He had excuses and reasons for everything. I wanted to believe that he had learned his lesson. I’d been married before and it hadn’t worked, and I didn’t want to fail again.
He dangled finances like a carrot in front of me. He was getting a big pension and disability from the government, to the tune of $75,000 a year. He said he would get a six-figure government job on top of the pension and I could stay home with our young son. He would pay back my parents. He would square things away with the bank so we could stay in the house and continue the life we had planned. He’d pay off my credit cards. Everything would be OK.
I caved. I dropped the restraining order and I took him back. That’s a moment that, as a survivor, is very difficult to get over. My family and friends were extremely upset. But the legal fees stopped. The relief of not having to worry about money was palpable. I want to stress here: This is a common story. Financial insecurity is one of the top reasons why women return to their abusers, especially if they have children. I didn’t want to end up homeless. I didn’t want my kids to suffer. Logistically, it made sense to me to take him back.
So he came home. And for two months, things were good. Then, predictably, there was another incident, this time with my son. This time, I left him for good and resumed the divorce process. Over the next 12 months, we were in and out of court.
One day, over a year after I left him, he showed up unannounced at my new apartment while my father was visiting me. I could feel something was off and frantically tried to lock the door. He pulled out a gun. “I just want to talk to Kate,” he said, and shot me twice. One bullet exploded my hand. The other went through my left breast, just missing my heart. My father was also shot twice. My son witnessed the whole thing.
It’s now been two years since he tried to kill me. I go to occupational therapy for my hand and I have PTSD from the shooting. I came out of the relationship alive, and for that I am eternally grateful. But financially, I’m still trying to crawl back out of the hole I was left in.
The house went into foreclosure. I had to declare bankruptcy. My credit was in the toilet. It’s taken over two years to even be able to lease my car myself or to get an apartment without a co-signer. I am fortunate to have family who could help me get on my feet again. Not all women are so lucky.