At 65, Carmen left the only life she had known for 47 years. She walked away one blustery day in February and took with her a light load of only the necessities. The necessities included pictures of her grandchildren that she knew she would not be seeing for a while. Her whole life and lifetime was in a box the size that she could carry quickly to her car.
Carmen was married at 18. Like most young women of her generation she took her vows of marriage seriously and when she said forever, she intended to be with this man for the rest of her life. At 19, she became pregnant with her first child. Despite the joy and excitement that was racing through both families, Carmen began to experience what would become a lifetime cycle. Her husband began by telling his young bride that the baby she was carrying was not his. He constantly berated her growing stomach and told her she was ugly and stupid. Confused by both her changing body and her changing marriage, Carmen said nothing to her friends and her family. She kept her dark secret as any good wife would do. They were married and she now had an allegiance to her own family.
One night in her 8th month of pregnancy her husband came home drunk. He was increasingly gone from home but he had started staying out later and now he was drinking. As he staggered into the house he yelled at her to get up and get him some food. She stood over the stove, heating up the meal she had eaten alone. She plated the food and as she turned, a smile on her face, she experienced the first of a lifetime to come of beatings at the hands of her husband.
When he left the house Carmen made her way to the bathroom. She was bruised and her head was swimming from the whole event. She had been knocked down to the floor where she rolled into a fetal position to protect her stomach and the child she carried.
This story repeated itself over many years and many pregnancies. With the birth of her 3 child she went to the hospital with bruises still visible on her legs and arms. She had asked her family to take her and her children in after one of his particularly violent outbursts. With 3 children, and no job history, Carmen had no choice but to return home.
Carmen left many times during the past 47 years. She always went back because of lack of resources and lack of hope.
In late January 2012, Carmen had returned from the hospital where her second daughter was giving birth to twins. Her husband had arrived home from work and was already angry that she did not have dinner on the table. She knew that it wwould do no good to apologize. She knew the beating was going to happen. Over the years she had become intimately acquainted with all the signs. That night she went back to the hospital. Not as the proud grandmother that she had been hours earlier, but as a casualty of another beating.
This time the doctor asked her if she would like to talk to someone from the Crisis Center. The doctor explained that they would come to the hospital to talk to her and help her. Carmen agreed and an advocate met with her to discuss the program and her options.
Carmen went home the next day. She was greeted by flowers and apologies. Carmen now smiles wistfully when she talks about that day. Over all the years, over all the babies, over all the beatings, this time he chose to give her flowers and apologize.
Carmen began to think about her life and how she wanted to be there for her children and grandchildren. She wanted to be there for increasingly frequent births and other family events. Carmen feared that the next beating would be her last or that her aging body would be permanently damaged and she would be disabled
She called the Crisis Center to talk to the advocate she had met at the hospital. Again the advocate supported Carmen and talked about options. The advocate let Carmen know that there was an emergency shelter where she could come the next time she felt unsafe.
When Carmen decided to leave she came to the Crisis Center. She stayed for 4 months. During the first two weeks she slept a lot and met with advocates and counselors daily. She heard the stories of other women in the shelter. They were like hers and she began to feel less isolated. One night during a group Carmen stated that she wished that she had come to the Crisis Center when she was younger but that she intended to make the most of what was offered and to start her life on her own.
Carmen made the difficult choice to leave and to start a life free of abuse. She checks in regularly with advocates and continues to receive free counseling. The therapist reports that Carmen grows every session and that she is the proud grandmother of another set of twins. She lives in a small house next to her daughter and grandchildren visit daily.
Last week she told me that she is dating a man who treats her with respect. They have been dancing and out to dinner. She giggles and says she truly is getting a second chance
Carmen’s story is all too familiar for many women in Northern New Mexico. If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic violence call 2-1-1 for local resources that help get victims out of their situation. If it is an emergency call 9-1-1. Because of donations from people like you, Carmen had a place to turn to when she needed it. The Crisis Center of Northern New Mexico advocates, provides both individual and group therapy, and serves as a emergency shelter that provides free food, shelter and education about correct choices to start the path for a better future. The Community Action Fund supports The Crisis Center and many other nonprofits who are serving many needs in our community. Please support The Crisis Center and their mission and support The Community Action Fund to make sure many much needed services remain available in Northern New Mexico.