On December 22, 2014, at about 11:00 p.m., I was in my bedroom wrapping Christmas presents while my 10-year-old daughter Sami practiced singing in her room. It was past her bedtime, but it was her first day of winter vacation and I just wanted her to be happy. I had a temporary restraining order against my ex-fiancé for domestic abuse, and he’d been out of the house for four days.
That’s when I heard the sound of breaking glass. My ex was kicking in the back door—I just knew it. And he was angry. Really angry.
He was drunk and waving a gun. He screamed at me that it was over and that now he had to kill me. I ran to Sami’s room and grabbed her. We had to flee our home. That’s when he fired the first shot. It hit my right leg and I fell to the ground as more and more shots rang out. I was shot three times. He pointed the gun at his head and ended his short reign of terror.
Sami and I were on the floor, desperately crawling toward each other. I couldn’t comprehend why she was having such a hard time making her way to me. As I came closer, I saw she had been shot—twice in the belly. I struggled to pull myself into an upright position so I could cradle her in my arms. Blood poured from her mouth and I begged her to hold on. “I’m going to die, aren’t I, Mama?” she said. “No, baby,” I screamed. “You’re going to be okay.” The paramedics and police arrived after 20 minutes, but it was too late. My baby gasped one last breath and fell limp in my arms. I watched as the life drained out of Sami’s beautiful blue eyes.
Samantha Nicole Bodine was 10 years, 10 months, and 10 days old when her life was taken. Now she would be 12. She was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a niece, a granddaughter, a pet owner, and dear friend. She was a gifted singer with dreams of being on The Voice, a talented writer, and an up-and-coming volleyball player. She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian or marine biologist. She was my gentle giant, for at just 10 years old, she stood nearly 5 feet 4 inches. She was an old soul who was kind to every person she knew, and every person she knew was better for having known her. She was the reason I got up in the morning. She was my best friend.
It took me six months to recover from the injuries, and I still suffer constant physical pain. But the emotional turmoil can’t be quantified. I have PTSD and nightmares, flashbacks, survivor’s guilt, and, yes, even recurring occasional thoughts of suicide. After the attack, I couldn’t hold down a job. I lost my car and my home and had to move in with my father for six months. I still owe more than $100,000 in medical bills. I still don’t work.
I grieve the loss of Samantha every day. I also relish any opportunity to speak of her and remember her. It is because of her gentle nature, her kindness, and her faith that I am able to move forward with love in my heart.
The man who murdered my Sami was on bail pending domestic violence assault charges against me. He had a prior felony conviction, and was not legally allowed to have a firearm. And yet the very day he was released from jail he purchased a 9mm handgun with no questions asked. He simply went online and found an unlicensed gun seller. In less than five minutes, he destroyed multiple lives. The most terrifying thing about what happened to my family is that it is not extraordinary. Domestic and gun violence are an epidemic in this country.
I used to watch a lot of crime shows and think, Oh, my gosh, that’s so terrible. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you. And then it does. It’s hard for me to tell my story, but I hope there’s another mother out there who says, “Maybe I should leave him.”
I now have a boyfriend and I live with him on his farm. I spend a lot of time with animals, as well as my 26-year-old daughter and my grandkids. My friends call this my “new normal,” but it doesn’t feel normal at all.
Gun Safety is a series about gun violence in America, with a new essay appearing each day until National Gun Violence Awareness Day, on June 2. To learn more about what you can do to prevent gun violence, and to participate in the Wear Orange campaign, go to WearOrange.org.
He threw the car into park, and turned to face me with a look of pure rage. His fist connected with the left side of my jaw, the right side of my head hit the passenger-side window, and I heard a loud crack.
He wasn't finished, though. He grabbed my hair and pinched my arm, bruising it instantly, and then he reached over and squeezed my throat. I somehow croaked out, "You loved me once!" and he let go, disgust on his face. It was after midnight, and I got out of the car, numb and overwhelmingly ashamed, and walked a mile back to my friend's house as he squealed the tires and raced away from me.
Two days later, I drove myself to an urgent care facility when I couldn't move my neck.
"How did you sustain the injury?" the young doctor asked me.
"I was at a Super Bowl party and playing on the floor with some kids, and one of them jumped on my neck," I lied. It was the first of many lies I would tell about my relationship. The thought of telling the truth was humiliating. Plus, I thought, It's my fault anyway.
The doctor glanced at the fading finger imprints around my throat and the angry green and black bruises on my arm. I could feel his gaze on me as he wrote a prescription for a painkiller and muscle relaxers.
"You have a severe sprain," he told me. "You're lucky you didn't break it."
Later that week, I was in a golf cart with a colleague at a client event, wearing a short-sleeved shirt with a collar. I reached over to grab a water bottle, and the bruises on my upper arm were exposed.
My colleague took my hand and looked me in the eye. "Please don't tell me it's like that, Kristin," he said quietly. I looked away.
A Slippery Slope
It didn't start like this when I met my live-in boyfriend six years earlier. At first, he was loving and sweet and attentive. I was already in love with him by the first time he called me a worthless piece of s*** in an alcohol-infused fury; I was in shock. I thought about leaving him that night, but I was frozen with indecision. I loved him, after all. And my mind had started to believe what he said about me.
The next morning, he was sober again and rushed to apologize, holding me in his arms while I cried. The cycle began.
Over the course of several years, I had learned to see myself through his eyes: unattractive, unlovable, and stupid.
The first time he kicked me, I was walking down the stairs to our apartment, and he told me it was my fault. I "pushed his buttons" and made him do it. Soon, I started taking all the blame for his rages, walking on eggshells every moment we were together.
Over the course of several years, I had learned to see myself through his eyes: unattractive, unlovable, and stupid. I believed him when he told me that he was the best I would ever find and that I was not sexy or desirable. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that he was talking about himself — not about me.
The author on her wedding day.
Courtesy of Kristin Shaw
I thought I knew all about abusive relationships before I found myself in the middle of one. I thought I was too smart to get involved with someone who would hurt me physically and mentally. I thought I knew what to look for and that it would be so obvious that I needed to walk away. I thought I didn't fit into the "stereotypical" mold of what a domestic violence survivor looks like. I'm sure that once upon a time, I looked down on women who were in abusive relationships and found them weak.
Breaking the Silence
In the end, I didn't walk away from him. And I didn't tell my closest friends and family for years about what happened — most of them not until after he left me to move in with another woman four years into our marriage. Now, I tell my story without (most of) the shame; I believe it's important to share it to show others that someone can come through this and survive. And perhaps thrive. Maybe it will help someone you know. Maybe it will help you. I tell the story to help my nieces, my friends, my colleagues, myself.
People are often baffled by how beautiful, intelligent women fall in love with (and even marry) abusers. The truth is that it happens very gradually. It begins with a sarcastic putdown, and is followed up quickly by an apology. It may escalate to a kick or a slap, with more apologies and promises that it will never happen again. By the time I realized that I was in a bad relationship, I had invested so much of myself and my self-esteem had been chipped away so drastically, I was terrified to be alone.
You may know someone who has been abused, and you can't understand why she doesn't leave. She may be afraid that no one else will love her. Perhaps she has kids and doesn't know how to provide for them on her own. He may have threatened to kill her. She may be so ashamed that no one knows the extent of the abuse and suffers in silence. He may be someone powerful or well-liked in the community, and she is afraid no one would believe her.
Be there for her. Stand by and be ready to help, if you can. Know the signs of abuse. And teach your children about healthy relationships — you owe it to them to get help if you are in a destructive relationship yourself.
This post is part of a Good Housekeeping series of stories about domestic violence and abuse. If you or someone you know is at risk, reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in danger, call 911. More information and resources are available at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence or the National Online Resource Center for Violence Against Women.
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