Behind Closed Doors: A local domestic violence survivor's story (Part 3)
This project was originally published in KCBX with support from our 2023 Domestic Violence Impact Fund.
It can take a lot of time for a person to leave an abusive marriage, especially when children are involved. But sometimes the need to protect the children makes leaving even more necessary. In the last episode of this three-part series, KCBX’s Melanie Senn speaks with a local survivor about what it took for her to finally get out.
Lulu grew up in a little town in Guerrero, Mexico. When she turned 15, she visited her older sister in Cancun and stayed. She enrolled in school where she met a boy her age. Soon they started dating. To protect their identities, Lulu asked me to refer to him as Santiago; Lulu is her childhood nickname. He was her first boyfriend, and was patient and tender with her, she told me.
"Those were the things that made me love him more than I already loved him. Because he was never abusive to me; and I felt that he cared for me so much, so much," Lulu said.
They finished high school and she began to work full time at a hotel. At this point, they were living together. The trouble began when Santiago started drinking and staying out late. He often arrived home at dawn with “chupatones” — hickeys — on his neck.
Then something awful transpired. Santiago needed money to help his brother who had caused an accident while drunk driving.
"I tell him, there’s a person where I work who can loan the money, but I don’t like him, he makes me uncomfortable," Lulu said.
Santiago told her to borrow the money. The man lent it to them with this caveat: If you don’t return it, I’ll have to charge you another way. Santiago assured her they would return the money on time, but they didn't. The man was the hotel’s housekeeping supervisor. He went into the room where she was cleaning.
"Every time he wanted, he just came to the room and closed the door. It was disgusting, so damned disgusting," she said.
Lulu finally quit the hotel and moved to another town with a girlfriend. It was the first time she left Santiago. He begged her to come back. Her parents were pressuring her to marry him. He agreed.
"Everything went fine. There we were. Time passed and then problems began, and then more problems," Lulu said.
They wanted to have children, but she didn't become pregnant. He continued to drink. After a big fight, she decided to leave again. But this time she would go farther: she’d join her brother in California, in San Luis Obispo. After she was here for some time, she finally spoke to Santiago. He told her his life was nothing without her. But she told him she wanted to be free.
When he attempted suicide, she caved and helped him come to California. Within six months she was pregnant, which felt like a miracle, she said. But Santiago still drank too much, and after she gave birth to their son, she found out he was having an affair.
"I tell him, 'I thought you had changed. I thought the things that happened in Mexico stayed there and that we were going to start over. Look, we have an angel that God has given us to care for, that we wanted so badly,'" Lulu said.
She left him again; he threatened to kill himself; she came back. She became pregnant again and gave birth to their daughter. But the drinking and the philandering did not stop, and it only got worse over the years. He was supposed to take care of the children while she worked, but she would come home to find him passed out drunk, with the children neglected. Things came to a head when the children were in school.
"The school principal called me and said, ‘If Santiago shows up drunk again, I’m going to have to call the police.’ And I told him: ‘Do it. Please do it.’ And he did," Lulu said.
Santiago was not arrested because he was not driving, but it was an important moment for Lulu. The intervention made her realize other people could help. And so later, when she confronted Santiago about his drinking and he threatened her life, she realized she could call the domestic violence hotline.
"I called and they told me, 'grab what you can and grab your children and go,'" Lulu said.
They were picked up at a designated location and taken somewhere safe to stay.
"And there they provided therapy for the kids and for me. They made me feel that I wasn’t alone in this. It’s incredible that strangers are helping you. It makes you feel strong enough to keep going," Lulu said.
What surprised her were the other women there, including white women.
"I said to myself, 'there are all kinds of women here. Does the same thing happen to all of us?'"
That was the last time she left Santiago. Like many survivors, she realized she needed support to be able to do it.
This time, having that support, she did not go back.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.