Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo
I saw her through a friend’s 4-line Facebook post and knew I needed to meet her. Her one hour interview turned into a three hour experience. And the words that weren’t able to come out there, were later sent in an email.
But the email….it’s more of a letter. And I don’t know who the letter is ultimately meant for, but whomever it may save, whomever it may rescue, It is a gift from a person who is brave enough to speak her truth to save someone else. It is the ultimate gift one can give…..To reveal those spaces in her journey she would rather stay hidden, all so her experience may save another.
Because of this I knew not to keep it, not to edit it, but to share it with all of you word for word.
If this touches you the way it touched me, please share this post. Please let it out into your space so that it reaches all of those women who may be hiding, may be feeling trapped, may be feeling like there is no other way. This isn’t about numbers of likes or shares. It’s about rescuing one another….
Today’s post is Part I, The Letter. Tomorrow’s post, Part II, will be Her Interview ?.
“Hey…. I held back when we met last week, which is interesting to me, because we talked so much and for so long and I felt like I was being so open and honest and I hated that it ended up kind of cut short because I was rushing home. But as the days went by, I kept thinking about some of the questions you asked me, that I just kind of skirted around. And then I started hearing a voice telling me I had to SAY these thoughts that are inside of me, I can’t just leave them hidden in there. You may not need any of the thoughts I’m about to tell you. They may prove to be completely irrelevant to the piece that you are called to write. But I don’t want to leave them unsaid in case there is a piece that speaks to you. It’s your job to edit and determine what you think are the parts that need to be shared. It’s my job to tell you my whole truth.
You asked me about the warning signs, what I look back at now, and wish I had paid more attention to. And I gave some sort of “trust your gut” kind of generic answer, because I wasn’t brave enough to tell you what I was actually thinking. My husband (now ex) had always been a very affectionate kind of guy, very touchy and handsy if you will. And the last few years, all of that stopped. He not only stopped being affectionate, he stopped noticing me all together. I’m so ashamed to talk about it, because it was such a sad and confusing time for me, and I still get emotional just to think about it. Instead of being able to look at his behavior objectively, I made it all about me. I focused on what I thought was wrong with me, and did every thing I could think of to try to get him to notice me or look at me again. I thought that I had let myself go, or that I was carrying too much baby weight still, or that I had become unattractive. So I tried so hard to change myself into whatever it is that he wanted me to be. I tried to be cuter or sexier. More fun. I tried to lose weight, wear more makeup, change my hair. Bought new bras and panties. I would linger a few minutes after the shower before getting dressed. But no matter what I did, he never saw me. When I would try to talk to him about it, he would usually get really annoyed with me and tell me I was being crazy.
Sometimes he would give me a little attention just to get me off his back. But I could tell he was just going through the motions. Trying to work on it by talking it out with him only left me feeling worse about myself. So eventually I just stopped. And kept trying to make myself thinner or prettier or whatever it is that he wanted me to be. And because I was so busy hating myself for his behavior, and making his behavior about me, I never noticed how he was with other people. I never noticed how affectionate he still was with my daughter. I never noticed the way he would put his arm around the girls on the soccer team he was coaching. I never noticed the big bear hugs he would give my daughter’s friends when they came to the house. I never noticed how my daughter would pull away when he was hugging her too long, and how angry he would get that she was not wanting him to touch her anymore. There’s a thousand things that were right in front of my face, that I never saw, because I was making it all about me.
Looking back, I don’t know if I ever would have been able to connect the dots in the right way, because I really honestly don’t think your brain can ever process and figure out something so dark and horrible about someone you love and trust so much. So even if I had been paying attention enough to see how he was acting with her and other girls her age, I still don’t know if I would’ve been able to figure it out. And I don’t really know how to describe the shame and guilt and regret associated with not protecting my child. My hands are shaking as I type this, and tears are streaming down my face, but these are the parts that I am too ashamed to share, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say out loud.
This is the part of me that I am worried will never heal. Annie the Mother is strong. Sad at the life her children are living, and determined to do everything in her power to make it better for them. Filled with regret, but working hard for a brighter future for them. Taking steps to help them all heal, managing everything they need even though it is incredibly difficult. There is nothing she won’t do to keep these children safe. Annie the Warrior is fearless. Determined. She will never back down and she will never stop fighting for what is right. She is lost, uneducated, but that won’t stop her. She is ready and willing to walk down this path blindly, because she knows God will help her figure it out along the way. But Annie the Woman is broken. The entire picture of how she viewed herself as a wife and partner is shattered. Her ability to see herself as anything other than “less than” is long gone.
There was a point in my life that eye contact didn’t make me so uncomfortable. That I would walk out into the world feeling attractive. When I could put a cute little dress on and go meet new people and smile and talk and feel pretty good. It is incredibly painful to have the person you love, exchanged vows with, built a life with, stop being attracted to you. And even so much worse than that, discover that they are attracted to children. YOUR children. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around that. I worry that I’ll never stop seeing myself through his eyes. I worry I won’t go back to being the person I was before I met him. And maybe I don’t want to be that exact person anymore, because that’s the person that picked him. That married him. That built a family and a life with him. I want to be better than that person. But at least there was a less distorted perspective at that point in time. There’s been some moments over the past few years that I think to myself maybe it would be nice to have someone walking with me on this journey. Someone to share my day with. There are moments where I feel very alone. And I know I have people I can call who will come help if I need them, and I am so grateful for that, but it still feels like an imposition. Because when you ask for help or you ask for their time, they are taking away from their own families to give it to you.
So I usually just keep managing by myself. But sometimes I think about the possibility of a co-pilot some day. Someone to walk with me. But at the same time it seems like such an impossibility, because I don’t actually want to let someone get to know me. I don’t want to let someone see me. I like to keep the broken pieces hidden, and just keep walking out into the world like I know what I’m doing and I’ve got a handle on things and I don’t really need anyone. Being vulnerable feels unsafe.
I knew a long long time ago, that the man I had married was not a good partner. There were so many things that went on behind closed doors that I never told a soul, not even my very best friends. My kitchen countertops aren’t actually attached to the cabinets anymore, because he ripped them off one day when he was angry and screaming at me. The countertop is just sitting on the cabinets, but it’s loose. I called his mom that day, to ask my father-in-law for help, but all she said was Oh Annie, please don’t leave him. He won’t make it without you and the girls. So I just got off the phone. One of my most shameful moments in my entire life was when we were on a family vacation. Going to breakfast at a seat yourself type of venue. We found a table, he walked off one way to get food, the baby and I walked off another way to get a highchair. And someone else took the table while we were gone. He was so furious with me. So angry that there wasn’t a table for us to sit at. He was screaming at me in front of everyone while I was holding the baby. I started to walk away and he grabbed me by my arm and just screamed even more. There was like 100 people standing around. Some staring. Some pretending they didn’t see. And instead of telling him to stop. Instead of walking away, I was mentally kicking myself. So upset that I hadn’t just stayed at that table like he told me to. He was angry all the time.
He only put his hands on me a few times. And even as I type that, I realize how stupid the word “only” is in that sentence. It doesn’t belong there. I found an email recently where I was talking to him about how upset I was that he had put his hands on me in front of the children. I have no idea what situation I’m talking about. I don’t remember it. In my mind, I was convinced that he was a good father, a good role model to our children, and all of his destructiveness was just towards me, and no one else was witnessing any of it. But there it was. Proof that it wasn’t all behind closed doors. Proof that I was in such denial. And more proof that I should’ve seen it coming. I think the idea that someone could ever be destructive towards you, but safe for your children is such a delusion in itself. Your children are watching, they are growing up in that house, and your relationship is teaching them what a relationship should look like when they grow up.
If you find yourself living a life that you wouldn’t consider healthy or good enough for your child when they grow up, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the path you are on. And just because you’ve spent a lot of time on the wrong path, invested so much and tried so hard, doesn’t mean you have to stay there. I’m sure changing paths hurts. A lot. And takes a long time to heal. I can’t fully speak to that, because I didn’t change my path when I should’ve. I kept walking on it even though it wasn’t a good one. But getting off the wrong path MUST be less painful than staying on it. If you stay on it, the hurt won’t ever stop, now will it? Do you want to hurt for now? Or do you want to hurt for forever?
I never would have left him. I loved him so very much. I loved my family. I was comfortable in my life the way that it was, even though it was hurting me. He could’ve done literally anything to me and I would’ve stayed with him, and I am so ashamed to say that, but it’s true. I didn’t want my daughters to have a broken home, to not have the best life possible, to not have their dad with them. I knew he was hurting me, but I honestly thought he was a great dad. And I never wanted to break that up. The only thing he could’ve ever done that would’ve made me determined enough to leave him is hurt one of the girls. And that’s what ended up happening. I never saw it coming. I never could’ve imagined this is the life we would be living now. But I should’ve been paying better attention.
Best advice I can give, is if you find yourself with a partner who hurts you, whether emotionally or physically, and they blame YOU for the way they are treating you, or make you feel like you deserve to be treated that way, you need to walk away. The longer you stay with them, the more likely you are to believe it. Eventually you forget what life before them feels like. I know it’s scary, I know life feels comfortable, I know you love that person standing next to you, but please don’t be so desperate to hold onto them that you’re willing to lose yourself. Because that’s what’s going to happen. You don’t get to hold onto them and hold onto yourself also. You’re only going to keep one, so which one is it going to be?”
Read Part II Here—> HOCC: She was 15 at the time…