Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

I met someone online and I later found out that we graduated from the same High School the same year. We met through Facebook. I had moved here in November 2017 and began living with him. Things were fine for probably the first month. Things were great. He was very charming and caring. He bought me anything I wanted and would do anything for me.

Shortly after that, it started with mental abuse. Pretty much every day I was told that I wasn’t pretty enough….that he could have any other woman he wanted and that they are so much prettier than I am. I was told I was too fat. I couldn’t do anything right, I couldn’t do dishes right, I couldn’t cook anything right, I couldn’t go to the grocery store and get the list right.

It actually makes me shake, now, talking about it because even now when I go to do any of those things, I second guess myself. Like when I go to the grocery store, I find myself saying with my new boyfriend (well, we’ve been together for about a year now, actually), but I’ll see something I want and I won’t get it.

In my mind, I’ll think, “I can’t have that. I’m not allowed to have that.”. That’s certainly not how it is now, but I still feel those things. I still feel like I’m not, you know, drying the dishes enough before I put them away because they would all be thrown back out of the cabinet at me. I’d cook something and I would say, “Oh, you’re probably not going to like this..” but, you know, for 23 years I was married to my husband and I had three kids. I cooked for them, I cleaned for them, and I did the groceries…I know in my mind that they are ok and I was able to do these things, but I could not do anything right for this man. I couldn’t do laundry right…I had to fold things a certain way. If I didn’t, then there would be something said. So, I lived on edge really the entire time we were together.

It started to get physical probably a couple of months in…he would take my phone a lot and look through it, even though nothing was on it. He would push me up against the wall, throw me across the room and just throw things at me. It was almost like he was kind of holding me hostage because he had me get on all of his checking accounts.

I had to be on his phone plan and every time I would go to leave, he would cut my phone plan. Then one night he cut my phone off and he took the car keys from me and left me standing outside in the rain. I couldn’t do anything until he decided to let me in. Of course, when he let me in, that turned into me being thrown against the wall, again….and Ummm I just…. I don’t know…its definitely where I see what the domestic violence cycle is..what they told me….because I went to Crisis Intervention after everything and it’s definitely the honeymoon phase, then the building up tension phase, then the physical abuse phase…and it all just keeps circling around.

I understand that now …..because that is absolutely how it was.

….I mean…he would buy me roses….I don’t ever want to see roses again because every time he would do something to me, the next day I would have roses. Not only would I have roses, but he would take a picture of the roses, send it to me and make me put it on FB so everyone would think he was a wonderful person and that he did this for me.

Looking back, I feel like such an idiot to even have done any of that.

So, my son came up and stayed with us for a little while and my ex-husband and I talked and we let him start Middle School at Calvert that year. It was November 1st, 2018 and we had been out because he would make me go to the bar every night of the week and that was not me. I may have drank socially before I met him, but not every single night. So, this particular night we had been out and when we got home, the kids had spilled water on our bed….not very much, but he went off. His kids accused my son for spilling the water and he got very, very angry and I could see it building up. I stood between him and the door and I said you need to calm down before you go out this door. Well, he grabbed me with both shoulders and threw me across the room and went out the door. I jumped up really fast and pushed him away from where my son was. That’s when he called the police on me and had me arrested for assaulting him. I didn’t tell them…I should have told them what he did. I was too naive.

So, you would think that would have been enough for me to leave.

I didn’t.

I got my son out of the situation, but I didn’t know how to get myself out of the situation.

We continued to go out to drink and on December 8, 2018, he went out to smoke a cigarette and while he was gone, I posted a picture of myself on FB showing the back of the bar so you could see that there was no one in there and I just said, “Wow. Busy in here tonight.” as a joke. So, as he was outside, he saw that and came inside raging mad that I would post a picture of just myself. So then he posted one of himself. So I said to him, “This is ridiculous why are we playing this game?” So, we got into a huge argument about that and he got up and said he was leaving and that I could pay the bill and find a way home. I didn’t have any money to pay the tab, so I ran after him and told him he needed to pat the bar tab…so he did. I went home with him.

I should have never got into the car with him.

The whole way home we were still arguing and he had his hand on my head and was banging it against the window over and over and over…the entire time. I ended up having a concussion. I wasn’t sure that was why, or if it was from when we got to the house we went up the steps to the porch and he said he was going to have me arrested again and I said something about my injuries being there even if you couldn’t see them. Well, when I said that, he turned around and with both hands pushed me off the steps. We were on the top steps. I broke my fall with my wrist, so it ended up severely broken.

I told him I needed help…he left me there and told me to call my parents. His son came out and helped me. His daughter called an ambulance. Before they arrived, the police came and when they got there I was sitting at the table and had my hand under the table.

I still feared everything that he had put in my head and I wouldn’t let them see that it was broken. They kept asking if I wanted to tell them what was really going on because it was just his word against mine and I told them I was fine…that’s when the paramedics came in and Justin knelt beside me and pulled my hand out from under the table and said, “I’ve been through this myself with a family member and I’m not going to leave you alone and you’re going to be ok.”

Those words….just….it clicked…..

It finally clicked.

I told those police officers what happened and they took HIM to jail that night. I ended up at PG Shock Trauma. I was there for 5 days and then came back to my parents. Justin was like an angel that came swooping in for me that night. When I look at it now, I see it that way. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I would have told the truth that night. I may still be there because I was so stuck in that cycle. I could not get out of it.

Through counseling, I’ve been told not to blame myself because everything is very typical of these types of relationships, but I still blame myself. I think about why I did that…why did I go back? Looking back I don’t know why I kept going back, but I guess what I can say is that he was so good at manipulation. He had a long history of abuse dating back to the late ’90s.

Many charges on Maryland judiciary but just never convicted because no one would testify when it came time for court. That’s why I followed this through to the end when so many times I wanted to give up because there are four known women before me who all went through the same thing with him. I couldn’t stand the thought of just letting him off so he could continue to his next victim. I did it for those women who didn’t get to have their voices heard. That’s why if I can just help one more person and tell them, “You can do it. You can break that cycle.” That’s what I want to do.

The Commissioners made this past October Domestic Violence month and Justin was recognized in November with the heroism award for helping me and I hope that also brings some awareness to domestic violence issues.

I’m not sure how to start or make a difference with the laws because the whole time he was texting me he was out on bond where he was not to have any contact and he was out of jail and started texting me immediately.

We went to court and he kept getting away with pushing the date back. That’s not fair to the victim because you’re already going through so much. He violated his protective order and he contacted my son and just got a slap on the hand.

Also, along with PTSD, I have life long injuries from my concussion and my wrist. He was found guilty of second-degree assault and got 180 days in jail with work release and as a car salesman, he was still able to see his family and work. I just think something more needs to be done.

My mom has been my support and I’ve moved forward and now have a wonderful man in my life. I feel genuine love and care.

I’m happy.

Crisis Intervention helped me quite a bit in understanding the abuse cycle. They helped me understand why I stayed. I want someone who is going through this to know that there are places you can go if you don’t have the support from your family…there’s a place called ‘Safe Harbor’. They’re a safe place to help get you on your feet. I know it may not be easy, but you cannot stay in a place where you’re controlled constantly and physically abused.

There is a way out.”

(Edited to add: From us at Humans, if you can relate to this story, please know you’re not alone.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...