Editor's Note: This is the first of a multi-part story wherein an anonymous Decatur County woman, for the first time ever, publicly reveals her own personal nightmare of domestic abuse and violence. She tells her story in hopes it will shine a light on local domestic abuse issues and illustrate the importance of Greensburg's New Directions Domestic Abuse Services Center in addressing the problem in Decatur County.
GREENSBURG — Ashley will never forget the day she finally left Johnny for good.
She remembers being awakened in the middle of the night that fateful morning and opening her eyes to see her husband’s face looming just above.
The bedside clock read 2 a.m.
“I’ve made a decision,” Ashley recalls Johnny — her abuser of 13 years — saying, his tone casual and matter-of-fact. “I’ve decided that you don’t need to live anymore.”
Ashley (not her real name) stared up at him, heart suddenly pounding, the fog of sleep lifting in a rush of fear and adrenaline.
Whether because of the dim lighting or because he simply didn’t care, Johnny didn’t react to Ashley’s alarm, but only continued in that same, unemotional voice. “My guns are downstairs and my medication, too. It’s your choice — which you want to use; you can shoot yourself or take an overdose.”
Ashley recalled, “He’d been diagnosed as bi-polar years before, but he never took his medicine. I guess he’d been saving up.”
“Don’t worry,” Ashley remembered Johnny telling her at the time, “I’ll take care of everything. I’ll just tell the boys mommy just couldn’t go on anymore. All my friends think you’re crazy anyway, so they won’t be surprised. I’ll take care of all the arrangements. You won’t need to worry about anything.”
“I told him ‘no.’” The pain and terror of the memory were evident in Ashley’s haunted expression. “‘I’m not committing suicide.’”
Based on incidents of the past, Ashley might well have expected some terrible, violent outburst, but there was none. Instead, Johnny maintained the same pragmatic composure with which he’d awakened her.
“I promise you with all the love I have in my heart for you,” he said, “that I’ll take care of everything and that it’ll be painless. You won’t know when or how or where, but I’ll take care of it.”
“Then he just went back to bed,” Ashley recalled, “just like nothing had happened.”
Ashley gave no outwardly emotional response at the time, but she was feeling far from impassive.
“I sat in a chair close to the bed for the rest of the night,” she explained, “and just watched him. I was absolutely terrified.”
At 6 a.m. that morning, Johnny got up and got ready for another day on the job — as a high-ranking police detective for the local metro P.D. He continued to behave as if, just a few short hours before, he hadn’t promised to murder his wife and arrange it to look like a suicide.
“When he was gone,” Ashley said, “I got myself dressed, got the kids up, dressed them, and left with nothing but the clothes on our backs — with absolutely nothing to our names.”
Ashley and her two young boys — ages 7 and 3 — had few places to go, and so turned to a sister who lived about two miles away.
“We weren’t close back then — my sister and I,” Ashley said. “But she accepted us with open arms.”
Almost 30 years later, Ashley sat down for a recent interview with the Daily News at Greensburg’s New Directions Domestic Abuse Resource Center.
New Directions Executive Director Diane Moore joined the session, as did Carole Burr, the Center’s counselor and victim’s advocate. Both women listened carefully and watched Ashley closely as she recounted a horrific tale of domestic abuse. The two occasionally offered helpful facts and insights regarding Ashley’s story and the way it jibes with their expert understanding of the common facets and pronounced cycles of domestic abuse and violence.
Ashley recounted a whirlwind romance wherein Johnny “swept her off her feet.” “We dated three months. I was 18 and hadn’t even been out of high school a year. He made me feel so special. He put me on a pedestal and worshiped the ground I walked on — or so I thought. There were no indications he was an abuser. I truly believed he was the great love of my life.”
“That’s a warning flag — romances that are hot and heavy and go very, very fast,” Moore offered, “Abusers work to butter up their victims, and make them feel special. They’ll tell their victim things like, ‘I can’t believe I found you; this is meant to be.’”
Compounding the problem, Ashley was in an extremely vulnerable place in life. The day of Ashley’s high school graduation, her mother informed her that she had a week to “get out.”
Worse, throughout Ashley’s childhood and teen years, her mother had been physically and emotionally abusive.
“My mother was mentally ill,” Ashley said. “She abused me and my four brothers and sisters until we left home.”
Moore sadly shook her head at that admission. “That’s very common; victims of domestic abuse frequently were abused as children. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen women in this office with similar stories. It becomes a vicious cycle — from one abuser to the next.”
She added, “Abusers seek out people who are vulnerable; the more fragile the mental or emotional state, the better. It’s another common modus operandi. It’s easier to pull in victims who feel they’ve nowhere else to turn.”
Vulnerable and with few places to turn was exactly how Ashley felt. Besides, Ashley had no reason, not before the marriage, to believe Johnny wasn’t indeed her soul-mate.
The first crack in that illusion came on the day she married him — before the actual ceremony. That morning, Ashley received a sympathy card from the most unexpected of sources — Johnny’s ex-wife.
“They were married about three months,” Ashley explained. “It was my wedding day and, frankly, I didn’t think anything of it. I figured she was just bitter or jealous. Remember, I had no reason to believe otherwise at that point. Johnny had been so wonderful.”
Ashley even shared the card with her husband-to-be, and the two of them laughed it off together. Johnny confirmed that yes, his ex-wife was indeed bitter; it was he, after all, who’d left HER (another of Johnny’s numerous lies and manipulations, Ashley would eventually learn).
A short time later, Ashley wasn’t laughing anymore.
“Two months after we were married,” she explained, “I realized I’d made a terrible mistake in marrying him. I’ll never forget that day.”
It was a day that would prove an omen regarding the next 13 years of Ashley’s life; it was the first day in which Johnny ripped away his “Mr. Wonderful” facade to unmask the monster beneath; it was a day of violence and abuse; it was the first of many times when Johnny would force Ashley to take a long, violent look at herself in the mirror.
And it all started with some towels and a poorly arranged bathroom closet.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.