Editor’s Note: This is the final part 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 hasn’t made or eaten buttered potatoes since the day in the 1970s when her ex-husband knocked her unconscious over making them for dinner.
That was but one of many awful days in Ashley’s 13-year marriage to Johnny. The two had married when Ashley was 18 and not even a year out of high school.
Ashley’s mother, herself abusive, had given her daughter a week to leave home following graduation, leaving Ashley with few places to turn.
Then, along came Johnny.
When he first entered Ashley’s life, Johnny had seemed like a savior.
“He worshiped the ground I walked on — or so I believed,” Ashley told the Daily News during a recent interview at New Directions Domestic Abuse Services Center.
One day about two months after the couple married, however, Johnny’s mask of chivalry and deference fell brutally away when Ashley failed to rearrange the couple’s bathroom closet to Johnny’s liking.
“I realized I’d made a terrible mistake in marrying him,” Ashley said of that first day Johnny revealed his true self, falling into a black rage and slapping his new wife across the face, knocking her to the floor.
New Directions Executive Director Diane Moore, who joined Ashley’s interview, along with Carole Burr, the Center’s councilor and victim’s advocate, noted that Johnny’s early behavior was typical of an abuser. According to Moore, in fact, much of Johnny’s behavior throughout the relationship was typical — even textbook.
She added that Ashley’s history of childhood abuse is also typical — that victims tend to migrate from “one abuser to the next.”
Ashley didn’t delve into Johnny’s childhood or his relationship with his parents besides at one point saying, “He had a weird relationship with his mother.” Moore nonetheless pointed out that victims aren’t the only ones who tend to suffer childhood abuse.
“Abusers usually were abused as children, too,” she noted. “This is learned behavior.”
On the day of the buttered-potato incident, upon regaining consciousness, Ashley had landed a lucky blow and managed to escape Johnny, fleeing to a neighbor’s house and begging them to call the police. The neighbor, a high school classmate of Ashley’s, refused out of fear; Johnny was a well-respected police officer.
On that day, Johnny was terrified of Ashley’s involving the police, too. He feared for his job, Ashley recalled.
His fear, however, would eventually evaporate as the relationship progressed.
“It was virtually impossible to get any help from the police department,” Ashley said. “Their attitude seemed to be: ‘When he puts you in the hospital, call us. We’ll do something about it then, but not before.’”
As she always did until finally leaving Johnny for good, Ashley ultimately returned to her husband following the incident. Johnny was exceedingly apologetic. Then again, Ashley added, he ALWAYS expressed contrition and regret after abusing her.
Ashley recounted, “Afterward, he would always say, ‘I won’t do it again. I promise.’ He’d buy me something really nice.”
Burr noted that such behavior following an abusive episode is called the “honeymoon phase.”
“Right after an incident of violence or abuse,” she explained, “the abuser acts like he genuinely tries to change. In the end, though, it never works out, and the cycle of violence and abuse starts all over.”
Such was always the case for Ashley. After the buttered potatoes and subsequent honeymoon phase, in fact, Johnny’s abuse intensified.
Ashley might have hoped for Johnny’s behavior to mellow following the birth of the couple’s two sons — she never addressed her thoughts on the subject — but such hopes would’ve been in vain.
In fact, one of the worst incidents in Ashley’s years with Johnny occurred when the couple’s youngest son was a mere nine months old.
“I was talking on the phone in the kitchen,” Ashley said. “The boys were in an adjoining room, and Johnny was in the backyard.
“He was working with a chainsaw.”
She continued, “He stuck his head through the kitchen door and says, ‘Get me a drink of water.’ I was just winding down my conversation, so I said, ‘Just a minute.’”
Ashley wasn’t standing near the glass kitchen door, and that fact probably saved her life. “The next thing I knew, The running chainsaw came crashing through the door, shattering it and eating up the floor and anywhere else it touched.”
“I was so stunned,” she continued. “‘See what you made me do?’ he said. “We’d just remodeled the kitchen, and he was enraged over the damage.”
Moore noted, “His reaction denotes more of the ‘blame-the-victim’ mentality. It’s such a typical attitude among abusers. They try to deflect everything back onto the victim.”
Fortunately, there was no further violence that day, but Johnny was far from finished.
“One day,” Ashley said, “He decided to install a wooden knife board beneath a row of our kitchen cabinets. He then filled it with various butcher knives and a big meat cleaver. He used to sneak in behind me with the meat cleaver when I was working in the kitchen and pretend to be chopping me up.”
One night, Ashley had finally had enough of Johnny’s abuse. Fearing for her children’s well-being, as well as her own, she packed Johnny’s suitcase. “I put it on the front porch and asked him to leave, but he refused to go. He became outraged that I’d demand he leave HIS house; this was HIS house. Everything was always his.”
“That’s pretty typical too,” Moore said. “Abusers are very possessive, and that’s what the victim is to them: Property — just like everything else.”
“He got his gun,” Ashley continued, “and said, ‘I can take care of you right now.’ I begged and pleaded with him not to kill me.”
By that point, Ashley had begun seriously considering her options for getting out. In hindsight, Ashley’s convinced Johnny sensed it coming.
“A week before I actually left,” she said, “he threw me into a chair, pinned me and pressed his nose against mine. ‘Blink,’ he said. ‘I dare you to just blink, and I’ll snap your neck. I want to snap your neck.’”
“We were in his office,” she continued, “and in this huge rush of adrenaline, I was able to throw him off me, and into his desk. He cut his leg, but not badly and certainly not life threateningly. He went to a friend in the police department and told him it was my fault.”
By that point, Johnny was a highly-respected, high-ranking police detective, giving him a lot of credibility both in his department and in the community.
“Of course, the friend believed him,” Ashley said. “Johnny said I’d attacked him, and he cut his leg in the process of defending himself. There were no charges filed, though.”
Ashley’s now convinced Johnny was setting her up. One week later, he would wake her at 2 a.m., and give her the choice of killing herself with one of his guns or by overdosing on his bi-polar medication — which he never took.
Ashley refused, and Johnny went back to bed after promising to do the job himself at some point, making it look like a suicide. Later that morning, after he dressed and left for work, Ashley dressed herself and her boys and left him for good.
Almost thirty years later, she still fears him.
“He’s remarried, but he still stalks me,” she explained. “He sent me a threatening email not long ago.”
Ashley’s sons have grown into bright, successful young men, but neither is close to his father.
“I had nowhere to go,” Ashley tells people when asked why she didn’t just get out. “There were fewer opportunities for women back then, fewer work and educational opportunities, so I was extremely limited in what I could do. So I stayed. I stayed for survival and self-preservation.”
To a degree, Ashley’s children empowered her; concerns for their future factored greatly into her ultimate escape from the relationship.
“There were just so many incidents, so many things he did,” she said. “You wouldn’t have time or enough notebook to write them all down. I don’t think I could endure talking about all of them anyway.”
Ashley landed in another abusive relationship shortly after leaving Johnny, but her life has finally changed for the better over the last 10 years. She’s currently married to a prominent Decatur Countian, who she called, “the kindest, most gentle man I’ve ever known.”
“I finally broke the mold when I married him,” she said.
“There’s almost nothing about Ashley’s story that doesn’t ring a bell,” Moore said.
She did note one exception. “His trying to force her to commit suicide is very unusual. Usually, it’s the abusers who’ll commit suicide, but only with the victim present. They want to be sure the victim never forgets; they want the victim to blame herself for the rest of her life.”
For Moore, Ashley’s story illustrates the fact that domestic violence isn’t something that just happens to “those people,” or to “somebody else.”
Although Ashley’s time with Johnny didn’t occur in Decatur County, Moore knows countless other, similar stories that HAVE played out here — that are continuing to play out every day.
“It’s important to note, too,” she stressed, “that although Johnny was diagnosed bi-polar, domestic abuse isn’t about mental illness. Besides, Johnny was otherwise a respected, prominent community member, and I know plenty of these stories where there’s been no mental illness diagnosed.”
She further pointed out that Ashley is a middle-class, prominent member of the community. She and Johnny were middle class when they were together.
“This isn’t something that happens just to low-income people,” she added. “This happens across every socio-economic group. Religion, race, political affiliation — none of that matters.”
“And when it happens,” she continued, “the victim never, ever forgets. It never leaves you.”
Ashley nodded. “Even though I know it’ll never happen, I keep waiting for my husband to come up behind me with that meat cleaver and start hacking away.”
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.