Editor’s Note: This is part two of a multi-part story wherein an anonymous Decatur County woman, for the first time, publicly reveals her personal nightmare of domestic abuse and violence. She tells her story in the 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 — When she married Johnny in the early 1970s, Ashley thought she’d found Mr. Wonderful.
Ashley’s new husband had recently been hired by the local police department of a major mid-western metropolitan area, and the couple had settled down to a blissful life in suburbia — or so Ashley believed.
During a recent interview with the Daily News at Greensburg’s New Directions Domestic Abuse Services Center, Ashley described Johnny as the man of her dreams during the three months they dated before marrying.
“I thought he was my soul mate,” she said, “the love of my life. He worshiped the ground I walked on.”
Ashley was in a vulnerable place in life at the time, having endured emotional and physical abuse throughout her childhood and teen years at the hands of a mentally-ill mother. After Ashley graduated high school, her mother gave her one week to move out, leaving the 18-year-old with few options.
Along came Johnny, a seeming white knight from a fairy tale.
New Directions Executive Director Diane Moore, who joined Ashley’s interview, along with Carole Burr, the Center’s counselor and victim’s advocate, characterized Ashley’s story, in many ways, as textbook.
Moore cautioned against romances like Ashley and Johnny’s — those that are “hot and heavy” in the early stages and proceed very quickly — describing them as a “red flag” for turbulent times ahead.
“Abusers work to butter up their victims, and make them feel special,” Moore said. “They’ll tell their victim things like, ‘I can’t believe I found you; this is meant to be.’ They’ll work hard to lure and hook the victim.”
Domestic abuse, Moore added, usually starts shortly after the abuser is satisfied the victim is sufficiently isolated and easily dominated.
Indeed, one evening, a mere two months after Johnny and Ashley married, his white-knight facade fell brutally away, replaced by a black-hearted monster.
Ashley’s 13-year abyss of domestic abuse and violence started with some towels and a poorly arranged bathroom closet.
“I realized I’d made a terrible mistake in marrying him,” Ashley said in relating the events of that awful day.
From the earliest days of the marriage, Johnny used to leave Ashley a list of chores to complete by the time he returned home from work.
On the day in question, Johnny directed his new wife to straighten and organize the bathroom closet as part of those daily chores. As she always did, Ashley dutifully complied.
“When he got home from work,” Ashley recalled, “the way I’d re-arranged the closet — it wasn’t to his liking. He absolutely exploded. He slapped me across the face and knocked me to the floor. Then he started ripping the closet apart, throwing everything out in a rage, demanding I redo it. He was screaming and calling me horrible names. I was terrified.”
That was also the first day Johnny would subject Ashley to what she described as “one of his favorite cruelties.”
“He would stick my face in the mirror and forcefully hold it there in his hand. ‘Just look at you,’ he’d say. ‘You are so disgusting. People want to vomit when they see you. Why would you ever go outside or leave the house?’”
Ashley would endure this “pet” torment again and again throughout her years with Johnny.
Moore characterized Johnny’s mirror torment as a typical — albeit dramatic — technique for isolating the victim and destroying self esteem.
“It’s important to point out, too,” she said, “that the ‘daily list of chores’ was part of his efforts to actively demean her confidence and self-esteem. It’s indicative of a typical abuser mindset. The victim in these situations is seen as little more than a slave. The abuser has absolutely no consideration for the victim’s rights as a human being, as a separate person.”
“It worked,” Ashley confirmed. “By the time I left Johnny, I had an extremely low sense of self-worth.”
Moore also pointed out that the “bathroom closet incident” illustrates another very common feature among abusers.
“In this instance,” she said, “the supposed reason for the abuse was a mis-arranged bathroom closet. But it really doesn’t matter; these guys are just looking for an excuse to lose their tempers. Any excuse will do. Their demands usually make no sense, and the abuse is coming no matter what the victim does to appease the abuser.”
Ashley nodded. “I took the beating of my life over some buttered potatoes.”
One night, Ashley made buttered potatoes for dinner, and Johnny objected to her choice in brutal fashion.
“He threw the pot at me,” Ashley said. “I avoided it, and the potatoes splattered against the wall. He demanded I clean them up, but I refused.”
She confessed, “I don’t know what came over me — refusing him like that. I was so meek; I never refused him anything, but in that moment, something came over me, and I defied him.”
Johnny became infuriated, and pounced on his wife, pounding her on the top of the head with his fists until she fell unconscious.
“I woke up with his fist in my face,” Ashley said.
Johnny was unaware, however, that he’d taken an awkward stance over his wife, a stance which left him especially vulnerable to a well-placed kick — which is precisely what Ashley delivered.
“I nailed him,” Ashley said.
A scuffle ensued, and Ashley ultimately escaped the home and ran to a neighbor’s house.
“I knew this neighbor from high school,” she explained. “We’d graduated together and then bought houses on the same block. I asked them to call the police, but they wouldn’t do it. They were very intimidated by Johnny because he was a cop. They were just too afraid.”
Johnny, on the other hand, was terrified of police involvement, fearing an investigation and a subsequent pink slip.
“He called his mother,” Ashley recalled. “When she got there, she told me, ‘If you wouldn’t provoke him, he wouldn’t hit you. Get back to the house, and behave yourself.’”
“That kind of sentiment is extremely common too,” Moore offered. “The mother was blaming Ashley for the abuse, and that happens so often in domestic abuse cases — blame the victim.”
One might think Ashley would take a certain satisfaction from delivering a blow to her abuser which, to a degree, temporarily neutralized him.
One would be wrong.
“No, I didn’t take much satisfaction from that,” Ashley said. “I paid for it; the abuse got much worse after that.”
Ashley could have scarcely conceived, on that terrible day, just how much worse Johnny’s abuse would get.
Or the kinds of weapons he would eventually employ to terrorize her.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011