This is the true story of heartache, physical, sexual and alcohol abuse, love, hate, financial burdens and finally, finding joy, happiness and hope.
We trust that you will understand why the names and some of the circumstances had to be changed to protect the privacy and safety of some of the people in this story. It contains information that is true, but the situations have been framed in slightly different circumstances, or alternative locations to protect the source of the story. In some cases, several people have been combined into one person or events gathered into one time frame for the same reason, to protect the source of the story, who still lives in Cullman County.
This could very well be happening right there in your neighborhood. It could be happening to one of your classmates, your co-workers or your neighbors. It could happen to you, as the song says, “There but for fortune, go you, or I.”
Keri’s grandparents are elderly now, her grandfather has lost a lot of his strength, and her grandmother is battling a severe illness, but they are still her touchstones, her link to the parts of her childhood that were not associated with hurt and abuse. They made Christmas a happy time for the children, Keri remembers finding some of the things she asked for under the tree at their house, but one year the one she wanted most wasn’t there… Her grandmother suggested that Santa might have run out of parts for that particular toy, but the next year, when the same thing happened, her grandmother said that Santa quit making E-Z Bake Ovens, but that there were other gifts under the tree. Later, she learned that her dad’s new girlfriend had promised to get the little oven both years but had spent the money on something else…
“I sort of quit believing,” she said. “Then, one Christmas Eve, years later when I was a single mom with two children, I opened the door and there were presents on the steps. I know now that there is something like Santa, or the good Lord just knew that there were things going on and He helped. I don’t know, but I do know that those two babies had a good Christmas and that made mine better than ever.”
As the children got older, their father showed up from time to time, mostly smelling of whiskey and trying to pick a fight. He was never again allowed custody of his children.
Although there were periods of calm, like some Christmases, the safe harbor of her grandparent’s home had turned into a dreadful existence for her. The sexual abuse continued, “It went on until I was 15, when I ran away to a church.”
There, Keri was introduced to, ‘the sweetest people I’ve ever known.”
“They knew that something was wrong,” she said, “I don’t know if they realized exactly what it was at that point, though.”
The family member who caused Keri irreparable damage, sexually abusing her over and over, until she escaped, was never far away, always a threat that loomed over her, day and night. “It started about a year after I moved in with my grandparents,” she recalled. “Then, for some reason it stopped for about a month, but started up again and never stopped until I left at almost 17.”
One night, Keri left her grandmother’s house on the pretense of returning to the church. When she got there, she went to the couple who had befriended her and told them exactly what was happening to her…
“Once I did that, there was no contact with the family on that side because they didn’t believe that what I said was true,” she said. It would be years before she finally broached the subject with her grandmother, who still wouldn’t listen to the whole story. Her denial was so great that she still won’t accept the facts.
This time, a police report was filed. The abuser was arrested and served time in jail. Keri was never offered the services of a counselor because her family didn’t want to prolong the experience. “Out of sight, out of mind” seemed to be their way of dealing with problems.
However, emotions long buried have a way of resurrecting themselves when least expected…
School, which had once been Keri’s refuge, took on another meaning as she got older. Word had gotten out that her relative had abused her. She was made fun of and bullied daily. She began to see herself in the light that her peers saw her. Her self-esteem vanished and she became introverted, wanting little to do with the outside world, turning inward and hiding her pain because it was not something that was talked about in her family. Her grades suffered, she was unable to pay attention and her life was in such turmoil that she couldn’t concentrate.
In the last years of high school, once she was away from her abuser, things started to get a little better. She had her first real best friend, and later that year, a boyfriend who was on the football team. “My grades came up, the next year I didn’t make anything below a C,” she recalled. In her senior year, she started to slip, and because she couldn’t stand the thought of failing, she quit school altogether. “I regret not getting my GED now. I wish I had and I know it’s not too late. I still want to do that, and I will someday,” she vowed.
Even now, at 35, Keri still has trust issues, especially with men. “I never had a ‘teen’ childhood,” she said stoically. “I was forced to be a grown up until I realize now that it’s all I ever knew. I don’t much like to be around people that are younger than I am because of their immaturity.”
Keri only has one friend that she truly trusts. “I trust her, but have issues with that, too,” Keri admitted. “I’m not sure why, but I don’t trust many people, never really had a reason to trust anyone because it seems that I got let down if I trusted too much…”
Part 4 of “There but for fortune: a mother’s story” will be published next week, in the Feb. 23 edition of The Tribune.
Read part 2 here: http://www.cullmansense.com/articles/2017/02/12/part-2-there-fortune-mother-s-story
Read part 1 here: http://www.cullmansense.com/articles/2017/02/04/part-1-there-fortune-mother-s-story