It Had to be You

“Life isn’t fair. As I sit here typing these first few words, I do so with a heavy heart. I feel discouraged and saddened by the events that have transpired in the last few hours, days, weeks. But looking beyond the events that cause this sadness, I am reminded of promises made by my Heavenly Father and I feel the light of His goodness shine through.

God’s desire for us is to live a glorious life; a life full of JOY. We have hope in God’s promises that allow us to live for his glory, even through the darkest of situations.   As we begin this journey, together, I pray that you will remember that each and every day is a gift, and we have the choice to receive or decline this gift.”

I wrote those words just weeks after my husband of two years died. Michael had a vibrant personality and would bring laughter and light to any room. His greatest pleasure was to bring a smile to another’s face – family, friends, strangers – it didn’t matter. He received so much energy from making others laugh. Even if for just a moment.

Looking back, I understand the significance of his actions.

Michael wanted to experience peace and joy for himself. He constantly fought the demons that lurked around him. The darkness. The emptiness. The defeat. If he was able to bring a smile to someone else’s face, he could, for a moment, forget his own struggle.

Many times, those closest to him were the brunt of his jokes. I can’t count how many times he told clerks at checkout lines that the debit card I was using was stolen. Or he would yell out in a store, “Amy, you can’t put that in your purse!”

And then there was the time when we were at Bass Pro Shop, and he asked them to page my daughter Erin. She was there with a boy for one of those middle-school dates to the Boardwalk, and it was his chance to make me laugh. He didn’t just ask them to page her, but he took this prank a step further. He had them page “A-Aron”, the nickname he gave her after watching the Key and Peele Substitute Teacher skit. That child died from embarrassment, although she played it off quite well.

Later that same night, Michael called Erin on her phone and asked her if she and the young man she was with wanted to go boating. Of course, they did. We had been talking about buying a boat for a few months, and since we were at Bass Pro, why not test drive some boats on the river?

Bass Pro sits along the banks of the Red River and is the anchor store for the Louisiana Boardwalk, a quaint little shopping center with riverfront dining and local entertainment situated across from downtown Shreveport. It’s also conveniently nestled amongst the Shreveport-Bossier area casinos, and is Louisiana’s first lifestyle venue. At night, you can see the lights and water show from across the river, as you stroll along the cobblestone paved walkways. Both sides of the river are some of my favorite places to sit and think at night.

Of course Erin wanted to take a boat ride that night! Ah, the innocence of young minds. But this was no ordinary test drive. When she arrived and asked when we were going out on the water, Michael grinned his big, toothy grin and said, “We’re on the water, now!  Come join us.”  Nick and his girlfriend Camille, and Michael and I were already on the boat, and that boat was parked safely at the outdoor showroom of Bass Pro. Imagine her initial disappointment. However, she and her date Alf climbed aboard and off we went. We pretended to be boating, we checked all of the features of the boat, and took turns “driving.”

Michael found the fish-cleaning area and invited Alf to the back to teach him how to clean fish. Alf was a good sport and immediately joined in on the fun.  Exaggerated movements and precise instruction on how to clean, skin and properly store the day’s catch were part of the Boardwalk’s entertainment for us that night.boat

This was the Michael the world got to experience. Fun, memory-making, adventurous. We even bought that boat a few weeks later. But even with all of the rides we took on the boat, I imagine that night will stand out in all of our memories as the funniest and silliest thing we ever did on it. There was no shortage of laughter that night.

But Michael wore many masks. He would mold into whoever he thought he needed to be in any given circumstance. The doting father, the loving husband, the funny friend, the crazy coworker. This is who the world saw. They saw a man who would say or do anything to make others feel special. Pretending to clean fish with Alf was to make all of us laugh. Every one of us. This is who he longed to be. This is what he wanted to feel on the inside. But sadly, in reality he was lonely, hurting, and broken.

Behind closed doors, Michael removed the masks. Anger. Frustration. Bitterness.  Hopelessness. The hurts of his childhood flourished. They enveloped the entire room, and life with this man was anything but fun.

Once, during a family counseling session with our pastor, my son Nicholas described it like this:

“Mom, Erin and I would be in the kitchen talking. When we would hear his truck pull into the garage, everyone would panic. Were all the lights turned off? Were all the right doors closed? Where is the cat? What kind of mood will he be in?  These are the thoughts that would go through our heads. And as soon as he walked through the door, we would all know immediately which Michael would show up.

Would Erin and I go to our rooms and stay there for the rest of the night or would we all stay in the living areas as a family? It all depended on Michael. And we all knew in a matter of seconds how the evening would go.”

Nicholas went on to describe how without even a word being spoken, the energy would shift. Our pastor used the word “authenticity” to describe what our stories told were missing in Michael. Yes! After all of this time, that’s the word. That one little word summed up what was absent from the man of our house. He lacked authenticity. He was so concerned with trying to cover up his own pain, he could never be still. I’m not sure I ever knew the real Michael. Heck, at times I wonder if he even did.

Living in an unpredictable environment takes its toll on you. It sucks the life out of you. It begins to affect your mood and your relationships. And then finally amongst the unpredictable actions, the one thing happens. The last straw. That one little situation, nestled between a host of bigger and far worse incidents, that sends you over the edge. And that’s exactly what happened.

And so, I made a decision.

I devised a plan and kept it a secret. I recruited the help of friends and family to pull it off. And then the day came.

I left my husband.

*****

Being a victim of spousal abuse and rape changes who you are at your core. You see the world through a different set of lenses and learn quickly that people, men, cannot be trusted. I became a very strong, yet bitter and cold woman. I kept everyone at an arm’s distance and guarded my heart with a vengeance. I played self-defeating games, such as “get them before they get you.” If someone I was dating dared get too close to me or try to win my heart, I would run far and fast, leaving them in a trail of dust behind me.

Ironically, my coping mechanism was running. I ran at least five times a week anywhere from two to ten miles at a time, most weeks. Although, I tried many times to join group runs or running clubs, I preferred to run by myself.  Once again, how ironic? I was running in the same manner as I was living life. Alone.

So in the fall of 2013 when Michael, after months of asking, finally convinced me to go out with him, I begrudgingly agreed.

We had been high school sweethearts. Well, kind of. We didn’t date long in high school, because, as a young 15-year old, the chemistry that existed between us scared me. That and the time I was sitting in my car at his house, waiting for him to come outside, and overheard his dad yelling. That really scared me. So, our relationship in high school was short, albeit impactful.homecoming

Most people in Michael’s adult life called him Mike. To this day, I still refer to him as Michael, because that is how he introduced himself to me that summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school.

I was on danceline at Southwood High, where he played football and baseball. We had both just completed our summer practice for the day, when I saw my 6th grade science teacher, Mrs. Prokopf, walk up. I ran to her yelling, “Mrs. Prokopf!”  She had been one of my favorite all time teachers, and I couldn’t believe she was at my school. I just wanted to hug her; I had no idea she was there to pick up her son from his practice.

That hug changed my life forever. When I stepped back, up walks this handsome soon-to-be senior sporting the number 7 on his football jersey. He is smiling at me.  He told me a thousand times that he fell in love with me in that exact moment.  And then he would joke and tell me that perhaps it was my legs that he fell in love with. Michael went to his grave telling me that nothing else ever mattered after that one, life-changing moment, where the entire world would cease to exist outside of the two of us. His friends would joke with him and tell each other, if you want to talk to Mike, you do it now, because when Amy gets here, he won’t know you exist. They were describing what we came to call our “bubble moments”. These were moments in time when it indeed felt like we were the only two people on Earth.

Our first bubble moment was during half time of one of my football games, after we had broken up and after he had graduated and gone off to college. He was attending Northeast in Monroe, Louisiana, on a baseball scholarship and had come home for the weekend. He decided to go watch his old alma mater play a football game. I’ll never forget seeing him walk up to me under the stadium at Captain Shreve High School.  He looked at me and I could feel my heart beat change. Time stopped. It was as if God himself ordained that meeting.  And perhaps he did.

I was late returning to my place in the stands for the first and only time of my danceline career. And I wasn’t just a little late. I was over five football minutes late, which was more like fifteen minutes. A huge violation. Although I thought I was going to be in big trouble with Ms. Gephardt, I really didn’t care. I hadn’t seen Michael in months and the consequences, whatever they were, would have been worth it.

Michael continued to vie for my attention for years after we broke up, and with the exception of one movie date after our football encounter, I continued to ignore his advances.  He told me that for a span of 25 years, he held on to the feelings that started when he was 17 years old. And me? I unfairly compared every single boy I ever dated to Michael and how he made me feel.

So after marrying and divorcing different people, we found ourselves meeting again in our 40s. We talked every few months for about a year before he finally convinced me to give us another try. He sent me a text to see if I was still working for the pharmaceutical wholesaler, because he was on their property for a meeting. I was. He asked me to come out to the parking lot to say hi to him, and so our second bubble moment happened.

When I opened the doors and walked out to the parking lot, I saw him leaning against his truck sporting that same toothy grin for which he became known. I can’t tell you how long we stood out there talking, when I finally had to peel away and go back to work. And I can’t tell you what we talked about in that conversation. But what I can tell you is that from that moment on, we were a couple.

While we dated, I never saw the dark side of Michael. I can remember describing some of his rants as passionate, but they never crossed the line into anger, and those rants were few and far between during our nine-month courtship.  However, what I can tell you is that something in the pit of my stomach told me that this relationship wasn’t right. I broke up with Michael twice while we dated, and after the second break-up, he came to me wearing his heart on his sleeve with a list that was two sheets of paper long detailing the reasons why we should be together. I thought perhaps it was me and my trust issues getting in the way, so when he came back again, I listened to him.

Michael’s list started with him telling me that he knew I was the one for him the first time we met after practice that summer at Southwood High School, and it ended with promises of how he would treat me for the rest of my life. Three days later he proposed.

I didn’t want to get married and had several conversations with my three closest friends about my feelings. Dee Dee, Delene, and LeAnne all urged me to pay attention to my gut. But Michael was so convincing, not to mention the fact that my parents and kids adored him, and so after breaking off the engagement twice, in May of 2014, we married.

On our wedding day, I saw the first hint of something different. We were driving to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for a family vacation, when an old male friend from high school sent me a text message telling me he heard I was engaged to Michael and warning me not to marry him.   Michael’s first wife was his cousin, and he didn’t want to see me go through the same thing she did.  I told Chris it was too late; we had just gotten married. I didn’t tell Michael what Chris said to me in that message, but when he saw his name on my phone, he understandably became upset.  But his anger was more than the typical, “Why is another man messaging my new wife.” Michael was driving a motor vehicle, and this anger caused that car ride to be one of the most frightening of my life.

My kids and I had planned a family vacation before Michael ever proposed. So, when he did, we decided to just tack the wedding onto that trip and go as a family. Two days into this honeymoon/family vacation, he showed this side of himself, again.

olde-pinkMichael got mad, when I asked him to lower his voice, while we were eating at The Olde Pink House in downtown Savannah, Georgia. He was talking loudly on his phone in what was a quiet, old restaurant and tavern that is famous for ghost hauntings. He threw what was the first of many temper tantrums and refused to eat or speak to anyone – that is, until we went outside. Once outside, he yelled very loudly and spewed more cross words sprinkled with profanity than I care to recall. He took off his wedding ring, threw it to the ground, and walked away leaving me and my kids alone in a strange town. He had the keys to the car in his pocket, and I had his phone and his wallet in my purse. We were both screwed.

The kids and I decided to walk around downtown in an attempt to make the most of it, while I tried to figure out my next move. Do I go home? Do I get a rental to the hotel and hope he comes back?  Do I get an annulment? I wasn’t sure what to do. I was shocked.

Later, Erin told me that in that moment, Nick looked at her and said, “not again” referring to Michael’s behavior and comparing it to what we had lived through so many years before.

Some thirty minutes later, we happened back upon Michael as we were walking through the Colonial Park Cemetery.

Between my first marriage and my marriage to Michael, the kids and I experienced peace in our home. And two years into my marriage with Michael, all three of us craved the peace we lost when he became a part of our family. Every single day, Michael yelled. Every. Single. Day. He yelled about anything and everything. I walked on eggshells. I retreated back inside of myself and refused to share my feelings about anything, in fear of not knowing what would set him off. And this was just fine with Michael. He never asked me about me, probably because he was so focused on himself. I specifically remember counting, one time, how long it would take him to inquire about me and my thoughts and/or feelings about anything.  Two weeks later, with still not a single iota of utterance about me taking place in any of our conversations, I finally brought it to his attention. He hadn’t even noticed.

The daily yelling takes its toll on a family. But it wasn’t just yelling. There was door-slamming, shaming, criticisms, throwing, ignoring, and even graffiti on the wall of our third car garage turned workout room. In permanent marker, he wrote on that wall all of the tapes he played about himself.  Initially, I was not pleased with what he had done, but after a few moments, I grabbed that marker and turned every single thing he wrote into a positive affirmation.

Life was bizarre during our time with Michael.  Someone recently likened our marriage to the 90s movie Sleeping with the Enemy. Things would disappear, like the time my phone charger went missing.  I work from home and he knew I had conference calls almost every day. He took my charger and hid it in one of his drawers, so my phone would die. He would stand over me as I wrote emails, analyzed reports, and held or attended Webex meetings.

He watched me, as I talked on the phone with my mom. He stood nearby when I went into Erin’s room to talk to her. And he insisted I be at his side constantly, even when he was doing mundane tasks, like mowing or organizing a closet.

He hid the remote control to the TV, and I didn’t find it until I moved out. I found it placed behind a picture frame on the top shelf of the shelves in our kitchen. He threw away my daughter’s prom mug, because she left it on the table. When my son was on his 6-month mission trip, he threw away the check that came in the mail from a ministry that supported him. A friend of mine found the check, along with some other things, in our outside trashcan.

He complained about lights being on and doors being open. He was especially hard on Erin about this, and one day, he went into her bathroom and unscrewed all of the lights. He drained our checking account several times with no explanation to where the money went.

When I was in a cast from torn ligaments, he moved the only pair of shoes I could wear on campus so far out of my reach that he thought I would not be able to get them in my condition. In that situation, my will prevailed over the pain. These are just a few of the many, many strange, passive-aggressive things that happened in our home over the two years we lived with Michael.

Michael threatened suicide frequently. I came home from work one day to find him sitting on his workout bench with a noose laid across his lap and a suicide note beside him. Another time, I found empty pill and beer bottles strown across the kitchen. So it came as no surprise when, after I left him, I received a couple of suicide texts from him.  While I was in Alabama on a business trip two weeks after leaving, I had to call the sheriffs out to do a wellness check on him one night, and two nights later I sat on the phone with him, for what felt like hours, talking to him, while texting a classmate of his from Pathways, who called the sheriffs for me. We probably saved his life both of those nights.

He went to the hospital for suicidal ideation or threats of suicide, but the nurse who worked with him stated that they would not be able to help him, until he was honest with them and with himself. He said all the right things and played the system. He refused medication or professional help. They had no choice but to discharge him.

He began stalking me at my apartment and showed up unannounced on more than one occasion. I had not even told him where I was living. He admitted the detective work it took to find me. He looked at the purchases I made in the days before leaving and determined the area of town where I must have moved to.  Then, he rode around in his truck until he found my BMW, which my daughter now drives. He went to every apartment until he found my patio furniture and plants, and he took pictures of the car, the patio, and the front door, along with the apartment number and building where I was living.

He tried to do and say the right things every single day of our separation. But we had been here before, so I was not convinced things were any different. I made a list of requirements that must be met before we could have conversations of reconciling. Amongst those requirements was the demand that he seek professional help and counseling.  I also set a minimum time limit on our separation. By this time, my friends, my mother, and my daughter were all advising me to never reconcile with him.  I wanted peace in my life, but I also wanted to see him get healthy. I continued trying to work with him, so he could get the help he needed.

I agreed to have a conversation with Michael about our marriage, our house, and our future. I asked Erin to leave the apartment for a couple of hours while we talked, and he arrived early for our meeting. I let him come in, as Erin was leaving to go to her boyfriend’s house for a visit. Michael and I started with small talk, which quickly led to the discussion of our marriage. He wanted me to come home.

I decided to show him the list I had typed and printed with my requirements and he quickly scanned the paper, zeroing in on the separation time-frame of a five-month minimum. Michael didn’t like what he saw. Boy, did he not like it. In that instant, he responded in such a way that I instantly ended our conversation and asked him to leave. I asked him again.  And I asked him a dozen more times to leave. Finally, he did. But after leaving, he came right back. He wasn’t going to leave peacefully.

Banging. Yelling. Texts. Phone Calls. They all came in such quick succession, and it was frightening. After noticing that a slat in my bedroom blinds would allow him to peek in and see me, I hid in my bedroom closet. I was on the phone with Erin, who was begging me to let her come home. I refused. My quite whisper was of resolve and I insisted she stayed put. She did.

Moments later, when he went back around to the front door to bang some more, I ran from the closet to the bathroom and closed the door. I turned my phone to silent just in time to receive a text from my friend Liz. She was asking a question about a girls trip we had planned, and so I answered her question, and immediately followed it with a message that stated I was currently being terrorized. Via text, she prayed a hedge of protection over me. I believe Liz’s prayer may have saved my life. She also insisted I call the police. I did.

The police came out and searched the area, and then asked me a boat-load of questions. They also advised me to go to a hotel or to a friend’s house for the night.

Mistake Number One: I refused.

I told them that he was gone, and I would be fine. During this time, I also received a text from another friend, and I sent her screenshots of mine and Liz’s conversation. So, when the police left, I gave her a call. I was sitting on my back patio and decided to go inside to talk to her.

Mistake Number Two: I didn’t lock the door behind me.

When Dee Dee answered the phone, she heard a gasp. A bone-chilling gasp.

He’s here, I said.

Who’s there? Michael?

Yes. And the phone went dead.

Michael busted in through the back door, right as I sat down at my kitchen table. He took the phone away from me and moments later, he pulled out a gun.

Fast forward through the specifics of the next few moments and we hear beating on the front door. My friend had called 911, and those officers who left just minutes earlier were back again.

Michael yelled demands for me to look at him. I refused. God protected my eyes and my memory.

The gunshot sounded like a firecracker dud. God protected my ears.

Even though my husband lay lifeless about a foot in front of me, nothing was on me. Not a drop, not a splatter on me nor my clothes. But my bed, five to seven feet away, had remnants of that event splattered on it. God protected my body.

And I was still breathing. God protected my life.

Erin arrived at the scene no less than ONE MINUTE after Michael fired the gun. God protected my daughter and her memory.

*****

God has a purpose for my life. Because of this night, I refuse to run from His plan any longer. Even in my darkest moment, He was right there with me. In that moment, I could not feel God’s presence. I longed to feel him, but I didn’t. I cried out to him pleading with him to save me, but He wasn’t there. I cried, “Jesus” no less than one hundred times that night and, “God help me” equally as many. But I didn’t feel him. All I could feel was darkness. Darkness filled that little apartment bathroom.

Some days later, when I looked back on the events that had transpired that night, I saw, with amazement, that God was indeed there. He never left me, not for one second. He protected me. He formed a hedge of protection around me that protected my eyes, my mind, my ears, my skin, and my life, but even more amazing to me is that he protected my precious daughter. He put the right cars in her way, made traffic lights turn red, and even had her and her boyfriend playfully disagree about taking pictures immediately before she left his house to come home, just so she would not get home even a second earlier. He protected both of us.

In the months that followed, I heard many encouraging words from friends and family, even from some of Michael’s family. The same message was told to me over and over:  It had to be you. It couldn’t have been anyone else.

No longer will I be like Jonah and run from my purpose. I have a story to tell, and it’s a story of hope, love, peace and joy. It’s a story of overcoming. It’s a story of victory. It’s a story of Him and his Greatness. And this is just one part of my story.

5 thoughts on “It Had to be You

  1. This wasn’t easy to read Amy. The part of me who always loved you winced so many times as I read through it. Praise God for his faithfulness; for His Holy Spirit; for his grace and his mercy are new every morning. I am so sorry you had to live this story but God will use it to be glorified and for that we say “it is well”. Love you and am always herenif you need me

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  2. Wow! Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. You have been through so much and by God’s grace are here to help others in similar situations. I also pray you let those close to you help you heal too.
    Love you girl!

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  3. My God Amy! My heart just breaks for you. Keep your faith in God, stay in counseling, and understand that Mike was apparently sick. it was not your fault. No one should have to go through that. Having spent a career in law enforcement, I have seen this many times. I had a uncle commit suicide when I was a child and I have investigated numerous suicides, from the young to the old. I always cringe when I hear about our classmates reuniting in a relationship. Most enter that relationship thinking the person is the same as they were so many years ago in high school. Fact is, all of us change, it’s just a fact of life and of growing up. Some change for the better and some change for the worse.

    Having known you since high school and having stayed in contact with you, I know that you are a beautiful person inside and out. Your faith in God will see you through. I pray that God comforts and guides you and your family during this time and in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Amy- thank you for sharing your story of strength. You are beyond the definition of strength and I am hugging you a thousand times in my heart as I read this and reflect on your journey. Keep strong and beautiful…. hugs and love ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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