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My Awakening & Rebirth Along the Journey of Hope, Part Three: by Donnalynn Scillieri, MA

with Gerri Budd, Ph.D.

Noteworthy: I have discovered survivors of domestic violence have an innate trigger or a series of triggers that push them onto the journey of hope to a new life.  Family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers come across survivors’ paths, with unintended suggestions or reaching hands of compassion, empathy and guidance, knowingly or not.   Regardless, of race, ethnicity or socio-economic diversity, survivors travel the same road out.  Statistically, not all victims make it and their murderers know no bounds, either. From the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV): 1 in 2 female murder victims and 1 in 13 male murder victims are killed by intimate partners; intimate partner homicides found 20% of victims were family members/friends of the abused, neighbors, good Samaritans who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders; 65% of all murder-suicides are committed by intimate partners, and 96% of murder-suicide victims are female.

People who come into your life are extending hands to pull you along down the path of hope.  I believe there are angels and demons on earth.  The demons were pushing my ex but the angels were pulling me along.

In the spring of 2003, I was gardening, one of the few last things I enjoyed because it brought me back to my childhood at my Nana and Grandpa’s garden. Therapists suggest to domestic violence victims to remember being that little girl and how you would do anything to rescue and protect a child. Anyway, I moved on to painting some patio furniture when my elderly neighbor was upset about a sick pigeon and asked me for help.  Not knowing what to do, I called Animal Control and there was my first angel, the animal control officer, Debbie. After she completed the task at hand, Debbie asked me if I knew anyone with an arts background, looking for a part-time job because William Paterson University’s (WPU) Shea Performing Arts Center had an opening for a house manager. I jumped at the opportunity and was hired, purchased some clothes for the job, sporting the Stevie Nicks look and I was on my way.

My home life was getting worse, but I was starting to feel a bit useful.  An old family friend, Scott became mayor and my next angel as he appointed me to the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse and they hired me as a part-time teaching artist for their after-school program.

At the same time, my son was ten and loved politics when former mayor Giuliani came to speak at William Paterson and my son stumped him on a question and made the newspapers.  The mayor took my son under his wing and during his junior year of high school, the mayor who became our assemblyman and then a judge gave him an internship which led to an academic scholarship. My son having witnessed the domestic violence needed a role model like Scott.

Soon after the two new jobs started, I was having tea and reading the paper at a popular meeting place in town.  There was an older man that would chat with me and one day he randomly said, “Often there is a marriage where one is suffocating and losing themselves and the other is controlling the scenario.”  That statement made me think about my life.  A few years later, I asked him if he remembered that day and he said he did and he made the statement intentionally because he saw the fake smile on my face and pain in my eyes.

Well, finally a light bulb was flickering on and off in my head as it occurred to me that if I could earn a master’s degree; I could get out of this marriage.  My sight was set on this goal for a new life for the children and me. This may not be reasonable or rational, but it was my vision.

In the winter of 2004, I planned to attend the Montclair State University’s (MSU) graduate school open house but my ex was very abusive that day and I missed it but there was another one I finally attended.  Determined to earn a master’s in Art History and become a professor, I found the Art History table and the advisor informed me that I needed a year of college German or French.  Languages are not my forte and don’t have the luxury of time because of my escape plan.  Totally despaired, Dr. Jane Peterson from Theatre and Dance Department approached me and offered me a graduate assistantship because I had an art and business background.  I was seeing and hearing an angel as I told her to sign me up.  The assistantship would pay may tuition, give me a professional job on campus with a stipend and all I had to do was take the GRE’s.  I went and bought five study books and studied while I was house managing at WPU.  But every time I was scheduled to take the exam the abuse would escalate, and I would miss the exam.

Early one morning in July of 2004, I went and sat in my garden and cried while the kids were still sleeping.  My cordless phone rang and it was MSU and they still had an opening but I only had two weeks to take the GRE’s.  I registered for the exam and not to the fault of my ex was in a burn accident.  So that I could study, I forewent pain killers and took the exam with a leg wrapped like a mummy.  By the end of August, I was working and attending graduate school.  My first year, I worked at MSU, WPU and taught after-school art programs.

The one thing about being at MSU was I could start over…my friends were beginning to figure out that I was living a charade.  Day one, proudly in my new office in walks the department secretary and she looks into my eyes and tells me her domestic violence story and lets me know that she is always available to talk.  My response was that I was not like her but thank you.  I showed up on her door step six months later.

My first semester awakened a lot of deadened feelings.  I had no dreams…I felt I was already over 80 looking back at my life.  I had become robotic…the right response at the right time.  But college students are all about dreams and dreams are contagious.

I was sailing through exams by faith.  My ex was trying his best to increase the abuse during mid-terms and finals but I felt the Lord on my shoulder and passed everything with flying colors.

By December 2004, I was slowly taking the power back from my ex and he realized it.  One day, I had a great day at MSU and on the phone that evening I was laughing with a girlfriend.  She said, “Do you hear that?”  I said, “No, silly, I’m here and you’re there.”  She replied, “You are laughing out loud…I’ve never heard you do that.”  My daughter was seven and starting chanting, “Mommy is laughing, Mommy is laughing.”  She was seven and had never heard me laugh out loud in her life.  My ex was thrown and within a week showed up at campus and was escorted off, never to return.

As he went into overdrive to derail me for the spring 2005 semester, the angels and my faith went into overtime to save me. We were working on the show “Flyin’ West” which is about the Homestead Act of 1862 and domestic violence.  My office had a conference table in it and the Theatre Department invited the Women’s Center and Women’s Study Department to discuss the domestic violence elements of the show.  At this point, I was still covering my life from Hell but two women were going on and on…as though they were revealing everything I was hiding.  I felt transparent and just wanted them to just stop talking and that was when the professor that I was working with put the pieces together.  Those two women became very instrumental on my journey and very good friends – Marie and Esmilda.

By the end of my first year of graduate school, I was halfway through. The escape plan was working for a new life with a Masters in hand I would pack up the kids and leave my ex.  One year to go.  The professor I worked with brought my situation to the Dean of the College of the Arts without my knowledge.  I was sitting in my office one May morning and the Dean Newman came dancing into my office, literally.  He was singing from Chicago, “When you are good to the Dean the Dean is good to you.”  I loved Dean Newman, he allowed my kids to come to work with me and my daughter would chase him around on her Razor Scooter. I brought him herbs from my garden that he loved.  The Dean told me he had a secret and with my advisor, I had to go to the office of the Vice President the next morning in business attire.

The next morning, I put on a suit (remember, I mentioned I had not been connecting with my old professional self) and as though in a dream the university put an offer on the table.  I could write a thesis or do an internship and independent study in the university’s Foundation Department writing grants.  If I did well, I would have a par diem contract for the 2005/06 academic year.

The following week, I put on a suit and drove to my internship.  I heard the following song as I drove, that I truly believe my Nana was singing to me from The Five Stairsteps, Ooh Child: “Ooh-oo child/Things are gonna get easier/Ooh-oo child/Things’ll get brighter/Ooh-oo child/Things are gonna get easier.”

I believed that for the first time, things were going to get better, in that suit I felt the power coming back and getting stronger.  If I faltered, I looked in my daughter’s eyes and kept moving forward just like the song In My Daughter’s Eyes by Martina McBride “It’s hanging on when your heart is had enough; It’s giving more when you feel like giving up; I’ve seen the light; It’s in my daughter’s eyes”

Forever grateful to Montclair State University, we were able to leave on October 1, 2005 and not June of 2006. We grabbed what we could in a small window of time and fled to my parents.  The weight of the world was off of my shoulders.

But the nightmare was just beginning and the reprieve I felt was very short lived.  When you leave an abuser, you are in more danger and they become more violent.

If you or someone you know is in danger, please call 911 or you can call, chat or text the Domestic Violence National Hotline.


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