The day she said Goodbye
Who knew that the day she said goodbye would be the day that set a clock to start ticking. Her parents thought they were an ill-matched pair from the start but they did not want to interfere. Even her best friend said he should cut him loose. Who knew that by saying goodbye that her risk of domestic violence homicide was increased by a factor of five?
But wait, isn’t it important for victims of domestic violence to break away from the coercive grasp of their tormenting intimate partners? A sign of empowerment, they say. She wanted to move on, finally having the courage to say goodbye after he held them all at gunpoint. Ranting that if she ever tried to leave him he would kill her. His hubristic thinking was never as obvious as on the day she said to goodbye.
The next day, he knew something was up when the sheriff’s deputy pulled in behind his truck and activated the pulsating blue lights. “Your mother has really done it this time” he said to his 12-year old son. He also had a clock ticking, unbeknownst to him or anyone else. The boy’s mother never wanted this to happen and never expected it would become so dangerous to she and her 2 children just when she decided it was time to say goodbye. The deputy who took him into custody that day was in fear for the child’s mother, he would admit at some point.
Victims of domestic violence are at greatest risk when they decide it is time to end the cycle of power and control. Those who work with victim’s advocates are thought to experience less abuse and report a better quality of life. This takes time, and time is all they have in the world to break the chain of violence.
People thought he was just a neighborhood bully. They later learned he was intimidating, sadistic and sexually aggressive. He hated his daughter when she was born and he wished she were a boy. When she started to walk he would trip her and laugh. It was a joke to him he would later say. No one knew but there was a clock ticking for the little girl as well. These were the first red flags. Together these three shared a secret, with him.
After being criminally threatened, she was issued an order of protection. It meant that he could have no contact with his wife or the children. It also required that he attend counseling sessions. In spite of this, the extent of his anger was never fully appreciated according to a state official. Meanwhile, she also filed for divorce and he began to fester. His jealousy and suspicion grew. He too had a ticking clock only his was more of a ticking bomb. Just because she had the nerve to say goodbye.
That year was a dream come true. She met new people and managed the transition to a single parent household better than most. She taught kindergarten and was everybody’s mother. That year she began to feel happy – people noticed. Her children too started to move on. On social media websites she would post her pride in her kids with photographs and video. She had a plan that would keep them all safe from him. Soon it would be time to say goodbye to the controlling, manipulative abuser.
Not so fast. He was not satisfied with this arrangement. His wife could no longer put up with his charade. In the months after he was ordered to stay away from his family the impact of his estrangement began to whittle away the exterior of bravado. Arguably, he did what he pleased like standing in line behind her at a local coffee shop in violation of the court order. He launched a social media diatribe lauding his achievements as a father and husband. He lied about all that he had done and minimized having held a firearm on his wife and children. Suddenly it was her fault that he could not see the children. She was harming the kids by keeping them from their beloved father, he espoused. Poor soul. The irony in his internet blitz was lost on a bevy of friends who “liked” his daily status reports. They insisted he fight for his children. Time was ticking toward the 8th grade commencement exercise he wanted to attend, ostensibly to portray himself as someone everyone knew he could not become. Time too was growing near to the final divorce decree and to his day in court.
By now people began hearing the ticking clock. Family members said a change came over him. He was depressed and talked of suicide. “When I do it, it will be on CNN” he managed with his typical hubris. He faced the end of his 10-year marriage and a court trial from his action one year previously.
All at once, the totality of his anger and deception came into focus to the police who saw his truck in her driveway. They were called when she failed to come to school on that day.
Some saw how much danger they were in and did nothing. Red flags raise the specter of risk. “I never thought he would take the kids” said a family member, in a matter of fact way. Others blamed a district attorney for not lightening up on the stay away order saying if the D.A. had only allowed him to attend the commencement exercise he would not have done what he did.
No one knows what the impending loss of time meant to him, time in jail? Time alone? What happened next is well documented. He set his alarm clock for 4:45 and wrote letters to his family — 10 in all. “I’ll see you in hell” he scribed to his wife. He entered the rental home while they slept, his intentions known only to him. For 2 hours he raged on setting the scene. Finally time stood still for all four. The family’s timeline came to an end – all at once – all because she had the courage to walk away, to make a better choice for her children, and to say goodbye once and for all.
Michael Sefton, Ph.D.
Dr. Sefton is a police sergeant in New Braintree. Along with three colleagues, Ron Allanach, Brian Gagan, and Joe Laughlin researched the Psychological Autopsy of the June 11, 2010 Dexter, Maine Murder/Suicide and made over 50 recommendations for reducing harm to people living with intimate terrorism. They presented their findings before the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board on November 11, 2011 in Augusta, ME.