Coming soon: The House that Emily Built
October is Domestic Violence month. To raise awareness of this very important issue and of the powerful role pets play in the lives of many victims, I will be posting a story I began reporting a couple of years ago. It didn’t find the literary home I was hoping for, but I believe it’s too important a story to languish on the hard drive of my computer.
The full piece will be posted later this week. Here’s a preview…
It would be her word against Johnny’s*.
Still, Deborah* dialed 9-1-1. She feared what Johnny might do next. He’d already burst into their bedroom screaming. He’d already grabbed her by the feet and dragged her off the bed paying no mind to her right leg, still in a cast a month after what she called “the stomping.” He’d snatched her cell phone and shattered it. And she was sure he’d put Patton outside. Otherwise, the ninety-pound foxhound would certainly have barged into the bedroom and gotten up in Johnny’s face, barking, backing him away from her, as Patton typically did when Johnny got aggressive.
At least she’d hidden her stepfather’s old cell phone in a kitchen drawer.
Now, as Johnny spoke with the two responding officers, Deborah sat on the porch of his Butts County, Georgia home. It was July 11, 2014, just before midnight. I’ve got to get out of here, she told herself. The statement had become a mantra, intoned more urgently after each fight. But Deborah wasn’t where she needed to be financially. Despite squirreling away money for months, the thirty-nine-year-old hadn’t saved nearly enough for a place of her own—a place she, her daughter, her stepfather, and their three dogs could call home.
Deborah absently stroked the tiny Chihuahua curled in her lap. At least, she thought, she wouldn’t be heading to jail like Johnny. The officers arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct. They issued Deborah a warning. The sergeant told her he didn’t want to risk further injury to her leg by taking her into custody. Deborah watched as the sergeant led Johnny, now in handcuffs, to a waiting patrol car. Of course, Johnny would be back the following day, and with her stepfather and daughter out of town, Deborah would have to face him alone.
It was still hard for Deborah to reconcile the Johnny she’d met at church with the man she now lived with. Johnny’s generosity and zeal for helping others had endeared him to her and earned him her pastor’s seal of approval. And then there was Johnny’s goofy side, which made him so unlike other rodeo cowboys she knew — “hard, macho” guys, like her ex-husband. Maybe, she’d told herself, cowboys were different in Johnny’s native Oklahoma than they were here in Georgia.
As the patrol car began to snake its way down the long driveway leading out to the main road, Sheriff’s Deputy James Sanders walked over to Deborah. This was the officer’s third dispatch to the secluded lakeside house in the past month. He’d seen enough to know that the slender blonde sitting before him was in trouble. Sanders handed Deborah a green and white pamphlet with a list of county agencies and urged her to call the local domestic violence shelter. “If you don’t leave,” Sanders said, “he’s going to kill you.”
Deborah looked at Sanders. “I can’t leave,” she said. “What about my dogs?”
Patton, the foxhound; Lucy, the Chihuahua; and Scarlet, a Chow—were family, Deborah told Sanders. They were why she hadn’t already left the lake house. They were why she was saving for a place of her own. They were why she had no choice but to stay—even if staying meant risking her life.
to be continued…
*Last names have been dropped to protect privacy.
Jacki Skole is an award-winning journalist, author and adjunct professor of communication. A graduate of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, she spent a decade as a writer and producer at CNN before turning to teaching. Jacki launched WRITE Now to assist students in writing the college application essays that will chart their future. Read More...