A Fresh Start for my Sister's Family

My middle sister is one of the most loving and caring people I know. But when she got married for the second time in her 20s, I was probably one of the biggest skeptics. I thought for sure this guy was a creep. But when I gave him a chance and got to know him, I was fooled like everyone else.

He seemed like a good fit. He said he didn't drink- that alcohol was poison. He said he would take care of my sister... and while that was a little patriarchal for my taste, the sentiment was right. There was still a person here or there who didn't approve or accept him into the family. But to be honest, I thought they were being racist.

Following is the abbreviated story of how one man ripped apart my sister's family leaving behind a path of destruction, chaos, and financial ruin. We also hope, with your help, it's the beginning of a new story, the story of how my sister's family will get back up and start over in spite of everything.

We don't really know when the abuse started.

When they met, my sister lived with her son and my mom in our childhood home on Cape Cod. When they moved in together, everything seemed positive. In retrospect, there was an off-color comment- involving a minor argument over whose turn it was to do the laundry. Haven't we all made comments we regret in silly arguments?

They moved into their own place. They had a beautiful baby girl- an addition to my sister's son from her first marriage. Then he started drinking. He stopped working. Two DUIs came with hefty court fines that my sister paid from her income as a massage therapist working at a local resort.

There was the weird Christmas when he threw away all the presents and toys we gave my nephew. So strange. We didn't understand. One day in June his brother dropped three children off at my sister's house for the weekend. They said they were moving and would pick them up in a couple days.

They never came back for the kids.

Even though she was struggling to support her two kids and non-working husband, my sister didn't miss a beat. She took care of the three kids. After four months and not a word from the parents, and strange stories from her husband, my sister began investigating on her own. Suddenly the kids were scattered. We didn't know where they went. Months later, one of the kids came back to my sister's house. She could see he was being severely abused. He told her he didn't feel safe. She took him in, just like before.

Her husband began disappearing at night. Despite her dramatic weight loss, my sister was wearing long sleeves and turtlenecks in the summer. This is when my mom discovered the secret. He strangled her. Grabbed her arms and shook her. She had the cuts and bruises to prove it.

That was when she got the first restraining order.

But suddenly, he was back in the picture. He begged forgiveness, my sister said. He is trying to change, she reasoned. He is the product of an unfair upbringing and has had a disadvantaged past, she told us. He said he would go to counseling. But he never showed up. That was when money started disappearing. He had to pay for hotels when he wasn't at the house. He had to pay to entertain other women. He had to pay to drink.

When my sister confronted him about it, that's when she needed the second restraining order.

He thought it was a joke. He broke that restraining order, too. He threatened her. He scared her to death. He forced her under duress to sign a car loan so he could get the hell out. But he didn't leave.

The effects were starting to show on the children. Her daughter wasn't hitting her developmental milestones. Her son, always an outstanding student and vibrant little boy was regressing. He was slowing retreating into a shell. A boy who used to bounce into my arms shouting would approach cautiously. The little boy would whisper.

Her husband was arrested again for the restraining order violation.

This time there was a machete in the glove box. The car was impounded. It was never insured- insurance is expensive when you have two DUIs and no job. He stole money to pay for the DUI lawyer. He stole money to pay an immigration lawyer. He stole money to take a paramedics class- which he never completed and then failed the test. My sister had saved about $12,000.00 to provide for her family through the winter (Cape Cod is a seasonal tourist town). He stole it all.

Determined not to have a second divorce in her 20s, and deluded in the way women are who suffer from ongoing domestic violence, my sister tried once again to reconcile when he got out of jail. But frustrated that she was out of money and annoyed that he could not get a job with no car and two DUIs, violence escalated again. Then, something happened in my sister's brain and she decided she had enough.

"Out. Now." she told him.

But he was sneaky. And he did not appreciate women telling him what to do.

It was a morning like many others. My sister took the boys to school and stopped at home to grab something forgotten before taking the baby to daycare. Such is the life of a single mom. But he was waiting for her. He tried his best to rape her. He tried his best to kill her. But she escaped. Barely. The baby was watching.

He went back to jail. He was charged with attempted murder and attempted rape. He had violated the restraining order. The trial ends this week. He could spend seven years in jail.

But what will we do on that eighth year?

The judge asked him if he was sorry. He was sorry that he was caught.

Last week my sister's divorce was finalized. A couple days ago, she was finally granted guardianship of the other boy. She's had to struggle to get him health insurance, as he doesn't seem to have a birth certificate. She's had to struggle with a mixed race family in a place where most people are white. Just the other day the elementary school dragged my sister into the principal's office to tell her that her son looked "ratty" and needed a hair cut. His hair was a quarter of an inch long.

His hair wasn't ratty. His hair is "African". When children have used racial slurs in the classroom, my sister's son was told he was "sensitive".

But things are getting better. Her son is changing schools and will be with a group of boys he plays baseball with- who like him because he's a good player and don't care about his hair texture or skin color.

Without the ex husband in their lives, the boy is starting to pick back up. The baby is starting to meet milestones. My sister treats the other boy like he's her own son. She gives him everything she has- which is not much. She works more than 50 hours a week and is going to school. She's doing every thing she can, but it's not enough. The ex-husband has spun this family into financial ruin.

We are asking for your help to get them back on their feet. Even small donations help. The money given will be held by an administrator who will first pay off the existing debts and then give disbursements to the family on a weekly basis to help cover necessities like food, rent, and gas.
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Erin Lawless Miller 
Orleans, MA
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