The Face of Domestic Violence
First Signs of Trouble
I sat in my mom's house not knowing what to do.
My body still ached from being beaten by my husband a day earlier. But he kept pleading through the door: "I was drunk. I'm sorry. I'll never do that to you again. I know I need help." I had a 2-week-old baby. I wanted to believe him. I opened the door.
I had a crush on Dietrich White back in junior high. When I ran into him almost a decade later in 1997, I was 21 and even more attracted to his sexy smile and blue eyes. I was thrilled when he asked me out. I was living with my mom in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while I took time off from college to heal from complications of endometriosis surgery. I tried to fill my time by running a booth-rental business in a crafts mall, but many of my friends were away at school and I was lonely.
Dietrich and I became a couple and spent nearly every day together. He said we were soul mates, brought me flowers, and took me on a trip to Florida. Two months later we were engaged. We moved in together in Little Rock (about an hour away from my mom), where Dietrich owned a carpet-cleaning business. I intended to return to school, but Dietrich said he earned enough to support us, so I could spend my time decorating our home and planning my dream wedding.
Dietrich and I rarely argued, but sometimes he got jealous and claimed I looked at other men. I was flattered that he was so in love with me that he couldn't stand the idea of me being with someone else. I wish I had known then that jealousy is often a warning sign of an abusive personality.
Our idyllic life didn't last long. Within a few months Dietrich had lost many of his customers and became distant. We had our first fight when I couldn't find him at his jobsite one afternoon; I smelled beer on his breath when he came home. "Where the hell have you been?" I demanded. He lied that he had been working and headed for the shower. I got so mad I threw a glass-covered candle at the bathtub. Dietrich stormed over and slapped me hard across the face. No one had ever hit me before, and I was stunned. "Did you just hit me?" I screamed.
"You made me do it!" I remember him shouting back. "You have no right to attack me when I've been working."
Later I apologized, and he said, "We never need to do that again." I tried to forget about the incident, but the next day my mother saw my black eye. "He was drinking, and I started it," I tried to explain. She exploded. "I don't care about the circumstances," she said. "No man can do that!"
Dietrich's irrational jealousy erupted again a month later when he accused me of sleeping with a friend of his. He canceled our wedding, which was just two weeks away, and asked me to move out. My parents lost thousands of dollars, but my mother was relieved. I was devastated.
On what would have been our wedding day I found out I was pregnant. After my endometriosis surgery, my doctor had told me I was infertile, so we hadn't been using birth control. The timing was terrible, but I was thrilled to learn I could have kids. My mom urged me to have the baby on my own, but I didn't want to be a single mother. Besides, I believed that a child would complete our little family and make things better.