The Beaten Path

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Her husband, she says, also became physically abusive. While she was still pregnant, she says, he punched her in her ear and she fell, twisting her ankle. She was in so much pain that she begged him to get her medical attention. "I said, 'I swear I won't say nothing--please take me to the hospital,'" she says. "He did take me, but he did not leave me alone with the doctor, and I had to tell them I fell."

After the birth of their daughter, Mary says, she eventually became frantic about her inability to reach her parents. When she tried to call them in Lima, she discovered that their phone had been disconnected. Her letters to them were returned unopened. When she relayed her fears to her husband, Mary says, he told her that her mother had phoned their home with bad news while Mary was in the last stages of her pregnancy.

"My husband told me that my mother said my father had passed away," she says. "He said that my family did not want to know about me because I had a black child, and they had disowned me. He said he didn't tell me before because I was pregnant and he didn't want to upset me." Mary would believe that story for the next five years.

And the abuse escalated. One night when the baby was just two months old, Mary bundled up her infant and parked herself on a bus bench in front of an all-night grocery store. "They had a security guard," she says, "and he could not hit me in a public place."

On occasion, a friend or neighbor would phone police to report the assaults. Sometimes Mary was able to get away and call police herself. But "two hours later," she says, "he would be in the house. What good did it do me? Then I was more hurt than I had been in the beginning."

When her husband did end up in jail, she says, she paid for that, too. "He would say, 'When I get out of jail, I'm going to kill you. I'll have you deported!'"

Staffers at the Denver City Attorney's office offered Mary counseling, but she didn't take them up on it. She wasn't yet ready to leave her husband. "When you're in love and having kids and he says that he is sorry and he promises you that everything will be fine, you try to keep the family together," she explains.

But Mary reached her breaking point in 1991, when she was pregnant with the couple's second child. She got a restraining order against her husband and fled to a shelter for battered women. She was living at the shelter when she went into labor three months ahead of schedule. The infant lived just three hours; Mary believes that her husband's abuse--he allegedly pushed her down the stairs while she was pregnant--contributed to the baby's death.

"I was sad," Mary says. "I needed someone with me. My baby passed away, and I believed I had no family." So she went back to her husband. And the abuse continued.

Mary says she left a second time after her husband accidentally started a fire in their apartment. He'd been doing drugs and had fallen asleep with a cigarette still burning. That time, she says, she was determined to stay away. She sold her television and stereo to get the money for an attorney, hoping a lawyer could help her get her green card. It was only then, Mary says, that she discovered the truth. "[The attorney] said my husband never filed my papers," she recalls. "He said, 'You are illegal.'"

"So what can I do?" she asks rhetorically. "I couldn't go home. I didn't have friends. He didn't let me have friends."

Mary chose what she thought was her only option: She went into hiding, from the INS as well as from her husband. She supported herself and her daughter on her meager income for the next two years--right up until the day her husband caught up with her.

In getting out when she did, Mary had already beaten the odds.
"Some women leave after the first incident of abuse," says Linda Gordon, an attorney with Project Safeguard, an advocacy and emergency resource program for battered women. "But generally, it takes time and a number of incidents before they ask for help."

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Karen Bowers