This is the month we mark Domestic Abuse Prevention, and with it comes with sad cutout reminders in the store windows of Iowans who have lost their lives. This is not one of those stories.
She shakes back a cascade of coppery hair, fires a cigarette with a newly-steady hand,
Slowly, a smile spreads across her freckled face, and why not?
It's going to be a damn good day.
Every day is good these days, because after 20 years Terri can now get up in the morning knowing she won't have an eye blackened, she won't be choked or raped or lashed to a post in the basement. The local woman opens her personal chamber of horrors, so long hidden, to serve as living proof that there is life after domestic abuse.
"Not everybody gets a chance to start a life all over again. The first thing on my mind after hanging up the hotline call that day was to get back to school right away. I appreciate every moment because there was a time when I didn't expect to live to see them."
Terri is among the success stories of the local Council Against Domestic Abuse's campaign to bring the most shadowed of crimes into the light of public awareness.
"I'm not comfortable living life with people calling me "the victim," but since I'm emotionally ready to handle this, I feel I have to talk for those who aren't," Terri says. "There might be a woman in some farmhouse who is just as scared as I was. I want her to know there are people who care."
After almost 20 years of being beaten, she hid some clothes and supplies, left a note on the kitchen table saying "Please get help, we love you," and left her home
When the young mother of five speaks of fear, she speaks from experience. She met "my Prince Charming" while in high school. What she didn't tell her parents is that when her man wasn't sweet talking, he was holding a rifle to her head. "I never got over the feeling that I was the one that should feel guilty."
Minor incidents gradually became more punishing, and more frequent. "Every time I went to work with a black eye, I told them I had run into a door, and they just looked at me. I was angry at myself. If I could just do something right..."
At one point the husband went into counseling, but within a year, the beatings started again, worse than ever. "There were times I would be left tied to a pole in the basement, beaten with belts, or forced to lie in a creek through the night. He got good at hitting me in such a way not to leave marks where they would be seen."
She hid a scrawled will in a drawer, asking that her children be taken away to safety if she should be found dead.
Terri once called a national hotline looking for an escape, but at that time, was told that the few shelters that existed could not take her children. She hung up.
"The mental abuse is worse, I think, than the physical. In time, I couldn't remember how old I was. I looked in the mirror and didn't know myself. I was dying, slowly.