He asks, boldly, when no one has dared, what did it feel like? This virtual stranger calls out my experience, wants to know if it was painful, but does not fully understand his question evokes an emotional layer that has taken me all this time to process. I silently thank him for the chance to finally release it. He is like the visitor to the jail, who seeing the key moves it into my reach. He does not offer to leave with me, only observes as I begin this new journey.

There is a stillness before a storm, as though everything has stopped. A quietness. You sense the change, the difference, and wait, not knowing when, only that it will begin. It is this calmness that I noted the night before, and in it an inescapable foreboding that still shakes me. I could not have known the degree to which the storm would destroy our lives, only its impending arrival.

The night before….the moon was brilliant as it rose from behind the trees. We had a bonfire in the yard with my son’s friends dancing and telling macabre stories after his birthday party. There was little interaction between my husband and me. It was the culmination of the chaotic, violent week which affirmed the necessity of leaving and I was very aware of the need to remain detached from the events and him. Married 21 years, and involved years prior, we had been together a long time. It was this emotional separation I knew I had to assume to do what I had to do for the children and I.

It is like swimming in deep turbulent water with your partner. You understand too late the distress they are experiencing. You are so close as they struggle and desperately grab onto you in an effort to save themselves, and in that moment you know you must make a choice. You know they will take you down with them, that you will both drown if you try to save them so you use all your strength to wrench free and swim out of reach. You cannot swim fast enough or far enough to not witness their own struggle pull them under. You live with it knowing it was your only choice. It is a brutal truth. A blinding last scene that replays over and over, unchangeable.

The day after the bonfire I returned home from church. As he came into my bedroom demanding to know how I would live if I left, I stated confidently I did not know how but I had tremendous faith. He begged me at first to lay with him, then to just hug him. I knew that moment had passed for us and I could not. As I sat in the chair in the corner of my bedroom he returned with the gun, covered by a hand towel, and stood at the end of my bed, four feet from me, and for a split second I thought he was simply threatening me as he had in the past. Uttering the words ‘I love you too much to live without you’, he removed the towel and aimed at my head. As we held each other’s gaze for that fraction of a second, I immediately understood.

Only now am I able to burrow down through the layers of emotional insulation to the core of that moment, to his eyes. He looked directly into my eyes. It was a millisecond of final intimacy, the last intimate gaze between a husband and wife, lovers and friends. It seared painfully through me and felt like the ultimate betrayal of that intimacy, of trust. It was not in rage or anger. It was a calmness. It was sadness. The disparity between my empathy in grasping his sadness and his intent is emotionally complex and perplexing, but acceptance was my survival. It was his moment of being painfully human but final in his mistake. The choice he made to pull the trigger left him no choice. Nor me. It was that final moment of kicking free from the drowning person and swimming clear as I ran past and away from him while he continued shooting me.

I made it. I fought for it and I made it and right now I’m more than just a little at odds with the emptiness of victory. The burden of the weight of survival. So grateful, so tortured, I seek a place to lay my tragedy within my high spirited, driven psyche. Coming to terms with this is a work in progress and I can only reflect it has just begun. This painful work to find my way.

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 (ESV)


About Lisette d. Johnson

Murder-Suicide Survivor, Mom, Writer, Speaker, Serial Volunteer in the Intimate Partner Violence and Sexual Assault Arena, Entrepreneur, &amp Friend. I survived, my kids survived, and I am here to tell the story.
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