The Children

Another blank screen stares defiantly back at me, and my heart sinks at writing the words clambering to exit, as though maybe to keep them will somehow maintain some sense of order in our lives. To write them leaves me empty, reading them solidifies my doubts and fears.

In my angst I feel like I must do something, so I go rooting through neglected drawers, purging, throwing away what isn’t necessary, reorganizing. I recognize the times I am motivated to undertake these projects it is likely simply to regain some control over something when everything else seems to be spiraling.

In a drawer, I find a stack of pictures taken the final summer. It was after I had said I was leaving, delayed by marriage counseling he requested, that we visited my step son and his family at their cabin in North Carolina and my aunt and uncle in South Carolina. Among the pictures is one just of my children.

My first thought is this is before; when they were blissful and happy, unaware of the pending separation. Before their innocence was stolen, before their world completely imploded. Eight weeks before the shooting.

The human spirit manages to go on, adapting however it can, no matter how catastrophic or traumatic the event. But it is never the same; never as pure, never as free. My daughter surely has imprinted images and feelings surrounding that day, though it appears she has no access to it, no recollection of it, only pleasant memories of our life before. She still mourns her father, as though he simply passed away one day. The rest doesn’t exist for her.

It leeches out sideways, oozing into every aspect of our lives. These four plus years later I still fight tirelessly for her, but fear the battle lost as the adaptation that protected her and allowed her to go on seems to have taken over and I only see fleeting glimpses of the daughter I knew. Even her my son comments he doesn’t recognize her most of the time.

My son was catapulted from childhood into the lone man for a mother and sister at age nine. Flung into an assumed responsibility with no resources to pull from, no support to help him sort it out. He is depressed. He is angry.

I am angry. Furious. Raging. Abjectly sorrowful; unable to even conjure the words to describe the depth of this despair. I look at these two beautiful souls smiling in the picture, these two wholesome and perfect parts of God and I cannot fathom what kind of person could do what he did. Who could be so hateful, so intent to destroy me that they would destroy their own children in the process?

In the darkest hours I go in to each of them, wiping away my tears so as not to wake and startle. I touch them, smooth their hair, kiss their heads, pray, finally returning to my bed to wait out the night.

Sometimes, still, I carry the guilt for staying, for persisting in my fantasy of marriage and family, knowing it is entirely his for treating us the way he did. Yet it is the three of us who are left with, who live with the consequences and I long to make some sense of it, to have everything where it needs to be so we can move forward. If only it were as easy as uncluttering drawers and closets.

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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7 Responses to The Children

  1. Jenny D says:

    This breaks my heart to read what all this has done to you and to your children. I’ve been following you for about 4-5 months now and knew Marshall and his even his sister Mia from elementary school on. In high school, I used to think that he had the best looking sweaters I ever saw. I can still remember the freckles on his nose and his brown eyes. He was a good kid back then, or so it seemed. But wasn’t every kid we knew good? I don’t think any of us could even comprehend what could happen with any of us. When I saw the news in the paper, I was in shock, real shock, and wondered even then how he could DO this; how he could hurt the one he loved most and how he could even think it would be ok in his children’s lives. I was appalled, to the point of almost sickness, and as a woman who has been through abuse, my heart went out to you. I sincerely keep you and your children in my prayers at night. You have all the control now and that’s a good, good thing. Take the time to languish in that. Life is yours. Keep writing. Look at the number of people that follow you and know for certain that each and every one is pulling for you along with every person you know. That’s a fact. Lean on that when you need to.

  2. MM says:

    Bless you and your children. Your message resonates powerfully with me, and I am sure many, many others. I feel like you seem to have before you decided to leave, except my husband is trying to control me through the Courts since our separation two years ago. I am scared for my life and for the life and well-being of my children. He is seeking custody of our children, the oldest of whom refuses to visit him, weary and damaged by the relentless criticisms, angry outbursts, throwing of objects and intimidation which culminated in his father’s threat to kill me (made in front this 15 year old). The emotional abuse had escalated into screaming and vile cursing in my face and severe financial punishment, cutting me off from income as I had been a stay-at-home mother. In these two years, he has bankrupted us completely through litigation (20+ motions filed) and reckless spending, lost his well-paying professional job, and now he is feeling extreme financial pressure and loss of status from being unemployed. And with his long-term untreated depression, I am frightened. Meanwhile, the court system is a hostile place that has been receptive of his constant motions and ignores the financial and emotional devastation his litigation causes our family. Lawyers and custody evaluators feasted on fees which averaged over $5,000 per month, while our home is in foreclosure and no mortgage has been paid in three years. Now impoverished and unemployed, he was Pro Se but has scrounged up enough money to get a lawyer for our trial that begins this month. The best interests of the children is an empty principle. I long for peace but I am furious, deeply angered by the trauma and pain that has scarred my children. Thank you for sharing your journey. I am grateful you and your children survived and I pray for your continued healing and recovery.

    • dvvictor says:

      MM- Keep the faith. You are not alone, though I know it feels like a very lonely place. What you are experiencing is an all too common tactic of abusers. As a dv advocate I hope you have sought the services of a DV organization to help you navigate the courts and emotional trauma for you and your children. They may not change the outcome but the support you receive will keep you focused on your healing recovery, affirm you and help you with the constant re-traumatization. As well safety planning is key. If you don’t feel safe you may not be. Please call a hotline to assess you safety. God is with you.

    • Antonia Shimerda says:

      MM –

      The courts and law enforcement have been a hostile environment for me, too. The only grounding entity in all of this has been Women Against Abuse, a phenomenal force and resource. As I passed the 4-year mark of initiating extricating my daughters and me from a 3-year marriage, I wonder how I could have done things differently. Other than not marrying him in the first place, I realize I had no control over this lack of resolution, his stonewalling and ability to remain in our lives regardless of us wanting him simply to go away.

      You are not alone. Please feel free to contact me privately if you like. The author has my information. While I may not have durable advice, I can offer a shoulder and sympathy. We seem to walk the same path.

  3. dvvictor says:


    I loved his sweaters too! It is difficult to reconcile the nice person you grew up with, the one I fell in love with, with the person who I write about in this blog. That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum of abuse. The person rarely fits the tv image and persona of an abuser. They don’t have ‘beware: cruel person inside’ written on them. They meld and blend in the vast majority of the time. It is clear to me abusive behavior escalates like a progressive disease that goes in and ouf of remission but never completely goes away because the abuser never feels the need to treat it.

    Thank you for your support. Such support has helped us through the worst of times. I hope this blog will help others see even in the depths there are great heights to be experienced and so very many people who care. We simply need to reach out for them and sometimes that is the hardest part.

  4. Jenny D says:

    Lisette, you are a true hero, or rather heroine….let’s just make that with a capital H to cover all the bases. Back in my first ‘just married days’, when I was oh-so-young and knew nothing, when the abuse began it was something that no one talked about. It was taboo! I remember telling my parents and the looks of “hush, shhhhh” and then their embarrassment that I was going to divorce him. What the heck? Does that mean that back then it was preferable to die than be a divorcee? Well, time marched on and I was amazed over the years at how many women I knew that had gone through the same thing. Culture seems to say that abuse is learned and passed on, but I’m not so sure that’s always the case and in fact know it’s not. You’re right, it’s a silent disease in the beginning and then grows and grows even while it hides from the rest of the world. The only plus is that today women are beginning to stand up, get out, and support each other. It is not an easy path. After I left, I was stalked by him for years and scared out of my wits. He finally met someone else — did the same thing — then another one who was beaten so badly that she changed her name and moved to another state. Now he’s with the next and has removed her from all she knows and taken her to Fl to live. God help her. They hide it all so well, saying and doing all things we need in the beginning and maybe that’s why we stay for so much longer than we ever should. We think, “If only they’d go back to being like it was in the beginning…..maybe if I wait it out….”
    You should think of going on a speaking circuit with a book in tow. Your blog helps countless numbers, but in person would be a gift. I don’t know you in person but I can say I am so very, very proud of you. The world is lucky to have you.

    • dvvictor says:


      Your words are kind and your encouragement, and that of other readers, keeps me grounded in my ‘why’. I am not a heroine but a sister. My voice is simply a mouthpiece for those still living in fear. While the book is languishing, proving difficult to sit with and write, I do speak. The audiences have been medical professionals and of late especially excited to be on college campuses where many are establishing those relationships that will lead to marriage. As well I am beginning to speak with law enforcement academy classes. I firmly believe it needs to come out of the ‘hush, what will people think’ closet and be front and center so the stigma attached is on the abuser not the abused, and so they can’t go on to serial abuse as your ex and most others do.

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