I Am A Survivor
“What could I have done differently?,” I ask my 22-year-old self. Maybe I should have taken my chances walking down the cotton field lined streets on that route between Wall Triana Highway and Old Madison Pike with only a cell phone. That night plays like an endless marathon of the worst movie ever in my head. Nearly nineteen years later, I still wonder what if I had just taken my chances walked the 4+ miles home. Could I have avoided what I thought would be the last night of my life?
It was December 16, 1999 well after 9:00 pm. The movie, You’ve Got Mail, a movie that I still refuse to watch, was just pass the opening scene. We had argued earlier that day, the eve before the last day of my co-op, over a Christmas gift I could not afford to buy him. The following semester, I was scheduled to return Tennessee State University. He didn’t like that. He accused me of leaving to be with another guy and buying Christmas gifts for said imaginary guy. His was enraged. The personification of pure hatred. I grew more and more afraid, but I as a passenger in his moving vehicle that afternoon, I didn’t feel there wasn’t much I could do. I knew it was time to leave the relationship. All I wanted was to get my belongings from his apartment. The plan was to wait until he left for his meeting and I would call a cab and disappear, but the cab did not arrive in time. I was trapped. I tried to hide my bag and act normal, but it didn’t matter. He was still livid from earlier that day. I put my jacket on, draped my duffel bag across my body, picked up my cell phone and headed out of the door and down the steps. I called a friend to ask that he meet me at the gas station down the street. That friend heard my cries, screams, and my pleas to neighbors for help by calling the police. My assailant used my duffel bag to drag me up the flight of concrete steps back into his apartment. He body slammed me over a coffee table, breaking the table. I began to pray. I asked the Lord to forgive me for my sins and to let my parents know I love them. He straddled me between his legs and choked me, instructing, “You better pray, because only God can save you tonight.” I found the strength to kick him off, and crawled to the front door. He pulled me back in and continued the beating. I crawled to the door again, but this time it was locked. He pulled me back once more. On my knees, he swung closed fist, connecting with my left eye. My body buckled and I crumbled to the floor. I thought of the times he bragged, under his alter ego Sho’nuff, of his knockouts in his amateur boxing days. Tasting my own blood, I lie there daring not to move, recognizing that my only chance to make it out alive was to pretend to be unconscious. The movie continued in the background. Tom Hanks realized that he may have found his true love, while I realized that the man that claimed to pledge his love to me left me on his living room floor bleeding simply saying, “You’ll be alright.” I still lay there as the movie’s closing credits ended. Eventually he decided to take me to the hospital. As he struggled to get my limp body out of the truck, an officer came over to help. Seeing my condition, he asked, “Ma’am, who did this to you?” I pointed at my assailant. I didn’t see him again until court 13 months later.
He had succeeded. I was broken physically and mentally. I spent over 2 weeks on bed rest recovering from a partially detached retina and bruising. Even today, I still suffer from an occasional eye twitch caused by the devastating blow to my left eye. I lived in fear afraid he would show up on TSU’s campus to finish what he started. I struggled with depression and insomnia. I was angry and demoralized. He had ripped me of my self confidence. Even after months of counseling, I had not found peace. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Through prayer and a relentless support system, I emerged a new person.
Recently I was asked if I would change anything about my past. As unenjoyable as that experience and the recovery were, I would not change a thing. It’s a part of the testimony that God gave me. When I literally had no way to run and no way to go, He saved me. There was a time in my life where I was ashamed of talking about my bout with domestic violence because I thought it made me appear weak; however, I learned that though I was physically weak, I was spiritually strong. I knew where my strength lie and I prayed my way through a situation that could have killed me. As a result, I’ve grown stronger and I’ve relied on that strength when faced with life’s challenges. As a result, I became resilient.
So, why am I telling my story now? Well, a colleague recently told me she assumed my success meant that I had never known struggle, pain, or sacrifice. She thought I was given all my resources to succeed by my family. She thought that the Selena I allow the public to see when receiving awards, recognition, and during speaking engagements was successful only because someone had given me all of the resources I needed. She didn’t know my sacrifice. She didn’t know that I literally gave my own blood, sweat, and tears just to fight to stay alive. She wasn’t completely wrong, however. I had indeed been given everything I needed. God gave me mercy, grace, strength, and courage. God gave me a future and hope. I learned to apply that hope through faith. God gave me opportunities that required that I utilize all the things He had given me so that I could make wise and strategic decisions.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and National Women’s Small Business Month. Reflecting on my colleagues’ assumptions, I thought others may think similarly, so I’ve decided to pull back the layers, one story at a time. I remembered that I had decided years ago to use my earned strength as a survivor of domestic violence not to go through live as a victim, but as an asset to boldly face the challenges and uncertainties of business. That is how I became successful.
It is my hope that through my stories and testimonies, as I pull back the layers, that I inspire someone to step out on faith and be the person God has ordained them to be.
Selena Rodgers Dickerson