“I am those things because my mother . . . helped me to become them.”
NOTE: This originally appeared as “Cassandra’s statement: July 15, 2008” and was first published several years ago. –Daleen
I know some visitors to this site will be friends or even family members. Some of you will doubt the validity of my mother’s book; however, I can assure you, as one of the four innocents hurt most by the domestic violence that took place in our home on a regular basis, we lived this sad but true story.
My parents divorced in 1990 when I was 10, the oldest of four children. My mother claimed she was a victim of abuse but I was too young to understand or process that. Everything was so confusing to me. It seemed she was doing everything in her power to keep me and my siblings from seeing our dad.
Even though my father dated other women during the next nine years and eventually remarried, he always said that he would return to my mother in a heartbeat if she would take him. She wouldn’t and soon after the divorce, I grew to hate her for it.
During my teenage years, I came to realize that my father was an abusive person. Still, when my mother chose to move to California in 1997, in the midst of a bitter custody battle, my siblings and I chose to stay in West Virginia with our father.
Over the next two years, one by one, my siblings finally got fed up and moved to California to be with our mother. I stayed. It took me until 1999, shortly after my 18th birthday, to admit to myself that my father was a monster.
I remember it vividly. My sister, Courtney, 15, said something that upset my dad as we were getting ready for school. He began to swing at her wildly, hitting her repeatedly before I intervened—begging him to stop. At that point, he grabbed me and held me up by my throat; strangling me until my sister finally managed to hit him so many times that he released me.
We grabbed our things and ran to the waiting school bus downtown. There had been numerous other episodes of abuse but that was the point of no return for me. I realized he could have easily killed me. I moved out that night and finished my senior year living with a friend. Courtney was made a ward of the state, with temporary custody being granted to our grandmother.
I had refused to speak with my mother from August of 1997 until the fall of 1998. My relationship with her was almost nonexistent and severely damaged. Even so, she immediately made arrangements to return to West Virginia to care for Courtney and me. Our baby brother, Zachary, came home with her. My sister, Jocelyn, 17, refused to return to West Virginia. She had already cut off all contact with our father and was determined that her dreams of becoming an actress could only be fulfilled on the West Coast.
My mother and I began the long, slow process of repairing and rebuilding our relationship. We are two individuals with very different personalities and philosophies on life, so it was not easy. In December 2003, my husband and I had our first child, a baby boy. Only then could I understand just how strong a mother’s love for her children is. It took me that long to realize that everything my mom did for us was out of love, in an attempt to protect us.
Yes, she made mistakes along the way but no one is perfect. If she erred, it was always on the side of caution to her children’s benefit. I strive to follow her example. Though I am not in an abusive relationship, I will protect my son at all costs. It is for this reason that I refuse to allow him to visit his grandfather, my father, unless he is under the direct supervision of my husband or me, because my dad was abusive and neglected my siblings and me.
He had another daughter in November 1999. While I do not know if he physically abuses her, I witnessed physical abuse between both adults in the home that took place in front of my little sister, as well as verbal abuse to both my sister and stepmother.
Though I left my father’s abusive home early in 1999, I was still on the wrong track concerning relationships. These factors, combined with the lack of a positive father figure in my life, caused me to crave male attention. Do not misunderstand—I was not promiscuous. However, I wanted and needed someone to love me. I was dating an older man at the time. He was not physically abusive but he was not a “good” or nice guy. He would talk to me about the other women he was interested in and he was an alcoholic. I could not see that I was headed down a very dangerous path.
Fortunately, he broke up with me shortly after I moved from my father’s home.
While I was heartbroken at the time, I can look back and see it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. In May 1999, a friend of a friend accompanied me to my senior prom, with only a week’s notice, because I couldn’t bear the thought of going alone, as I had for my junior prom. Never before did a man treat me so well. He opened doors for me, helped me in and out of the vehicle and refused to let me pay for anything—the perfect gentleman.
Our friendship grew and we began dating shortly after my graduation in June. Our whirlwind romance swept me off my feet. In October 1999, Wade proposed to me and we were married in July 2000. We have been happily married for almost six years. Wade is still a perfect gentleman and treats me with nothing but tender compassion, love and respect. He has never even raised his voice to me and he always considers my opinions and suggestions before making a decision. He has been my number one supporter these last seven years.
I am a domestic violence survivor. I am a sexual abuse survivor. I am a strong woman. I am those things because my mother, Daleen Berry, helped me to become them. Thanks Mom, I love you!
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I have four books and am currently in Aspen, Colorado, working on my fifth. Guilt by Matrimony, about the Nancy Pfister murder, will be published by BenBella Books sometime this fall, in 2015. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”