Growing up my oldest sister Jennifer and I were never really close. We have a 13 year age gap so there was never a time we could relate to one another. She’d be an angst teen obsessing over boys while I was learning how to walk. When I became an angst teen obsessing over boys – she was picking a wedding dress and having babies. It’s only now that I am in my late twenties with a family of my own that I feel like we are finally at the same age of life, that we can finally relate to one another and talk for hours on end.
Growing up there were three things that I was protective of. One was my wardrobe, touched my organised wardrobe and you were about to become a victim to a teenage temper tantrum. Two, my collection of Korean soap operas – never ever make me press pause during an episode. Three, my family. I, the annoying youngest sister was the only one who was allowed to tease them.
I remember I was 19 years old and I was upstairs in my room crying to Tony (this was before we got married – young love). By crying I mean screaming and yelling with tears running down my face. We had just come back from a Sunday church service and I was furious.
While we were at church that day Tony’s best friend had shown me a few FB status’ and comments that had happened the night before. FB status’ and comments that were ridiculing and bullying my oldest sister, Ate* Jennifer. I was furious. So furious that I was in tears. At the time I wasn’t as present as I am now on social media, so I had absolutely no idea all of this was happening.
“Calm down hun, it’ll be okay.” Tony would try and comfort me. Bad idea. Just made it worse. Men should know never to tell a woman to calm down when she is on a rant.
“How dare they! How dare these people make fun of my sister! How dare they judge my sister! They have no idea the bullshit she’s had to go through!” I was fuming.
It had been less than a year since Ate Jennifer and her three children had left her husband and moved back into my parents house, but it was for years before that that she was in an abusive relationship with a man who was addicted to all types of substances. Ice, gambling and physical abuse was his substances of choice.
My father and Ate Jennifer heard the commotion. They both came to the room to see if everything was okay. That’s when Tony explained the story to them both. Here my family thought Tony and I were on the brink of breaking up, when we weren’t. I was crying because people at church were gossiping, labelling and judging my sister publicly on social media.
“It’s okay Vanessa, don’t cry…” She softly said to me as she patted my back. “I’ve been through too many thing’s in my life to care what people think about me.”
Yes, my sister who was the subject of ridicule was comforting ME – 19 year old me who couldn’t control her emotions.
Now, if you know my Ate Jennifer you would know she’s a very kind and soft person. Too kind to be honest. She has a lot of my dad’s personality in her. People would often confuse that kindness for stupidity. That softness for ignorance. I use to think the same. That was until I grew up and she opened her soul to me for this article.
I thought I had known everything my sister had gone through – I didn’t. And now that I am older, more mature, more wise. Now that I am a mother, a wife, a woman, I see it. I see her for who she really is. A loving, kind and strong woman who has had a past, but not a past to be labelled as an excuse of judgements and bullying. A past that gave her the battle scars and the lessons that has made her into the devoted mother she is today.
“He seemed like a really good man – I fell in love…”
“It was 1996 when my ex husband was first introduced to me. I remember thinking ’No!’ when I first heard about him. But then people told me to give him a shot, go on a date with him, if I don’t like him I can walk away. So, I gave him a try.”
Like normally, in the beginning of every relationship, they couldn’t get enough of one another. “Everything about him seemed so normal at first. We went on dates, we watched movies, we ate. We got to know each other, he cared about me, he seemed like a really good man – I fell in love…”
When he asked for her hand in marriage she accepted happily. They both had two sons and a daughter- my nephew Joshua. He was a cheeky little bugger, with the biggest head I’ve ever seen. Jenelle my gorgeous and funny niece, who was born under emergency caesarean at 25 weeks premature. And my nephew Monico – an older version of my son James.
When she noticed the substance abuse
“He would never spend time with the kids. We would hardly see him. He spent all night out with friends or in his garage where he made a man cave for himself. And he would sleep all day. He would get a job, work for a couple of weeks and then stop again. He wouldn’t work.” Ate Jennifer began explaining the moments when things started getting fishy.
“I noticed people who I never knew started coming over to our house and spending hours in the garage. The kids would see these strangers who came over and would ask me ‘Who are they mum? Why are they going in the garage with dad?’ I got curious. One day when he wasn’t home I looked into the garage, that’s when I saw all these drugs and equipment he had been using.” She realised what he had been spending all his nights doing.
“He was a drug user and a dealer. He would deal out of our family home.”
When the abuse started
It was before Jennifer was pregnant with Monico when things started to get abusive. “He was mentally abusive. He would call me horrible names and say horrible things to me. He wouldn’t help me with the housework or with the kids. He would always say it’s a woman’s job. Its a woman’s job to clean the house. It was hard when I was heavily pregnant with the kids. I would do everything.”
Then one night, which started out like every other night. Joshua and Jenelle were sound asleep in their beds and Ate Jennifer had ended her day. It was in the middle of that night when she was suddenly woken up by her husband. “I woke up to him turning the light on in the room and yelling. ‘Are you cheating? Are you seeing someone?’ He was so angry and I had no idea why. That’s when he suddenly hit me and gave me a black eye.” Ate Jennifer was mortified and had no idea what was going on.
“The next day when he was sober, he didn’t realise he had hurt me. He saw my black eye and asked me what happened. He didn’t remember it was him who did it. I told his family. I told them I wanted to leave him. I told them I was scared.” But instead they told her he would change. To give him a chance to change.
“I loved him. He’s the father to my kids. I thought that he would change for me and the kids. I thought he loved us enough to make a change. I look back at it now and I realise he was a smooth talker. He was manipulative and I believed him. ” So she gave him a chance – many chances actually.
Things only got worse…
“It was my birthday. Everyone, family and friends celebrated. All our uncles and aunts were there. We were at a karaoke restaurant. I was looking at people coming people in and out of the restaurant. Then he started yelling at me in front of everyone ‘Are you looking at somebody? Who are you looking at?’ He was causing such a scene. He suddenly got up and tried to hit me in front of everyone. In front of mum. In front of dad.” It was then that our father and uncle got up and started yelling at him to stop.
“It was an emotional night. That was how I spent my birthday. I stayed at mum and dads house that night. When I took my makeup off that’s when mum saw my black eye. That was the first time that mum and dad knew about the physical abuse. They were so angry. Dad hated him since the day they met. Dad doesn’t hate people. Dad knew something wasn’t good about him. They wanted me to leave him.” But she couldn’t. She had so much faith in their marriage.
“He was so angry and aggressive. He turned into this monster. He would threaten me with a knife. He would steal money from my wallet to gamble. There was a time when the kids and I had nothing to eat and no money for food. Mum had come to the rescue with groceries and food. He wouldn’t work so we had no money for rent. We got evicted from homes. It was horrible. He would always promise me things will change and I believed him. I would pack my bags, only to unpack them again.”
The story of Jezebel and Jasmine
“I was under so much stress, high blood pressure and anxiety. It caused me to lose two beautiful daughters.” There was Jezebel who was a still born at 23 weeks. Then there was Jasmine who was born at 30 weeks.
“They both were born without kidneys. Jasmine was born alive. She was so beautiful. She was so adorable. She looked like a healthy baby. She was so plump and looked just like a doll. The doctors told me she’d only live for one day. I remember wanting to never let her go, she died in my arms the next day… If they both lived they would be teenagers today…”
This was one story that I found hard to fathom. Admittedly the thought of even having to put your own child to rest brings tears to my eyes. To have life ripped from you, it’s just something that no parent should have to go through.
The moment she walked away.
“He would always be too lazy to take the kids to school. He would always just tell me to let them have the day off.” It was when Monico had just turned 2 months old when Ate Jennifer snapped.
“Joshua and Jenelle had missed so many days of school already. I had gotten them both changed into their uniform, packed their school bag and ready to go. But he didn’t want to take them. He was sleeping on the couch because he was out all night. I was over it already. I yelled at him ‘You’re so lazy! You always give them days off! Will you just get up and take them to school!’ I was so fed up…” Ate Jennifer recalls her memory of that day.
“He got angry and he suddenly got up. He picked up a chair and threw it at me. I was holding Monico in my arms during that time. The chair hit me but only missed Monico by a few centimetres. The kids saw it. Joshua saw it. It happened right in front of my kids. I just kept thinking what would be going through my kids minds.”
That’s when Jennifer gave up on trying to make her husband change and decided on making hers and her kids future change. “That night I packed all mine and the kids belongings into bin bags. I didn’t care about what I packed. I just threw everything inside. I just wanted to get away from him. I wanted to get the kids away from him. I had enough. He tried to stop me. He told me he would change. But I knew he wouldn’t. I didn’t want the kids seeing this. I didn’t want the kids being raised thinking that this was normal.” That night my sister and her children moved into my parents house. That night was the beginning of their new future.
Her life now
“When I left I felt all the stress disappear. I’m in a happier place now. My kids are happy. Even though the family isn’t a regular family, with a mum and a dad, it’s our very own little family. My kids have hope. They have a future.” Ate Jennifer began to smile. “Joshua is about to graduate high school, he has a part time job and earns his own money. Jenelle just had her year 10 formal last year, she wore a red dress and mum curled her hair… Just a few weeks ago Monico got awarded with a principals award for mathematics… my kids have such a bright future now.”
I asked her if it’s been hard. “I have my moments where it’s hard. I am both mother and father. But my kids keep me together. My kids made me stronger. They’ve made me rise above all my struggles and be strong to give them a good future. They never gave up on me and I could never give up on them.”
“I had people help me. Mum and dad were always by my side. They gave me strength on days when I felt like giving up. I’m so thankful. I’m thankful for having the strength to leave him. I’m thankful for having the strength to move on from the past and I feel so relieved. I used to wake up everyday worried and scared. If I never left him, who knows where I would be right now. I could be dead. My kids wouldn’t have the future they have now.”
Her message to you.
“They’re not going to change. If they haven’t changed now then they never will. If you are in an abusive relationship, get out of it. It won’t be easy. But it’ll be better. I want you to learn from my experience, not have to go through them. Think of your children, think of your future.”
As I looked at my Ate Jennifer, I saw her in a different light. A new found respect. In times where people would judge her, ridicule her and humiliate her – she never gave up. She took responsibility for not only her role as a mother, but her ex-husbands role as a father and provider.
Never once did those people who ridiculed and bullied my sister ever apologise. They’ve had many chances to, they see her every Sunday. But they never have. I do hope one day they read this article. And I do hope that they realise that on that Saturday night, when they publicly humiliated my sister, they humiliated one of the strongest and bravest women I know.
Ate Jennifer, you are a beautiful person, a wonderful mother and a loving older sister. I commend you in so many ways. You have shown strength and you have told the world ‘f*ck your labels, I’m not simply a single mother, I am a provider, I am kindness, I am strength and I am love’. Thank you for always letting your smile shine. Thank you for allowing me to share your story with the world. I love you and I hope you know you are a fantastic mother. You have raised my beautiful niece and nephews to be the most kindest and loving human beings I will ever know. Dad would be so proud of you right now.
And to my readers, thank you once again for reading this article. Please know that if you are ever in a situation where you feel there is no way out, know there always is. It may be a tough road ahead, but that road is what’s going to lead you to your future. Just look at my Ate Jennifer.
*Ate – a filipino term added to females older than you as a sign of respect.\