Cheryl Perkins Full Story

by Cheryl Perkins
This is my story about my experience with violence. To be more specific, domestic violence. It has changed my entire life. It is very hard to let the wall crumble around me. I used to be very trusting, but after going through this, how can I trust anyone if I couldn't even trust the person I chose to spend my life with, whom I loved more than anyone could ever imagine? It's very heartbreaking, but the truth is, it happens to women all the time. I would like to live my life as it used to be, but have come to terms that it will never be the same. The following is a detailed, but only partial accounting of my experience.
It was Sunday, May 29, 1988. The man who was then my husband, myself and two children were to go to church. At some point during the morning, he decided we should go grocery shopping instead. He called his mom and asked if she would watch the kids while we went. She said she would. After we got the groceries, we were supposed to go to the cemetery to visit my mom's grave as we had earlier planned. You see, it was the anniversary of her death, but later in the day, thought it would also be mine.
On our way to the grocery store, I noticed he seemed extremely fidgety and agitated. As we neared the store, he just kept driving. I asked where we were going and he said he wanted to finish cleaning his mom's house, then we would go shopping afterward.
When we got to his mom's house, we went in the backyard for a little walk. We talked for awhile about little things. He then asked me a very strange question. He wanted to know if I had made any provisions for our kids in case something happened to both of us. I told him no, that nothing was going to happen and that I didn't want to talk about it anymore.
We went into his mom's garage which he said needed straightening up. I didn't know he had his .22 caliber rifle hidden there. He carried it with him just about everywhere he went, but I didn't notice that he didn't have it with him that morning. He carried it because he was convinced someone was after him, and I was the person setting him up. He went to where the rifle was, picked it up and started waving it around and yelling at me. I asked him to put the gun down, but he just chuckled. The next thing I heard was the gun go off, and I could feel the bullet as it passed my leg and went through the garage door.
I was terrified and wondered what was happening. I raised the garage door and ran to my car. He was right behind me. As I was putting the key in the ignition, he yanked it out. He opened the car door, pulled me out and dragged me into his mom's house by the back of my hair. All this time I was screaming, but no one came. He was so angry that his eyes were bulging out of their sockets. He put the gun to the back of my head and he told me he wanted me to quit my job. As scared as I was for my life, I told him no, I wouldn't quit. He told me he didn't want to have to pull the trigger. At this point, I think I just didn't care anymore.
My life with him was hell. He abused me physically, emotionally, and sexually. However, the past eight months had been the worst. Why would I care? Death had to be better than this.
He took the gun away from my head and I started to stand up. He pushed me down and he put it to the back of my head again, this time with the trigger in position. He was insistent on me quitting my job. I told him again I wouldn't quit and if he wanted to kill me, go ahead. I can't even begin to describe the terror in me as I as I could feel the barrel of the gun pressing against the back of my head. I was screaming and sobbing because I knew this was it. I would never see my kids again. He slowly took the gun away from my head. Why he didn't pull the trigger...I'll never know.
He told me to go into the living room and we would talk about our future together. He followed me with gun in hand. He sat approximately five feet away from where I was sitting. I remember wondering what happened to the man I married and whom I loved more than anything else in this world. What went wrong? I sobbed and cried and pleaded with him not to kill me. Then he stood up, and I went flying backwards off the chair.
The impact of the bullet was so hard that I literally flew through the air. My glasses were thrown off me. I remember lying on the floor, and feeling a horrible throbbing. I looked down and blood was gushing from my neck. I started screaming "You shot me, you shot me." he told me to get up and get into the car. my legs and arms wouldn't move.
I think he started to panic, so he carried me to the car, opened the door and put me in the back seat. He drove me to the hospital with his finger over the wound to try to stop the bleeding. I was lying in a pool of blood by the time we got to the hospital. he pulled into the emergency room entrance and it seemed like a million people surrounded me. I was feeling very sleepy. But I was afraid that if I closed my eyes, I wouldn't wake up. One man who I believe was an intern, helped put me on the gurney and was asking me questions. I asked him if I was going to die, and he said he didn't know. I got hysterical and I begged him to please tell me I wasn't going to die.
I was wheeled into the emergency room and could hear people shouting "GUNSHOT, GUNSHOT." There were so many people around me asking questions. I remember a doctor checking my arms and legs because he knew I couldn't move them. He ran a pin up and down the bottom of my feet and I could feel it. When he did it to my arms, only my right arm could feel anything. He explained to me that when a body goes through trauma such as this, it automatically shuts down as a defense mechanism. he told me not to worry about my left arm, that I was still in shock.
My aunt and sister came to see me when I was in the emergency room. They were both crying. They talked to me for a little while. I asked them how they found out. they told me that my husband called his mom and told her that he shot me, and she called my aunt and sister. I asked them where he was, and my aunt said he was at the police station for questioning. I started crying again because I wanted so much to believe that what happened was an accident, although deep in my heart I knew otherwise.
My next visitor was the sergeant from the police station where my husband was being detained. He asked me what went on that morning and I gave him the details. He said someone would be in to take pictures of my wound.
I asked what was going to happen to my husband and he told me he was under arrest. The police had come to his mom's house and found the hole in the garage door where he shot at me the first time and were investigating the living room where the shooting took place. The house had been cordoned off until the investigation was over. However, they never did find the bullet. 
The pictures were taken of my wound with a Polaroid camera. I asked to see them, and was told no. My neck and shoulder area were so swollen and bruised, they did not feel it was a good idea.
It seemed like an eternity, having all the tests done... X-rays, arteriograms, blood tests, setting up of IV's. I must have had ten needles in me in all. However, I would not know what damage was done until later. The only thing the doctor could tell me was that I was very very lucky. Had the bullet been any bigger than a .22 caliber, I would have died instantly. The bullet hit my clavicle and shattered it. By hitting the clavicle, it caused the bullet to miss my jugular vein by only 1/4 inch.
The next three days of my life were spent in ICU. I was being monitored very closely for any sign of infection. The doctor felt I would survive the shooting if an infection did not set in. The doctors found the bullet fragmented inside of me. They started me on steroids. My blood pressure soared out of control. I was in the hospital almost four weeks. My daily visitors were psychiatrists, neurologists, and neurosurgeons. 
I remember waking up one day and looking up to see my pastor standing beside me. I cried like a baby when I saw him. He told me one of the parishioners had heard about the shooting and told him what had happened. He tried so hard to comfort my emotional pain, but all I could do was cry. I kept asking him why. He couldn't answer that question but he did tell me God was with me and it was God who had spared my life. I couldn't believe that. I was confused. If God cared, why did he allow my husband to shoot me? Nonetheless, the pastor visited me every chance he could, despite my anger at God. He never passed judgment on me or my husband. He listened and tried to answer my questions.
I was in the hospital approximately one week when I was told by the neurosurgeon that he was going to schedule me for surgery to try to remove the bullet. I was still unable to use my left arm and after conferring with several other doctors, he decided to try surgery. He explained all the risks involved. They went from permanent paralysis to death. The surgery was scheduled and rescheduled several different times due to my high blood pressure. He finally went ahead with it. It was unsuccessful. The surgeon was only able to remove small fragments and found that the nerve center in my brachial plexus was destroyed. The chances of using my left arm again would be almost nil. Since I was left handed, he told me I should start practicing writing with my right hand.
I had plenty of time over the next several weeks in the hospital to grieve the loss of my arm. How was I going to hold my baby? Would I still be able to hug my older daughter?
I often thought about why I stayed with my husband. Fear and abandonment. there was no one to help me escape the abuse and violence. I had no support system. My family would not help me.
The eights months prior to the shooting were the worst. He had become very paranoid, and abusive. He had gone through rehab for his alcoholism. He was seeing a doctor who was prescribing diet pills for him, and I'm sure he still did PCP once in awhile. His behavior could not be predicted. He drove me to work everyday, calling me every 15 minutes or so to see if I was at my desk. He was convinced I had people following him, sabotaging him, especially on job interviews, and having numerous affairs.  
One particular night when he picked me up from work, he was past the point of anger. He said he was trying to fix the washing machine and he messed it up. He said it was because he had to worry about who was watching him and that it was my fault. He said we were going to go to the service center to pick up the part that was needed, but instead, he drove me to an isolated area and pulled a knife on me. He wanted me to give him the name of the person who was following him. I kept trying to tell him I wasn't having him followed. He had a knife at my throat but I was able to unlock the car door and break away from his grip. I ran as fast as I could. I made it about 1/2 mile, then he pulled up next to me and asked me to get back in the car. I told him he was crazy and to leave me alone. I kept running. He pleaded and threw the knife out of the car. He seemed to have calmed down, so I got back in the car. He apologized and we went home. I went in the bedroom to get ready for bed and try to figure out my life. He followed me into the bedroom locking the door behind him. He started all over again. This time he pulled out chunks of my hair, then grabbed my throat, choking me. I screamed, but not for long. I was trying to gasp for air, then started to black out. I fell to the floor, then he let go of me. When I was able to, I got up and went into the bathroom. I saw the bruises on my neck from the choking and both my eyes were black. I couldn't control my hysteria. He told me I would go to work the next day, and if I dare tell anyone, he would kill me. I didn't get any sleep that night, but he demanded that I go to work. He drove me. When my co-workers saw me, they asked what happened. I told them I got mugged in my garage. Oh, how I wanted to tell someone, but I knew he meant what he said. If I wasn't so overcome with fear, I know they would have helped me.
Two months before the shooting he picked me up at work one night with his mom, and the kids. At some point he started hearing a noise in the car that no one else could hear. He said I had someone do something to it. I started crying because I knew he was going on a rampage. He thought I was having an affair with his brother-in-law who owns a restaurant and it was time to put the affair to an end. He drove to the restaurant, told his mom to stay in the car with the kids and told me to get out. I tried to tell him I hadn't seen his brother-in-law since his sister's funeral. He dragged me into the restaurant and screamed that he wanted to see the owner. An employee said he wasn't there. He had my hair in his hands and was pulling it out as he shouted loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear that if he finds out we are fooling around, he is a dead man. I had never been so humiliated. I ran to the car when he let go of my hair. The drive home was silent. Fear overwhelmed me. What was going to happen when we got home? I could answer that question. My oldest was upstairs with my mother-in-law, while my husband was yelling obscenities at me because it was taking too long for dinner. That was it. I couldn't take it anymore. I had nowhere to go, no family support, no one to talk to. His mom couldn't say or do anything because she was scared of him too. I grabbed all my medications and as I was putting them in my mouth, my oldest daughter came down and saw me. She started screaming. My mother-in-law called the police. They arrived with an ambulance. The neighbors came to see what was going on and my mother-in-law told them what had happened. One neighbor asked my husband why he didn't try to stop me and his reply was that it was my choice if I wanted to die, and why should he stop me? The next three days were spent in the psychiatric ward of the hospital. The psychiatrist told me he didn't think anything was wrong with me, but he felt my life was in danger. He tried to tell me it wasn't normal for someone to carry a gun everywhere they went, and for me to get out of this relationship. I knew it wasn't normal, but he didn't understand, I couldn't leave. I had already been warned that if I tried to leave him, he would hunt me down and kill me. Again, fear kept me in this relationship and I did not think that this could have been my way out.
It was May 16, 1988 when he came to my work and served me with divorce papers. He said he didn't want the responsibilities of being married anymore. He would remain at the house and move into the upstairs bedroom. I can't explain how I felt. I had so many different feelings running through me: relief, anger, and failure. Again, with no one to talk to.
It was early in my marriage when he had started hitting me. The first time he struck me, I called my parents and asked if I could come home until I sorted things out. They responded by telling me I was a married woman, and it was my responsibility to work things out. I couldn't believe it, they turned their backs on me. I had no one else to talk to, nowhere to go. Since that time, I didn't say anything to anyone about what was happening within the four walls of our house. I kept it all inside, tucked away where it should be.
From the day he served me the divorce papers until the day he shot me which was 13 days, he was a maniac. One night for dinner, I made grilled chicken on the barbecue. He had gone to work out, as was his usual routine. So of course, when he came home he was hungry and he ate what was left for dinner. Later that night, he said he got sick. He demanded to know what kind of poison I used. Needless to say, more bruises, more crying, more hopelessness.
Life Out of the Hospital
I got out of the hospital on June 24, 1988. While in the hospital, my husband's arraignment was delayed until I could appear to give my testimony.
I was sitting in the witness stand when they brought him out in handcuffs. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Reality finally hit. I told my story, he told his. He was going to be charged with attempted murder. It was going to be a long road ahead for me and my kids.
The whole time I was in the hospital, the lady who took care of my kids kept them at her house. She said when I got out, I could stay with her until I got my strength back. I had lost 38 pounds during almost a four week period. When able, I would help her watch the kids she cared for. 
In the weeks that followed, I was back and forth to the courthouse approximately once a week. The prosecutor and I, discussed that he should serve a sentence for attempted murder, but along with that, I requested he also receive psychiatric help. The prosecutor agreed, but then the plea bargain began. The final result was the charge being reduced to felonious assault with a firearm. When I asked why? The explanation was that there were no witnesses. What was I? I didn't put this bullet hole in my neck. In my anger, I wondered if my life was worth anything. I guess not. His maximum sentence was now five to seven years. If on good behavior, he could be out in three years.
The letters started coming in. He wanted to talk to his kids. He wanted to see his kids. I did not want them to go to the jail to see their dad, but as was pointed out to me, he had a right as their father. I took them once. He was really using them to get to me. He wanted out and I was his ticket. He bluntly told me once "that's all it took" that he wanted me to drop the charges against him. If I didn't, he would hunt me down. Well, you guessed it. I requested that charges be dropped against him. I perjured myself in court when asked if I was being threatened to do this. All I had to do was look in his eyes, I knew what my answer had to be.
It was right around this time that my family told me (all except for my Aunt Lee) that they wanted nothing to do with me. As they explained it, I should have known I was going to get shot. I tried to tell them that my life was not my own. I was afraid to do anything in fear of setting him off. They wouldn't listen. I was alone again, with no one to talk to.
Back in My Life
He was still in my life. He told me he was going to stay at my house and do what he wanted. The police couldn't do anything. He was right. I called the police so many times and the story was always the same...we were still legally married. They couldn't do anything except ask him to leave. If he didn't want to, they couldn't force him.
I noticed my important papers started coming up missing. All I had left was the deed to my house. In fear that he would get his hands on it, I took it to my Aunt Lee who said she would hold it for me. He wanted to know where the deed was. I told him I knew my papers were missing, so I gave it to my aunt to hold onto. He flew off the handle. He said he had a very bad feeling that something was going to happen. Very late that night, he woke me up asking if I heard or smelled anything. Being groggy, I told him no. Then I heard something crash in the basement. I woke up. He started yelling fire. He went to get the girls, leaving me in the bedroom. I got up and headed to the kitchen, which was full of smoke. I started to panic, and didn't know which way to turn. I think I was looking for my shoes, but became overcome with smoke. The girls were outside. He came and directed me outside. I stood in horror as I watched my house go up in flames. that was in February 1989.
Breaking Free 
We were temporarily relocated to another house, as the fire had done extensive damage. My husband again, took it upon himself to stay in my life, just enough to have control. I was still waiting for the chance to escape successfully with my children.
This opportunity came about one night in March 1989. He thought that since he was my husband, I owed him sexual favors. I had made it clear that this was not going to happen. He became outraged when I refused him again this particular night, and slammed his hand down on the alarm clock, ripping his hand wide open. There was blood everywhere. He started screaming. I got up to get a wash cloth. I made it to the kitchen before he grabbed me. My oldest daughter, who was almost seven at the time, came running to the kitchen and asked what had happened. He put his hand over my head with blood dripping, and said... "Look what your mom did to me." She and I both started crying. That was it. I had to get out. I went to get my youngest daughter. I had no idea where I would go. I hadn't even thought of his previous threats.
On my way to the door, he grabbed me. He told me since I hurt him, it was time for pay back. He pushed me down, and grabbed my neck and twisted it, like he was trying to break it. He stomped on my back. I faked unconsciousness. He called my name and I didn't answer. He came over and kicked me, but I didn't move. He said... "Good, I hope you're dead." He went into the kitchen. It was then that I got up and went running out the front door, screaming at the top of my lungs. My kids came right behind me. The neighbors called the police. Again, they couldn't do anything. They offered to take us to a shelter for battered women. We went.
We stayed in the shelter until October, when our house was finally repaired from the fire damage. I had an alarm system installed before moving back.
Life After Violence
I have a full time job now, and have since been remarried. However, my emotions will not allow me to ever love someone like I loved my first husband, due to the fear of being hurt again.
I am expecting my first grandchild in September. I get angry when I think of the fact that I will not be able to lift the baby out of the crib, since I do not have the full use of my left arm. I don't know if I will even be able to hold the baby, as I don't trust the strength that I do have remaining in that arm.
I have since gone back to church and am very involved. I have a great pastor who has helped me deal with feelings of guilt and shame. She has also helped me try to place trust in people again. This has been exceptionally difficult for me.
I can only hope that if someone is experiencing domestic violence, they have support especially form their family. If they don't, they need to seek it. I believe if there was a support system in place when I was going through this, I could have left my marriage without harm. It's hard for me to accept the fact I was abandoned in my most critical time of need.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Please remember, if you are in an abusive relationship, don't wait. GET OUT NOW. It will never get better, only worse.
Cheryl Perkins is presently a Victim Resource Chair in one of the WMDA Chapters of the Million Mom March.

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