My 28th birthday. A day that should have been spent celebrating by having lunch with co-workers and going to the drive-in movies with friends turned out to be one of the most horrific days of my life.
As I was getting ready to leave his apartment for work on the morning of May 14, 2003 my ex-boyfriend told me he had a surprise for me for my birthday. (Yes, I said “ex” - you can read more about the story in my memoir.)
I immediately felt guilty. I had ignored him on his birthday, and yet even while on house arrest and in the midst of more emotional turmoil than I could imagine, he found a way to get me a surprise for my birthday.
I must have looked anxious because Nick suddenly blurted out, “Are you ready for your surprise?”
“I guess”, I replied, “but you really didn’t have to do anything for me.”
“Ok, well turn around and close your eyes,” Nick said this in the same way that an older brother might say, “close your eyes and I’ve got a big surprise,” just before pouring something nasty over your head. This wasn’t new for Nick - he was the master of surprises, some fun, and many surprisingly romantic and sweet. I wasn’t sure which way he’d go this time.
I obeyed him and turned around, closing my eyes.
“Now, no peeking.”
“Ok!” I responded.
“I mean it! Keep your eyes closed!”
I was looking forward to a fresh start of a new year without Nick in my life. I felt guilty for these thoughts, anxious as I was to leave, but still curious about the surprise. I couldn’t help it though. I’d had enough of him, his mood swings, and the flip-flopping between nice guy and flake. Whatever emotional hold he had on me would finally be broken. He would be in jail and I would be a free woman – able to start my 28th year with a clean slate.
“Ok”, he was directly standing behind me now, “are you ready for your surprise?”
Yet before I even had a chance to respond, there came an enormous, painful blow to the back of my head. It resonated throughout my body with such great force that I didn’t know what hit me. (I later learned from police it was a hammer.) I was forced forward by the blow but before I could even let out a scream, Nick grabbed me in a choke hold from behind. This had to be an accident of some sort, I immediately thought. Surely, he’d lovingly lift me to my feet and set things right.
I was dead wrong. The next thing I remember was the two of us falling to the floor, me on my back, and Nick on top. Both of his hands were wrapped tightly around my throat.
I lay on the floor, completely in shock of the horror unfolding before me. Nick was straddling me, squeezing my throat with an ever-increasing fury with one hand, and silencing me with the other over my mouth. I felt pressure building in my head. My eyes pulsated and my temples throbbed. I gasped for air, trying in vain to suck in what little precious oxygen I could.
Hysteria overtook me as my instincts kicked in. I kicked and thrashed my legs and arms, reaching out to hit, claw and tear at any part of Nick I could reach. I violently thrust my head from left to right, trying to loosen Nick’s hold. I saw a black liquid spreading out on the carpet from behind my head, and with a sickening realization I knew it was my own blood.
With a frenzied terror overcoming me, I knew I was fighting for my life. My screams remained silent, unable to escape past Nick’s hand holding my face and mouth firmly to the ground. I knew I would die if something didn’t happen soon.
I was losing oxygen fast and began panicking, wondering if I would ever breathe air again. I could not believe this was happening to me. This was not how I was supposed to go. What coldhearted irony to think that I was going to die on my birthday. I would never see my family again. I wouldn’t get to see my nephews and niece grow up. I would never get married, have a husband and a family of my own.
And it pissed me off.
From somewhere deep inside me came a ravishing anger that fueled me to keep fighting. I had to do something, or this insane man was going to kill me on my 28th birthday. Why? Why was he doing this to me on my birthday?
Suddenly my world grew dark and in a fleeting second it came to me. The police report. His first victim. What had she done to escape from this same attempt on her life? In the report, she had said she faked losing consciousness so that he would think she was dead and let her go. I ultimately realized this was my only chance and as tears were streaming down my face, I didn’t have to pretend. I was spiraling down a deep, dark tunnel; my life as I knew it was over. I felt myself fading to black and then….I was gone.
Later that day, my ex committed suicide in a hotel room by putting a bullet through his head.
In the months that followed, I continually asked , “Why Me?” This was not something that was supposed to happen to a girl like me. I should have known better. I was a good Christian girl from the midwest with a masters in business and a job with a Fortune 500 company, Unfortunately my attacker, an ex-boyfriend, did not see it the same way.
I searched for anything to help me work through this dark time of my life. I was fortunate enough to have a very strong support system with my friends in Phoenix and my family in Nebraska. My mother and one of my sisters flew into Phoenix from Nebraska the same day of the attack to be with me. I took time off work and spent it between Nebraska and Arizona, searching for answers and a reason for why this insane, traumatic occurrence had happened to me. I didn’t know how I was ever supposed to function normally again, as each day was just a grim reminder of what had happened.
I was not just suffering from domestic violence, but from a traumatic, isolated incident - all the while dealing with the death of a person I once loved. It appeared that I didn’t fit the mold of a typical domestic violence victim. The more I searched for help, and the more empty handed I came up, it ultimately became clear to me: there is no “typical” domestic violence victim. Each of our stories is unique; and each needs to be told to help others.
As I slowly healed, pulling my shattered life together with the help of a group at my church and through intense counseling (I was seeing a therapist AND a psychologist at the same time), I realized I did have a purpose and that I could make something good out of this evil, traumatic attack on my life: I was saved to help others. I wrote mymemoir, a book that was born from the ashes of tragedy, the culmination of a promise made to myself, and of a commitment to make a difference. And if only one person is spared the horror and tragedy I went through, then my efforts were not in vain.
Michelle Oeltjen is a freelance writer living in Scottsdale, AZ. She loves traveling the world, reading, writing, sipping wine and cheering on her beloved Huskers. Her book, “Love, Lies & Lessons Learned” can be found on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.comand just about anywhere else e-books are sold! You can follow her on Facebook by clicking here.