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Surviving My Near Fatal Marriage

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February 20, 2022 | by Donna Pellar

And discovering the healing power of forgiveness.

The knock on the front door brought my husband back to the present moment. The crazy look in his eyes faded. He released his hand from my throat and holstered the gun he had been pressing against my forehead.

He warned me that if I called the police, he’d make sure I didn't live to testify against him and abruptly left the bedroom of the house we shared together with our two young children. I fell to my knees, gasping for air.

I heard him fling open the front door, utter something to his waiting friend, and then leave, tires screeching.

When I was able to pull myself off the floor, I locked the front door and pushed the couch in front of it to prevent him from storming back in. I checked on the children, miraculously sleeping soundly in their beds, and prayed in thanksgiving for our safety.

If anyone had told me a week prior to this that one day my husband would hold a loaded gun to my head, I would have thought they were crazy.

As I started to dial 911, my husband’s words echoed in my head. If anyone had told me a week prior to this that one day my husband would hold a loaded gun to my head, I would have thought they were crazy. But after what had just happened, I knew he was capable of following through with his threat. So instead of calling the authorities, I called the only person I hoped would help me, my mother. It was just before 3 AM.

She answered after the second ring and I managed to get my story out between sobs. With a loud sigh, she told me that she didn't think he would do such a thing. After all, she said, he had always been nice to her. She said it was the middle of the night and she had to work in the morning, and with that she hung up the phone.

Devastated and feeling utterly alone, I stayed awake until my youngest son awoke. I fed him and got him dressed while I waited for my oldest to rise. Bags packed, we left our home and headed for safety in an unexpected place – my in-laws. My mother-in-law had never particularly liked me because I was outside of their race and culture, but my father-in-law was a kind and gentle man. When I relayed my harrowing experience, he welcomed us with open arms. He assured me that his son was no longer welcomed in his home until he got the help he needed. We all suspected that he was using drugs, and we were right.

Not long after, my husband was arrested for selling drugs. He was allowed bail and fled the state, leaving me and the kids some room to breathe. Despite being eight months pregnant, I found a job managing a small flower company. I was able to make our house payment and hold on to the car as well. Things were tight, but we managed. It seemed as though life was slowly returning to a new normal.

One day, as I was driving to pick up the children after work, I received a call from an unknown caller. After a few seconds of silence, I heard his voice. My estranged husband informed me that he had decided he didn't want to be married or have kids anymore. "I'll send you some money," he said before hanging up the phone.

I knew our marriage was over, but he decided he didn't want to have kids anymore? Too late! They’re already here!

I knew our marriage was over, but he decided he didn't want to have kids anymore? Too late! They’re already here!

Tears of anger and frustration ran down my face. The kids had no idea what had happened. They had never witnessed their father harm me in any way and he had never behaved badly towards them.

They also rarely saw him since he was never home. I had no idea if or when they’d ever see him again. He couldn't be on the run from the police forever. Eventually he’d be caught and serve his jail time. Perhaps then, he would gain the perspective that can only come with sobriety, regret his actions and want to see his children.

My parents had gone through a bitter divorce and I was subjected to constant negative talk about my father from my mom. I heard how bad he was so often that I began to project that onto myself: if he was such a bad person, I must be too. It was evident in the way my mother treated me, that I was indeed my father’s daughter and therefore undeserving of my mother’s love. I did not want to do that to my children. When they’d be old enough, they’d make their own decisions about their father without any undue influence.

Less than a month later, I gave birth to our third child, a daughter. My best friend drove me to the hospital and waited for hours. I welcomed my baby into my arms at 10:47 PM, amazed that her father could willingly miss this event.

Many Life Changes

That year went by in a blur. So much had changed. I was now working as a doctor’s assistant, a job that had easy hours, weekends off and good pay. I was managing to hold down the fort and life was surprisingly pretty good.

One night at 1:30 AM I was awakened by the sound of the front door knob jiggling. With my heart pounding in my ears, I slowly crept to the front door. Somebody was definitely on my front porch. I dared a look through the peephole and there stood my estranged husband, looking puzzled as to why his key didn't fit into the lock.

I refused to open the door and warned him that if he didn't leave immediately, I would call the police.

Feeling strong and confident, I refused to open the door and warned him that if he didn't leave immediately, I would call the police. He started to protest, but then went down the stairs, got into his car and left.

The next day, I received a call from my father-in-law asking me if I’d be willing to meet with him and his son. I went over that evening and we discussed the situation. My husband told me that he was going to turn himself in and face the consequences for his actions. He also indicated that he was now sober and very sorry for what he had done – I suppose as sorry as a person can be after holding a loaded gun to his wife’s head.

He asked if I’d consider forgiving him and he expressed a desire to reconcile, which I flatly turned down. What had happened between us could not be undone, and I had already made a life-altering decision, one that he was adamantly against: I was converting to Judaism. He thought it was ridiculous. Little did he know I was on a journey that would take me further than I had ever dreamed possible. I was not about to give that up.

The following day, he turned himself in. He was arrested and eventually released, credited for time served and given a large fine and community service. He moved in with his parents, we finally completed our divorce, and he saw the kids under the watchful supervision of his father.

Initially, I hoped he’d see the kids frequently and work on rebuilding his relationship with them. He didn't.

The pain and heartache he had caused me was one thing, but doing it to the kids, the truly innocent ones in this equation, was unforgivable. I didn’t say a negative word about him, but on the inside my hatred for him began to take on a life of its own.

Consumed by Anger

I went back to school to bolster my education and provide the best life possible for my kids. I worked hard, I made good grades and even talked my way into an internship at the best salon in town, after being turned down for a job there, due to my lack of experience.

I worked there for nine months before taking a manager's position at another salon, one that offered health insurance and assistance paying off my student loan. I quickly worked my way to General Manager, overseeing three salons. Thank God, I was doing well, the kids were thriving, but inevitably, the question of where their father was always seemed to present itself.

Each time it did, I’d feel my anger deepen. I longed to tell people he lived abroad or at least in another state, but the truth was he lived just a few blocks away from his three children who were growing up and changing before my very eyes. He lived his life completely separate from them.

Therapy helped me realize the extent of the trauma I had suffered through my marriage, and that I was holding onto a lot of anger that was consuming me.

The kids would go to their paternal grandparents’ house and spend time with their family, but seeing their dad was a rarity. I began losing sleep, suffered from frequent stomach pain, migraines and anxiety. After seeking out counseling, I came to realize the extent of the trauma I had suffered through my marriage, and that I was holding onto a lot of anger that was consuming me and robbing me of the joy of the present.

I examined my life: I had converted to Judaism which was a source of great meaning in my life. I had made the bold decision to open my own salon and day spa, which had turned into a success. I had purchased a beautiful home where my kids could run and play, and I had done it all on my own.

My Jewish studies were teaching me about forgiveness. I learned that forgiveness, mechilah, should be given if the offender is repentant and asks for forgiveness. My ex-husband had asked my forgiveness, but was he truly repentant? I was not sure.

For years I believed that he’d deserve forgiveness only when he was truly sorry and finally stepped up as a father. I held onto the notion that forgiveness was some type of feeling I would have, some inherent knowledge that would suddenly wash over me.

Judaism taught me that forgiveness isn't a feeling; it's a choice. It’s an empowering decision I could make without any expectations from the person who is being forgiven.

The Gift of Forgiveness

That night I prayed, asking for the strength to offer forgiveness to the man who almost took my life. Forgiveness to the man who was the father of my three children whom he abandoned, leaving me to raise them on my own. This was going to be hard. I had faced quite a few hardships in my life, but this felt insurmountable.

I called to mind my many blessings: I had healthy, well-adjusted children, I sat on the school board, and was a member of several business networking groups geared at young entrepreneurs. I had the respect of my community and I was an observant Jew trying to live an authentic Jewish life. I was even the recipient of a Women in Business award. On top of that, I met a wonderful man. A Sephardic man, also a divorcee and single parent. His interfaith marriage had failed and he, too, was on his own raising a child.

In forgiving my ex, I would release myself from carrying an enormous burden that was never mine to carry.

As I shared my story with him, he suggested that I seek advice from his rabbi. The rabbi told me that forgiveness is necessary for the offended, not just for the offender. Forgiveness releases the obligation from both parties. In forgiving my ex, I would release myself from carrying an enormous burden that was never mine to carry. I was astounded by his wisdom.

So in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I began to pray for my ex-husband. If God, the Creator of the entire universe, could forgive me, then surely I could forgive him.

Almost immediately, I began to feel lighter. My physical symptoms also lessened, until they completely disappeared. My life was improving in ways I hadn't even realized were lacking.

My relationship with the man I was dating had become quite serious, and unbeknownst to me, he had asked my children's blessing before proposing to me.

We had a small, beautiful ceremony. As we broke the glass under the chuppah, our friends and family shouted, "Mazel Tov!" It was truly a day of many blessings.

Several happy years went by. My ex-husband, with whom I had little contact, called me out of the blue one day because he needed someone to talk to. He was going through a second divorce. He told me he knew he didn't deserve to have me as a friend, that I was a kind person, and he hoped I would not turn him away. There was a time I would have been angry to receive a call from him, but no longer. The rabbi's advice was not wasted on me.

Instead of hating him, I began to look upon him with compassion. My children now had the love and support of their step-father, a man they could look up to. We were deepening our faith and felt welcome in our tight knit Jewish community. And here was my ex-husband so utterly alone.

Over the course of several months, I tried to assist him in re-building his relationship with this family. I helped him re-vamp his business and happily cared for his two children from his second marriage any time it was needed. Sadly, none of the positive changes stuck. He eventually reverted back to his old ways. But his lack of care did not diminish my own.

My forgiveness may not have impacted his life, but it has certainly changed mine. By choosing to forgive a man who many would deem undeserving and unforgivable, I found true happiness and freedom.



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