Marianne Harris is a mother to 5 children, her sons Josh and Jacob, Johnny and Hurricane (Hurc) whom she had with her abuser, Dennis, and her daughter Jana. Her main goal in sharing her story is to let others know they are not alone.
Dennis had a habit of becoming violent with Marianne while she was pregnant – when she had a life growing inside of her body. Throughout her pregnancies, Marianne wasn’t glowing with excitement. She wasn’t having gender reveal parties or baby showers. She wasn’t able to soak in the experience of being pregnant. No, Marianne was making sure when Dennis came home from work, he wouldn’t have a reason to be mad at her. She was ensuring everything was perfect at all times and that she never said anything that might set him off for fear he would hurt her and their unborn baby. Each and every day was about survival.
“The first time Dennis physically assaulted me was when I was pregnant with our son Johnny. I decided to take a shower. Apparently, I had waited too late in the day to do that and I made our apartment too humid. He picked me up and threw me against a chair in the living room. After he calmed down he went about his business as though nothing happened.
One Mother’s Day I was getting ready to go to a breakfast buffet with my family. We had just found out days before that I was pregnant. I looked everywhere in the house, but could not find my hairbrush. I asked Jana where my brush was and reprimanded her for taking my things without asking and not putting them back. Dennis felt I was being too hard on her. He punched me in the stomach. He punched me so hard that I flew across the living room and slammed against a hutch. The impact knocked the wind out of me. I lay on the floor dazed and confused as he laughed, as though he were proud of himself. A few days later, I had a miscarriage. He never expressed sorrow or guilt over the loss of our child.
Dennis beat me with a baseball bat while I was pregnant with our son, Hurc. I had also birthed a stillborn son born on August 15, 2003, before my relationship with Dennis ever began. I had this plaque that had his birthdate and death date with angels on it. Once when Dennis got mad, he smashed everything and said, “I will be goddamned if I have a memorial to a dead baby in my bedroom.” He got his jollies off from breaking my things and things that were important to me.
His favorite thing to do was to punch me upside my head so hard I would get dizzy and blackout. He was violent with the children as well. Josh and Jacob were the main targets of his anger. Dennis picked Jacob up and threw him across the floor. Jacob landed so hard that his head bounced off the floor. He beat Jacob with choke chains that you put on a dog. He took the DIRECTV remote and hit Jacob in the face with it because he ate three pieces of bacon while I was cooking it. He sprayed wasp killer in Josh’s face. He hit Josh in the eye with the buckle of a belt and then took him out to the shed to find a part that matched his mark in an attempt to cover up what he did. The day before I had Dennis arrested, he beat the kids with a broom handle.
Dennis was arrested on September 24, 2017. He had his hands wrapped around Josh’s throat and had him against the kitchen wall, seven feet off of the floor. He punched the wall next to Josh’s face and said, “I should just fucking kill you right now.” He had told me if I ever called the police on him it would be the biggest mistake I would ever make. I held my cell phone next to my leg and called 911 and hung up about 5 times so he wouldn’t know I was calling. The deputies came, handcuffed him, and took him away. I was in a t-shirt and underwear talking to the deputies. I remember looking at one of them and asking, “He’s not coming back here is he?” To this day I remember the deputy putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, “No honey, he’s not.” The way he looked at me as he said that was like he knew. Once he said it, it was like I could breathe, and my shoulders felt lighter. I then looked at him and said, “Excuse me, I have to go put on some shorts.” I knew there would come a day when I would need proof of the things he did so I snuck pictures and sent them to my best friend. That day I asked my friend for the pictures and showed them to the police and said, “This isn’t something that just started.”
After Dennis was arrested, we kept noticing weird vehicles that would start driving by our house once it would get dark. It started in October and then continued. The Sunday before Thanksgiving 2017, Jacob went out to Dennis’ truck to see if he could find floss or something. He ended up finding 5 shotgun shells inside. I am not sure how they got there, but there were 5 of us – me and the boys. It was a loud message.
In December, the kids went to respite and I knew I was going to have alone time. When the kids left, I had a plan to take all of my mental health pills and kill myself. The only reason I didn’t do it is because the kids would be the ones to find me. No one else came around.” A lump formed in my throat as I heard her say these words, tears streaming down my face. There was nothing I could do or say at that moment that would even begin to capture the magnitude of what she had just shared with me. We sat together in this shared, sacred space of pain and understanding until she continued on.
“Looking back there were a lot of red flags. He didn’t help with housework. He didn’t wash dishes or do laundry or anything. I was getting the kids ready for the day, going to work, and coming home to cook supper, clean, and get the kids ready for bed. He didn’t help. He twisted things around to make them seem like they were my fault. He would tell me I was overreacting or would call me a drama queen or over-emotional. I would tell him things he did that upset me and he would tell me, “No, that’s not the way it happened.” They like to get in your head. I would cry because he had me feeling I was so crazy. I knew the things in my head were right, but he told me they weren’t. I got to the point where I was like fuck you and started getting mouthy.
He took important things of mine and hid them because he knew I would panic quickly, especially with things that were important to me. He would just sit back and watch me in a frenzy when he knew exactly where it was. I couldn’t talk to my best friend because he said she was a bad influence on me. I remember Dennis and I had a fight one time and I was so excited that he brought me home a case of Coke afterward. I told my best friend that the case of Coke was an apology – a sign that he still cared. She was so disgusted with me.
If we “pissed” him off, he wouldn’t take me or the kids to our appointments and he would take the keys so I couldn’t use the car to get them to the doctor. There was a time when I was being investigated for medical neglect because of him.
Dennis was the sole provider, but I was the one behind the scenes lining up work for him to do. He controlled the finances. He would take the money I earned out of my checking account to put in his wallet or into his account. I was only allowed so much money. When it came time for birthdays or holidays, in order for the kids to get gifts or something special, he would want some bizarre sexual favor and because it was for my kids, I gave in and did whatever he wanted.
He had an addiction to porn. He had a fetish for midget and gay porn and would look up “big black cock,” “trannies,” and “scat.” He made me watch a scat video once and I was so disgusted I threw up. He was also a crackhead, but I didn’t find that out until he came home one night and climbed on the bed on all fours, trying to pull the covers off of me. He was breathing heavily. After that, I began using crack as well until one night I walked in after an all-night binge and I looked at my kids and just burst into tears. From that moment on, I said that was it and I walked away from it cold turkey, even though Dennis continued to use.
It’s like a nightmare you just can’t wake up from. Your life is so bizarre, it doesn’t seem like it could be real. People like this have no heart, no soul, and no compassion. I can probably count the number of times he kissed me or said I love you on one hand in 11 years. We would only have sex two or three times a year. I spent a lot of years figuring out what I could change about myself. What can I start doing? What can I stop doing? I thought if I can change this or that about myself, things would be better. I felt like I was stuck, trapped and he was my forever.
Once he was arrested, people couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe that was going on all of those years and I didn’t say anything. The thing is, if you open your mouth, you’re afraid for your life. We are not people to them, we are objects that they can control. People like this target more vulnerable, individuals.
After Dennis, I realized that I don’t ever want to live another day like I did when I was with him. I learned that I am a capable person. I can do everything he told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to do. I am still learning boundaries and still have a hard time saying no. I am a people pleaser and will go out of my way to make others feel good regardless of how I feel.
To me, in my opinion, the recovery has been far worse than the actual abuse. The hardest part has been trying to rebuild our lives, handle triggers and deal with the impact they have on my daily life and relationships. I feel like I am still in the coming-through stage. It takes a long time to recover. There are a lot of good days, but there are also a lot of bad days and the bad days can be really bad. I struggle with crippling depression and at times am unable to do the simplest of tasks. I don’t feel like I have a lot of positives yet. If you want the truth, I feel like I am faking it until I make it. I am not doing as well on the inside as I try to appear I am. Every day is a fricking battle. Johnny and Hurc were the two best things that came out of that relationship. If anything, the whole ordeal has taught my boys who not to be and what not to do.
The day after Dennis was arrested I remember drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette while scrolling through Facebook. For some reason, that day “narcissist” was everywhere on my feed. Everything hit me all at once. I joined narcissist support groups but found them to be more triggering than helpful. I would read stories of what happened to other people. It just put me in a bad frame of mind – a sort of funk. Some people do try to offer advice, but others just say leave, which is easy to say, but not always easy to do.
Right now, I am finally in the driver’s seat. I feel like I have control of my life and I also feel like I am dictating what is happening in Dennis’. Although I don’t feel like justice is done though. He’s only facing a total of 10 years for what he did. The DA gave him an offer so if he plead guilty to the two child abuse charges, the rest of the charges would be dropped. He is now trying to get his plea overturned so his case would go to trial. It is his last-ditch effort to maintain control because he knows Josh, Jacob, and I would need to testify against him. He has written letters to the judge, referring to himself as our savior. He didn’t save us. He destroyed us.
It’s sad to say, but up until my current relationship with Mike, I have never had a normal, healthy, decent relationship. I was always with some sort of abuser. With Mike, if I am having a hard day, I can have that hard day. I don’t have to clean if I don’t want to clean. I don’t have to cook if I don’t want to cook. He doesn’t expect anything from me. The problems we are having aren’t even because of us. It’s all the bullshit from the past coming in and I don’t know how to prevent it from coming in. I wake up a lot in the mornings and think he is mad at me. I go through in my head, what did I do, what did I say, what didn’t I do? Come to find out, he’s not mad at me at all. I will actually follow him around the house because I want to give him a hug, but I’m afraid to give him one because of my fear that he will push me away, even though he has never done that. There is so much I want to say to him, but fear takes over. I hold it in because I don’t want to hear, “It’s not that bad,” or “You’re just looking for attention.” Those are the things Dennis said to me. Mike has never said anything like that, but the fear is still there.
One night Mike and I were drinking with friends at my apartment. A male neighbor came over with his dog. All of a sudden I was on the floor in the middle of the living room screaming. Mike was trying to calm me down. I lay on my back on the floor screaming and started puking. The neighbor triggered me. He was wearing a baseball cap and had a chocolate lab, the dogs Dennis and I had when we were together. I swear to God it was Dennis I saw that night.
I come with a lot of baggage, but so does he. Eventually, you get to a point where you say, “You know honey, let me help you unpack.””
After meeting with Marianne, I took some time to process everything she had just shared with me. She lived in a constant state of fear and was just trying to literally survive day after day for 11 years. But today was different. Today, this amazing and incredible woman sat across the room from me and bravely shared the horrific details of her reality. We laughed. We cried. We silently shared a mutual understanding and acceptance of each other and our stories. Together, we were stronger. Connected, we were braver. United, we were Survivorhood.
Photo: Flickr – bradhoc