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Prisoner No More!

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Thundering applause and every eye in the conference center followed my swift, confident steps onto the stage.  Extending a hand to congratulate me was the president of the global technology corporation where my company purchased products.  My corporation, which I started on a roll-top desk in my bedroom, was receiving national recognitions. I had reached the pinnacle of success: an award culminating everything I had worked so hard to achieve over the past twenty years. I had arrived. I was a female CEO of a multi-million dollar technology company.

Receiving this prestigious and coveted award would be a usual occurrence for the ivy-league business professionals attending the conference.  Although I looked the part of a starched, educated professional, my journey was very different from my colleagues.  Looking at me, you would never know I had narrowly escaped a horrific domestic, prison, seconds before being bludgeoned to death. I celebrated internally with a party of one – giddy, smothering emotion, bursting with pride. I had survived unbelievable obstacles to be on that stage.  My life was a miraculous culmination to a very unbelievable journey.

Thirty years earlier
Waitressing part-time at a four-star dinner club allowed me enough in tips to cover college tuition.  During lunch service one day, Savage the bartender motioned me over to take an order for a customer sitting at the bar.  I rounded the corner and almost froze in my steps.  Inside I began panicking – he was gorgeous –brown hair, steel blue eyes and a white smile framed by a perfect tan.  Savage quickly introduced me to Jim, a local young construction executive.  Jim smiled, and casually placed his order as I shuffled nervously.  I tried hard to concentrate and not stare at him, but I couldn’t help thinking that the gold watch adorning his wrist was worth more than four years of college tuition!

When I came back to collect payment after Jim finished his meal, he set down $100 tip for a $6 sandwich. $100 tip! Nobody gave waitresses that kind of tip unless they expected something in return. I trust the tip tray back to Jim; he smirked while I delivered my, “I’m not that kind of girl” speech. The fact that I wasn’t like the other girls triggered a killer instinct in Jim and catalyzed the pursuit.  Jim had money all right, and he always flashed thick stacks of hundreds in his wallet. I was way out of my league, never dating anyone like Jim before. The dates I had in high school were pimple-faced boys; Jim was a man.

After a few dates Jim shared the joy of his life and showed me pictures of his one-year-old daughter, Leah. He bragged of being a single father and told me he had a full-time nanny helping him to raise her. He was Leah’s father and he proclaimed he was there to love and protect her.
Jim asked me to marry him, and move to Northern California with Leah and him. I had to tell my parents the exciting news! I expected my parents to love Jim as much as I did, but the first time I brought him home I looked at the worry lines on my mother’s face. She didn’t approve of him and pulled me aside, whispering warnings in hushed, tense tones.  Mother was emphatic; she told me Jim was a man without character and urged me to stop seeing him immediately. I reasoned that she really didn’t know Jim, and wrote it off to not understanding young love. Disregarding all common sense, I dropped out of college, quit my job, eloped and followed Jim 400 miles away to be his wife and the mother of his then two-year-old daughter.

A few short weeks after getting married, Jim began to change. He was impatient with Leah and began scrutinizing and belittling my every move. One night as he was leaving for yet another late night meeting, I questioned him. In an erupting explosion of emotion and rage, Jim punished my inquiry by pouring water from a five-gallon jug over my head. I choked and sobbed – silently crying out for my mother. Jim screamed profanity and threats into my face. He slammed out of our home, leaving me fearful and confused. I couldn’t stay there, but where could I go? I was trapped. I was completely cut off, having no money, car or job, and no family close by.

The next morning when Jim finally awakened, he apologized profusely, explaining the outburst was just a big mistake. His job was very stressful and he was working hard to support Leah and me. He told me I should never question him, reasoning he came home to me every night and wasn’t running around. I couldn’t get the image of Jim’s satanic face out of my mind. Jim acted attentive and held my hand tenderly. He proclaimed his true love for me and promised it would never happen again. I wanted so much to believe him. He lied.

My life with Jim was a living hell: days and weeks of extravagant apologies and some mundane normalcy spiked with infectious anger and vicious violence. Jim began abusing alcohol and drugs, sucking all funds out of our meager bank account to fuel his addictions. With his increasing use, the violence spiraled into lethal sessions while I feared for my life. At first, I tried to be a better wife; tried to clean more, please him more, keep him happy. After time, I learned there was nothing I could do to calm the demons possessing Jim’s mind. Jim threatened me telling me if I ever left, he’d hunt me down and they would never find the pieces. I believed him. His complete domination worked. There was little of me left. The naïve girl from a good family, the high-school cheerleader, the college student –was gone, replaced with a frightened and confused twenty-three-year-old woman who was certain she’d become a murder victim.

Even though Jim watched me closely and questioned my every move, a few years later he allowed me to take a class at my local church.  A new computer manufacturer had their headquarters right up the street from my church and one of their engineers was the instructor. The class went through basic programming for a very new product on the market: a personal computer. I easily understood the technology and was thankful I had paid attention to my high school typing teachers. Knowing the keyboard was a huge advantage and soon I was teaching the junior high students basic computer skills.

In 1984, being computer literate was an extremely marketable skill. I scoured the local paper finding a fantastic opportunity with a Fortune 500 company, which offered salary, benefits, and commissions. The office building was only two blocks from our house, so I could walk to work. I reluctantly showed Jim the ad. After sulking and then threatening me that if the house wasn’t perfect, dinner wasn’t on the table, and Leah wasn’t taken care of I would have to quit, Jim conceded and let me apply.

I was not qualified for the job. I only had a high school diploma, and had never sold professionally. During my interview, I used my best negotiation skills, pleading with the managers that although I didn’t have any sales or electronics skills, I knew how to use computers and if after a month they didn’t think I was a fit, I’d leave. I told them I’d study diligently and work hard to learn their business. It worked – they hired me.

I worked tirelessly, asking questions and studying the electronics data manuals. If I could understand more about the electronics I sold, I would have a chance for advancement. It all paid off; I was noticed by management and given raises and stellar reviews. My work accomplishments began to help me rekindle my self-esteem and confidence; however, I lived a double life. At home I was less than a woman, “a worthless whore, a worm, a filthy pig,” but at work I was always on top. I was well-liked and respected; I was “the golden girl of San Jose.”

Yet there was still something missing: a college diploma. Every time conversations floated to questions about where people went to school, I cringed. I wanted so much to go back and finish what I had started so long ago. If I went to college, my company would put me in for a promotion. Convincing Jim that I was going to get a nice, healthy raise, he finally relented and allowed me to enroll. School was harder than I remembered – juggling work and a home life was exhausting, but I was determined to get that degree. I worked full-time, was a mother, and had a house to keep up. I hid my books from Jim because he laughed at me reading or writing a paper. He’d tell me I was too stupid to learn and belittled my efforts. I was humiliated and fuming inside, which made me strive to excel that much more.

Attending college gave me career opportunities. I learned fast, and being at the top of the sales team I was quickly promoted and sent out of state for advanced technical training. I cherished the time alone living in a four-star hotel, enjoying room service and lavish meals with colleagues. Flying back, I dreaded seeing Jim again. When I entered the house, I was shocked as Leah showed me new clothes hanging in my closet; Jim had moved his young, drug-addicted girlfriend into my bedroom! That night, Jim stuck his head into the guest room as he was escorting his girlfriend to bed and hissed for me to keep quiet if I wanted to live through the night.

I created my plan to escape, taking my daughter Leah with me. I had secretly stashed enough money away for us to rent temporary housing. It could work if Jim didn’t find and murder us. The night before I was planning to leave, Jim came home alone, staggering drunk and yelling for me. He broke down the door to the guest room and brutally violated me. Jim screamed that he didn’t want anyone else but me and threatened that he would never let me leave him. He grabbed my purse and bounded down the hallway toward the master bedroom.

The next morning, as I quietly entered the master bedroom to retrieve my purse, I accidentally awakened Jim. Enraged, he flew after me with a hammer, readying to crush it into my skull. I crouched down, hands up in a defensive position, tears streaming down my cheeks and I prayed. I needed a miracle. From within my belly a surprising sound erupted; I challenged Jim and told him to go ahead and kill me – I wasn’t going to be afraid of him anymore. Stunned, Jim froze and dropped the hammer. I fled, frightened and sobbing, realizing I left my sweet Leah with a monster.

Time was my friend, allowing my fractured heart to heal. I poured my energies into rebuilding my life, working diligently and finishing my education. Fourteen years after graduating from high school, I reached my goal – I had my college degree. My mother hugged me tightly, sharing tears and an unspoken understanding that for me, graduation was a monumental life accomplishment.

Everything I touched in business was fruitful. I was quickly promoted, doubling my salary as I worked with large national accounts. Many times in the early years after I escaped my prison, feelings of unworthiness would creep into my mind while sitting at a large conference table, joining in on corporate discussions or in a training session. I would push back those feelings and concentrate on positive “self-talk.” I could do it! I was a success! I wasn’t a victim anymore! I was victorious!

Although I was positive I would never marry again, a few years later at a business networking event, I met Sam Towne. Sam was a single business man and unlike any man I’d ever met. We were so compatible and began to date. Though I was cautious and questioned his every move, with time I began to trust him. We fell in love and a year later were married. Two years later, to our shock and joy, we delivered miracle premature boy/girl twins! Our family felt complete; however, now I was thrust into the chaotic life of the working mom. I was always late for something, trying to juggle family and work, slicing my attention into tiny slivers of tasks.
Lamenting to a friend one evening at church about how guilty I felt all the time, rushing to meetings and leaving my crying babies home, she counseled me to quit my job. I stopped in my tracks. Did she say quit my job? How could I walk away from a career that I had painstakingly taken years to build?

That night I came home and told Sam my plan to quit work. He told me to turn in my resignation, reassuring me that we’d make it somehow. The next day I faxed my letter to Charles Silver, our area vice-president. He called me as I knew he would, shocked to see that I was quitting at the top of my game. When he questioned me I told him I just couldn’t do it anymore, working ant trying to be there for my family. Charles said I always had a job, wished me well and confided that his wife quit work after the birth of their first.

When the phone rang a month later, I was surprised to hear from Charles. He explained the area wasn’t doing well without me and asked me to consider coming back to work as a consultant. Closing the deal, Charles built my dream-career with the ability to work from home with all of my office equipment and my choice of hours. He added that I could also hire and train my own employees if I wanted to, calling the consulting contract “your own little pyramid.” I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, but I gave Charles an enthusiastic yes.

That was the birth of my company: starting as a one-man show from a roll-top desk in my bedroom and growing brick-by-brick, adding services and products, and most importantly, assembling a team of amazing people to make it the success it is today. Standing on the stage as I grasped that covetous award, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much that moment of success meant to me. I was once a prisoner and now walked free. I had been a bright young college student, who made one really horrific mistake almost making me a murder statistic. I survived and thrived to tell an amazing story of a miraculous journey to freedom and success.

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