A Note from Hope: As I began crafting the October 2020 issue of my women’s magazine, InkandescentWomen.com, to honor National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, filmmaker Tracy Schott — founder of Voices4Change and the director and producer of the documentary Finding Jenn’s Voice — introduced me to several of the survivors featured in her film including Lisette Johnson, a powerful teacher in the fight to end Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).
Here’s her story: On October 4, 2009, Lisette was shot several times by her husband at close range. As her children played nearby, then 12 and 9 — he turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
In the years since: Lisette has made it her mission to share her story so other women won’t suffer the same trauma. She’s raised her voice and touched thousands at conferences and universities around the country, including Homeland Security, TSA, and the US Navy. She has also testified before Congress and the Virginia General Assembly and has been instrumental in championing legislation protecting women. In addition to being featured in Tracy’s documentary Finding Jenn’s Voice, Lisette has shared her insight and wisdom in The Huffington Post, Washington Post, USA Today, Time, NBC, NPR’s The Takeaway, and on the BBC.
Lisette says she is proud to be shameless: Check out her powerful blog, ShamelessSurvivors.com, where she reaches and teaches people around the world about IPV and what women can do to protect themselves. Scroll down for a recent entry.
In Honor of Domestic Violence Month: October 2020
The Night Before
By Lisette Johnson, ShamelessSurvivors.com
October 4, 2020: Today is the 11th anniversary of the shooting, when my then husband attempted murder and then committed suicide. It is 3:30pm as I right this essay. This very hour, I was still in surgery, and it lasted 5 more.
Days go by now, and it all seems like a distant memory, another life in another lifetime, unbelievable though real. Still certain movements, memories, pictures bring me back into that life, that day.
I was shocked to see me in a picture. You can see on my face the toll it had taken on me. My desperation is evident. This picture was taken at my son’s early birthday celebration at our house. Looking at it I can still feel the sense of foreboding I felt in the stillness of that brilliantly moonlit fall night, eerily exactly like this night.
After his friends had been picked up and everyone was in bed asleep, with a macabre sixth sense presenting as melancholy, I contemplated my life was about to change and would never be the same again. As I wrote this I was feeling unsettled and completely isolated so I reached out and shared it on Facebook that night before he shot me.
“Surely this must be a dream from which I will awake and feel the warm reassuring breath of the man I love next to me. I will watch as the moonlight illuminates his chest moving quietly up and down, and reflect on the sweetness of his kiss, the heat of his skin on my fingertips. Solid, unwavering, steadfast.
Surely this dream cannot be the life I have known, have accepted, have lived years suspended between passion and pain, holding on to only fleeting moments as proof love exists; a life lived as someone else while emotion lay buried beneath layers of secrecy, protected from the harshness and uncertainty of a barren landscape. Surely I am not she who hides in the dream…frightened, frozen, tentative; watching, waiting. I do not want to know her pleading, resignation, hopelessness.
Surely whatever darkness I dream is far away and cannot hurt me. I will awake to hear the crickets in the cool fall air and be comforted by familiar surroundings. He will stir and draw me close, gathering me securely in his arms. We will slumber, entwined, peacefully. Surely the morning light will reveal what is true and good.” October 3, 2009
My life was about to change forever, though I could not have understood then what that would end up looking like. I just knew I was leaving the house that week if he once again refused to, as he had the twelve weeks since I’d asked for separation. By this point I knew when I walked out I would probably lose everything. I knew there was a good chance he would get custody of the children. I knew I was walking away with only my faith.
Some people say I won. I lived. I live with my children. He can no longer hurt us. I am free. My faith still sustains me. If someone wins, however, then there has been a loss. The little boy in that picture was forever lost that next day, as was his big sister; thrust into the intersection of evil and death and robbed of the carefree innocence of childhood.
No longer the woman in that picture, maybe I am victorious. But I never wanted a competition, a war. I only wanted my life back and the man in that poem to come forward.
I have peace for the most part now but the cost was enormous. On nights like tonight, knowing now what the morning light revealed, it washes over me like waves. All I’ve said and written and done to bring awareness seems meaningless in these moments. I’m back to being that (and every) woman trying to protect her kids while exiting a dangerous relationship, suspended and balancing on a tightrope between two places, her murderer hot on her heels.
Learn more about Lisette Johnson: ShamelessSurvivors.com