I finally found the courage to leave. Courage and fearlessness are not the same. I acted despite my fear, perhaps because of the fear. I actually did it. It’s late, I am exhausted, but the adrenaline coursing through my veins will not let me sleep.

I awoke this morning fully aware, but apprehensive of my plans to leave. I brought Anjelica to day camp, and called out from work, but kept second-guessing myself. Is this logical? Is it safe? Is it even legal? I thought I had plenty of time, since Lou was at a client site for the day, but he called the house phone to ask why I wasn’t at work. I did not think to explain what was going on and ask them to cover for me if he called the office, because they told him I was out today.

It was go-time. I stuffed some checks and a bunch of important documents, like the property deed, house contract, Jeep info, passports, birth certificates, etc. into my over-flowing laptop bag. I rushed upstairs to grab Anjelica’s birthday gifts, a couple items of her clothes, some personal items, but no clothes of my own. The Jeep was parked at the end of our freshly paved 1000 ft driveway; I skulked out of view of the few workmen still on site to transport the few loads to a hidden spot in the woods. From there, once I was sure it was safe, I made a second run to stow the items in the back of the car. On my last trip out of the house, I tucked the phonebook under my arm, and slid open the kitchen junk drawer to snag the second set of Jeep keys, realizing the irony if I had left it open for Lou to easily repo the car. The house looked normal, and leaving no obvious evidence, I skipped out.

I drove off with the intention to meet with the lawyer who recommended hiring a PI to file for divorce and whatever it takes to obtain temporary custody orders, pick up Anjelica from day camp, and find a place to hide out until Lou came to terms with the divorce, and I felt it was safe. Until then, he won’t know where to begin to look, and can’t track me by my calls or charges on my company cell phone or credit card.

First stop was at the bank for an $18,000 cashier’s check made out to myself; the account is in my just my name, but he has access to checks and forges my signature all the time. There is plenty of money in his business account so he can open his own account. Second stop was to be at my lawyer’s office, but the receptionist said he was unavailable, and would only take a message, despite my pleas that I was a client with an emergency. I called several law offices down the yellow pages alphabetical list and got the same response until I reached the Ws. Lucky for me the person who answered the phone has crisis experience and did not turn me away. She gave me detailed directions to their office. They immediately brought me to a private meeting room and documented everything I spilled out about our marriage, how bad things are, and my concerns that he might have a personality disorder and has repeatedly threatened me to not leave.

Lou called to ask where I was since I wasn’t answering the house phone. I explained I was running errands, just as I’d told him earlier, and would be home after I picked up Anjelica from camp. He kept calling anyway. After hearing my story and the witnessing the repeated calls, the lawyer said that this was clearly a classic case of domestic abuse. The first step would be to obtain a restraining order and temporary custody, and that filing for divorce and a restraining order hearing would follow. I really do not want to file a restraining order, and just want to stay where he can’t find us, but they explained this was the only way to have legal recourse if he will not stop calling, harassing and threatening me. I put down a $2,500 retainer and agreed to return tomorrow to write up the restraining order and go before a judge to request an ex-parte order of relief from abuse.

During one of Lou’s many calls he informed me that he got out of his client’s afternoon meeting and picked up Anjelica from camp early, which he never does. My mind raced. Does he know about the money I took? Does he have someone following me? If so, then anything I do next won’t work, but I need Anjelica safe with me, so I have to assume he is rattled and trying to regain control. I acted like it was no big deal, and said I’d meet him at home later and we can drop the Mazda off for service and pick up the Benz, which was our original plan for the evening.

I met with the realtor to look at a small house and discuss some short-term options. Lou kept calling, including once to let me know he talked to my mother. He had threatened to tell her sh*t about me, but apparently did not consider I would talk to her first. When I said she already knew, he told me to take my f**king attitude and stick it up my f**king ass. I asked him to just give me some peace, but he kept calling.

I came up with a new escape plan, which I knew was complicated and could get messy real quick, so I pulled into the Amherst Police station for support, only to find the door locked and nobody there, except for an outdoor wall phone to pick up to speak to dispatch. The officer on duty came relatively quickly, but it gave me an uneasy reality that there is no place to run for safety. We met inside the station, and as I told him about the situation, Lou kept calling, easily proving my concern. I told the officer I did not feel safe being in the house again, and that I planned to get Anjelica in my vehicle and lose Lou in the process of dropping off the car at the dealership. I asked if I was stupid to go home. He agreed it was the right thing to do and assured me that it was perfectly legal for me to travel alone with our daughter. He would not agree to let me leave the stuff from the back of my Jeep at the station and insisted I must have some friends in town. The sad truth is that I don’t. I called the parents of one of Anjelica’s classmates who lives nearby that I know well enough to apologetically ask if I could confidentially leave some things at their house for a couple days. Gratefully, they let me leave my small pile in their foyer, did not ask questions, and offered to help if needed in any other way.

Lou and Anjelica were waiting at the end of the driveway and approached the car when I arrived. I lowered the window, and he immediately said he wanted to drive the Jeep. I whined that it was supposed to be for me to use, and he barked back that it was our car and asked where the other set of keys were. I shrugged that I wasn’t sure, but that they were probably in a kitchen drawer. He said he had looked there. I didn’t bother to ask why, but just said we’d find them later. I was keenly aware they were with the mace I had also stashed beside me in the center console. As we talked, I gave a subtle nod for Anjelica to hop in the back seat, which he didn’t notice. Once she was in, I grumbled that we should just get going, I’ll follow him over, and he could drive the Jeep on the way back. Lou huffed a sigh of frustration, and I breathed a sigh of relief as he walked to the Mazda, I raised the window and locked the doors, instantly feeling a sense of security.

As usual, he led and I followed, which, for the first time, I would use to regain my control by simply choosing to go off in my own direction. And as usual, I had to choose my moves carefully. First step was to tell Anjelica that her dad and I have obviously not been getting along and are unable to work things out as a married couple, but we both love her. She said, “I really don’t want to be one of those families with split up parents, but it’s better to be happy than to be miserable together.” She must have been upset, but she did not let it show, even after what came next. I told her that I had talked to counselors and people who told me that it would be best to be apart for a while, that she and I were not going home, and that Dad was probably going to be mad about that. She didn’t have a lot of questions other than wondering where we were going to stay and was fine with the answer that I wasn’t sure yet. I did closely follow Lou for about 20 minutes, all the way down Route 101 East, to the South Willow Street exit. He continued at normal speed, but I slowed down as we went up the ramp. He was well ahead, almost to the intersection, and well past the point of no return when I veered to the left back down to the highway before the ramp was totally split and gunned it toward I-93 South.

He sounded genuinely confused and concerned when he called, asking if I had missed a turn on South Willow, since I had exited right behind him. I explained that I needed some space and some peace, and that since he wasn’t willing to give me that at home, I was going to a hotel. As expected, he was pissed. He called a bunch of times to yell, threaten, coerce, and even tried to convince, “If you go home right now, we will pretend this never happened, and there will not be any trouble.” He charged, “You’re going to hurt the baby! Let me speak to Anjelica.” I told her that Dad wanted to talk and handed over the phone. I could hear him telling her to say she wants to go home. Matching the calm tone I used when speaking to Lou, she politely said that we were fine. I assured him that if she wants to go home, I will let her, but that right now we are fine to please not put her in the middle. Since Lou accused me of kidnapping, I contacted the Amherst Police department to be on record that I was afraid of my husband and left with my daughter as discussed earlier with the officer. I got off the highway and took a side road in case Lou attempted to follow on the logical I-93 route, and pulled into a restaurant lot alongside a police car. I told the two officers what was happening, that Amherst police were informed, asked if they needed any information from me, and turned to Anjelica to ask if she wanted to talk to the officers or had any questions. She shook her head that she was fine but kind of hungry. When Lou called again, I said we were getting a bite to eat and then going to a hotel. He told me to give the phone to Anjelica, I nodded when he asked where we were, and she answered, “The 99.” I had selected that place because, like McDonald’s, there are several in New Hampshire in all directions from where I ditched. When Lou started calling from our home phone instead of his mobile number, I felt safe to get back on I-93 South. In hindsight, it was dumb, but my first thought was of a familiar place, and I pulled into the hotel parking lot near my office, where we had stayed many times while house hunting. When Lou called, I said we were at a hotel, and needed to get some rest. He wanted to say goodnight to Anjelica, and I heard him ask where we were. She looked to me for direction, I whispered, “Do you know?” She shook her head that she did. “So, tell him,” I hushed. Anjelica correctly identified the specific hotel, said goodnight, and I promptly drove in the opposite direction up I-93 North, headed back onto 101 West, and found a hotel relatively tucked away in Bedford, but convenient to get to the lawyer’s office and court tomorrow.

Lou’s words when I answered the phone verified that he will not give up tonight, “You are a f**king liar! I called the hotel, and you are not there.” I was calm and honestly answered, “I was there, but left because I knew you wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m going to stay at another hotel and need rest. If you do call again tonight, I won’t answer and will turn the phone off completely. We can talk tomorrow. Goodnight.” I checked in for an undetermined number of nights, using my company credit card, then stunned the night clerk by stating my room must be marked as confidential identity, and that if anyone calls or comes in looking for me, I am not there, and the hotel must let me know, because it could mean danger. I don’t care if he thinks I’m melodramatic, Anjelica is safe and sound asleep. I will check back with management in the morning to ensure my room info is kept anonymous.