LIHUE — All Tammy ever wanted was what she called that little house on the prairie existence. She wanted that life with a loving, devoted husband, laughing children and carefree conversation at the dinner table.
It never happened.
“All I got was put downs, isolated, abused and addicted,” she said to about 100 people who gathered Wednesday night at a candlelight vigil, “Changing Hurt To Hope,” at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.
The annual event was put on by the YWCA of Kauai to raise awareness of, and hopefully bring an end to, domestic violence. There were songs, a poem, a moment of silence, and finally, the lighting of candles as the audience, led by Lexi Warnock, sang “Let there be peace on Earth.”
A reader board set up at the church asked this question: “How will you work to end violence in our community?”
Some answers were, “Speak softly with aloha, always,” “Be an ally,” and “Be a voice for those who cannot speak.”
But there was no voice to speak for Tammy growing up and as an adult – she had few allies, and her abusers spoke harshly.
The abuse began when she was a teenager and her family moved to Kauai. Her father, Tammy said, hit her mother.
“I was so scared. My brother and I always tried to make things better. I grew up thinking this was all normal,” she said.
It carried into her adult life, where she went through six abusive relationships. She had her hair pulled. She was choked and dragged through a pasture in her wedding dress stained with blood. She missed work because she had to find excuses for the bruises and the black eyes.
She was told by her abusers she was always wrong, always to blame. She remembers once, in despair, punching a mirror with her fist. Paramedics arrived to treat her.
“Everybody said I was the crazy one, but I wasn’t crazy. I was an abused woman,” she said.
Tammy had six children, five boys and a girl. They have had hard lives because of her dysfunctional relationships, she said.
“They are not stable. They are confused and angry and don’t understand why. But I do,” she said.
The abuse led to addictions, mainly alcohol. Treatment centers helped temporarily. Eventually, though, based on promises of change, she would return to her abuser. The change didn’t happen.
Good men came along, she said, but she always broke up with them.
“I couldn’t handle their kindness,” she said. “I just wasn’t used to it.”
Tammy is doing better today and has hope. The YWCA shelter provided a safe place for her and her children.
“I still yearn for a loving relationship. I still have the same dream of that happy family,” she said. “I hope that my children will get the help they deserve. And I hope I can stop the cycle of abuse and addiction in my life.”
She said no one deserves to be abused and no one has the right to control another. It’s important to recognize the red flags of abuse and leave before something happens, Tammy added. Each of us, she said, can make the changes needed to keep safe.
“We all are powerful. It is time for each of us to end this violence,” she said.
Kathy Freire, who read descriptions of domestic violence victims in Hawaii, was glad to see a crowd at the vigil.
“To have such a turnout from our community shows me that people are interested in ending this, people are interested in bringing peace to families,” she said.
The problem isn’t only the violence. It’s about power and control and one person wanting to exert that over another.
The solution “begins in childhood, teaching children to respect each other, to find their own voice and allow other people their voices,” she said.
“It really is a deep-seated issue,” Friere said.
Lexi Warnock sang the song, “Take My Hand,” which she wrote for her mother, who lost her life to domestic violence.
“I’ve always been inspired to write music for her,” she said.
For Warnock, it was an emotional time to be in front of the crowd, singing, as she thought of her mother and about wishing there was no violence in homes.
“I was thinking about how horrible all this is, that this even goes on,” she said.
But the crowd Wednesday at the vigil gave her hope it could end.
“I find joy in everyone discussing it and bringing awareness to it,” she said.