Hope for the Hopeless- My Story 5/08/2008 By Dave Zegen
I’m sharing this speech I wrote for HAVEN, formerly Network Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.
I’d like to tell you a story tonight. This is not a typical story. It’s not typical because there is no hero, there is no love story, there’s no comic relief, and there is no ending. But there is hope.
Allow me to set the scene for you.
Picture a small quiet town on a hill. The kind of town you imagine you’d go to just to get away from it all. There are big homes with porch swings and kids running through sprinklers on perfectly manicured lawns. This little village is picturesque. There are more churches than gas stations and more cows than computers. Everybody waves, everybody smiles. It’s the kind of town where everybody knows your name, and everybody treats you like family.
But, there’s one house. It doesn’t quite fit in the perfect picture. You could look at it from the street and you’d never know but it doesn’t fit because it’s just a house. It’s not a home. It’s a shell. The curtains are always closed and nobody knows what’s happening inside.
Inside this home, there is a broken family. It’s held together by a small and fragile woman. Her name is Leanne. Leanne is calm and kind. She’s independent and smart.
She’s seen the world as it really is and she’s lived to tell the tale of sorrow and heartache. She’s a mother of three and she struggles to provide. She knows life isn’t fair, but makes the best of it.
Leanne is married. She is married to a man named Tom. Tom has issues. He is a convicted felon, he struggles with bi-polar disorder and is a compulsive liar. But, despite his shortcomings, Leanne sees a man who just needs help and love. That’s the way she was raised.
She is always helping people. Whether it is with her art, her heart or her hands, she never fails to give of herself to make life better for someone else.
She has two sons from previous, different relationships. Jerry, the oldest at 19, is in the Navy. David 17, is the rebellious and independent the middle child
And there is Tina, 12 years old and the only daughter. She is the baby of the family, and the apple of Tom’s eye.
Tom and Leanne have been together for many years and they struggle to remain married. Tom is a long haul trucker and spends his time on the road. He comes home on the weekends and is very emotionally detached from his family. Leanne asks him to come to church with her, but he says church isn’t the place for him. So she goes with the kids and prays for a miracle in Tom’s life.
One day, Tom quits his long haul trucking job and decides to try and spend more time at home. He finds a local job as a mechanic and is now home at night during the week. Tom finally has an opportunity to be a good dad, and decides to give his daughter the one thing most little girls dream of having…a horse.
He sets aside his financial reality and buys her a horse. In Tina’s eyes, he’s the greatest dad in the world. In Leanne’s eyes, it’s a foolish expense that is going to stress their already tight budget. But, being the gentle and caring person she is, Leanne sees the potentially good outcome of this.
Tina learns how to care for her horse and begins to compete in local horse shows at a young age. It’s her dream, and a lesson in responsibility. However, Tina has no idea that the horse she has come to love will be the breaking point of a marriage.
Tom continues to spend excessive amounts of money on supplies, boarding, training and even buys a new pickup to haul the horse around with. His finances are slowing turning inside out. He has to resort to lying about the purchases he makes and starts to justify them in his own mind. In his eyes, this horse is the ticket to his daughter’s heart. And soon begins to realize his marriage is slowly dying and that he needs to do whatever it takes to keep his daughter. His lies slowly turn into reality in his eyes, and his life soon reflects his deceit. Tom soon begins to make even bigger mistakes. He starts to venture out of his marriage and is now cheating on his wife. Leanne has no real idea that anything is amiss, because now, the horse, the lies and the money problems have created a barrier between them. His absence is acceptable to her because when he is not home, life is somewhat pleasant. Finally, Tom leaves Leanne and runs off with the other woman.
Life is shaky for Leanne as she once again struggles as a single mother. Bills mount up and life is hard…but Leanne continues to trust in GOD and love her children.
Time wears on and Tom’s new girlfriend realizes he is not a man of his word. She kicks him out of her home. Tom has hit rock bottom.
He comes back to Leanne. He knows her kind heart and forgiving soul, and takes advantage of those qualities. She offers him a place to stay for a few weeks until he can get on his feet. Leanne still loves him, not like she used to. But, she knows that now more than ever, he needs help. She notices now that he has not been taking his medication and that he is having severe mood swings. He lashes out, with hateful words at the smallest of issues. He hates his life, and hates her for being so trusting in God.
Tom begins to get jealous of her faith and starts to challenge her. He threatens Leanne by saying that he is going to take Tina, and move somewhere that she will never be able to find. He tells her that he owns everything she has.
Even though she’s small and meek, Leanne does not take well to threats and promptly kicks Tom out of the house once again. She knows however, that she has to take extra measures to ensure that he stays away. Leanne gets a restraining order against Tom. She tells her children that if they see him, to call the police. He is not supposed to be near them.
Tom disregards the order, and begins to make phone calls to her. He threatens to take Tina, and to make Leanne pay for what she’s done to him. He calls her work, faking his name and disguising his voice to get past her the co-workers who know he is not supposed to call. Meanwhile, Leanne maintains her composure and tells people it’s her problem and she can deal with it.
The threats continue more frequently, and Tom starts to drive by the house. He stalks her and the children. Sitting outside in his pickup, staring at the home, that once was his life.
The police catch wind of the violation and arrest Tom at his work. He cooperates with the officers and is put in jail. Leanne is notified that Tom is incarcerated, and for once, her heart is relieved.
It’s the last day of school for the kids. Tonight, the family is going to a graduation party. Everyone is glad to have the stress of life put off for an evening. Leanne, David, and Tina enjoy cake and laughter as they welcome a new summer. The evening rolls on and the spirits are high. The evening turns to night, and the family heads home after a long day.
Leanne and Tina crawl into bed together to watch a movie. David goes to his room, turns on the stereo and fades to sleep.
This night, Pleasant St. is rudely awakened at 1:30am
David is snapped awake by the sounds of deep, terrified, screams. He jumps out of his bed and hears that something is horribly wrong. Grabbing for his shoes and a shirt, David hurries to the top of the stairs to hear exactly what is going on. He crouches low on the stairs and quiets his breathing. Suddenly the screaming stops. For a moment, David feels at ease. It must just be a bad dream, but that ease is taken away when he hears the sobbing words of his mother… “God, please don’t let Tom be a murderer.”
David jumps to his feet, and knows his next actions could change his whole world. A split second that seems like an eternity… he weighs his options. He could go, and confront Tom. The match up would be a modern day David and Goliath. Tom, a 6’3″ 280lb. felon was clearly not a man to be messed with. Or he could run, and try to get help from a neighbor. As David weighs the options in his mind, he is already half way down the street running for his life, the life of his sister, and the life of his mother.
He flies across the pavement, not looking back. Dashing across yards and fences he comes to a house with a porch light on. He looks inside through a window and sees a woman watching TV. She’s awake! David frantically pounds on the door yelling for help. The woman slowly gets up from her chair, peers through the door window, and glares at the teenager in front of her. She believes this must be a prank. It’s 1:30 a.m., and it was graduation night. She imagines he’s just a drunkard who’s up to no good. She flips her porch light off and turns around heading off to her bed.
David’s heart sinks to the cold pavement below his feet. His mind races back to the house. His decides that maybe he should head back and try to face Tom himself. No one can help David. Not tonight.
But, again as he snaps out of his thought process he is back on the road running down the street towards his best friend’s house. David and Lee had been friends since kindergarten. And even though his house was a quarter mile away, David knew that’s where he had to go. He got to Lee’s house and started pounding on the door. The door finally opened and David exhaustedly pleads for the phone. He dials 9-1-1 and is promptly greeted by a kind, strong voice. “What is your emergency?”
“I live on Pleasant St, and my mom is being attacked. My sister is in the house, and I think he’s going to hurt them.”
The information is given faster than any human hand can type, but immediately she responds by saying, “We’ve already gotten a call from you sister, David, and we have deputies on their way.”
The woman on the other end tells David to stay where his is at and that an officer would come by to pick him up. But, the night grows later, and time seems to drag on. David stands outside, longing to head back home to check on his family. But, each time he begins to head out, he sees another police car fly by.
He starts counting the cars that pass by, but soon loses count. David realized that no one was coming to pick him up and pleads with Lee’s father to take him back to the house.
They climb into a little pickup and begin to drive David back home.
They drive up the street, and for a moment it looks as though the sun is already rising. But, to his dismay, the light David is seeing is not sunlight, but the lights from all the emergency vehicles. They’re lining the streets. He’d never seen that many police and fire trucks in his life. It was uneasy feeling to see the red lights reflect off the houses he had just run by.
The little truck they’re in stops because the road is being blocked by police cars and fire trucks. David doesn’t understand why there is so much commotion, so he jumps out of the car, and runs towards the house. He smells smoke in the air, as he passes by multiple volunteer firefighters. He knows them from the community and can see the despair and exhaust in their faces. They avoid making eye contact with David, because no one wants to be the one to speak of bad news.
David stands in the middle of the street, the bright lights glaring off the car windows into his eyes. It’s a surreal moment. He looks over and sees his sister running towards him in tears. She’s crying and has scratches on her arms. “She’s gonna be ok! I think she’s in the ambulance,” Tina says as she sinks into his arms. Relief comes over David as he hugs his sister. There is a peace that seems to fill the ache in his stomach. A police officer brings over David and Tina’s Grandmother and Grandfather, who live just down the road. They embrace David and Tina in the cold, smoky night. Tears soak their eyes as confusion and fear hold their thoughts.
The Sheriff’s chaplain walks over. His face looks tired, as he tells Tina that she needs to have an officer look at the scratches on her arm. She is escorted away, into the night.
David’s heart is still pounding, as he looks to the chaplain to find out where his mother is, and if she is ok.
Grandma, Grandpa, and Grandson stand in the middle of Pleasant St. as the Chaplain puts his hands on their shoulders. His eyes stare deeply into David’s and begin to well up with tears as his voice says shaking “David, your mother was shot tonight. She died.”
The whole world stopped. Every person who was running around the crime scene paused. The lights stopped flashing. The fire truck engines went silent. David fell to his knees. His hands grasped the pavement as if to peel away this corrupted, horrible dream.
He looked up into the night…through the smoke, and the stars. His mouth opened but no one heard him cry.
David’s grandparent’s knelt with him, there on the pavement. Huddled together, weeping. Their tears filled the numerous cracks in the road. The chaplain too bent down. There was nothing more he could say. All he could do was cry with them.
Tina received the news later that night. They decided to tell David and the Grandparents first so they could comfort Tina. Tina needed the most love, because she was in the house when she made the 9-1-1 call. She was in the house when her father brutally dragged her mother out of the bed they were watching movies in. She was in the house when her dad pulled the trigger and shot her mother.
Tina escaped, shortly after the scuffle in the bedroom, by locking herself in the bathroom with a cordless phone. While she talked to dispatch, they heard the gunshots over the phone. Contrary to their training they told Tina to hang up and to get out of the house.
She hid in the bushes, behind the house, while Tom raged through the home looking for her and David. He went into the basement, where David would have been sleeping. He dumped gasoline over the bed and lit it. He was going to burn the house down and everyone in it.
When police arrived, they took positions outside of the home. They took cover behind trees and fences. They called out for Tom, they ordered him to come out of the house. He did. He stumbled out of the front door and onto the yard. Smoke billowed behind him.
The pistol he had shot Leanne with was still in his hands. He heard the voices of the officers telling him to drop the weapon, but he was enraged. He could hear voices but he couldn’t see anyone and so he pointed his gun toward where one of the voices came from.
That voice belonged to an officer, and that officer fired his gun. The bullet traveled through the air in slow motion. This was no ordinary bullet. It was a piece of justice. It sliced through the air, and pierced through Tom’s thigh. Tom dropped to the ground, as the vein in his leg gave in to the night. He bled, as officers ran to his aid. They were now trying to save the man who almost shot them. But, as the smoke poured out of the house, the life poured out of Tom. His life was gone.
Tina lost both parents in one night. David lost a mother. The grandparents lost a daughter.
The very next day, Jerry flew in on leave from the Navy. He landed in beautiful Gallatin Valley not knowing his life had changed. He had hopes and dreams of walking down Pleasant St. with his family remembering the good old times. As he walked off the plane he saw his family in tears. He imagined everyone was just overwhelmed to see him. But, in the airport bathroom, he found out the terror that had already gripped his brother and sister.
Domestic Violence shattered the life of another victim and left a broken family to pick up the pieces.
My name is Dave Zegen. My mother was Leanne Miller. She was killed the morning of June 3rd, 2000 while living on Pleasant St. in Churchill, MT.
Domestic Violence happens everywhere, in every town. No matter how big the mountains are, or how wide the fields grow. It happens in perfect little towns, on pleasant little streets.
You probably know someone who has been abused, is being abused or will be abused. Maybe it’s your neighbor, maybe it’s your family member. Or, maybe it’s you.
Often times, people like you and I blame the victim for not getting out of the situation sooner.
Did you know it takes almost 2 miles for a speeding train to stop. Domestic violence is a speeding train. Since you cannot stop a speeding train soon enough, you need to jump off. Last time I checked, the success rate of jumping from a moving train was pretty slim.
However, there are people like you who can help be there to catch the person who needs to get off.
There are organizations in almost every town that help people with domestic and sexual abuse problems.
Does anyone know how to avoid a crash with a train?
You need to heed the warning signs. Those big long arms with the flashing red lights.
Learn the warning signs of domestic violence. You’ll be a light to someone who’s living in darkness if you know what they’re facing.
You can help make a difference. You can help, by giving hope.