I became a mother because of domestic violence resulting in the death of my sister, Pam Fortney.
In August 1990 I graduated with my doctorate in Anthropology at the University of Tennessee. My family came for the ceremony and we all celebrated, breathing a collective sigh of relief that I was finally finished. Shortly after this, while I was working a part-time job and job hunting, I got a call from my dad saying he would pay for me to move if I would help my sister. I agreed, thinking I could just as well job hunt from Louisville. That decision changed my life forever.
On Labor Day weekend, 1990, my brother-in-law was served with divorce papers and an emergency protective order. We had fled to a relative’s house about 70 miles away, but he found us there, arriving intoxicated and in possession of a gun. Police were called, and he was subdued. On their advice I obtained a mental inquest warrant, and my brother-in-law was hospitalized. He was released from the hospital 10 days later, he terrorized my sister for four hours with a hand gun. Neither my sister, nor I, had been notified that he had been discharged.
After this incident, my sister, her daughter and I experienced a scary period that involved stalking, court actions and living in hiding. We couldn’t leave the state because of the custody part of the divorce. Through this, we both had to have money to live, and she continued teaching. With the help of friends, I was able to get a few part-time jobs. I was able to get a temporary field archaeology job in southwestern Indiana, where I walked plowed fields and worried about what was happening at home. Eventually, I was offered a job in North Carolina and naively thought we could move there to get away from her husband.
I received the phone call offering me the job as we were leaving for the funeral home. The person I spoke with said they would hold the position for me until I was ready, but I knew by then that I would probably never be able to leave Louisville.
So, one of the biggest effects on me, other than devastating grief for my sister, was losing my career and facing the financial struggles that resulted. I was able to get various temporary, mostly grant-funded research jobs that paid very little, and I worked mostly part-time for a few years. I was the best option because I was raising a traumatized child, settling my sister’s estate, and, yes, I was involved in a custody suit that went on for almost two years. So in addition to suddenly becoming a single parent and all that entails, I had court appearances and therapy appointments for a child.
It was very hard, but we survived.