My mother stood on the porch of a house just after midnight. It was a large home without distinction and nondescript door with no numbers on it. Could this be it? She had three children in tow under the age of 3, including a 6-month old, and nowhere else to go, so she took a deep breath, said a prayer and knocked.
I spent much of my early childhood homeless. My biological father had gambled the deed to our house away in a high stakes poker game with some scary people, so we spent most of my infancy traveling from couch to couch, staying with friends and then living in a van when the weather allowed us to sleep without freezing to death. My mom stayed with him for years, through emotional and physical abuse, because it was better than the prospect of being alone with children to feed.
One night, a few months after my youngest brother was born, my mom finally decided her children needed a better life. She packed us up in the middle of the night and found herself at that nondescript door with no numbers on it. It was a shelter for battered women, and it became our home for months until my mom was able to get a job and save enough money to get us a place of our own.
My mom never hid what she had gone through from us. And although I knew her story, it wasn't until I ended up in an abusive relationship of my own that I understood why she stayed for so long.
I was in my early 20s. He was exotically handsome, fun and passionate. I had never been in such an exciting relationship and he swept me off my feet. He had demons, but by the time I realized it, I was in love with him.
I didn't leave when I found out he was dealing drugs, because he promised to stop. I didn't leave when I borrowed his car and later found out I had been driving around all day with a trunk full of cocaine. I didn't leave the first time he hit me. Or the second or third time, because each strike came with an apology and a promise it wouldn't happen again.
He would lie next to me at night and hold me, crying and telling me he was trying to be better and that he needed me to help him. And I thought that was my responsibility to take this broken man who loved me and fix him. And I tried so hard to fix him. But while I was fixing him, he was breaking me.
I wish I could say I was strong enough at the time to leave him. I wasn't. Our relationship ended after almost two years when he left me for a girl he had been cheating on me with. I'm not one of those women, like my mom, who was able to stand up for herself. That will never be my narrative. But I also know that I'm fortunate. There are millions of women who aren't lucky enough to have their abusers leave them.
I can't tell you why Janay Rice stayed. I can tell you why I did, and it has nothing to do with my race or whether or not I was dating an athlete. I was sure, deep down in my heart, that one day the man I loved would prove everyone wrong and get better, and we would be able to look back and see how far we had come.
Years later I can still look back and see how far I've come, just for different reasons. I hope one day, whether she stays or not, Janay can do the same.
Sarah Kogod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @sarahkogod.