My daughter Jackie and I were on the phone, having fun figuring out a name for the new Finding Our Voices fund that would help women get out and stay out of dangerous relationships, now that money was coming into it from sales of products made by survivors of domestic abuse.

One of us came up with GTFO, and we laughed because it was so perfect. Perfect, because that is the imperative from those of us finally out of it to those who remain trapped: Every day you are still in, you are in danger, your children suffer, and your light — the light that makes you, you — is force-switched into the “off” position.

I told Jackie the fund probably needed another name for official purposes — “The Bootstrap Fund,” say — but to us, it was GTFO. And the first check went to a woman who got out with her children just in time for Christmas.


The second time N. cleaned my house, I explained our nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to breaking the silence of domestic abuse, and this no-nonsense woman told me of the man who, starting on their wedding day, used anger and control to systematically turn her into a shell of herself:

“Looking back I don’t know why I did what I did. I don’t know how another human being belittled me enough to change my name, my clothes, my friends, my life.”

N. was rescued by her best friend after she broke her silence by sobbing uncontrollably in front of her. The friend unilaterally moved N. and her children out of the terror chamber of her marital home and into her own house with her; and N. started the long process of recovery from emotional abuse that is every bit, and sometimes more, damaging than physical abuse.

Whenever N. was cleaning my house after that, she told me how worried she was about her friend B.

“He’s going to kill her,” she kept saying. B. had been with her husband for 20 years, since she was 16, and the beatings were getting worse. To every suggestion I made for getting B. help, N. would shake her head and say, “She will never leave.” Still, whenever she could, she told B. about her client who ran a sisterhood of survivors called Finding Our Voices.

In early December, N. showed me the text message B. had sent her the previous weekend:

“I’m ready. Let’s do it. Now that I just got used like a rag doll, my face put to the ground and my ribs kneeled on, I’m ready.

“Ask [Patrisha] what do I have to do to get me the f— out of here while I’m still alive.”

As soon as B.’s husband was out of the house, N. moved her and her three kids out, and into a safe place, rescuing B.’s family as her friend had rescued hers years earlier from another master-manipulator masquerading as a lover.

She told me B.’s car was not working, and the first check from the GTFO fund went to B. for car repairs.

I told all of this to Mary Lou during our daily, first-cup-of-coffee phone chat. Mary Lou is 80 years old and 15 years ago left the University of Southern Maine professor who tormented her and their children for 45 years. She sent B. a note saying, “Leaving is the hardest thing you will do AND the BEST gift you will give you and your children.”

“ … Keep looking to a future FREE of fear, free of being controlled and FREE of denial that it would get better … it never does.” She signed off with, “... love and lots of gentle hugs,” and included a check for a beauty treatment.

It was Christmas By the Sea weekend in Camden when I walked into town to meet B. at the Cutting Edge hair salon. A central feature of Finding Our Voices outreach is huge, downtown window banners featuring 30 Maine survivors of domestic abuse, along with a quote and the domestic abuse hotline number. In the window of Cutting Edge is the banner of Jess, a nurse at Pen Bay, with her quote: “It got bad fast and stayed bad for a very long time.”

The salon owner, Amy Judkins, was brushing out B.’s long, silky blond hair, crimping soft curls around her face. B. looked in the mirror and said, “I feel like a new person.”

B. and I were sitting across from each other over hot cider at the Waterfront Restaurant while she told me how he isolated her down a long dirt road in a trailer with no running water — “A necessity for you would be a luxury for me.” Then her face crumpled and she said, “I don’t know how I am going to make it on my own.”

What is it you like to do, I asked her. “I make jewelry,” she said. I remembered a sea-glass necklace I had admired on N. the first time she cleaned my house. B. told me they make these necklaces together, and, with her face lighting up, she described combing beaches for sea glass, and also driftwood that she turns into boxes.

The second check I wrote from the GTFO fund was to B. for business cards for her and N.’s beach creations.

Walking out into the night with Christmas carols filling the air, B. noticed Bekah’s Finding Our Voices banner in the window of Planet Toys with the quote “He was a gentleman. At first.” B. said, “I know her! We were in high school together! I can’t believe it happened to her too.”

I placed an introductory call for B. to the Knox County Homeless Coalition, and the next day she texted me about Kali, who had answered the phone: “She was super nice. She let me know if I needed anything, they were there 24 hours.”

She now has a caseworker with this miracle-working organization that is helping her get the government benefits to which she is entitled, plus a low-income housing voucher, and putting in place every other stepping stone on a path to independence.

Three weeks after B. texted N. in that first crucial call for help, B. told me, “I have already found more love and support than ever before in my life.”

She told me that 20% of the proceeds from the sea-glass necklaces and driftwood boxes is going to Finding Our Voices, to help other women to get out, and to stay out, as she says this time she is determined to do. That day, I found a Christmas gift from B. on my doorstep: A necklace with a big, bold, yellow (color of Finding Our Voices) sea-glass heart.

The owners of Camden Dermatology and Mohs Surgery, Christine’s Framing Gallery, and Cutting Edge all stepped up to sell the necklaces without taking a commission, and Christine Buckley, a Finding Our Voices banner star, is helping B. to set up an Etsy shop. In the past week alone, B. has sold at least 40 of these gorgeous, electric-blue, mauve, pink, amber, and green sea-glass necklaces, on suede and silver chains.

With the help and love of our community that was there all along, B. is finding her voice and helping others to find theirs. Because she broke her silence, in the year of the pandemic she and her children are going to experience their first Christmas in a very long time that is suffused with peace and joy.