Stop the Violence, Start the Healing

| by Courtney Weaver |

I met Kenny in June of 2009. I was 22 and he was 34. I am a blues singer — he’d seen me at one of the many gigs I played that year in California, where I was living at the time. A mutual friend introduced us, and Kenny told me that he loved my voice.

I immediately liked him. He was super charming and handsome. I was also attracted to his intelligence — we talked in a deep, philosophical way that first night. He even came home with me but slept on the couch. He lived in Utah and was just visiting, so I spent the next few days taking him to a local oyster festival and my favorite beaches. He told me a bit about his life: half-Samoan, he was born in Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, but was raised a Mormon in California and Hawaii before going to Brigham Young University. After college, he immediately got a job working in a large technology company’s IT department, which he did for 12 years. He eventually bought a five-bedroom home in a picturesque suburb of Provo. When we met, he was looking for new opportunities. We stayed in touch, and “officially” started dating in July when he invited me to Utah. It was on that trip, barreling down the highway in his diesel pickup, when he told me he had a concealed carry license. His gun, he said, was in the console.

I got goosebumps. My uncle killed himself with a gun when I was 9, so I’ve always been scared of them. I told him that story, but he reassured me that he had been extensively trained, and that his gun was for our protection.

I was honest — I told him I don’t like guns and added, “I don’t feel like I have enemies in the world, where I would need a gun to protect myself.”

“This will keep us safer,” he promised.

I didn’t think about the gun during those early months — not until we went to Las Vegas for a tattoo convention slated to happen in early October. He got a penthouse room and made dinner plans, but then we saw on the news that a tsunami had hit Pago Pago. It upset him. We went out for dinner but I left in tears before the food was even served because he started arguing with me. He said that he liked to debate and I shouldn’t engage in political discourse with him if I couldn’t “handle it.”

Back in our hotel room, he continued to rant. He seemed unhinged — and I was hungry. When I asked if he wanted to get something to eat, he flipped out. “How could you be so selfish?” he screamed. Then he grabbed his gun — he always carried it on him — and started pacing the room again, berating me. He never pointed it at me, but I was scared. I finally left the room to get dinner on my own and calm down. I kept reassuring myself, He would never hurt me…

By the end of October, he had moved to California looking for a fresh start. He had lost his IT job during a downsize and, I learned, he was about to lose his house. He was under a lot of financial stress. I blamed that for his bizarre behavior in Las Vega. Meanwhile, I was busier than ever. In 2009, I played 97 gigs, my personal record. Kenny said he fell in love with me for my voice but started making jealous remarks about my fans. That annoyed me. I was like, “This is what I do. Deal with it.”

That Thanksgiving, I invited him to Seattle to meet my family. By then, he had moved in with me and things were serious between us. Still, I was nervous to introduce him to my mom. I was stunned when he chastised me in front of her for leaving Seattle to pursue my career. My mother defended me, and I felt so overwhelmed that I went outside to have a cigarette, which made Kenny furious. By the time I came back inside, he had taken off in his truck.  My mother said, “Courtney, if you stay with him, he will kill you.”

At the time, I thought she was trying to sabotage my happiness. But now I realize she saw through his facade. I didn’t — I was in love with him. When I called him, begging him to return, he said he was heading to Vegas to see his cousin. He was still furious at me and left messages through the night berating me. I went to bed heartbroken.

And then, at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving, I was awakened by a phone call from an automated operator announcing that an inmate at the Clark County Jail in Las Vegas was attempting to contact me. I accepted the charges.

“I’m in trouble,” Kenny said through the receiver. “I’m so sorry I got so upset when I met your family, I just had imagined your family would be as amazing as you are….”

He continued lavishing me with praise until I asked, “Why are you in jail?”

“I got a DUI,” he said. “I don’t remember anything else.”

He just kept apologizing profusely and then asked me to help him.

I booked my flight to Vegas. His cousin picked me up at the airport and told me that  Kenny was being charged with a DUI and a hit-and-run. I felt betrayed — why didn’t he tell me about the hit and run?

When I picked him up at the precinct in Vegas, he was so happy to see me. As he wrapped his arms around me, I noticed he had a Ziploc bag with all his belongings, including his Kimber .45. I tensed up. He may have sensed this because he quickly slipped it into his coat pocket.

We went to his cousin’s home, where I finally asked him about the hit-and-run. That made him angry — and when he was angry, he’d speak in this really measured creepy way. He never raised his voice as he berated me. I immediately knew I had made a mistake coming there.

The next four days were torture: He wouldn’t let me eat or use the bathroom unless he said it was OK. And then he’d follow behind me, lock the door. The days were a haze — he kept me trapped in his cousin’s guest bedroom, lecturing me about how he was starving me to help me lose weight. It was crazy. If I fell asleep, he’d wake me up, telling me I was selfish. Meanwhile, I had canceled two gigs to fly there and help him. I started planning my escape. I pretended to fall asleep and waited for him to leave the room.

As soon as he went to use the bathroom, I’d grabbed my suitcase and was halfway down the stairs when he jumped and pinned me down. I tried to wrestle him off me.

“Why must you constantly defy me?” he said. “You say you want me to be happy yet you try to leave when times get tough! People in relationships stick it out during the rough patches!”

He held my throat with one hand and unbuttoned my pants with the other. I wanted to vomit at the thought of having sex with him at that moment, but knew I had to in order to survive. I even faked an orgasm and begged him to cuddle with me afterward. I told him how sorry I was and lay on his chest until he carried me back to the bedroom.

There, he took out his Kimber and simply held it in his hand as I lay on the bed. I have never been more terrified and yet, I did my best to mask that fear. Over the next 48 hours, I did anything I could to get in Kenny’s good graces. We talked for hours and he finally admitted that he remembered the hit-and-run — and said it was my fault because he was so overwhelmed with his love for me that I fogged his senses.

“You don’t understand the power you wield,” he said, holding his gun.

I had sex with him again, as a ploy, and waited for him to fall asleep. That’s when I grabbed my purse, padded down the stairs and then ran out of his cousin’s house and as fast and hard as I could, zigzagging through the side streets in case Kenny woke up and found me gone. I made my way to a grocery store where I finally took out my phone and booked the first flight from Las Vegas to California — it was leaving in two hours. I then went to a restaurant to eat for the first time in days when my phone began ringing. It was Kenny.

I called a cab, shut off my phone, and headed to the airport. Once past security, I turned it back on and saw 11 missed calls plus four texts. The most recent one said he was coming to the airport.

I live in Arcata, north of San Francisco, but I had purposefully booked a flight with a six hour layover in L.A. so he would not somehow get on the same flight to San Francisco. I did not feel a sense of relief until the plane took off.

Once safely in L.A., I called my best friend and asked her to meet me at home that night. She did, at 10:30, and I told her what happened to me, watching her eyes widen in horror.

“You are lucky to be alive,” she said and gave me a hug.

I decided to focus on my future, which included three gigs booked for that weekend. Music always held me together — I was going to rely on it now and hoped Kenny would stay in Las Vegas.

It is hard for anyone to understand this, but I did love him. And even though I knew it was not a healthy love at that point, being surrounded by all of things was hard. I missed the man I fell in love with. He was not the man who had trapped me in Las Vegas. It was as if he had two personalities all together, Jekyll and Hyde. To make matters worse, Christmas was coming and I was still at odds with my mom. I felt terribly alone.

I decided to go out for Christmas Eve. I put on my pewter Frye boots, a denim miniskirt, and a cream shell tank. I was applying my eye makeup when I hear three raps at my foyer door.

I thought it may be my friend, but then opened the door to see Kenneth.

He told me he had nowhere else to go and that I was the only person he could turn to — and the only person he could trust. He vowed to take accountability for the hit-and-run. I wanted to believe him. I let him in. I woke up early on Christmas morning and bought fresh Dungeness crab to make eggs Benedict for brunch. Later, we went to my aunt’s for a bonfire on the bay. He was back to being the man I fell in love with.

Out of the blue, Kenny proposed to me on Jan. 12, 2010, at the Carter House, the most expensive restaurant in Humboldt County. I had a sinister feeling in my gut, and yet felt as if I could not say no.

Three days later, he woke me up at 7 a.m. I had been out until 3:30 a.m. for work and had no reason to get up — but he seemed anxious, so I got up.

I was in the kitchen, drinking tea, when he said, “We should go off birth control now to see if you can get pregnant.”

“I’ve been pregnant before,” I said, and then told him, for the first time, that I had had three abortions.

He shrugged and said, “At least you’re fertile.”

That night, we went to see the Sherlock Holmes movie. Halfway through it, Kenneth grabbed my right arm and said, “She looks like you” referring to Rachel McAdams’ character. His grip tightened and I was overcome with a deep feeling of dread. After the movie ended, he had tears in his eyes.

I said, “What’s wrong?” and he replied, “I just love you so much.”

Back home, Kenny said, “We don’t ever need to go back to Vegas.”

Meanwhile, we had been planning to drive back down to Vegas that Sunday. I said, “Your hearing is Monday! You need to take responsibility for what you did.”

“It’s handled,” he said. “Stop being so negative, Courtney.”

“I’m being realistic!” I replied.

And then he said, “If it wasn’t for you, it never would have happened in the first place.”

I feigned indifference and finished making dinner. As I was clearing the table, he began furiously kissing me. I let him have his way with me, silently hoping it would calm him down. Afterward, I told him I was going out to see my friends.

“You know that means game over, right??!” he shouted from the living room.

What?” I yelled as I got dressed. He had turned on the stereo and Bjork was blaring throughout the house, so I walked into the living room and turned it off.

“Abortion means game over,” he said. “You’re going to hell.”

I was in the bathroom, putting on makeup when I heard rustling in the bedroom and then Raja, my cat growled. I went to see what was happening just as Kenny flung Raja against the wall. He said the cat had attacked him. I told him to relax, he’d be fine, but he shouted, “I am not fine.”

I went to get him a glass of water and as I walked back into the room, I saw him loading his Kimber .45.

“What are you doing?” I asked alarmed.

“I need to go out,” he said.

“No, you don’t…” I gasped, terrified that he was going to go on a killing spree. His eyes were vacant and far away.

Then he said, “I just killed your cat.”

I was overcome with chills. “I can’t be with someone who would do that,” I stammered, fighting back tears.

“You can’t be with me?” he said it again, with a crazed look in his eyes.

“No.” I said.

That’s when he lunged for the door. I tried to stop him, and then he pulled out his gun.

Shots rang out and the kitchen door window shatter as I crouched and covered my ears. Then he aimed the gun at me.

I turned to shield my face and felt one bullet pierce my right arm. The second one tore through my jaw.

As I lay slumped on the floor, he took off out the door and down the street.

I went into the living room to find my phone and saw a gaping hole in my forearm and then saw the trail of blood from the kitchen to the couch. I screamed for help, and along with my cries, blood, teeth, and tissue came out of my mouth.

I stumbled out of the house and down to my neighbor’s, who called the police, and then I was eventually airlifted to UC Davis where I needed three blood transfusions.

There, after a 16-hour surgery, I finally learned the extent of the damage: the second bullet pierced my right ulna, my right upper maxillary, destroyed five teeth, lacerated my tongue diagonally, shattered the left half of my mandible, before abscessing in my neck. It took 12 days and 27 total hours of surgery before I was released back into my life.

Since then, I’ve had 13 reconstructive surgeries. I moved back to Seattle in 2011 because all state domestic violence funding in California had been cut four months prior to my shooting and I needed follow-up surgery, housing, and all the other necessary infrastructure to restart my life.

Getting shot was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me. An intimate relationship is private. Suddenly, mine was open to public scrutiny. I felt shame because secretly I still struggled with my romantic feelings — they didn’t just vanish after he left me for dead. I still wrestle with that.

I also blamed myself for the shooting and for not being able to subdue Kenny. Society and the system blame me too. I was financially responsible for cleaning up the crime scene. I remember thinking, as I scrubbed my own blood from the carpets, “Why doesn’t he have to do this?” I moved five times in six months following my shooting because nobody wanted to rent to me. They thought I was trouble. I started to believe them. Maybe I was trouble? My story was all over the news and I made the mistake of reading the comments. So many strangers, as well as people in my day-to-day life, wanted to know what I did to drive him to such an extreme.

Kenny was sentenced on Nov. 18, 2010, to 11 years. He is scheduled to be released from prison in 2019.  In three years.

Meanwhile, I received the police report of the shooting. I was amazed to see that I told police that we had not been fighting that night. I was in so much shock–it was hours after the incident and the police report also notes that I nodded off during questioning.  In the months that followed, I learned that I was in an abusive relationship. I lived in a domestic violence shelter for three months in 2011, which allowed me to get back up on my feet again and get an apartment. I had one year of weekly physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech pathology to rehabilitate my voice, followed by four years of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. I’ve had more than $750,000 in medical treatment.  I had insurance, which covered most of it, but I am still in debt as a result of the shooting.  Kenny was sentenced to pay restitution, though I have not received any money from him as of yet and don’t expect I will.

As a result of my own near-death experience, I now volunteer for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and work with Everytown for Gun Safety. I shared my story–and photos of my bullet-ridden body–which helped pass House Bill 1840 and Initiative I-594, which give law enforcement tools to remove firearms when a DV protective order is granted. To prepare for my testimony, I began tracking shootings in Washington State–who was shot, how, why. Since then, I’ve researched over 500 shootings related to domestic violence. For each one, I think, This woman had a life, she had passions, she had dreams, she was like me. She just wanted love, she just wanted to leave when it wasn’t working anymore. But he had a gun. And now she is gone.

People tell me I’m lucky because I survived. I disagree. I’m merely a product of the lethal coincidence of domestic violence and firearms in a household. I could have been a statistic–one of the 8,700 women who were shot to death by their partners between 2000 and 2013. More often than not when they have left or are attempting to leave. Kenny wanted me all to himself. If he could not have me, then he wanted to kill me.

I am still here.

And, I’ve found a way to integrate this terrible experience into my work as an artist. This past year, I’ve been collaborating with pianist/songwriter Josh Rawlings, who has worked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. We’ve been writing songs about domestic violence and gun violence in the hopes we can help raise awareness, like this one, called:

Stop the Violence, Start the Healing.

All this hate has my soul confused

Doubt and fear abused

How can this message be diffused?

Music with love infused

All this hate has my soul so blue

Such doubt and fear abused

Stop the Violence

Start the Healing

No More silence

How You Feeling?

I beg your pardon,

but your heart, is like a garden,

it can grow, compassion or fear,

what seeds will you plant here?

How can this message, be diffused?

Music, with love infused

Stop the Violence

Start the Healing

No More silence

How You Feeling?

Change is in the air

People starting to care

What are living for ?

I’ve been keeping score (If we always say not one more)

Additional reporting by Tova Carlin.

Follow Courtney and Liz on Twitter.

 

 

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