Finding Life Support
Brendaliz Arroyo, a social service case worker, welcomes every woman she meets at the Salvation Army’s Greenfield, Mass., Corps. They walk into her office and see a proud mother. Her walls are covered with photos and drawings done by her two children, Arieliz and Isiah’n.
“Some women who talk to me feel so scared that they don’t want to give me their real name or even write it in their file. That’s how much they fear their abuser,” says Arroyo. She understands those fears well. Years ago, Arroyo was in an abusive relationship with “Walter,” the father of her children. It took a public display of violence on his part and an encounter with law enforcement before she could finally leave him.
“My life was in a storm from the time I first became pregnant,” says Arroyo. “But the lessons I learned taught me to never stop fighting for myself, and to never stop trusting God.”
Even though Brendaliz’s mother had liked the young man and both their families had known each other for years, her mom did not approve of Brendaliz being pregnant with her first child at 20 years of age. After being forced out of her mother’s home in Springfield, Mass., Brendaliz moved in with her boyfriend and his family.
Within days, Brendaliz discovered Walter had a drinking problem. “I didn’t want to be in the house with him,” she remembers. “I almost didn’t want to have his baby anymore, because it was what was tying me to him.”
But whenever Brendaliz tried to leave, he threatened to take his own life. Having recently lost her father, she could not imagine her child living without a dad too. The thought that she might feel responsible for such an outcome was powerful enough to make her stay. Two years later, she had a second child with Walter.
As time went by, everything seemed to “trigger” him. Verbal and emotional abuse directed toward Brendaliz became physical abuse as he blamed her for the violence in their relationship.
“Everything that happened would somehow be my fault,” remembers Brendaliz. “After hearing it so much, even I started to believe it. Maybe it was me, and maybe I was doing something to deserve this.”
A living nightmare
One night, Brendaliz went to bed earlier than usual; she had a medical examination the next morning. Later, Walter entered the room and struck her head with her cell phone. The pain woke her. Now, with eyes wide open, a new nightmare began.
“He had gone through my phone and accused me of talking to another man he didn’t know,” says Brendaliz.
Walter did know the man; he was in a relationship with a family member of Brendaliz. But Walter didn’t care. He said she had no right to be talking to anyone. “He was making everything be about me again, trying to justify what he was doing,” says Brendaliz.
Walter violently choked Brendaliz until she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was in their bathroom, and Walter had taken her phone. Seeing that Brendaliz was awake, he locked her inside their bedroom.
“He forgot there was a separate cell phone in there. I called 911 and kept the line open so they could hear us fighting. He didn’t know it was me who had called the cops; he assumed it had been a neighbor,” says Brendaliz.
Police arrived, took their children to Brendaliz’s mother’s house, and escorted Brendaliz to the hospital where doctors examined her. Walter followed them to the hospital but security there denied him access to her. The next day, when Brendaliz was discharged, Walter was waiting by the front door of her mother’s house when she and her sister returned.
“I asked my sister to drive me to the police station. I wanted to request an escort back to my mother’s home. I would file charges the next day. But right now, I just needed to rest.”
At the police station, Brendaliz waited to speak to someone who would help her. Then she saw Walter walking towards the building. “I could not believe he was doing this. I ran to the desk and told them the man I had warned them about was here. They could not believe it either, until Walter walked in and tried to take me home with him.”
Walter fought the officers as they tried to keep him away from Brendaliz. The breaking point came when he threatened to find the cops when they were on the street and out of uniform. He was arrested and charged with assault and battery, criminal harassment, and witness intimidation.
“Seeing him become physical with the police proved something that I had known for years; if he was willing to do this with cops, there was no limit to what he could do to me.” With that realization, Brendaliz finally left Walter.
Salvation support system
After two years of living in shelters, Brendaliz and her children were able to get Section 8 housing in Greenfield, almost an hour away from Springfield. It was there that they discovered the local Salvation Army corps and its afterschool program.
“The children would come home with snacks and art projects from the program. But I didn’t know that it was being done in the name of God,” says Brendaliz. Captain Scott Peabody, the corps officer, met with Brendaliz and offered to drive the children to church on Sunday. She agreed and came with them.
On New Year’s Day of 2018, a bad reaction from skipping prescribed medication left Brendaliz in a state of shock and paranoia. Without having anyone to turn to, she began to pray for help. “I asked God to show me anything to calm me. Captain Scott’s name popped up in my head,” she said.
She texted the Captain and asked if she could be driven to the corps. There, she spoke to Captains Scott and Karen Peabody about what she had gone through—from her years with Walter, issues with her health, and her current state of mind. “There are times when I feel that I’m just waiting to slowly die,” she confessed.
“I realized that a lot of the problems I had in my life had come from never having a stable support system,” says Brendaliz. “There was none at home when I became pregnant or when I was living with Walter. But that support was waiting for me at The Salvation Army.”
Sharing hope with others
Brendaliz and her children became Salvation Army soldiers and involved themselves in the corps and the community. When she was offered the position of social service case worker by the Captains, they said that her life experience would be an asset in speaking to families who come to the corps needing more than just help with food.
“Hearing that from them made me feel good,” says Brendaliz. “I like to know that my life can give others hope, because coming here and being part of The Salvation Army gave me hope too.”
Recently, a woman came to the Greenfield Corps food pantry. She recognized Brendaliz immediately. Years ago they had both been in the same shelter. Like Brendaliz, this woman had also escaped a violent relationship. She was now settled with a different partner and had started a family.
The woman said that she often thought of and talked about Brendaliz to all the other women in the shelter. Her stories gave them hope. They know that, if Brendaliz can come out of such a life and be the person she is today, they all can too.
by Hugo Bravo