I married a widower with a young daughter I vowed to raise as my own, but I never imagined that promise would land me in jail.
When I married Geoffrey, I made a vow along with ‘in sickness and in health’ that I would love and care for his little orphaned daughter May as if she were my very own.
May was five at the time, and the most adorable doll I’d ever seen, with chocolate curls and big green eyes. Geoffrey had told me about her right from the start. Geoffrey seemed to be the kindest, gentlest, most considerate man I’d ever met, but I later learned it was all an act.
At first, it was like a dream. I’d been orphaned at the age of sixteen, so to suddenly find myself part of a loving family was a dream come true, but the honeymoon was short-lived.
Immediately I realized that Geoffrey was very hard on little May, constantly criticizing her. I tried to intervene, but he snapped that HE was the father and it wasn’t my place to comment on how he raised his child.
Then, three months after our wedding, Geoffrey began to behave in an odd way. He’d phone in the middle of the day to ask where I was, who I was with, what I was doing. At first, I was flattered.
He loved me so much that he was jealous, I thought, and a sillier idea I’d never had. Then one day I found him going through my purse! “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I know you’re lying to me,” he cried, “Show me your phone, I want to know who the man is…”
I was aghast. “What man? What are you talking about?”
“The man…” Geoffrey was pale and his jaws were clenched with tension. “SHE was meeting a man…I know it!”
I gasped. “Your wife? Daphne? I never knew…I’m so sorry Geoffrey!” I went to him and hugged him. Now his insecurity and paranoia made sense!
“I have nothing to hide, love,” I told him. “You can look at my phone.”
Geoffrey just started crying and apologized, and I thought we had worked through the problem. Things were better for a while, then he started to criticize everything I did, how I kept the house, even how I tidied the cupboards.
He became even harsher towards May who often went to bed in tears after he was particularly unpleasant to her. One night he called her ‘stupid’ for not being able to read a page he’d given her. I kept silent, but my heart broke for her.
Jealousy and possessiveness are not love.
One day I came home to find he’d emptied out the kitchen cupboards onto the table. He demanded I tidy it up ‘properly,’ which meant the tin packets and bottles aligned by size and in alphabetical order!
I said, “My dear Geoffrey if you want the cupboards tidied up like that you’d better do it yourself. I’m going to give May her bath.” I turned to walk away and he grabbed me by the arm.
He pulled me back and screamed, “You do what I tell you! I OWN you!”
“You most certainly do not!” I cried, and that was when he slapped me, hard. I remember falling to the floor dazed. What was happening to me? How could this happen to me?
Within seconds Geoffrey was kneeling by my side, sobbing, apologizing. I let him help me up and put ice on my cheek, but I knew at that moment that it was over. He’d done it once, he’d do it again and again.
I graciously accepted his weepy apologies and pretended it was all normal, all alright. The next morning I waited until he went off to work and I packed a bag with the essentials. I’d drop May off at school and go.
I was closing my suitcase when I saw May standing in the doorway looking sad. “You’re leaving too, aren’t you?”
I couldn’t lie to this child. “Yes, honey, I am.”
“Mom left too. And she didn’t take me with her,” she whispered as if she feared he could hear her, “Once you go, he will be even worse with me, like he was when mommy left. He will scream at me. I’m afraid of him. You must save me!”
“Oh May,” I whispered, “I’m so sorry!”
She took a step closer. “You said you’d be my mommy forever, so you have to take me with you because I love you and I can’t live with him alone, I’m scared.”
An hour later, our suitcases were in the car, May was strapped into her car seat and I was heading down the highway. I stopped off at my bank and emptied my savings account.
I threw away my bank and credit cards, and my cell phone. We were hopefully untraceable. I knew no one, I had no family. Where could I go? I asked May for a letter of the alphabet and she said E (she was up to E)
I found a city named Escondido in California, which tickled my fancy — Escondido meant ‘hidden’ in Spanish. So we headed for Escondido and during our two-day road trip, May and I made some changes.
I died my blond hair to match May’s chocolate curls, and we cut her hair a lot shorter. May became Maya and took on my surname. When we arrived in Escondido, we were mother and daughter resettling from Reno after a nasty divorce.
I found myself a job and we rented a pretty little house close to Maya’s school, and that Christmas we got a puppy. Life settled into a pattern, and after a while, it was as if Geoffrey had never existed.
When the police came for me two years later I was completely unprepared. They told me I was under arrest for kidnapping and custodial interference and could face 10 to 15 years in prison for my crimes.
They took May away and placed her with her mother’s family. My lawyer insisted I plead ‘not guilty,’ and then the whole drama of the trial unfolded. Geoffrey was the prosecution’s star witness, of course.
He was very believable too, crying on the stand and saying I’d been unfaithful and cruel to May. “She took my poor baby to punish me,” he sobbed.
And that was when a loud voice interrupted him. “You’re a big fat liar, daddy!” May cried. She was sitting in the audience with her mother’s sister, and she’d jumped up when her father maligned me.
The judge peered at May. “Bring that child here,” she said. “I want to hear what she has to say.” The prosecution protested, but the judge overruled him. May sat in the witness box looking very tiny.
She looked the judge in the eye and said, “Daddy hit Clair, just like he hit mommy and me. Mommy ran away without me, so I begged Clair to take me, and she did. Mommy had an accident when she was running away so Clair is my mommy now.”
Thanks to May’s testimony, the judge dismissed the case against me, and my lawyer filed for a divorce and for custody of May. I won, and Geoffrey had to pay a hefty settlement. May and I went back to Escondido though we did occasionally return to Denver to visit her aunt.
That was how we ran into Geoffrey again. May was now thirteen and turning into a real beauty. We went out to lunch and we spotted Geoffrey at a nearby table with a lovely young woman.
“He’s deceiving her! ” May cried. “Look at that! That smile, those looks! It’s all a big lie!”
“May,” I said, “it’s none of our business…”
“Yes it is, mom,” she said. “If we see another girl in trouble, and we don’t stand up for her, who will?”
And my girl stood up and marched up to her father’s table. She ignored him completely and said to the woman: “I’d get away from him if I were you! He abused both his wives and I should know, I’m his daughter and I don’t want to be with him.”
That was the last we saw of Geoffrey. The woman spoke to him for a while after May’s little speech, then she got up and left, with Geoffrey running after her. Hopefully, she was the one who got away!
What can we learn from this story?
- Jealousy and possessiveness are not love. At first, Clair was flattered because she thought it meant that Geoffery loved her, but all it meant was that he wanted to control her.
- Love and devotion are what make a family. Clair loved May as if she was her own, so she took responsibility for her welfare.
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If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about a man who discovers his youngest son isn’t his and keeps the secret his whole life.