Story by LISA ANDERSON
“I became a prisoner. I wasn’t allowed out of the house. I wasn’t allowed to see friends. I was allowed to see family members only when he allowed it. He cut my hair and told me how to dress. It was a nightmare. Any dignity I had was somewhere under my shoes, because I had no say in anything that was happening to me anymore.”
Before Marianne Gennaro started a new life in Ocala in 1994, she lived a nightmare. “No matter how I tried to get out of that situation by running to shelters that were just deplorable or running to the police, who would put blinders on to what was happening, they would say to me, ‘Take it to court.’ This abuser was my husband, and I had four children,” she recalls.
From Choices to Hospital Beds
“When you’re brought into this world, you don’t get to choose your parents or family. I was brought up in a home with verbal abuse, lying, cheating, and there was always drama. So, when you’re fed that, you grow into a co-dependent adult making poor choices,” Marianne explains.
“My poor choices led me to a domestic violence situation. Now, knowing my spirituality, those choices led me to be the woman I am today.”
For a time in the 1970s and early 1980s, her path led her to an impossible situation and life support. “I would get beat up and be in the hospital. One time, the children were picked up by the police, and they didn’t want to bring them to the police station. They brought them to my parents’ house. The kids were in the back [of the squad car]. The boys were old enough to understand that my father and step-mother turned them away. Back to the police station they went. When I got out of the hospital, limping and internally bleeding, I would go pick them up.”
Her husband would threaten to effectively end her life with an overdose, if she ever left him. In those days, domestic abuse was not acknowledged, and Marianne felt as though she didn’t have any choices. She eventually found herself back in the hospital, on life support with organ failure. Her doctors did not believe she was going to make it. “That was the doctor’s version, but not God’s. He had grace on my life, and life support was removed.”
Marianne awoke to find a priest by her bedside. He professed his joy in her recovery and told her how he had prayed for it. “Honestly, all I could say was, ‘Even God didn’t want me, and he sent me back.’ But I looked over and saw a picture of my children. I don’t know what came over me. That woman who didn’t think she had any options became this strong, confident woman.
“Through adversity, I had victories. Through my mess, I created a message.”
Finding Her Message
She still doesn’t know how, but Marianne found the strength to fight back and escape her situation. Completely free, she began to think of a new life. Marianne had been sending her kids to her father’s house in Ocala over the summer months so she could work. While on a visit herself, she was told, “You could start a whole new life here.”
Marianne heard the message. “I packed up everything and moved here on very little money and hope. I was able to start a whole new life. Was it easy raising four children by myself? There were a great deal of obstacles in the way.”
She did not let anything stop her. In fact, she landed a position through sheer grit, a bit of prayer, and saying yes to opportunities, and she has been with the company for 25 years. “I have a lot of respect in the industry for my work, and I was able to support my kids and myself. God has been good to me.”
Unfortunately, her past came to find her in October 2000 when she began having seizures. “Going through a windshield [during a car accident], the beatings, the coma, and all the things I went through in my life is now affecting me this way, but I refuse to give up. I know there are things he wants me to do. There’s more to the story, and there are many women out there that, if they only stepped into their strength, [would know] God will get them through this, and he has grace on their life. There are way more options now than in 1970.
“If you think your only choice is to stay in that abusive situation, it’s not. Just keep alert to what little signs are being given to you, and take those opportunities. Never say no. Say yes, even if you think you can’t do it, because, through that, you can find an opening.”
Marianne has become a motivational speaker and has spent many hours talking with both female and male inmates (or as she calls them, “men in blue”) about her story. Her message continues to help others. “I always had the desire to help individuals, even as a child,” she says fondly.
Her biggest message: Knowing you have the strength within you and allowing the littlest of opportunities to turn into the key to freedom.
Hear more of Marianne’s story at bit.ly/Marianne-YouTube.