Domestic abuse survivor hopes others learn from her mistakes

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on March 15, 2013 at 10:42 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 16 at 4:46 PM

EULESS -- She keeps busy in her Tarrant County apartment; making jewelry, painting furniture, turning trash into treasure.

She's become an artist. And she was told she never would.

"It's a terrible thing to have fear of someone," said Geraldine Zillions, who legally changed her last name, while remembering the panic she used to feel on almost a a daily basis.

She spent almost 20 years with a man she says regularly abused her. They lived in Florida. She now lives in Euless.

"Even know talking about it makes me shake, because you never get over these things when you talk about them," she said. "It's almost like living it again."

She can still feel the fear. And she did Friday.

She was getting a new tire on her vehicle, when a young couple walked in the store.

"She was kind of rebelling against him, talking against him -- in a playful way though. And he slapped her. Not hard at all, it was just like he was playing. I noticed it right away," Geraldine said. "And I thought, 'She doesn't know what she's allowing right now.' Because that was the beginning of my abuse."

Early on, she said, they would wrestle and horseplay and it was supposed to be funny.

"But it started escalating," Geraldine said.

She remembers one incident leaving a grocery store. She said he was angry with her because she'd been inside longer than the five minutes he'd told her she had.

"He came in and pulled me out by my hair," Geraldine said.

He threw her into the front seat and with their children in the backseat, "all the way home he beat me," she said.

"One of the blows from his fist went into my teeth, knocked my teeth back. I felt it, and I heard it crack. I lived for years with those teeth. I never told him," she said. "Can you believe I never told him? It was like I wanted to protect what he had done. That's the way domestic violence makes you -- you protect the person."

He told her she'd never leave.

Her children are the only reason she did.

"I realized the boys were being hurt. I saw hurt in their eyes," Geraldine said. "I was not going to let them have to endure this any longer, because it's on me now, and they were going to look back and say, 'Mommy you didn't bring us out of this.' That day I prayed. I said, 'God, if you will help me get a way back home to Texas, I will never go back.' And I never went back."

It's been 13 years.

Zillions hopes women in abusive relationships see her escape as an inspiration. And she wants other women to realize it's up to them to help those looking for a way out.

"Do not judge," she said. "I've been judged many a day by women - 'Why didn't you leave?' 'Why didn't you do this?' - Sometimes you don't even know why you stayed so long, y'know?

"If there is anybody out there who is this way, I ask you to change your ways," she continued. "You're making an individual so dysfunctional that they can't manage on their own."

Her art work is symbolic: she sees hidden potential where others don't. She uses recycled cans, old perfume bottles, even pieces of candy in creative ways to create art and jewelry.

She has a tree in her home she calls her "Therapy Tree." The decorations on it change with every season.

"It gives me happiness when I wake up and have something planned that day that I want to paint or work on," Geraldine said. "That's my joy. It keeps my mind occupied. Not dwelling on the past."

She's determined to find a store to sell what she creates.

He told her she'd never become a designer. She wants to prove him wrong, again.

"Once I left him, my focus was on Geraldine, not on him telling me, 'You're this and you're that.' 'You're pretty today, and tomorrow you're ugly.' I had to focus on Geraldine, knowing I'm worth something."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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