Gail Marvin said she still feels hands on her throat, even though she hasn't seen her attacker for nearly four years.
In 1997, Marvin and her two young children escaped from almost three years of domestic violence meted out by her then live-in boyfriend.
Despite lingering physical and emotional damage, Marvin, owner of The Cutting Edge Hair Salon downtown, has gone from surviving off food stamps to building a flourishing business. She's gone from victim to victor.
"I have real goals for my business," she said. "I want to remodel and expand. ... I want to end up with something positive out of all of this."
The relationship between Marvin and her abuser began as any "normal" relationship could. She met Ty Harding - who later admitted the abuse in court - when they were both 16. They were "basketball buddies" in high school, she said. She trusted him.
They started dating more than a decade later. The relationship ultimately produced one child. They had a normal courtship for the first month, she said. He was romantic - flowers and sweet words - and then the threats started.
"We'd been dating a month when he told me if I ever cheated on him he'd kill me," she said. "I guess I didn't take him seriously at first. This was my buddy from school. Then after awhile, I believed him and I was just afraid to leave him."
She said she marked the passage of the next two years in bruises, black eyes and promises that this would be the last time.
"I just felt like I couldn't get away from him," she said. "I didn't think I could take care of myself and my kids without him. You know, people beat you down and tell you that you're nothing long enough and you start to believe it."
On April 5, 1997, the violence escalated. According to the police report filed from the incident, Harding started choking her while she was sleeping. When she broke free and ran to the phone to call police, he grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly punched her in the face, the report said.
"I remember him coming into my bedroom. I was asleep in my bed. ... He was screaming that he knew I had cheated on him. He climbed on top of me.
"I just remember his hands were so big. When he was wringing my neck I felt like I was outside my own body watching what was happening. ... I never asked for it. ... And I never did cheat on him."
Her son from a previous relationship witnessed the attacks, she said.
"No little boy should have to see that," she said. "There would be blood on the walls from when he'd beat me. I have permanent neck, jaw and nerve damage. My son still has nightmares of seeing his mom being thrown into a wall."
Even though she was scared, Marvin said she pursued charges against Harding and filed for a protection order in court prohibiting him from visiting or phoning her.
"I wanted to get my kids out of that environment," she said. "I didn't want them to see that and then grow up to do the same thing. I wanted to get them out of that cycle of violence."
Harding pleaded no contest to a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence assault April 8, 1997, according to the judgment filed in court. For beating up Marvin, he received a sentence of six months at the Gastineau Human Services halfway house, a $5,000 fine, anger management classes and five years of probation.
According to log notes of testimony given by Harding at a protective order hearing, he said he was "very sorry for what happened" and "wished her (Marvin) well." According to a letter written by Harding included in court records, he said the anger management classes helped him to realize what he did was wrong and that he was learning to deal with his anger in a nonviolent way. Marvin said she has not spoken with Harding for almost two years.
"Sometimes I'll think I see him on the street or I'll hear from someone that he may be in town," she said. "I still feel his hands on my neck when I think about him. I can't stand that. For the longest time I couldn't understand why I still felt his hands on my neck. They call it anniversary scars. I'm still scared."
Marvin did what she could to keep her home after Harding was out of her life. She said it wasn't easy. At times she was on public assistance trying to balance medical bills from the assault, counseling for anxiety attacks and taking care of her two young children.
"I could barely work," she said. "There were times I could barely get out of bed because I was so stressed out by everything."
She knew her kids needed their mom. She had gained the courage to leave and needed to keep going, she said. She decided to use the beauty school skills she had aquired before her relationship with Harding. With financial help from Tlingit-Haida Central Council, public assistance, and inspiration and encouragement from local hairstylist Lucille Kam, she pursued advanced training in hair styling in Seattle. By 1999, she had enough education, experience with local stylists, and money saved to open her own shop when space became available downtown.
"My kids make me strive," she said. "They made me want to get my education and start my business. Now I have people from all over coming here for a haircut. I have people telling me I'm good. I get to make people look good and feel good."
Marvin also said she wants to advocate to get more services in Juneau for battered women and children.
"I'd tell other women not to put up with abuse - not physical abuse, mental abuse or emotional abuse. It's all damaging," she said. "I had people tell me I'd never be anything, that I'd never make my own money and now I have this business and I'm doing really well. ... I found a way to believe I was my own success. You have to believe you are your own success or you won't make it."
Melanie Plenda can be reached at email@example.com.
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