This article is about Thanksgiving 1991 in Panama. This is the worst Thanksgiving I ever lived through and would catapult me and my emotions into some very dark days. I am so thankful that I am free of that life and 22 years later I know that I survived because of my friends, and family that rescued me in those dark days.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1991 started as a normal day for an Army wife stationed at Ft. Clayton, Panama. I was stressing about needing to go grocery shopping and totally dependent on my spouse to take me to the commissary because I did not have a license to drive.
I was surprised to see my spouse come back into the house and looking very distraught. He showed up at this unexpected time very upset and had that look on his face that he had to tell me some very bad news. I was panicking because I thought his job or our housing was in jeopardy. Once he sat down and told me that a friend of a friend was pregnant, I finally put all the pieces together. I had suspected for months that husband #1 was cheating on me but I didn't have any proof. Once he named this person, I was able to put all the pieces together and I became very upset. Not only is she pregnant but she had taken some medication that was supposed to dispose of the baby and it didn't work. So he then tells me that he is taking all the money we had left and taking her the next day (Thanksgiving Day) to get an abortion at a downtown Panama City Hospital.
I called my next door neighbor and asked her to watch the kids so that #1 and I could go for a walk to the park and hash out things without the whole building knowing what was going on. Once we got to the park, he asked me what I was going to do. I told him I was going to sleep in the baby's room until he could get me on a plane back to TN. His idea was to lie to my parents and tell them that money was tight and could I stay with them for a few months til we could afford for me to come back to Panama. I laughed and told him that my parents would never believe that. I did call my parents later that day and asked them if I could come visit for a little while and that money was tight. But I never blamed #1 for it at that time. It took me 3 weeks after moving back to TN to tell my parents what really happened and they had suspected it all along.
So, I woke up on Thanksgiving Day with nothing to eat in the house except for a loaf of bread and a 1 pound package of Tennessee Pride sausage in the freezer. Why was there nothing in the house to eat? Because #1 was an E-4 that had spent our money on the car instead of buying food and supplies for his family. We had been given a box of food for a traditional family meal on Thanksgiving, but when #1 found it, he threw away all the food we had been given because it embarrassed him to take 'charity'.
I recall getting a phone call from my mother in law on Thanksgiving and I lied to her that day and told her that her son was working and there was no food in the house. She told me to put the kids in the stroller and go to the unit cafeteria and they would feed a spouse and kids for $3.00 each. I had to then tell my mother in law that I didn't have any money to even afford that.
I ended up making sausage sandwiches for me and my daughter to eat that day and that night we were invited next door to my neighbor's house and they had a mexican feast that night. That is the night I learned to make authentic flautas from locals in the area. This dinner with my neighbor and my kids playing with her little ones are the highlight of Thanksgiving Day 1991.
My first husband would come home late that night and we decided then to put me and the kids on a plane back to Tennessee on December 1, 1991. The rest of the weekend is a blur of packing, crying and saying goodbye to all my friends I had made on base in Panama. Four a.m.on the morning of December 1st, we would be at Howard AFB so that me and my children could catch a MAC flight to Charleston AFB. I can still tell you what shirt my first husband was wearing and what outfit my daughter was wearing, too. Even as much as I was hurting, if husband #1 had said stay, I probably would have stayed there in Panama with him and tried to make it work.
The MAC flight had a layover in Honduras and I recall changing my 20 month old daughter's clothes on a dusty outdoor table (December is the dry summer season in Latin America) and her cute little white pants with purple hearts on them got dirty/muddy. The funniest memory of that flight to Charleston AFB is that when we landed and were off loading the plane and we were all in shorts and summer gear. I can still see my mom in the waiting area holding coats for me and the kids. My daughter caught sight of her "Nana" and took off running. 3 other military guys tried to grab my daughter (remember she is in a little purple tshirt and diaper running for her Nana) and I called out to all of them and said, "It's Ok, she is going to Nana!". That is how my daughter got through the security room that day. And that memory makes me smile!!
On that flight was a dear friend of mine who I will call K and she hugged me tight after we landed in the US and gave me her number and her address and though we have both divorced who we were married to in 1991, we are still in contact to this very day.
I share this entire ugly story to show you that GOD delivered me through the worst holiday of my life by putting my family there to catch me and I will never be able to repay them for all they have done for me over the years. But knowing my Mom was there to greet us on that day in 1991 will forever be one of my best memories around Thanksgiving.
I pray you take care of yourself this holiday season !!!
If you are in immediate danger, please call 911 for help. For a 24-hour National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).