I’m Fighting for a Life
Written by Gabby Dunai

**Content Warning** Gun Violence

I’m fighting for a life.  
But not in the way that you might think. 
I’m fighting for the life of my son.
I’m fighting a perpetrator threatening to end the hope I have for my son’s life.
That seems to be the foundation of our relationship, my son and I.
To fight a perpetrator threatening to end life.

My life. 
Our lives. 

If the threat was not pointed directly at my temple, it was in the hands of the father of my son as he assured my son that if he were to tell a teacher, a therapist, CPS, or a police officer anything negative – if he was to speak the truth of what was happening in our family – I would be killed.

The father of my son was the largest perpetrator I’ve known. From the moment my pregnancy began. When a gun, which I thought my ex always kept locked in a case in his vehicle, appeared in his hand from a drawer in the bedstand when I was five months pregnant. After he pushed me onto the bed and then held me at gunpoint while he proceeded to sexually assault me.

From that moment forward, I never knew where the gun was located. Until it appeared in his hand when he shot holes in our furniture.

In pillows.
In my personal items.
In the wall of our garage inches from where I stood.

In the split seconds between hand raised, pointing, and pulling the trigger, I thought I was in the bull’s eye. I thought my life and the life I was carrying would soon be over.

It is over ten years later and I can still feel a bruise inside my chest cavity from my rapidly beating heart. I can still smell the gun powder and I can still hear the gun going off. It was just three days before I was induced into labor to bring my son into this cruel world. With the hope that my son would not be exposed to an abusive environment as he grew up. I didn’t want his childhood to resemble mine.  I had the intention the cycle would stop with me, and my son would know a safer world. I still hold onto that hope. That my son will know a safer world. If only I could have realized my intention for my son’s childhood.

I tried.  

Three weeks after my son was born, I left my ex with just a diaper bag of his items. I never physically went back. But my ex saw to it that not physically returning didn’t matter. For nearly a decade.

Multiple assaults, stalking, property damage, text messages, incessant litigation,  and showing up at my work with death threats affirmed I didn’t need to be sharing a home with the father of my son to endure abuse. My ex, willing my son to know with an unwavering belief that his mom would be killed, sealed a certainty that I was not free from this individual who relentlessly wanted me to know my footsteps were unwanted on this planet.

Weaved into almost a decade of these actions was the ever-present gun, appearing suddenly, like when my son and I were ambushed passing by a stairwell in our apartment complex. The gun pressed against my temple.

My son, the witness.  

Neither my son nor I felt safe to call the police after my ex got scared and ran off. We didn’t know the next time or where a hand holding a gun would appear suddenly out of the shadows and my ex would make good on his threat. Neither my son nor I wanted to play Russian Roulette. Weaved into this time were Personal Protection Orders. My ex saw those as sheets of paper to target practice with. Well, maybe not literally. I don’t know. But certainly, he didn’t adhere to them. The PPOs didn’t stop the threats to kill me.  Nor did they take the gun away. 

That gun was a barrier to reaching out to law enforcement. As long as I knew my ex always had that gun within reach, I needed to take his death threats seriously that if my son or I talked, my son would be without the only parent who had his back, fighting for life to keep him safe.

Fighting for him to know a safe environment. Home. School. Community. 

Fighting for the hope I hadn’t lost that my son would become an adult, feeling safe in the state he lived in and that his footsteps on this planet were worthy and wanted. I didn’t want my son to experience being afraid to share he was being hurt. There have been enough hidden stories through enough generations because of the fear of repercussions or because of feeling ashamed or unworthy. Or because of the fear for one’s life.  Or that of one’s family.

I didn’t want my son to ever witness a gun being held to the temple of his mother’s head, both my son and I holding our breath waiting. Would this be the last time I looked into my son’s eyes?  And his, into mine?

I know you can’t walk in my footsteps. I hope you don’t know what it is to have a barrel of a gun against your temple. The best you can do is what you are doing now.

To learn and listen.
Advocate for and support.

I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Don’t ignore our stories and our pain any longer.