When the one you love, becomes the one you fear
I could not believe this was happening. The man I married, the man that fathered my children, could not be capable of such a thing. I sat in a hotel room riveted to the television set as images of John flashed across the screen. It was surreal. I walked up to the TV, put my hand on the screen—and whispered, “What happened to you?”
I was a zombie, not the real Mildred, the one who dreamed of simply being a good wife, a good mother and a good servant to God. I had just left a police station where an officer had looked me in the eyes and proclaimed, “Ms. Muhammad, we’re going to name your ex-husband as the sniper.”
For two years I had looked over my shoulder for two people: John, my ex-husband who had promised to kill me, and “the D.C. Sniper,” who had terrorized the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area where I lived by randomly killing people. Now I was forced to reconcile that there was only one man—that John, the man who used to cuddle with me at night and fuss over his children during the day, was also the terrorizing gunman.
I remembered what John once told me: “You know I could take a small city and terrorize it and they would think it would be a group of people. But it would only be me.”
Still, this was John posturing, wasn’t it? Talking was far different from actually killing. Yet when police asked me if I thought John was capable of doing something like this, I surprised myself by not hesitating for one moment to reply, “Yes.”
I knew he could kill. He was a military man and had fought in a war. I also knew that he had promised to kill me because he believed I had taken his children away from him. And I knew John to be a man of his word when it came to a threat or a promise of revenge. Still, over the harrowing months during which one person after another was gunned down by the man labeled as “The D.C. Sniper,” not once did I think of John. Not once. It was unfathomable. The sniper had to be a madman. The sniper had to be inhuman. The sniper had to be like someone I had never known.
Now I was recalling every frightening comment John had ever made to me. He once said, “When a man hits a woman, it means that he has lost all respect for her. It would be easy for him to kill her after that.” But I did not foresee, not even in my wildest nightmare, that John would ever kill people who had nothing to do with me or our troubled marriage.
I stepped back from the television and realized my son was crying and my daughters were weeping into their pillows. I turned to console them, though I had no idea what to say. I held them close. They were scared. I was, too. In the past several hours, we had all learned that John was the sniper suspect and that police were searching for him. Then we had to hurry to pack and police sped us away from our house and to the hotel room where we were being held under police protection.
It is amazing how exhausting trauma can be, even when it is not accompanied by physical blows. The news had pummeled us. My son had nearly passed out when he heard the news. My girls were spent from the weight of one question: How could their father commit such a reprehensible act?
Once the children went to sleep, I tipped into the bathroom to let go of my own emotions. I had been “the good mother” for my children. I had comforted them until they closed their eyes. I had been the strong shoulder, the consoler. They only had one parent left and they deserved a good one. I turned on the water in the bathtub and sink faucet so they could not hear me. I sat on the cold floor of the bathroom, buried my face into a pillow and sobbed. I cried for hours, hoping that by daybreak when the children woke, I would be ready for the great unknowing that awaited us.
It was October 23, 2002. It would become a day of demarcation for me and my children. Before this date, my son and daughters were like other children, barely aware of the challenges that adults faced. But after their father was publicly named as the sniper, I watched the light in their eyes grow dimmer.
They knew that the worst things were possible. That one day you could be romping in the yard with your parents and on another day you could sit in front of a television set, your heart nearly beating out of your chest, as you watched armed police officers search for your father.
When the person you love becomes the one you fear, you are scared to the core of your being. Everything you thought was real has become an illusion. It is disconcerting. You feel as if you are falling into a deep hole and there is nothing to hold onto because everything you thought was there is gone. You slip deeper. And deeper.
John was going to kill me, and now I knew that he had conspired to kill other people just to create a smokescreen. Soon I would learn all the details of how he planned to kill strangers and then shoot me down and have police blame it all on “the D.C. Sniper.”
But he got caught. Thank God, he got caught. When the person you love tries to kill you, the pain is unspeakable. How do you explain such an act to anyone? To yourself? What can you possibly say? I had been a girl with simple dreams.
One of my greatest prayers was to be a good wife. Now I thought of the many ways in which John had dismissed me and diminished my existence. I heard his familiar retort, “I don’t mind because you don’t matter.”
I was thankful he had not killed me, and I grieved over those whose lives he had taken. I cried for their families, too. But the silencer on John’s gun had silenced me in another way. Shame cut off my tongue. Fear paralyzed my throat. Surely people hated me, I thought. I was the reason innocent people were killed. A bullet did not take my life, but it would be years before I found my voice. Meanwhile, every gentle word I thought of I used to help my children heal. This is what a good mother does.
It took months, even years for my own healing. But now, seven years later—finally—I am no longer Scared Silent.
To order your autographed copy, click here...