Shawnee Mission Faces: April Parks, domestic violence survivor and mother of three

Editor’s note: This is the story of a domestic violence victim who chose to identify herself to the Post and share about her firsthand experiences of surviving and escaping an abusive partner. Her story contains content some readers may find disturbing and could also be triggering for some readers. April Parks is going on the record, she says, because she wants people to understand how challenging it is to walk away from an abusive relationship. Click here to access this list of victim support services provided by the Overland Park Police Department.

 

Warning: This story contains content that some readers may find disturbing and is not recommended for sensitive or younger readers. 

April Parks, a domestic violence survivor, considers herself one of the lucky ones as she and her three daughters escaped a violent situation in Texas and built a new life in Kansas.

From a young age, Parks says she lacked a structured home life as a child and helped raised her siblings while going back and forth between Dallas and Denton, Tex. She got excellent grades, was involved in school activities (mostly to stay away from home), leaned heavily on her Christian faith, and tried to see the best in others. 

After walking away from 11 years of verbal and physical abuse, the pain of her ex-husband’s extramarital affair and his lack of support when she was diagnosed with cancer, Parks says she now wants to impart wisdom for those struggling to escape their own situations.

She studied criminal justice in college and has spent much of her working life in early childhood education and as a certified nursing assistant. She currently works in the pharmaceutical industry. She’s even started dating again, she says. 

Back in the day, Parks loved boxing; she still follows the sport. But above all, she loves music, especially singing and playing guitar and piano. She enjoys drawing, reading (mostly science fiction, fantasy and biographies), and getting outdoors as much as possible. She’s currently reading through The Vampire Huntress Legend Series by L.A. Banks.

She lives in Overland Park with her three daughters and a rescue dog named Oscar.

It’s been a year.

When I met him, it was good at first. We were just like any regular high school couple. always in love, always around each other, walked to school, families knew each other, like we were just real close.

But in high school, there was always signs there that I decided to ignore, like, there would be people coming up to me saying, hey he shouldn’t grab you like that, or hey, he shouldn’t say that to you.

And I would say, well I mean, people talk like that to each other. From both our backgrounds, it tends to happen mostly in African-American culture background, that we see our parents grow up arguing and fighting with each other all the time. To me, it was normal, like oh that’s OK.

I started seeing a lot of red flags when it came down to mostly how he would talk to me. Even though it was untrue, even though he would call me dumb or stupid or something like that — ‘cause I made great grades in school — I would still ignore it ‘cause I’m just used to that.

My family sensed the fact that there was something wrong with his family. They were really mean to me. My family did not like the way that they treated me, so they would try to keep us apart. And I think that was another thing, my rebellious side came out at the same time, you’re telling me not to be with someone, trying to control my life, I mean that’s any girl.

But I should have listened. I should have listened.

He was very manipulative, but basically, he knew my background, and he would use that against me, like oh your family doesn’t love you, your family doesn’t care about you, even his family, his mom would tell me, your family kicked you out, they don’t want nothing to do with you, so I took you in to take care of you. It wasn’t true.

And he would use my kindness against me.

I was devoted into church, so I always tried to see the best in everybody. And he would use that against me, like oh I’m trying to do better or I’m going to do better, or you’re a praying woman, you should pray for it and God will help you out of this situation, stuff like that.

We ended up getting married the week when our first one was born. And we moved in together. I felt like I was too young to understand by myself that this isn’t a good thing. But at the same time, I was rebellious. I was a grown woman, 19 years now, in college and I felt like I knew what was best for me and my child.

I felt like God wants me to stay in this marriage, and God wants me to pray about it and be strong. And this is another point I want to make to women in church. I am heavily into the Bible, heavily into church, I am every word, every aspect of it, it’s like a blessing to me. He knew that.

So we had the second one thinking that it’ll make things better. It didn’t. It just progressed to get worse and worse and worse, to points where he’s smothering my face with pillows, he’s slapping me in front of his family members.

He would say his family thought I was a very attractive woman, so every time I walked by or something like that, his family would be like oh, she’s trying to get attention from other men, because of the way I looked.

So I would try to dress like a 40-year-old woman. I didn’t even like my clothes, I just did it to make them comfortable with me. I would walk on eggshells to make him happy and make his family happy.

At that point, the physical abuse was leaving scars on my body. No friends. You get tired of people telling you, oh you shouldn’t stay in the situation, but you also get tired of seeing people walk away from you because you don’t want to walk away from the situation.

Like, you lose friendships because you’re ashamed of what you’re going through, you don’t want people to see that. Being outside the home, that’s where my peace was.

At work or somewhere, people actually saw me, who I was, so I felt like if they met my husband and got into the atmosphere of me and my husband, then they would see the side of April I don’t want them to see, the quiet, timid, scared-to-speak, scared-to-do anything type of woman.

I hate to see people feel sorry for me, feel bad for me, to the point that I decided, after having the third one, it wasn’t nothing different. It was actually getting worse. I couldn’t be me. There was things that I liked to do, like singing, anything that brought attention to me, he didn’t like that. His family didn’t even like it.

He would slap me in front of his mom and everything, and the mom would do nothing about it. It was always something I did wrong, it was never something that he did wrong.

During pregnancies, that was another thing. He was still abusive. He’d still be hitting, hurting, anything, to the point that he got abusive with the kids. And in 2016, everything just hit the fan.

I started seeing messages on the phone from work from a woman, and I was wondering what was going on. Ended up finding out he had an affair at work, and it wasn’t just any affair. This is a woman that I would pick up, I was nice ‘cause like I said, he always used my kindness against me, she would never have a ride to work, she was always walking.

So I left and moved to Dallas with my grandma in 2016. And he followed me, he wouldn’t leave me alone.

He ended up moving in with my grandma and everything, not giving me the space that I needed, just making sure that I just never forgot about him. To the point that my grandma would be like, oh he’s a nice guy, he’s sweet, he’s this, he’s that. They pushed me to get back with him, and I ended up moving back to Denton with him and trying to start over.

The biggest wakeup call was I had gotten diagnosed with cervical cancer, they caught it in the early stages, so I had LEEP surgery. I thought that since I got diagnosed with cancer, that he would act different, maybe feel bad for everything he did.

He was a true narcissist to the point, then I started realizing, after 11 years, was I really in love with him? Was I ever in love with him? Was it circumstantial? Was it contentment? Or was it that I just wanted a two-parent household, something that I never had, a two-parent household for my children?

I told him the only way that we would work is if he gets help. I wanted him to get help ‘cause he wasn’t the standard drug addict, smoke and drinker, he didn’t do that. He just was angry all the time.

That was a year before I left.

By this time, I was pretty fed up with everything going on, so he felt like he wanted to save our marriage. He decided let’s move to Kansas.

He ended up getting accepted to transfer down here to Overland Park, this was in March of last year.

God always has a plan. And he set up everything perfectly to the point that we were both supposed to both move down here at the same time, but all of a sudden, a day or two before it was time to move, his manager asked him to stay for a couple of more weeks before he moved here.

I decided well I’m just going to go ahead and move to the house ‘cause we already pay rent and I could be getting everything in order. And something in my gut said you go to Kansas, I need you to go there. So I went with my gut and went there.

We have never lived with each other since then, [because] I started realizing how happy me and the girls were by ourselves. And I started to feel the weight off my shoulder. I was scared. What can I do? How can I live? He took every aspect of the personality that I have. I didn’t know who I was by myself.

But in the back of my head, I always knew, one day, I’m going to have to walk away from this. If I don’t, what am I teaching my daughters? And what am I doing to myself?

After moving here, I told him I wanted a divorce, I took him off the lease and everything like that, when he was still in Texas. So he drove all the way from Denton, Texas, to come to sneak up on us one night in Overland Park.

In my gut feeling, I knew something was going to happen that night, ‘cause I didn’t doze off till 2. In my mind, I was restless. I was like, something’s going to happen.

Four o’clock in the morning, I’m hearing a noise at the front door. I guess he tried sneaking up on me, but I’m a light sleeper. I heard the noise, and see him walking up the stairs, and he goes straight to my phone, tried to open my phone. I said no, you need to leave, you need to leave.

It was a control thing, he felt like since I didn’t want him in my phone that I had stuff to hide. The point is that it’s not hiding, you’re not in my life now, it’s none of your business, leave me alone.

He wouldn’t leave. He was just like no, I’m not leaving. I said you need to leave, we’re not together, you’re not on this lease, I will call the police if you don’t leave.

But I’d never really called the police on him before, so he knew that I’m probably just bluffing. When a woman is abused, you think you really got a hold on them, but at this point, when you’re done, you’re done.

Next thing I know, he goes in the kids’ room, grabs one of our daughters, the oldest one, and tells her, open your mom’s phone right now. She starts crying, saying I don’t want to be in this, I don’t want to be in this. That’s how bad it was.

And he was like, open her phone. She said no. And I said you should go or I’m going to call the police. All I really wanted him to do was leave. But he did not.

Next thing I know, he grabs the oldest one, puts her above the stairs and says I’m going to throw her down the stairs if you do not give me the lock to the phone.

So I called the police and the police came, and he was all tough ‘cause he believed that the police wouldn’t do anything. He said this is my home, I can be here if I want to.

Moving here, like I said, God works in mysterious ways. I didn’t want to press charges or anything, I told him I just wanted him to go. I didn’t want to get him in trouble with the law. They told me Kansas has zero tolerance for domestic violence, so the state will press charges, not you. They took him to jail.

He got bond and ended up going back to Texas the next day, but he ended up being charged with child endangerment, domestic violence and criminal threat. And they gave him probation, they didn’t give him jail time, ‘cause it’s his first time getting caught.

They figured out I had severe PTSD and high anxiety, because he would wake me up out of dreams saying stuff like oh, I was visualizing me putting a pillow on your head and shooting you with a gun.

I’m telling you, like now that I’m looking back, you would think that it’s just crazy how you get so caught up in thinking that nothing’s going to be better or you can’t do better than that.

On top of that, I had high blood pressure, health issues and stuff, just being in an 11-year marriage with him, and I’m coming from a background where I’m healthy, I was in sports, I was the most healthy, outgoing person you’d ever met, but ended up being overweight, stressed, cervical cancer, sick everything.

God forced me out of that situation because if I didn’t, either I was going to end up dead, or, just like any victim, might snap and one day, it was going to be one of us fighting for survival.

So it was time to finally say enough is enough, I deserve better, and that there’s more to life than a sad story.

I’m not going to hold back from any possibility of having a good life. And I don’t want to teach my girls to have any type of hate in their heart. I am very in love with how I have three beautiful outgoing girls, none of them are mean, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I want people to realize, if he hits you one time, he’ll hit you again, if he cusses you out, he’ll cuss you out again. Never take more than one chance of dealing with someone, because that person’s not your problem.

Us as women, we start saying oh, I can change him, I can make him better, I can change his family, let me just read the Bible, let me just pray, or let me just be prettier, let me be more quiet, uglier, I would try to do everything to tone me down, to the point that I’m like what is the point of losing your own personality?

There’s always someone that’s going to love you and cherish you, and you don’t have to settle for whatever. People want to make you believe that you should settle, and you shouldn’t. You just shouldn’t.