The Story of Tabitha
Written by Stacey Trombley
“I told you — leave me alone.” My voice shook, fear and anger filling my veins. My cellphone grew hot against my ear.
The streetlights flickered in the night as the words of the note left on my windshield seared my brain.
It was a threat written in sloppily scribbled letters.
Hands trembling, I called the one who’d left the note.
“I have my ways,” he said, his voice low and serious. “You’re going to let me see her again, or I’ll take her from you.”
I shivered and slammed the car door shut.
How could he do this?
Everything he said to me. Everything he did to me. Every shameful thing.
All of it washed over me like a flood.
I couldn’t breathe.
“I know you’ve been talking to that boy a lot.” My mom looked at me sternly.
I rolled my eyes. Here comes the talk. Just because I was 17 didn’t mean I was stupid.
Earlier, my friend Heather had introduced me to a boy, but I wasn’t even that into him. Steven just kept calling me, and I kept answering. It wasn’t a big deal.
“So, I’m worried.” She held up a packet of papers, and my eyes narrowed.
“What is it?”
Record. As in criminal. I bit my lip and waited for her to ream me for befriending a criminal. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. He made some mistakes, but it was mostly a big misunderstanding. These were all the things he’d told me about the trouble he’d been in.
I didn’t detect anger in my mother’s face, but fear, so I paused.
I flipped through the papers, one by one.
The words “sexual assault” jumped out at me.
The fresh air felt good against my skin as I left work that night. The wind blew gently through my hair as the sun lowered in the sky.
Then I saw him, leaning against my car. I froze.
The boy with a criminal record. The boy who may or may not have sexually assaulted another girl. But, also the one I’d talked with on the phone a million times. I tried to remember that guy who liked Mustangs and music and laughed at all my jokes.
Which person is really Steven? I wondered, my eyes darting from his face to his big, broad shoulders, then to the ground.
“Hey,” he said with a smile. His dark, curly hair flipped into his eyes, and he swiped it away.
“How was work?” He asked so naturally. So normally. Like I hadn’t been ignoring his calls for weeks.
“Okay. Same as every other day.”
He took a sip from the Pepsi in his hand, then smiled. “I brought one for you.”
He held a bottle out to me, and I paused, glancing at my car. I want to go home. My parents would not be okay with me being here.
I squirmed for a moment and thought through our last phone conversation. How he had told me I was wrong about him.
My mom didn’t trust him. Could I?
He knew where I worked, a fact he’d just proved.
Do I dare say no?
His eyes were stern, but his smile stayed.
I reached for the soda bottle.
Months passed. He kept showing up after work. I felt guilty each time I talked with him. He wasn’t a great guy; I knew that. But I also feared him.
One morning, I woke with my brain full of fog. A groan escaped my lips as I tried to shake myself free of the sleep that clung so doggedly.
Except this felt like more than just exhaustion. My whole body ached. My head pounded. Am I sick? What did I do before bed? I couldn’t remember.
I’d been at work; I remembered that part clearly. Steven was waiting for me again, leaning against my car as usual.
My stomach sank, guilt squirming through me. My parents didn’t know about that. They couldn’t know about that. I wasn’t supposed to be seeing him. They’d spelled that out to me.
So I lied to them, the parents who loved me.
I hadn’t said a word about the continued attention from the boy who scared me because the alternative scared me even more.
After a few long breaths, I pulled myself out of bed and walked down the hall, but paused to look out the window. My car sat parked in the driveway. Why don’t I remember driving home? Had I driven myself home? What time had I come home?
I blinked to shake the fuzziness from my mind. It didn’t leave.
My mother shot me a look as she passed me in the hall but didn’t say anything.
“What?” I asked quickly. I’d been so tired lately, and this grogginess didn’t help my mood.
“Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been different lately.”
You mean how I’ve been too tired to function? Or the weight I’ve gained?
“Are you sure?”
“You’re pregnant.” The doctor folded her hands.
I held my mother’s hand like it could keep me upright.
The day twisted out of control from there, but I didn’t feel any of it. I couldn’t process it when they swirled a machine against my belly and showed a baby on a fuzzy black-and-white screen and told me I was five months along. Five months.
And I didn’t know it?
How did that happen?
I didn’t … I don’t … remember.
My mother just held my hand.
Clicking the call button that day was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. I didn’t want to hear his voice. I didn’t want him to exist. But I had to know.
“Hey,” he said, low and smooth.
“I’m five months pregnant, and I don’t even know how this happened.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me how this happened.” My voice shook as tears welled in my eyes.
“You know how it happened, Tabitha.”
I choked back a sob. No. No, I really don’t.
What did you do to me?
“What happens if …” My mom shifted in her seat in the doctor’s office but didn’t take her hand from mine. “What happens if she doesn’t remember?”
I swallowed and looked down at my feet, so ashamed. What kind of person doesn’t remember getting pregnant?
The doctor froze, turning to carefully study our faces. “Well, now that you say it, I did notice something during her exam.”
I jerked my head up.
“Everything is fine,” she said quickly. “Just, there was a bit of damage. Scarring.”
I closed my eyes, and the rest of her words didn’t register. Damage. I was damaged.
My mother and the doctor kept talking, but my mind was distant. I vaguely registered a conversation about drugs and how anything would be long out of my system by now, so it was unlikely they could prove anything.
The doctor then told me all my options, and though it was hard to process everything, I didn’t want to terminate the pregnancy. I was numb but thinking logically. I’ve got to take care of this baby.
All I knew as we left the office was that I had barely started college, but I was going to be a mother.
The nurse smiled. “You’re gonna have a baby today.”
Like so many other things in that previous few months, her words shocked me. They shouldn’t have. After my large pregnant belly dropped, suddenly lower and closer to the birth canal, my parents took me into the hospital.
But it felt so much like a dream. I pushed through, knowing in my head what I had to do, but that didn’t mean I really believed it. Almost as if the numbness that had filled my head and limbs after my days spent with Steven had lingered, even months later.
My body was in the hospital, doctors and nurses talked to me, hooked me up to machines and did checks, but my mind was elsewhere. According to the machines, my contractions were hitting hard, but I didn’t even feel them.
I’m going to have a baby. Today.
The doctor broke my water to hasten the labor, and with the rush of fluids came pain. All of a sudden, every contraction hit me like a truck, my whole body clenching.
Later, the doctor gave me medication to stop the pain, and things began to slow. My mother left the room for a few minutes, leaving me alone. That’s when another nurse came to question me.
“Where is the father?” she asked. The lines of her face were hard, her mouth straight, not quite a frown, but nothing like a smile.
My stomach tightened. “He’s not in the picture right now.”
“That doesn’t matter. This is his child. He should be here.”
I shook my head. “You don’t understand …”
“You owe him that.”
Do I? “You don’t understand …”
She frowned but eventually left me alone.
As the contractions grew more and more intense, so did my surroundings. So many people came in and out of my room: doctors, nurses, even medical students from the local university.
Lying in a hospital bed, ready to have a baby only four months after I learned of my pregnancy, between semesters of college, 19 years old, with strangers watching like I was a science project — it all made me want to cover up, hide. But, like so many other things in my life, it felt like I had no choice.
Though the process seemed so rushed and urgent, somehow, it was still hours before I held the baby in my arms. I studied her face, her tiny little hands, pretty eyes and plump cheeks. She was my responsibility. An innocent life, my little girl, whom I determined to keep. I had continued going to school right up until the weekend before her birth, and I would continue after. Once I graduated, I’d be able to care for her without needing to rely so much on my parents.
The pain medicine lingering in my veins made it hard to focus. I heard the door slam against the wall, and a large figure barreled into the room.
I stared at Steven and blinked. How did he find out I was here?
My focus jumped to Lorelai — my name for her — as she lay in the bassinet, swaddled tightly in the hospital blanket. Safe. Quiet. Warm. But the air around me felt anything but those things.
I watched as my father’s face drained of all color. He leaned against the wall like it was the only thing stopping him from attacking the boy who’d gotten me pregnant without me knowing it.
“I have to leave.” My father gritted his teeth and looked hard at Mom before he fled the room. I didn’t know what my father would have done, but I didn’t want a fight, so I felt relieved when he left.
My mother stood next to the bassinet, placing herself between Steven and the baby.
Though she tried to convince Steven to leave, he refused. “This is my baby. I deserve to be here.”
I squeezed my eyes closed.
“No, you don’t. You’re not paying for this. You haven’t taken any responsibility here. You deserve nothing. You need to leave,” my mother said, taking a step forward.
Steven turned to me. “Do you want me to leave?” His jaw clenched, his eyes hard and unblinking.
He doesn’t care about my well-being. He just hopes to use me as ammunition.
I closed my eyes. “I don’t want a fight. That’s what I want.” I didn’t know what to think. Does he have a right to be here? Maybe it’s wrong to force him to leave.
Hours ticked by, my consciousness drifting in and out. A mix of exhaustion and pain medication made my brain fuzzy, but I could feel the tension in the room, and I briefly wondered if Lorelai could feel it, too. When I woke, Steven was gone and, with him, much of the tension.
Finally, it was almost time to take the baby home. We just needed to complete the birth certificate process.
Steven marched into the room just at that moment.
He stood over my shoulder and demanded to be put on the paper as her father.
“Do not put his name down,” my mother said through her teeth.
My eyes darted back and forth from Steven to my mother to the health department lady standing there waiting.
“If he’s the father, he needs to be on the birth certificate,” she said.
I swallowed. But my mother wouldn’t back down. She was adamant that his name shouldn’t be on the certificate, that he didn’t own that right.
My head pounded, and I closed my eyes. They keep battling over this small, stupid thing.
“Just put his name down!” I finally said. “Just do it, and let’s move on. I can’t handle this anymore.”
My mother stilled, her body stiff, and I hated to disappoint her.
I watched as Steven wrote his name on my daughter’s birth certificate.
“Not going to church this morning?” my mother asked.
“No.” I forced a smile. “Going to see Steven today.”
Her eyes were sad, and I couldn’t honestly admit if I was going because I wanted to miss church or because I felt I needed to drive the 40 miles to take Lorelai to Steven, as he insisted.
Guilt pressed down on my shoulders like a weight, a weight I carried every day. I couldn’t rid myself of the shame of what I had done, the lies, the sneaking around. Sometimes it was a challenge to look my mother in the eye, and walking into church was even harder.
But I also knew she didn’t approve of me taking Lorelai to see him, just as she hadn’t approved of me putting his name on the birth certificate. As if that gave him a right she didn’t want him to have. Maybe that was true.
“If you don’t let me see her, I’ll take you to court.”
I just wanted to do the right thing, but Steven’s threats made it hard to think clearly. Every choice hurt someone.
So little Lorelai snuggled in her car seat to visit the one person I wished I could avoid forever.
I avoided eye contact with the father of my child as I sat on the yellow carpet with Lorelai. She smiled at me as I played with her. Steven sat across the room in a green armchair, just watching.
He never held her. He never played with her. He hardly looked at her.
It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t her he wanted to see.
“I want you,” he told me.
His words dug into me like a knife. Shouldn’t he want his daughter? Isn’t that the point?
I shook my head. “I’m not interested in a relationship with you.”
He kept pushing me, trying to convince me to be with him, but with force and pressure, not kindness.
I tried to focus on Lorelai, but his harsh voice rose higher and higher. Soon, my voice rose to meet his, and my own anger and fear flooded from me.
“I’m just trying to deal with this, Steven!” I said between heavy breaths. “I’m here because of her, not you. Because you pressured me to do what you want, just like before.”
“Come on,” he said, his eyebrows raised, and I hated the suggestion in his look. Like I had wanted all of this. Like it wasn’t him who pushed it on me.
“I wasn’t raised like this.” Shame filled me again. “You … you made me lie. Made me sneak around …” I couldn’t even voice the rest. “You don’t get that I’m ashamed — of all of it.”
He stood up and walked over to me. He loomed over me. “Then, marry me!” he said so forcefully I flinched. He paused, letting the silence settle between us. “Unless you marry me and make it right in your eyes, I won’t pay for anything.”
I clenched my jaw and looked down at Lorelai. I couldn’t marry him. I wouldn’t.
Squeezing the steering wheel so tight it hurt, I pulled out of his driveway. Tears poured down my cheeks, but it was Lorelai’s little broken squeals that really got me.
She was so small, so helpless. I was the one person she had in the world, and I was broken. She knew it. She could feel it. My anger, my fear.
Her cries turned to screams, and my heart crumbled.
“I’m sorry!” I called to her.
How this affected Lorelai, not Steven’s threats, bothered me most.
She was so little, so innocent. I had to protect her, but I didn’t know how. There had to be something I could do. There must be a way to fix this. But how?
“What happened?” my mom asked when she saw my red eyes.
She brought me into her room and held my hand as I told her about my fight with Steven. I told her of my terror and how I felt so lost.
Her hand was soft and warm, but her eyes were confident. She told me she believed I would find a new life and a man would be a part of that. A good man.
I rolled my eyes, not believing for a second that I would ever be able to get married.
“I’m serious,” she told me. “I’ve been praying for you. Praying that God would provide, and he told me he would.”
I swallowed. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t.
“God loves you, and one day a good man will walk into your life and prove what unconditional love really is.”
“Mom, I’ve already given up on that dream. I’ll be a single mom …”
She shook her head and smiled. “I know you will be okay without a husband, Tabitha. You’re strong. So strong. But God showed me the man who will come into your life and help you along a little.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I didn’t see his face or anything, but I do know that he’s going to fall in love with her first.” She looked down at Lorelai, her fine hair and plump cheeks, resting so peacefully. “He’s going to love her, then you.”
My heart ached for this dream, but I didn’t believe it. My reality was too dark to see any light.
Steven kept calling. I kept ignoring him and eventually changed my phone number. I tried to pretend I was strong, that he couldn’t get to me, but he terrified me.
What else will he do? I wondered. It was like waiting for a bomb to drop.
If I can’t have you, no one will. His words chilled me. They replayed in my head every day. A reminder of what he could do.
On my way home from class, I drove through town. At a stop sign, I glanced into my rearview mirror and saw a familiar face smirking from the truck behind me. My heart stopped. Steven was following me.
I quickly pulled forward, not wanting to show how much he affected me, how much he scared me. He followed me nearly all the way home, even when I went the long way around. Then he finally pulled away and left me alone. I was sure he followed me as a reminder. Yet another way he could threaten me.
Everything I tried made it worse. Somehow, I’d gone from pressured and threatened to stalked. I couldn’t get free of him. Will this be my whole life? Never ending? Inescapable?
The burden of fear and anxiety, the shame and guilt, built up day after day. I tried to get a restraining order after he started following me, but the woman at the office refused to issue one because he hadn’t hurt me. Isn’t that the point? To stop him from hurting me?
I kept trying to find some way to fix the problem, but nothing seemed to go in my favor. My parents tried to protect me; they insisted I call and let them know where I was periodically, when I left work to go to school or if I saw anything that worried me.
But Steven still tormented me, always in my head. He knew exactly what to say to scare me.
One night, I left class surrounded by several of my fellow students.
When I reached my car and found a note wedged into the door crack, my jaw clenched, and my stomach twisted.
I ripped the paper from the door and quickly got in the car, bracing myself for what I would read. My hands shook as I unfolded the note. I read the words. Three times.
I threw the note aside and jammed the car into drive, knowing I had to get home, the only place I ever felt safe.
“I know where you are. I’m watching.”
Those words alone were bad enough, but he didn’t stop there.
“If you don’t let me see her, I’ll make sure social services takes her from you. I can break into your car without anyone knowing. I’ll plant drugs.”
I picked up my phone and called him. The second he answered, I screamed at him. I told him I wouldn’t let him do this to me anymore.
“I have my ways,” he kept saying.
I hung up on him and rushed into my house.
My mom and dad jumped up when they saw me. I crumpled onto a chair, and the flood of emotion washed over me.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked with a panicked voice. But I couldn’t speak.
My beautiful baby girl waddled up to me, tugging at my clothes. I pulled her onto my lap and wrapped my arms around her, pressing my teary eyes against her precious baby-fine hair.
Dad gently brushed my hair from my face and asked again what happened. I finally got the words out, and he insisted we call the police again.
That time, they actually filed a report about the note.
It felt like a victory for a moment. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it would backfire like everything else I’d tried.
I didn’t know how to break free of it. Of him. I didn’t know how to move on.
Walking through the church doors for the first time in way too long terrified me.
I remembered, when I was younger, putting my hands together to pray for Jesus to come into my heart. I was really involved in church then, but I started falling away in high school and stopped going entirely when Steven came into my life. I still wasn’t sure I belonged there.
But, week after week, the pressure I felt eased, and I became more comfortable sitting in the pews. I opened the Bible and read soothing words.
An old friend encouraged me to join their college-aged small group. But I wondered, How many of them have kids? How many of them have someone stalking them day and night? Would I really fit there?
Her persistence won, and to my surprise, I enjoyed being around the people in the group. People who, to my surprise and relief, supported me.
I’d known as acquaintances some of the people in the group, having grown up in the same church. Including Charles.
The first day Charles hung out at our house, something I never expected struck me.
My beautiful little girl, who usually acted so shy, so uncomfortable around men she didn’t know, spoke enthusiastically to Charles about her favorite toy cars. He lowered himself to the floor at her level, pushing them around and laughing.
“What’s his name?” he asked her about one car.
“That’s Doc!” she told him.
I watched in awe, and an old conversation with Mom popped back into my mind. He’ll fall in love with her first.
A little rush of recognition flowed through me. Almost like God was telling me, This is what I could give you.
The room was dark with a blue hue, thanks to the colored lights above the stage. A small crowd of my college-aged peers gathered around to listen to an older member of our church speak.
Slowly, I’d opened back up to going to the church, but with small steps. I was prepared for an inspirational talk that night, but I wasn’t ready for how those words would hit me. Words so intimate, they seemed meant just for me. Words I needed to hear more than I ever knew.
“You can’t control the past,” the man said, “but you can do something about your future.”
The shame of my past still pressed in on me, making it hard to breathe.
My fear of Steven controlled my life, not my trust in God.
“Turn everything over to God, no matter how big it seems. No matter how bad it seems.”
My hands shook as I thought through it all. How much of it I held on to. What I’d done. What had been done to me.
I tried to hide the tears welling in my eyes as he told us that God had forgiven us, no matter what we’ve done; he loves us. But we also need to forgive ourselves, he added, or we’ll never be free. You can’t control the past, but you can do something about your future.
I’d been trying to figure it all out on my own, but that only made it worse.
The speaker quoted a verse from the Bible:
“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).
A powerful rush of love fell over me as he spoke. I wanted that. I needed it.
I realized how much I’d been pushing God away, not because I didn’t believe he would forgive me, but because I couldn’t forgive myself.
But I had a mighty God on my side, if I’d just let him take care of me.
So, in secret, I made a promise. I would let go of the past — let go of my fear of Steven — and stop trying to free myself. If God could forgive me of my shame, I would forgive myself, too.
From that day forward, I would trust God, even when it seemed impossible.
Through the amazing support of my new church friends, I worked up the courage to bring Lorelai along to some of their events.
Circumstances hadn’t changed much since I’d vowed to surrender my fear to God, but somehow things felt easier, lighter.
I packed and got us ready to head to the beach. Charles came to pick us up, but as I led Lorelai to the truck, she screamed. Her arms flailed, and she pushed away from the truck, her eyes wide and tear-filled.
I hated that she feared trucks. Steven had a truck.
I tried to calm her, told her I was there and it would be okay, but she wouldn’t listen to me.
Then, Charles came over and calmly picked her up. “Hey, hey!” he said with a soft but firm voice. “It’s okay.” His voice was smooth and sweet. “Your mom is going to be right here. We want to go to the beach, right?”
She stopped squirming.
“We’re going to go and have fun, and your mom will be right here. It’ll be okay.”
Lorelai climbed into the vehicle, still sniffling but willing. I stared at Charles in total wonder.
We played, swam and chatted at the beach. It felt so good to have fun, to not worry every second of the day. But I still watched. I looked down the beach and froze when I noticed a tall figure watching us.
Charles noticed immediately. He walked over and placed a gentle hand on my arm. “Everything okay?”
I swallowed and looked him in the eye. I wasn’t sure.
“Did you see someone? Should I be worried?”
My gaze returned to the tall man, but I shook my mind free of the fear as he caught a football and shifted enough for me to see his face. It wasn’t Steven.
“It’s fine,” I told Charles quickly. “I’m good, thank you.”
And I meant it. I felt so comfortable with him. So safe. He couldn’t have been kinder or more opposite of Steven.
The day after Christmas, I went on my first official date without my daughter since high school, with this guy who was so sweet and patient — with my daughter and with me.
Charles loved Lorelai. Maybe, just maybe, he will love me, too.
I trusted that God would provide exactly what I needed, and I let myself hope that Charles might be the person who would complete our family.
I reminded myself of the Bible verse that gave me hope. Is this the plan you have for me, God?
I couldn’t stop smiling as we sat in the dark theater and he put his arm around me. My stomach flipped, my head spun. These were feelings I didn’t think I’d ever feel.
We talked and laughed and smiled. He knew of my past and the threats I lived with daily, and I noticed how he watched me and our surroundings, looking out for anything that might be of concern.
I also watched warily, wondering if Steven would find a way to ruin this relationship.
Charles walked me to my front door like a gentleman, and I loved every second. When he leaned in and so softly, so gently, pressed his lips to mine, I was amazed at how I felt. Cherished. Safe.
I thanked God with everything I had that night and every night after.
When I received a court order in the mail, I gasped as I read the words confirming that Steven was suing for custody of Lorelai. Will it start all over again?
But Charles stood beside me and assured me that God had it under control.
I faced the thing I’d dreaded for years, the one thing Steven held over me constantly.
But, I thought of everything that had changed. How I had changed. I reminded myself of my promise to God to trust him to take on my battles. I clung to the Bible verses that spoke of his promise to me, to each of us, that he has a plan, and it’s a good one.
I couldn’t do this on my own. I tried that, and it was terrifying and never worked in my favor. I kept reminding myself, My God is big. Bigger than this. Bigger than Steven. Bigger than my fear.
God had already placed in my life the things that I needed, I realized. A hand to hold. A future I could see every time I looked into Charles’ eyes.
I walked into the courthouse with Charles but stopped when my eyes landed on Steven. Already my breathing was heavy. Charles immediately led me back outside.
I’d face Steven, but not yet. So, before I entered a room for the deposition, I filled myself with the encouragement and love that Charles offered so selflessly.
Then, in the courtroom with lawyers and paperwork, sitting across from Steven, I looked him in the eye. It felt strange to face the man who’d made my life terrible for so long and feel no fear.
This wouldn’t be the end of our legal battle. This was just one step but my biggest one yet. I faced my giant.
So, when I left, my face flushed and my stomach uneasy, I smiled sadly at Charles, and I let myself believe I would win.
The court papers came in periodically, with months and sometimes even years between them. The case lingered, and the court finally dropped it after many years of Steven being inactive.
I married Charles, and we had a beautiful baby together, making us a family of four. One of our children’s pastors became the new pastor at Bear Creek Assembly of God and invited us to join him. When we walked through those doors the first time, we felt like we were home.
The worship music played as teens gathered in groups, laughing and playing.
God has brought me through so many things, I thought as I watched them.
He brought me through unbearable terror and gave me a life of hope and love. He followed through on his promise to take care of me, keep me safe. Wherever God led me, I hoped I could share that life-changing love.
Not my plans, but yours, God.
My eyes followed a girl named Faith as she laughed at every joke and worked her way into the circles of chattering teens, trying so hard to make them like her.
She reminded me of myself as a teenager. Would she one day meet someone like Steven? Could I, through my story, help her avoid making the same mistakes?
Fear used to control me. But not anymore. I walk each day with a powerful God and a good man by my side. Given the chance, I want to share that incredible change. The girl I was back then couldn’t imagine the kind of hope and peace I have now.
I prayed these kids, and my own, would say the same one day.