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By Tracy Crawford
I was 16 years old when I met Hunter. It was 2004 and I had just started my first job. He was two years older than me, funny, and didn't care what anyone thought about anything, really. He was different from everything I had ever known, and I was instantly hooked. We were inseparable from that summer on.
Fast-forward four years. We had bought our first house together, I had graduated college with my Associate's Degree, and we had gotten married. Most importantly, we had welcomed our beautiful daughter into the world just after our first wedding anniversary, making her two years old by this time.
Life, in my opinion, was about as perfect as I could ever imagine it being. We both had great jobs. We took vacations. We were your typical, middle class family. Nothing special here, folks.
Virginia Beach, August 2010
That is, until that fateful day in early September of 2010. I remember getting a phone call from Hunter at about 2 AM. He had just left for work. He told me that he had wrecked his car coming back to the house for his GPS, and asked if I could please come and pick him up and take him to work.
I didn't think twice -- I bundled the baby up, put her in the car, and went to rescue him. When I got there to pick him up, he put his gun in the back of my car. When I questioned him about it, Hunter answered that he had taken it to work recently to show one of the guys. I thought nothing more about it and took him to work.
It's lunchtime later that same day. I'm getting ready to leave the office, when I get a phone call from a detective with the police department. He tells me that my husband has been arrested for armed robbery, has confessed and has been booked into the county jail. He needs me to come down for a little chat.
In a daze, I leave work and drive 60 miles back home. I don't even remember what questions I was asked that day. The only thing I could think about was my two-year-old daughter who suddenly didn't have a father, and how I was even going to begin to explain that to her. Not to mention I was responsible for breaking the news to his parents and siblings. The next few days flew by in a blur.
After all of his court dates were said and done, Hunter was sentenced to 6 years in prison. If everything went well, he would be eligible to try for early release after three-and-a-half years. We settled into a routine of twice-monthly visits, which is all he was allowed, and phone calls every few days.
In the beginning, I truly believed I could stick it out and remain by his side through it all. It was hard, but wasn't life supposed to be hard? Aren't the good things supposed to be worth waiting for? I also blamed myself. What had made him think that armed robbery was a better option than telling me he needed money?
My biggest worry was that when he got out, he wouldn't want to be married to me anymore.
It's been one year now since Hunter and I separated, and we've officially been divorced for six months. He has served two-and-a-half years of his prison sentence, and could possibly be out as early as one year from now. Our daughter is four-and-a-half years old, and if you ask her, she'll tell you that her daddy is in "time out."
I still take her to visit him every two weeks, and they talk on the phone frequently. I think it's important that she has a relationship with her father. I don't influence her opinion of him, and I don't speak negatively of him; she can form her own thoughts on that subject when she is older.
As for why I filed for divorce, the reasons are many. First and foremost, I don't think I could ever really trust Hunter again. I know that good people make bad mistakes, but once that trust is gone, sometimes you can't get it back. I can't live the rest of my life wondering if he will do something similar to me and my daughter again. I have to protect us from feeling that pain.
Also, having time apart from someone really makes you examine the relationship. Hunter and I were kids when we started dating, and in my heart I believe that we just grew apart. There is no doubt in my mind that he still loves me, but it's a love that I can't reciprocate. I care for him as the father of my child, but I am not in love with him.
Although it might be selfish, I couldn't stand the thought of spending the rest of my life with someone I did not love with all of my heart. He deserves, just as I do, to be with someone who appreciates him and can return his love.
In the past two-and-a-half years, I have learned so much about myself. I have learned how strong I can be, for myself and my daughter. I have become a better version of myself. I know exactly what I want from life, and I’m not afraid to go after it.
Sometimes I think of how life would be if that day in September were just a horrible nightmare, and you know what? I don't want that life. If I had to do it all over, I would still choose this path for my tiny family.
I never really learned how to be my own person. From the age of 16 on, I was part of a whole. To be honest, I never thought I could survive, and even thrive, on my own. It makes me feel powerful to know that I can. I have a great job, I support my daughter 100% on my own, and we lead happy, fulfilling lives. We go to museums, we have picnics, and we lie around and talk for hours. If this had not happened to us, I doubt that our relationship would be as strong as it is.
At the end of the day, I will always believe that everything happens for a reason. This tragedy has made me a better person, and because of that, a better mother to my daughter. For that, I am thankful.