Like the black and white contrast of a photographic negative, Gabriela Guardardo’s life today differs starkly from the holiday season she had with her daughter last year.
Hearing her friendly laugh accented with a smile, no one would know she was a victim of domestic violence for years.
Last year Guardardo left her husband, who, court records show, has a history of domestic violence against her, including three convictions for assault. At one point he was set to attend a domestic abuse program, which was waived in lieu of an anger management program, according to court records.
Now separated from her husband and living in the Brownsville-Harlingen area, she says the hardest time last year was around Christmas.
The catalyst for leaving her own violent situation once and for all, making her determined not to go back again, occurred earlier this year. In February a close friend, who had four children and who Guardardo said was also a domestic violence victim, was killed. The friend’s husband was accused of killing his wife and, according to jail records, is now in jail awaiting trial on a murder charge.
The two women with their children had combined their households after they became friends in a shelter.
Guardardo is visibly saddened when asked about the slaying. Her eyes lose their brightness and the lilt in her voice is gone.
Guardardo, who still carries her friend’s photo with her everywhere she goes, recalled exactly how she felt then, saying, “I didn’t have anything anymore.”
But that sadness and violence is being healed day by day.
Guardardo recently secured a two-bedroom apartment for her and her daughter, while she continues to look for a steady job.
Her daughter turned 10 in November and the family moved into the first home they’ve ever had all to themselves. Guardardo and her daughter lived with her husband and his in-laws before she left him.
After leaving, Guardardo took nothing but clothes for her family. They face a tough holiday season with only a used pull-out sofa bed and a few dishes in their new apartment.
Guardardo’s ultimate dream is a washer and dryer, saying with a smile, “Just because we are poor doesn’t mean we can’t be clean.”
Furniture like a bed, mattresses, nightstands or coffee tables to make their apartment a home would help, as would clothes or shoes for her growing daughter.
Guardardo describes herself as a person who usually doesn’t ask for charity, but she’s worked up the courage to do so now because she realizes she needs the help.
“I don’t want to take advantage, to be honest, but I’m starting with nothing. Nothing … I don’t want you guys to make my life easy, but give me the resources and I will do it.”
Guardardo said her struggle with physical and emotional abuse as a result of domestic violence began 14 years ago.
The 32-year-old mother said she and her husband met in 1996 and married in 2002 after she became pregnant. She said she felt pressured to marry because she didn’t want to continue to have a baby out of wedlock.
The noticeable scar on her left wrist, she said, is a reminder of a violent incident during those years. Her frequent back pain, the result of being thrown to the ground during a domestic fight, she said, is another tangible reminder.
Police, she said, were all too familiar with her address then.
“It was hard because one time the police officers went to my house and one of them said ‘Man, you’re still here?’ … (The officer said) ‘I start my duties with you,’” Guardardo said.
She unsuccessfully tried to leave her husband in 2008, she said.
Added difficulty came with what has turned into a two-year process of legal wrangling to obtain court ordered protection and make a life for her and her daughter, she said.
Today, she shares her ordeal with other domestic violence victims to give them hope.
“I try to help,” Guardardo said. “We don’t ask because we’re ashamed. We’re embarrassed and we don’t know what to do. A few times I’ve heard the words ‘Well, you’re stupid. Why did you stay in that relationship for so long?’ It’s not because you want to be in that relationship or you want to stay. You don’t want to stay, but you don’t know where to go.”
Currently, Guardardo has finished computer classes and plans to pursue her GED while continuing to be a parent volunteer at her daughter’s school.
She has a dream for her daughter: college.
But for now it’s one day at a time, starting with a new safe and stable home.
Relying on each other’s mutual strength has helped her and her daughter reach this new turning point, she said.
“We’re OK in a way, like my daughter says, ‘It’s OK Mommy, we’re together. No matter what we’re together,’” Guardardo said. “Like I tell her every single day, ‘We don’t have nothing, but we have each other and that’s the thing that nobody can take away from us.’ Right now we only have each other and that’s what makes us strong.”