Editor’s Note: This article is part of “Spotlight,” a recurring series featuring CNMI personalities. To suggest a person to feature in this section, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“My name is Jacqueline Crisostomo and this is my story. I am a survivor of domestic violence and depression. I overcame the pain and found a better reason to be here. I do not walk this journey alone, I am here to walk with other survivors. I am a living testimony that we all can find our peace and healing…”
Domestic violence wears many faces. Today, we feature one of those faces, one that belongs to an amazingly strong woman, Jacqueline Crisostomo, a survivor by every definition of the word. Through her story is the hope that those who still are in abusive relationships would see hope and regain the strength and the courage to find peace, to break free, and to take back control of their lives.
About eight years ago, in 2011, Crisostomo moved to the U.S. mainland, in pursuit of something new and challenging. Born and raised on Saipan, Crisostomo joined the U.S. Army, a decision that was not easy for her and her family.
“The ride through my career has been a roller coaster over the years, but somehow I still keep finding the strength to push on,” Crisostomo said. “I am proud to say that I serve today not just as a soldier in the U.S. Army, but as a Chamorro from Saipan.”
In May 2014, a little miracle brought its presence into this world. Crisostomo’s daughter, Vialanni, was born. The world stopped when this new mom heard her daughter’s first cry. The following month, Crisostomo got married.
“I married the man who I pictured to spend the rest of my life with, my daughter’s father,” Crisostomo recalls. “He was my best friend, the love of my life and the man I always pictured to be with. He knew how to fill my love tank, for me to continue to serve him as my husband.”
Despite being of different cultures, they understood that marriage is not about trying to change one another, but in finding what they love in one another, and building that common love so they would become stronger as a couple.
Their fairy tale did not last, though.
“It may be hard to read or believe but, trust me, it is harder for me to share my story as my family doesn’t know what I’ve been through. If any of my family is reading this today, I want you all to know that I am doing better today and I have found my peace.”
Dec. 14, 2015, was another usual Monday in their household: Getting ready for work and getting Vialanni ready for day care. A little conversation escalated into an argument that became a heated moment that has never been seen before in their home.
“I could remember it so clearly—my daughter sitting at the dining table, crying and yelling hysterically as my ex-husband shoved me against the kitchen counter,” Crisostomo recalls. “I remember yelling ‘Stop! Vialanni is crying.’”
“He then placed his right hand around my neck as I tried to say ‘You are choking me.’ There was a long break in my memory—I couldn’t hear, see, or feel anything. [When] I finally opened my eyes, trying to catch my breath while he has standing over me, I saw his lips moving and the anger in his eyes.”
Crisostomo could not hear nor remember what her ex-husband was saying as she lay by the garage door, held hostage in her own home, without a way to seek help.
At first, her ex-husband took her keys and phone but she finally managed to break away when he gave her the car key so she could go to work. Crisostomo then drove off, spoke to her boss, and asked to make a visit to the emergency room.
“Then there I was at the ER, lying in bed, surrounded by so many people asking the same questions, ‘What happened?’ ‘When and where did it take place,’ ‘Do you remember what happened next?’”
“Everything was a blur to me, I felt so confused on how I ended up in the ER,” Crisostomo recalls. “I felt an excruciating pain in my head. I started to get dizzy, [and was] throwing up hours later. I found myself bleeding out on my bed in the ER. Bed covered with blood, I sustained an internal bleeding that led me to bleed out.”
Crisostomo had bruises on her neck and arms, but she was unsure how they got there. She felt a big lump on the left side of her head that was bigger than her hand. Later, the doctors determined that she had sustained a traumatic brain injury and a swelling in her brain and head. That swelling lasted three months.
As if it was not enough, several individuals wanted Crisostomo to change the report she filed through the military and the police department. She received threats through her ex-husband’s family and others that he worked with.
“I was afraid that my daughter would hate me one day if she found out her father wasn’t around because of the report I filed.”
The abuse or violence did not stop there. After being served with divorce papers a few months later, Crisostomo, as she was dropping off the rest of her ex-husband’s belongings at his home, got her life threatened again.
“He pulled me and carried me into his home against my will. He slammed me into a wall and again grabbed me by my neck while others watched,” Crisostomo recalls. “I was afraid. He then yelled ‘someone get the gun so I could shoot this b***h.’”
Crisostomo thought at that time that that was her dying day.
“I knew he was capable of doing such thing with all the anger I saw in his eyes and the force I felt from his hands, but I was able to get away as I reached for my [smartwatch] to make an emergency call. I ran out of there in tears, shaking from the words he said.”
Crisostomo then entered a point in her life where she fell into severe depression and anxiety, where she shut all her emotions and just did not care for anyone or anything in the world.
In September 2016, Crisostomo did something she is not proud of. She took steps to take her life away. At that time, her daughter was with her father. She pulled her pistol out of a closet and loaded the chamber.
“I sat there in my living room thinking to myself, ‘I didn’t want to feel this pain anymore,’ ‘I didn’t want to feel controlled by fear that someone else could take my life,’ ‘I didn’t want to remember the day I was in the emergency room surrounded by strangers asking me questions I was unsure of,’ ‘I didn’t want to keep reliving that moment of fear.’”
Crisostomo was ready to pull the trigger when something moved her to glance over her right shoulder. There, above her fireplace, was a collage of her daughter’s pictures and the photos of everyone Crisostomo loves. She dropped the gun and burst into tears.
“My daughter Vialanni has been my strength, she has been my peace. I found my comfort in her presence and my joy in her smiles. That was when I knew that I wouldn’t want to leave this world, I wouldn’t want to miss all of her journeys.”
In May 2017, a new journey started for both Crisostomo and her daughter. The military granted Crisostomo’s request to move to a new duty station for her peace and safety. She took the “most difficult decision” to leave Vialanni with her parents and moved to Texas alone.
This is when Crisostomo started her process of healing and of accepting all the pain that she has gone through.
“I was in search of not a new me but, instead, a better me. A better person, mother, sister, daughter, and a better soldier. I took time off for myself, allowed myself to enjoy life. I was somewhere new, no one knew me or my story. I wasn’t walking on eggshells, thinking people were judging me because of what I’ve gone through.”
Crisostomo found herself smiling again, eating healthy, and back to being in the gym (her second home). She was not yet fully healed but she knew it was a start of something better.
In September 2017, Crisostomo received a call from the District Attorney of North Carolina to inform her that the state was ready to reach its verdict on her case, and to ask if she would be willing to stand before the courts.
“There was a long pause. It felt like my blood rushed through my body. I felt pale and, all of a sudden, all I saw was his face. There I was in tears as I responded ‘I am not ready to see this man again. Do I really need to come back for this case to close?’ The DA responded, ‘No.’”
Five months after, in February 2018, Crisostomo’s lawyer called to tell her that her divorce has been granted through the courts of North Carolina, and that she is, again, a free woman. She found herself crying tears, not of pain, but of joy.
“It was like a load of bricks was taken off my shoulders that day. My healing continued and slowly, I was finding someone I never knew was in me. I loved the feeling. I never found myself feeling out of control again. There and then, I knew I found my peace.”
Crisostomo knew she has completely healed when, a few months after, as she was telling her story to a friend, she did not shed a single tear.
“I forgave myself for being selfish and allowing myself to lose control. I forgave the man that caused me emotional and physical pain. I thanked God for allowing me to go through this journey…”
Now, as she continues to enjoy and survive through all the obstacles of life, Crisostomo finds peace in her daughter Vialannni.
“I know I am here today because of her, to watch her grow, to witness all her sorrows and joy and to show her how beautiful life can be. Today I am home because of her, I uncapped that bottle and threw it in an ocean so deep.”
Crisostomo also has this to say to say to those who are still suffering from domestic abuse.
“Do not be afraid to reach out for help,” she stressed. “Do not fear the words that may come out of someone else’s mouth, fear the words that you do not speak about but think about when you think you’re ready to give up.”
Crisostomo is no longer behind a wall these days, hiding from the world.
“Coming home, after eight years, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I came home in search of something, but I didn’t know what I was looking for. I then found me again, that island girl who loved the beach, who loved the late-night talks with once a stranger and now a friend, the girl who finally allowed herself to feel again. I found my peace back home, I am free and I am in control.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For more information about supporting survivors, call the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence at 234-3878, the Family Violence Task Force at 664-4584, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at thehotline.org.