Her abuser was an ordained Catholic priest who had formerly been an Episcopal priest. And he was her husband for 23 years.
When she would get a haircut, he refused to speak to her or look at her for two days. After that period of silencing, he read passages from the Bible referencing women having long, flowing hair and told her God wants women to have long hair and that her salvation was in jeopardy for not following these words of God.
He ridiculed her hometown, her high school, the university she graduated from, her singing abilities in church choir — nothing was off-limits for his belittling remarks.
Without regard for what might be going on, he required the family to show happiness by ringing “happy bells” he installed in the pantry and would admonish them if they had not rung the bells that day.
His idea of physical affection might be to stand behind her and grope one of her breasts so hard that it threw her body off balance unless he used his other hand to press against her back firmly enough to keep her from falling. He then responded to her objections with scriptural passages referencing “the two shall become one flesh.”
Her story will relate how her husband responded badly to any form of criticism from her or others. “We walked on eggshells — it was just easier than dealing with the psychological abuse otherwise.”
Her children went through therapy to help them process the impact that abuse had on their lives. They went so far as to legally change their last name because of their experiences witnessing their mother’s abuse.
These are a just a part of Tracy Rector’s story about her experiences with intimate partner abuse that she will courageously share with the audience at the upcoming Celebrity Chefs event on Jan. 21 at the Hurst Conference Center.
The longstanding foodie event is hosted by Mid-Cities Supporters of SafeHaven to raise money to benefit victims like Tracy and her children. One in three women in Tarrant County is a victim of domestic violence, and reportedly there were 16 deaths in Tarrant County last year resulting from intimate partner violence.
Tracy believes she must summon the courage to tell the folks attending the Celebrity Chefs event about her experience because the community must be educated about these kinds of problems so they will support SafeHaven’s programs that will save lives. It’s a big reason why she is now the president of SafeHaven’s board of directors.
“It took me years to realize I was in an abusive marriage. I never had bruises — never had a reason to go to the ER because of it. But it destroyed my self worth and nearly broke my spirit,” Tracy said. “Some close to me asked the question: ‘Why did you stay so long?’ Honestly, I thought domestic violence was violent. I didn’t know it was also about power and control,” she added.
Tracy will tell the audience about the moment in 2004 when she realized she had to make a change even while she couldn’t reconcile her feelings about breaking the wedding vows she had made. And despite the assumptions that go along with being a minister’s wife, she began to recognize that she was also experiencing what some refer to as spiritual abuse.
“I knew I had to climb out of the darkness, push to the surface that female strength in my DNA and leave my abuser. I finally realized and accepted the fact that I was never going to be good enough or smart enough, and, most assuredly, I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life. Plus, I knew I needed to do something to show my children I didn’t see our marriage as a good example for them of a healthy relationship.”
Guests at the Celebrity Chefs event will undoubtedly be moved by Tracy’s story and before the night is over, many may realize for the first time the value of the prevention programs that SafeHaven provides. Tracy will speak of the prevention programs in Nairobi, Kenya where 1 in 4 women were victims of rape, but education has reduced this by 50 percent. She will talk about the evidence-based connection between domestic abuse and sexual harassment and the connection between domestic abuse and mass shootings.
Veterans of the popular Celebrity Chefs event know that some of the longtime participating chefs have loved ones or friends who have experienced domestic violence and this experience motivates them to continue their involvement in the event.
The evening is always a festive one as 17 chefs from the area’s top eateries serve up delicacies from the signature dishes on their menus. Organizers have chosen “Eat. Drink. Give.” as the theme for evening that begins with a cocktail and appetizer reception featuring the smooth jazz stylings of Liz Mikel, star of stage, screen and TV.
Mary MacDowell from Mid-Cities SOS is co-chairing the event with Anna Saunders and said that such dishes as the buttered lobster mashed potatoes, candied lamb lollypops, and Napa and Sonoma Valley wines will make guests realize that “giving never tasted so good.”
“We want guests to sip, taste and mingle while bidding on luxury trip travel packages at our big board [auction] or try their hand at our Casino Royale table to win high-end wines,” McDowell said.
Partygoers can purchase a raffle ticket for a chance to win a $1,500 gift card to Market Street, a “Need for Speed” ride in a 430 Ferrari, airline tickets, golf and dining outings, and mystery restaurant gift cards.
It’s a fun free-for-all atmosphere at the party as guests circulate among 17 tasting stations to be served all-you-can-eat selections from each of the celebrity chefs. After everyone is sufficiently stuffed, the generous chefs present themselves on stage where the bidding for their gourmet dinner packages are auctioned off to the highest bidder.
And while everyone there will delight in the mouthwatering foodie experience while they socialize with others, more than their appetites will be satisfied as they realize they are helping SafeHaven continue its mission to end domestic violence and to serve other women and children like Tracy and her children.
Tracy’s poignant story will wind its way to the present with a message of hope to where she is now happily married for the past three years. But even now she lives with frightening reminders of her past experiences. If her husband accidentally leaves a door unlocked, she is terrified momentarily when she returns home alone to discover it. It’s a painful reminder of the stalking experiences she endured when she left her first marriage.
Her abuser would cruise the street back and forth in front of her home and phone or email her relentlessly with threats saying that she was the one ruining their family and destroying the children by disobeying God. He even left packages inside her living room to show that he could get inside if he wanted to and attempt to demonstrate that he had power over her. By saving the evidence of his threats, she was able to obtain a restraining order while she was waiting on their divorce to finalize.
She will illustrate the value of the education programs that SafeHaven has developed for high school students. “I could have benefited greatly from the prevention education when I was younger. I would have been better informed to recognize the signs of abuse in our dating relationship.”
I hope Tracy will read to the audience a poem that her daughter wrote for a college writing assignment entitled “Breaking Free.” It is simultaneously a heartbreaking example of how domestic abuse destroys a family and damages those involved as well as an expression of hope and healing.
The fundraising evening of culinary magic will feature Chefs Jon Bonnell (Bonnell’s & Waters), Susan Clark (Sweet Memories Cakes & Catering), Todd Phillips (J.R.’s Steak & Grill), Donatella Trotti (Nonna Tata), Jason Harper (Trio New American Café), Siegfried Schafner (Hurst Conference Center), and Deb Cantrell (Savor Culinary Services).
More mouthwatering food will be served up by chefs Andrew Huszar (Tastefully Yours Catering), Jermaine Brown (Great Scott Restaurant), Luciano Salvadore (Il Calabrese), Bill Trevino (Craft & Vine), Charles Youts (The Classic at Roanoke), Ying Aikens (Next Bistro), Isaac Walker (R Bar & Grill), Michele Ragazzini (Loveria Taste of Italy), Jordan Ray (Trophy Club Country Club) and doughnut artist Rod Moruss (Peace, Love & Little Donuts).
“It’s going to an upscale supper club feel,” said MacDowell. “Our guests are in for huge treat during the reception where Liz Mikel, a star of ‘Friday Night Lights’ who has also appeared with Ben Stiller and Martin Lawrence, will perform.”
MacDowell added, “We also will focus on the rise of domestic violence in Tarrant County. Instead of 1 in 4, we are now at 1 in 3 women. This has got to stop. As a community, we must stand united and scream out, ‘Enough!’ ”
Tickets to Celebrity Chefs are $125 each (and would make a good Christmas gift). Purchase at www.mid-citiessos.org/celebritychefs/ or email CCTickets@mid-citiessos.org.
“There is no better common denominator that can unite people more than food, wine and giving back,” MacDowell added.