Alicia McMahon arrived in America from Limerick at 18 looking for her American dream. Instead she found herself trapped in Colorado in  a violent marriage and fleeing for her life with her two young daughters. In her memoir “My Nana’s Voice” she describes her ordeal and triumph. This extract deals with her flight from her husband and finding refuge in a safehouse run for battered wives.

The book is available on Amazon.

We arrived at the safehouse, which was a very nice Victorian home nestled at the base of the foothills in Boulder. It didn’t look like what I thought a safehouse would look like. It was in a very nice neighborhood and looked like a normal home.  They showed us around the house. There was a big den where most of the women and children hung out in a communal area. The kitchen was big, too. It had two sets of tables and chairs and a little dining room off the kitchen which had a beautiful bay window.  

They showed us to our room and explained the rules of the house and the cooking and cleaning schedule. It was all barter. We were sharing the bedroom with another woman and her son. I had bunk beds and a playpen for Brennalynn to sleep in at the end of my bed.

It was tight quarters, but we didn’t mind at all. We put our stuff away and then Roxanne came in and explained the rules of the shelter. There were six other women with their children living in the house. We all had chores to do. We took turns making dinner and we had to keep our rooms tidy at all times. We had to sign out if we left the house and I could not leave the children unattended, ever. We had to meet with our counselor each day and attend group meetings three times a week.

My Nana's Voice by Alicia McMahon.

My Nana's Voice by Alicia McMahon.

After we went over the list, Roxanne told me I needed to come and do an intake interview with her, which was essentially an assessment of my situation. She had volunteers play with the girls while I went into the office. I went in and sat down. Roxanne closed the door sat down across from me and held both my hands in hers. She said, “Take a deep breath. You are safe now.” I think perhaps I was still a little bit in shock. I was still shaking inside, so I did take a deep breath and it felt good.  

The first thing Roxanne noticed were the marks on my neck. She took a picture of the bruising. Then she started asking me questions about my relationship with Sean. She was writing in her notepad as we were talking. After about an hour, the interview was complete and she put the notepad away. She asked me if I thought I was in an abusive relationship. That was easy for me to answer because I still had bruises on me and red in my eyes. But I truly did not grasp the severity of being in an abusive relationship with someone who had an addiction. She helped me understand in that first session that there was nothing I could have done to fix this, no matter what anyone said.

That night seemed endless. Once we were done with the entire paperwork and intake interview, I set up our beds and drawers in the bedroom.  

I laid down in the bed with Séanalee and her arms immediately reached out for me. She didn’t know what was going on, only that she felt out of her comfort zone. There was another family, a Mom and baby, in our room, and I felt really bad trying to comfort my girls in front of a stranger.

Brennalynn would not let me out of her sight. She was so clingy and scared. I eventually got both girls to lay with me in bed and all three of us held each other that night. I listened to their breathing. It was so reassuring to have them so close and with me.  I stared at the bunk bed mattress directly above us and dreamed of the girls and me going home to my family in Ireland. Nobody would hurt us there. It would be the exact opposite, as a matter of fact. We would be loved, kissed and hugged every day.  

I don’t think I completely comprehended exactly what was going on for about a week. I would watch the other women get in their cars and go shopping to the store. They had vehicles and means of transportation. They had very structured days there.

I really didn’t know how I was going to get through this, but I knew I had to. Then I remembered my Daddy’s words, “You will be fine, Lysh, I promise. You are my daughter and you are tough! You’re a Mc!”  

Alicia McMahon and her daughters. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon

Alicia McMahon and her daughters. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon

I only had two or three weeks to go and I could go home to Ireland. Tina and Gerard were getting married the week after Christmas and I was her Matron of Honour. She had bought me and the girls tickets to Ireland months earlier.

The only thing was, I had left them at Anna and Bill’s house. I was in such shock and dismay that I’d completely forgot to get my passport and tickets. I did, however, hide them in the bookcase downstairs. I could not tell you why I did that – I just did. I told the safehouse that I just want to go home and be with my family. They helped figure out how to change the date of the flight.

Roxanne said she had seen this before and she called the airline and got the tickets changed without any penalty fee. She explained the situation to the airline and called it a “special domestic violence situation.” She also arranged for me to go to Anna and Bill’s house and get my passport and tickets with an escort from the Adams County Sheriff.  I felt somewhat empowered and in control for the first time in a long while. I also had to call Tony Roma’s where I worked and tell them I was unable to continue working there.

Anna had called the main safehouse number and checked in with me a few times. She kept asking me when I was coming back, and I kept telling her I didn’t know. Then she asked me if I was planning to go back to Ireland and to that, I said, “I don’t know.” She still had a way of making me feel inadequate, even when I was safe and away from her drug-addicted, wife-beating son.

She said, “It’s not good for the girls to be away from their father. You have had time to cool off, Alicia. Now it’s time to come back.”

As soon as I mentioned to Anna that I needed to get some things from the house, she pretty much turned on me.

She kept saying, “Tell me what you want and I will bring it to you.”

I didn’t want her to know that I hid the passports in the bookcase. I also did not want her to know that I just wanted to go home. I told her there was going to be a sheriff coming with me to make sure Sean wouldn’t try anything. She sounded very angry and frustrated with me over the phone and she hung up on me.  

We had arranged to go get my documents and the girls’ passports the next day. Roxanne drove me to Westminster and we parked a little away from the house and waited for the sheriff.

Roxanne told me to not waste time and not to reply or respond to anything. I was to go in, get what I needed and leave. We saw the sheriff pull up and I felt my stomach go instantly sour. I wanted to throw up as soon as I saw the house. A rush of emotions came over me and I felt my face flush. Roxanne put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and said, “You can do this, Alicia. Don’t feel bad about it.”  

So, we go out of the car and Roxanne introduced herself and me to the sheriff. He explained he was there just to ensure I got what was mine and I didn’t encounter any resistance. We walked up and the sheriff sternly knocked on the door.

Bill opened it and said, “Can I help you?” Just then he saw me and stepped aside, opening the door wider.

The sheriff said, “This isn’t going to take long. Alicia is just grabbing her belongings and leaving.”

Then Anna said, “Can I see what she takes to make sure it does belong to her?”  

The sheriff replied, “I don’t see why not. Are you okay with that, Alicia?”

I said “Yes,” but I knew she just wanted to see what I was coming to get. I went downstairs and went straight for the bookcase, grabbing our passports and tickets. I also found $40 in there, which I didn’t remember putting in the front page of Séanalee’s passport. I needed it and it was a nice surprise. I had the passports, the tickets and $40 in an envelope. I looked around the room and grabbed Brennalynn’s blankie and a couple more doe-doe’s that were in her cot. I also saw a scarf and a little photo album that I picked up on my way out of the bedroom. I walked upstairs with the items and said, “Okay, let’s go!”

Anna immediately said, “I want to see what you took.”  

I went through what was in my hands one by one and showed her.

Then she said, “Well, I bought that photo album.”

I looked at her and said, “Okay, I guess that is yours,” and I put it on the counter. Then she asked, “What is in the envelope?” I pulled out the passports and my green card and our tickets home. She looked at Bill and then looked back at me with loathing in her eyes.

Then the sheriff asked, “Did you get all you needed,?”

I replied, “Yes. Can we go now, please?”  

As I walked out, Roxanne tapped me on the back and said, “You did great, Alicia.”

We thanked the sheriff and headed back to the safehouse. I was trying to figure out how I felt. Exhilarated? Sad? Happy? Scared? I knew one thing--I really wanted to throw up. I had a blunt pain in my stomach, and I felt green at the gills.

Now, since we had changed the airline tickets to the day before, I had to face calling home and telling them I was in a battered women’s shelter. I was trying to avoid telling my family at home because I didn’t want them to worry. I just wanted to get home safe and sound. I gave Séanalee and Brennalynn a bath, fed them dinner and read The Ugly Duckling storybook they loved. Séanalee was not as tired so I sang You are My Sunshine to her and rocked her to sleep.  

Usually you can make phone calls on the pay phone, but because this was an international call, they allowed me to use their phone in the counselor’s office instead. I collected myself as much as I could, so I could be matter-of-fact and not an emotional mess when I called.

Gale and Roxanna left the office so I could make the call. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and dialed Mammy and Daddy’s number in Mount David.  Amy picked up. She was so happy to hear my voice and was excited.

I would be home soon. She was asking me a ton of questions.

I interrupted her and said, “Amy, is Tina there?”

She replied with, “Yeah, Lysha, I’ll get her for you. I love you. I can’t wait to see you next week.”

She put the phone on the counter and called Tina. I heard Tina walking on the tiles into the kitchen. She picked up the phone and said, “Well, how’s she cuttin’, sister?” I could hear the excitement in her voice, too, and then all of a sudden, I lost all my composure.

“Tina, make sure you are alone. I need to talk to you.” My voice was shaking, I was obviously upset.

She asked Amy to leave the kitchen. Amy was only nine or ten years old and she was used to being asked to leave the room, so she didn’t suspect anything. Tina came back on the phone and directly asked, “What’s happened, Lysh? What’s going on?”

I tried to be nonchalant and seem like I was in control.

“Don’t tell anyone this, but I am in a safehouse in Boulder. I got my ticket changed to the 11th, so I will be flying in a day earlier than planned.  I will talk with the family as soon as I get home. I just don’t want anyone to worry. Can you come pick us up at the airport?”

“Oh My God! Jesus Christ…of course, I will! You need to let me know what happened! Why are you there? What is a safehouse? Lysh, what the fuck is going on?”

“A safehouse is a place for battered women and children. Sean just lost it, Teen. He is crazy and out of control. He tried to strangle me. He was trying to kill me. He has been on drugs for a while and it’s a very bad situation. I am safe and the girls are fine. We will stay here until the flight. Please, please, Tina, don’t tell Mammy and Daddy. Don’t tell anyone.”

“Jesus Christ Almighty, Alicia! Okay, just keep me posted and I will meet you at the airport. Stay strong, sister,” she said in a panicked voice.  

“I will, Teen,” I answered. “I love you so much and I’ll see you next week.”  

I hung up the phone. I felt somewhat better, maybe because I had shared my misery and knew I was going home to the arms of my family.

A couple more days passed, and I was definitely feeling a little better. I was sweeping up the kitchen as one of my chores when one of the other women called me and said that there was a message on the notice board for me. I didn’t know we had a notice board for messages. There was a message for Irish Alisha which read:

Where are you? Please call me.

Lindsey – at Tony Roma’s

I knew it couldn’t be anyone else but me. I did remember Lindsey, but why would she be looking for me? I called the restaurant and left a message for her. We were not allowed to receive phone calls on the public phone, although we could make phone calls. So, the next day there was another message from Lindsey to call her back. This time she left her phone number. I called her later that night, once the girls were sleeping. She was so concerned about me. It took me back a bit. She said, “I have been calling all the women’s shelters around Denver, Westminster, Arvada and Boulder leaving messages with all of them. Are you okay?”  

“I’m fine. You’re so nice to be worried about me,” I said genuinely.

“I couldn’t sleep at all after I heard you weren’t coming back and you went to a women’s shelter. I just knew I liked you a lot and I wanted to make sure you were okay. I know you don’t have family over here.”

I couldn’t believe someone was concerned enough to call around to numerous shelters looking for me. After talking on the phone a few times, she even came up to Boulder to see us and we would take the girls for a walk and go to the park to play with them. I was so happy Lindsey was in my life. She lived in Lakewood, which was south of Denver, so traveling up to Boulder took about forty-five-minutes-to-an-hour’s drive.  

Alicia McMahon is now the spokesperson for the Boulder County Safehouse. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon.

Alicia McMahon is now the spokesperson for the Boulder County Safehouse. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon.

Lindsey even offered to drive me to the airport on the day I was going home. I was so grateful to have her as a friend. She would come to Boulder and pick me up and bring me down to Lakewood for the day to her apartment to spend the day with her husband and three kids and then drive me all the way back to Boulder.

Finally, the day came for me to go home! I was so excited. I just wanted my family, hugs and kisses. I had packed up everything I had, gave Séanalee and Brennalynn baths, put their hair up in bows and put on nice clean clothes. I had to do an exit interview with the safehouse and then Roxanne was going to drop me off at the courthouse to meet Lindsey. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to breathe and be safe and sound.

We pulled up at the courthouse and there was Lindsey with her little red Geo Metro car. Roxanne helped me transfer the luggage and little Buggy into the boot of Lindsay's car. Lindsey already had a car seat from her kids, so we strapped Brennalynn into that, buckled up Séanalee and we were set!  

I turned to say goodbye and thanked Roxanne for all that she had done. She had her arms open for a hug. I reciprocated and found I couldn’t hold back my emotions. I just started crying. It was the weirdest thing. I found myself unable to control the rush of sadness, happiness, loneliness and appreciation, all at once. I couldn’t control the burst of emotion.

I was so excited to finally be on the road home! I was in great form, laughing and joking on the way to the airport. It was about an hour’s drive to Denver International Airport before we pulled into the parking lot. Lindsey got out and came in with us. I was a bit nervous because I didn’t have our physical tickets--just the original ones for us to leave the next day.

I walked up to the ticket counter and gave the lady my tickets. she looked at them and said, “These are for tomorrow.”

“Yes Ma‘am I know,” I replied. “The director of the Boulder Women’s Shelter called yesterday and the airline gave me an exception to change them under special circumstances.”

The woman looked a bit puzzled and asked me to wait there. She talked to her supervisor and they came back to the computer and looked up my tickets. There was indeed a special circumstance added to the notes. They changed our tickets, took my bag, put the luggage tag on it and put it on the belt. I had our new tickets in hand. I looked at Lindsey and I said, “I can’t believe it. We’re going home!”

Lindsey walked me to the security point and gave me the biggest, tightest hug and said, “Go home and be safe, Alicia. It’s time to start your next chapter in life.”

I kissed Lindsey on the cheek and told her I would never forget what she’d done for us and that I loved her. I rolled Brennalynn onto the train in a stroller while holding Séanalee’s hand and waved to Lindsey as the doors closed.  As the train picked up speed, I had a hard time holding onto Séanalee while keeping Brennalynn steady in her stroller.

Alicia and Seanalee. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon

Alicia and Seanalee. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon

All of sudden I heard, “Lysha!”

The voice sounded aggressive. However, only people I know call me by my nickname, so I turned around. There was a man standing in front of me wearing a loud, colorful, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. He looked me in the eyes and asked, “Alicia?”

“Yes” I replied, completely confused.

He said his name and said that he was a private investigator. Then handed me an envelope and stated, “You have been served.”

I didn’t know what was going on, so I turned around to ignore him as much as I could in a crowded train. I started shaking inside. I didn’t want my babies to see me frightened. We had one more terminal to go and it was our stop to catch our plane home to Ireland.  

The man approached me again and said, “Do you know what this means? You cannot take those children out of the state of Colorado, never mind taking them out of the country. If you get on that plane you WILL be arrested.”

Everyone’s eyes were set on me, and the stares were somewhat accusatory, as if I had done something criminal. I didn’t know what was in the manila envelope and there was some part of me that never wanted to know. I started crying. I couldn’t help it. I looked back at him and yelled, “Sir, please leave me alone and stop following me!”

The train stopped, I rushed out with the girls, glancing behind me to see if the man got off the train too. Of course, he did.  I rushed into the crowd and went straight into the bathroom. I sat up against the wall. I put Séanalee between my legs to make sure she didn’t run off and kept Brennalynn in the stroller beside us.

I took a deep breath and then I opened the envelope and pulled out a stack of pages separated into packets. There was a Colorado Court seal near the top of the first page. They were court papers. The first packet had Dissolution of Marriage on it and the second had Emergency Injunction. English is my first language, but the words seemed so foreign to me. I didn’t quite understand it, but I did read that it stated that I could not leave the State of Colorado because there was a court date.  

I didn’t know what to do. I was so afraid, and I was only steps away from the plane that would take me and my children home for good.  I was in the bathroom for about forty-five minutes fighting my fear, trying to make sense of what all of this meant. I debated if I should just make a run for it and jump on the plane and never look back or confront the man. I peered out the door to find where my gate was and saw the private investigator standing there with two police officers. They were talking with the gate agent.

I watched them for a minute and then they all went on the plane. Oh, dear Mother of God, they were looking for me! I was so glad I hadn’t gotten onto the plane. Can you just imagine? There were two police officers holding up an airplane to search it for me? I said, enough is enough.

I walked over to the gate with the girls and approached the first officer. “Are you looking for me?” I had a quiver in my voice due to raw emotion.

The police officer turned around and said, “Yes, we are.” He approached me and directed me to walk with him away from the gate. I was holding Séanalee in my arm and pushing Brennalynn while holding the diaper bag and my handbag. He stated his name and said that the private investigator thought I went on the plane. They had intended to arrest me if I had attempted to take the children out of the state.

I started crying, and panic racing in my heart. I told the officer I didn’t know what to do. I told him the safehouse had gotten my tickets changed and I didn’t know where to go.

The officer asked me if I understood what the papers I was served meant and I said, “No.” He told me Sean had filed for a divorce and had also asked the Judge to issue an emergency injunction to stop me from leaving the state with the children until the divorce hearing was complete.

The officer looked at me with kind eyes and said, “Ma’am, I want you to know I am not judging you. I know all you want is to go home to your family. This is procedure. You are not in any trouble right now.”

The private investigator and the other police officer walked over and confirmed we were not on the plane.  I had thirteen dollars in my pocket, Dowser’s nappy bag with nappies, wipes, juice, crackers and a pair of leggings for both of the girls. I really didn’t know what to do.

Again, I sat on the floor and tried to figure it out. What should I do? How could I deal with this? How could I get home? That’s all that was going through my head.

It dawned on me--I was in trouble.

How could I deal with this? Then I remembered how I had overcome so much worse than this and I reflected for a minute.  I distracted the girls and gave them both a snack bag of goldfish crackers.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and just…reflected. I was feeling, oddly enough…confident. I had a realization about how I’d gotten here.  

As a teenager, I’d worked, fought and strived from early in the morning until late at night to find my dream.

I’d overcome the fucken thug in England who almost stifled me.

I’d overcome that horrible, awful situation of being abused, beat and strangled. So, after looking back on my life thus far and how I’d gotten here, I realized I was now the Mammy. I was Séanalee and Brennalynn’s Mammy.

I knew I could do this! I could do this! My Crone Voice decided to allow me to narrate this one.

I’ve got this! Right? Yes, I’ve got this!

I went to the phone booth in the airport, called the operator and asked to make a collect call to Ireland. Tina picked up the phone and I immediately started crying.

“Lysh, where are you?”  she exclaimed.

Read More: Ireland's tragic violence against women problem

“Oh, Tina! I am still in Denver at the airport. They had a private investigator follow me and serve me with papers saying I can’t leave. My bag is on the plane, Teen, and I have no money. I don’t know what to do.”  

“What the fuck! Are you joken me? Are you okay? Are my nieces okay?” she asked.

By that time, I heard Mam and Dad in the background and I told Tina she would have to talk to them and explain what had happened. She would also have to find someone else to step in for me as Matron of Honour for her wedding in a few days.

She said she would call Gerard, her fiancé in New York, and have him wire me some money to the Western Union in Boulder. She told me to call the safehouse and let them know what had happened and then call my friend Lindsey and ask her to come back and get me and the girls.

I called the safehouse and told them I was stopped at the airport by a private investigator and that he had served me with papers. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. They said it might be too risky to come back to the safehouse because no one could know the location. Roxanne asked me to see if I could stay with a friend for a day or so until I was positive that I wasn’t being followed back to the shelter. I said, “All right, I’ll call Lindsey now.”

“Alicia, we’ll help you get through this,” Roxanne said. “Just make sure you are not followed back by anyone and call me back once you are in a safe place.”

“Okay, Roxanne, I will!”

I called Lindsey and thank God she was at her house. I let her know what was going on and what had just happened.

She said, “I’ll meet you at passenger pick-up in twenty minutes.”  

I fed Brennalynn and Séanalee, changed Brennalynn’s nappy and made my way out to passenger pick-up. I was only standing there about two minutes when Lindsey pulled up.

She ran out of the car and hugged me, saying, “Okay, we have to get going. I won’t bring you back to my house. We can go to my Aunt’s. She’ll help us.”

We got the girls in the car and took off.  I was shaking so bad I couldn’t control it. She drove into the parking structure and then drove on every floor to make sure we were not being followed. Even after parking the car, we waited for about ten minutes, carefully looking around before we headed out to her Aunt’s house.

When we arrived, we got out of the car and went into the house. Her Aunt Brenda was home when Lindsey and I walked in with the girls. Lindsey had called her after we’d spoken at the airport. I’d never met her before, but she greeted me with a big hug.

“Now,” she said, “sit down. I have coffee made and you can tell me what happened.”

I went through the series of events and told her everything. She asked, “Would you mind if I took a look at those papers?”

“Oh, yes, please do,” I replied.

I gave her the envelope and she explained to me that Sean had filed for divorce in order to stop me from taking the girls back to Ireland. She also explained they had requested an emergency injunction and Anna and Bill were third-party interveners in the case.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Sean has an attorney, and Anna and Bill also have an attorney. The only way they could stop you from leaving was to file for a divorce and also ask a judge to make you stay here until the custody of the girls is decided on. It says here they believed you were not coming back from Ireland with their grandchildren.”

Wow. I just realized what all this meant. I was in for a fight for my children.

Brenda handed me the phone and told me to call my parents in Ireland and tell them I was safe here and she would bring me back to the safehouse tomorrow.

So, I called Mount David and Mammy picked up the phone. “Darling, darling, what is going on?” she asked me in disbelief.  

“Did Tina tell you, Mam?  That the girls and I have been in a shelter for a couple of weeks?”

“She did. I don’t know why you wouldn’t tell us Lysh. You are my daughter,” she said.

“I thought I would be coming home for good Mammy. I was planning on telling ye everything once I got there. But now they have stopped me from bringing the girls out of the state of Colorado. Sean filed for divorce to stop me and there is an injunction in place.  Bill and Anna have their own lawyer, Mam, and I don’t know what to do,” I explained.

“Jesus Christ Almighty, Alicia, how could they do this to you? Tina told me he tried to kill you. Is that true?”

“He has been on drugs for a while, Mammy. He lost his mind. He beat me up pretty bad and even tried to choke me and I passed out. Anna was trying to pull him off me. I was brought to a battered women’s shelter in Boulder. It’s called a safehouse.”

Daddy came on the other line and said, “They can’t stop you from coming home, Lysh. We’re your family.”

“They can, Daddy, and they did,” I said.

“THEY CAN’T FUCKEN DO THAT. WE ARE YOUR BLOOD!” He had such desperation in his voice. I’d never heard that from Daddy before.

I picked up how devastating it was for them to try to understand and comprehend what was happening. “Listen, I will be fine. I will figure out how to deal with this and then I will be home for good. Okay? Don’t worry about anything, sure, aren’t I as tough as old boots?” I said.  

“That you are! Lysh, you are my daughter, you are a Mc,” Daddy said sternly.  

“I love ye. I will call ye and talk tomorrow. Can you put Tina on, Mammy?” I asked.

“I will luv. I love you so, so much. Stay safe, Alicia. Here she is, luv…”  

“Lysha, do you have a pen and paper? I want you to take down Gerard’s mobile number. He is in New York for another couple of days before he comes here for the wedding,” she said.

“I do, Teen, go ahead.”  

“Call him now, Lysh. He has some money for you and he needs details on where to send it.”

“Okay, Teen, I will. I love you!”

“I love you too, little sister! Call us tomorrow with an update.”

“I will, Tina. Bye.”

Then I called Gerard in New York and explained the story. He wired me $250 to the Boulder King Soopers grocery store through Western Union and told me if it wasn’t enough to call him in Ireland after Friday. He had such anger in his voice when he said, “They are nothing but a pack of fucken ignorant bastards. You will be okay, Alicia. You mind those girls and we will talk soon.”

“Okay. Thanks so much, Gerard,” I said, with tears in my eyes. I was so grateful for him.

I stayed the night at Brenda’s house. Lindsey came back for us in the morning and drove us to the King Soopers, where I got the money Gerard had wired to me. I called Roxanna and she met Lindsey and I at the usual drop off/pick up spot, the Boulder County Courthouse. Lindsey handed me a Christmas card from her Aunt Brenda. there was a $100 bill inside. I felt so grateful and sad at the same time.  Why would someone just hand over their money to a complete stranger?

I had a little breakdown crying session privately. My chest hurt with gratitude, ya know what I mean?   I will never forget the kindness they showed me.  I want someone else to feel what I felt when they gave that to me.

That was one of the note to self  times for me in my life, to strive to be kind.  We got out of the car and again transferred the girls into Roxanna’s car and she drove us to the safehouse.

After I got the girls to bed that night, I went down to the counselor’s office and spoke with Gale and Roxanna. I showed them the papers I was served and they went over some of my options. They had already found an attorney who would represent me pro bono. Her name was Katherine King.  I can’t get over how much people help each other. Now I had a lawyer who would not charge me any money. I felt so grateful and happy. I was so afraid the Flatley's would do what they did best and bully me.   

I had to meet Ms. King on Friday and I didn’t have any clothes to wear that were appropriate, so the safehouse counselors gave me coupons to the local thrift store to buy some clothes for the girls and me. Gale had mentioned there was a time limit to how long you could stay at the safehouse, but she had requested that it not apply to me due to special circumstances and it was approved. I felt so relieved. It was like a wave of good feelings and energy just encompassed my entire body.  She also told me I could apply for an apartment through them and it would be a two-year lease that would only charge me 1/3 of my income, regardless of how much I made, so I would need to get a job. There were six other families applying for the same apartment, so I needed to write a letter to the director and explain my situation. As I was writing that letter my entire situation became that much more real to me.

What if I didn’t get it? Where would I go? What would I do?  

I submitted my application and letter to the Boulder County Outreach Director and anxiously waited to hear back. It was the longest four days ever. Gale called me in to the office and announced that I got the apartment and I could move in at the end of the month. She also gave me a $200 voucher for a second-hand thrift store to get some household stuff and she also let me know I was on a list to get furniture donations.

Alicia with her father and Brennalynn. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon

Alicia with her father and Brennalynn. Photo courtesy of Alicia McMahon


I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and instead felt my life was becoming more manageable. I kept thinking in my head, We are going to be okay, we are going to be okay, we are going to be okay!

It was hard to comprehend it.

I had my own home!

I would make it so pretty and the girls would have their own space. We would be together all the time.

I had $250 to my name and I had a list of programs I was going to apply to. I needed to get us back on our feet. I needed help in finding childcare, food and maybe even some help with clothes and shoes.  

The next morning, I woke up earlier than usual and woke the girls up, too. We were all washed and dressed before 7:15 am.  For breakfast, we had the usual--Brennalynn had toast and an egg in a cup and Séanalee had porridge with a splash of maple syrup.

My tummy was kind of nervous that day, so I just had coffee. I put hats, scarfs and coats on both girls and then walked to the bus stop. It was snowing like crazy. My fingers were frozen pushing the buggy to the bus.

I took the bus to the Boulder County building and applied for food stamps and AFDC. I found out that because I was not a citizen of the US I wasn’t entitled to food stamps, but both the girls were. AFDC is a program where I got a check each week and the government went after Sean and either put a wage assignment on him or billed him directly.  I also applied for CHP, which was health care for the girls, and for day care assistance. I felt productive and in control--complete control, as a matter of fact. It was me, myself, I, mise, mé féin, my own self, who was in charge of our destiny and there was no one who was going to dictate what we did. I think I got used to not having much of a say, or if I did have a say about anything, it would be dismissed immediately.

I had an appointment with my lawyer. Katherine and I went into downtown Boulder with the girls. Her office was on the corner of Broadway and Pearl Street right in heart of the Pearl Street Mall. We went in and sat down in her office for an update. She told me I had a court date in a couple of weeks and at the same time we were going to file for a permanent restraining order against Sean.  

She also explained to me that we were going to ask that they allowed me to go home to visit my family and have them pay for the tickets. She drafted a response to the cases, the divorce, the injunction, the restraining order and the child support order.  

I met her the following Tuesday and signed the documents and she filed them with the court. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt, exactly.  It was more than relief--more like sheer happiness and a sense of impending freedom.

There was something good on the horizon. I could feel it in my bones.

A couple of days later, Roxanna called me into the office and told me Anna had called them and said she thought it was time for me to go back. That I just needed a cooling off period and Sean said he would do better. She asked me how I felt about that.

I said, “I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to raise my children in that environment!”

There was no hesitancy in my reply and I felt very strongly about this. No way was I going to allow that to happen.   

Roxanna said she hoped I would stay strong and do the best thing for my girls and myself. Then she mentioned that Anna had said I had a drinking problem and she was worried about my ability to mind and take care of my children. I could NOT believe what I was hearing. Why would she say something like that? She also told me Anna also said she felt like I was being brainwashed by them and being told what to do.  That day I realized how deceptive people could really be and I promised myself never to forget what she was capable of…NEVER!

Christmas morning was nice, though a bit weird, but the kids were having fun.  The safehouse had a gift for everyone living there so it felt really warm. They did not have a tree, though, which at that time felt strange to me.  So Séanalee and Brennalynn got to open a gift. Brennalynn got a colouring book and crayons and Séanalee got a little brush set. I opened my gift and it was a lovely teacup that said “Dream” on it. I still have that teacup today.

I asked myself watching them if I had what it took to protect my girls..

Then I realized YES! I would die before I would allow anyone to hurt my children. Full stop. That day stuck with me and is still an important day in my life. I concluded that day that I was all my children had and it was 100% my responsibility to protect them from the nastiness and evil in the world. I have never questioned it since that day. Having gone through the scary times and ending up independent with my babies gave me a certain confidence I don’t think I would have ever felt if we hadn’t gone through what we did.

On the day of court, I was nervous, yet strangely confident. I met with my lawyer out in front of the courthouse and stayed by her side. I was just so nervous to see Sean. I felt a dull, blunt pain in my stomach. I didn’t ever want to look at his face again. I found even the image of him was making me feel ill.  

We walked into the courthouse and then into the courtroom. I looked to the left of the chairs and there he was.

UGH...My stomach dropped! I felt like I wanted to throw up right there and then. I instantly remembered the feeling of his hands around my neck and looking into his eyes and seeing evil staring right back at me. Anna, Bill and Mike, his brother, were also there. I didn’t even look at them.

The judge called our case and Katherine and I stepped up, as did Sean and his attorney. The judge asked about the response to the injunction first and Katherine explained that I had tickets to my sister’s wedding that had been purchased a couple of months ago. She asked the judge if he could lift the injunction to allow me to go home for what was left of the holidays and see my family with the promise that I would return and finish up with the proceedings. The judge agreed and asked them to pay for the new tickets. The judge then addressed the restraining order and put Sean on the stand. He admitted to trying to choke me and said it only happened one time. He was such a liar! I think the judge knew he was lying.

Then the judge brought me up to the stand and asked me if this had happened before. I said yes, he had beaten me before, but I was afraid for my life that night. He violently beat me, kicked me and tried to strangle me while I was holding my baby. I didn’t tell the judge about every time it had happened, but I did say I was abused and beaten multiple times.

The judge issued a permanent restraining order.  

That was it! He couldn’t contact me or be within one-hundred feet of me ever again!  It was an unusual feeling I experienced at that moment--so relieved, happy, afraid and guilty all at the same time.

Relieved because I knew he couldn’t hurt me anymore.

Happy because now I could go home and see my family.

Afraid because I knew that they would not let this go and would attempt to manipulate me again.

Guilty because…I don't know. It may have been the battered woman in me at that time. But I was definitely feeling guilty.

I had to meet with Katherine again the next day. She went over how the divorce was going to work. She also mentioned that they would have to buy my tickets by the end of the week.  Even though I would miss my sister’s wedding, I would finally get to see everyone. She told me my husband’s  family attorney had contacted her and asked if they could see the girls and that there were no restraining orders against them, just with their father and me.

I told Katherine that I was really nervous about that and I did not want him to be around the girls if he was on drugs. She drafted up an agreement that would allow the girls visit their grandparents only if I had a urine analysis to prove Sean was not taking drugs. I would also get to call in two screenings a month at random. I said they could see the girls this week for a few hours, but I was so upset inside. I really did not want my girls to have any contact with them until I knew they would be safe. I knew Séanalee wanted to see her grandparents and Dowser had just turned one and she probably would like to go also, so I agreed. Thank God the visit went without incident.

New Year’s Eve night came around and Brennalynn had a bad cough. It was one of those deep coughs and I knew it didn’t sound right. She would get fits of coughing. A couple of times she could not catch her breath.  

I knew I had to bring her to the doctor.  I packed up the girls and put their coats on and walked to the bus to go to the doctor’s office. We were in the waiting room for an hour-and-forty-five minutes.

They finally called us in to see the doctor and he said that she had a form of croup and an ear infection, so they gave me a prescription to put her on antibiotics. I felt so bad for my little baby. She was so sick.

I walked to the pharmacy in the snow with Brennalynn in her stroller and Séanalee holding onto the handle. We struggled with every step. It was really hard to maneuver us through almost two feet of snow for about a mile-and-a-half. I was sweating and a little emotional after our journey to get to the doctor’s office, waiting that long and then being told that my little baby was so sick. My heart was aching and I just wanted to stop pushing the stroller and sit on a bench and cry my eyes out, but I didn’t.  I knew I had to just push on and get her the antibiotics and get everyone back to the safehouse to warm up and eat some supper.

I was so relieved when we got home. I gave Brennalynn her medicine as soon as we walked in the door. I was starting to feel better now that she had the antibiotics. We all got into warm pajamas and I made some hot soup, bread and butter and tea for supper.   

Read More: Irish domestic abuse charity expecting surge in calls over Christmas

The next day was New Year’s day and she woke up with a rash all over her body and was visibly struggling to breath. I panicked and ran directly to Gale and showed her the rash. She told me I might want to take her to the emergency room.

My heart sank into my feet. My poor, poor Dowser.  I was scared and didn’t know how to get her to the emergency room. I didn’t know where the hospital was.  I brought her back into our bedroom and got her dressed and bundled up. She would not stop crying--screaming crying. It was so upsetting to hear. Then I put Dowser on the floor and bundled up Séanalee. I grabbed my jacket, picked up Brennalynn and holding Séanalee’s hand, walked down the stairs and knocked on the counselor’s door.  When Gale opened the door, I met her gaze and I started crying myself. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t hold it in. She immediately put her arm around me and said, “Alicia, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”  

“I’m sorry, Gale. I don’t know where the emergency room is, and I don’t know how to get there. I am so worried about her and I feel so scared.”

She sat me down and explained where I should go, which bus I needed to take and where the urgent care was from the bus stop. She handed me six bus passes and said everything would work out just fine. I felt a little more comfortable after she reassured me I could do it. I still had a lump in my throat, but my heart told my head I could do this. After a couple of hours in urgent care, they called us in and it ended up being that she was allergic to Suprax, the antibiotic the doctor had given her. That was a close call. We got another prescription for amoxicillin and that seemed to work for her.

I felt such relief. Dowser was going to be okay!

I finally got our plane tickets for January 5th until January 17th and I couldn’t wait! I called Mount David and told them we were coming home. The excitement I heard in Mammy’s voice was great to hear. I couldn’t wait to hug everyone, touch them and smell them. But I had a very sick little baby and I knew I had to travel in a couple of days. I was dreading the journey there. It looked like we had eighteen hours there and twenty hours back. There was a seven-hour layover in New York, but at least I would get to go home.

Thank the sweet Lord above.

Whoo Hoo!!!


Alicia, Seanalee and Brennalynn are doing well and they all still live just outside Boulder Colorado.

After 7 years of writing her memoir, Alicia published it and she is determined to make it a movie! She went on to produce corporate conferences and now Alicia works as Executive Administrator for a construction engineering company called Congruex.

Seanalee is 25 years old now, she is married with a stepson Jackson who just turned 7 and works as a Customer support and Service Manager for ZingFit LLC.

Brennalynn at 23 is on her last semester at Colorado University Denver and is Associate School Director at Swallow Hill Music School and loves working on music.

All three are active in supporting the Boulder county Safehouse and have spoken at their fundraisers to help raise money for them.

“Everything that happens to you,

happens to you for a reason. It happens for you.

Those reasons build strength, times strength,

times strength, which ultimately equals power.”

~ Oprah