Roseline Hester thought she'd left the violence behind when she boarded a packed boat in Haiti and braved the Florida Straits. Behind her was an island nation in turmoil, where the everyday reality included looting, rape and torture. Ahead was Miami, where she'd earn a high school diploma. And Kentucky, where she'd study to be a certified nurse assistant — where she'd meet a charming man who would become her husband and father her child. No, at age 13, Rose didn't see the violence ahead.
Rose stood on the safe side of the door she locked in the hope that he would cool off. It just made him more angry, more determined to get in.
He broke the window. Glass sprinkled inside.
And that's when 24-year-old Rose saw something that horrified her more than anything else she'd experienced in the past three years with this man.
Her baby's leg was cut, and bleeding.
The red flags had been there from the start.
He'd tell her she was talking to her family too much. He was jealous of other men. She thought his possessiveness was cute, that he wanted her all to himself.
They married and moved to Tampa.
One day, when she was pregnant with his baby, they got into an argument. He punched her leg and left a bruise.
He began breaking things. He punched a hole in the wall. Her neighbors could hear the screams. They told her they feared for her.
When she threatened to call the police, her husband told her he would turn her in. She had come to the country illegally, and he never let her forget that.
A neighbor told Rose about the Spring, an agency that helps victims of domestic abuse. But Rose worried about what would happen after she left. Her immigration status didn't allow her to work.
Fearing homelessness, she stayed. Until that window broke in 2004.
The following morning, she waited for her husband to go to work, and for the second time in her life, she became a refugee.
A couple of months at the Spring led to more than a year in a shelter at Metropolitan Ministries. Then, the charity helped her to get an apartment of her own. Mentors there told her Hillsborough Community College would waive her tuition, because she was homeless, so she could continue her studies. And they said that with her status as a victim of domestic violence, she could make a good case for receiving a Green Card, or lawful permanent residence.
She got one, and her life began to come together.
Rose left church with her then-3-year-old daughter Tori one Sunday morning and stopped at a Haitian restaurant on Floribraska Avenue. Tori spilled something. She made a mess.
A man stepped up to help. He was a refugee, too. He fled their homeland when he was 10.
Greg Francoeur's life hadn't been much easier than Rose's. He'd been on his own since age 18, scrounging for jobs without legal citizenship.
He didn't want a girlfriend, or a kid. But Rose inspired him, and very slowly, she learned to trust a man again.
She started to feel safe, leaving Tori with him when she went to school. And she learned not to wince when he touched her face.
Then last month, while visiting his relatives in Jacksonville, the lights came on in a room filled with red and white balloons.
Everyone screamed "Surprise!"
And there knelt Greg, with a ring.
• • •
On Dec. 12, Rose graduates from Hillsborough Community College with an associate's degree. The 28-year-old is almost a registered nurse.
And that next day, the bride will stand at the entrance of the chapel at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church, and she'll walk forward.
Reach Alexandra Zayas at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.