Nohemi is an amazing woman who would do anything for her children. She spent most of her life in Nicaragua, where she lived with an abusive husband for twenty years, then finally had the courage to leave him, earn a law degree, and immigrate to the United States. Her courage to build a life with her children on her own is amazing, but even more remarkable is her ability to forgive. After she left, her ex-husband eventually joined a church and completely turned his life around. They are now good friends, and they talk on the phone at least once a month.
Luisa Nohemi Narvaez Garcia was born in Managua, Nicaragua, the oldest of three children. She doesn’t have many memories of when she lived with her parents. At age 7 her parents divorced, and all three children went to live with her paternal grandparents in a small wooden hut on the property that belonged to one of her aunts in Chinandega, Nicaragua.
At age 9 she had to start working. Her aunt would cut a watermelon, put in on a platter on her head, and she would have to walk the streets selling the pieces of fruit. Her aunt wouldn’t allow her to come home until it was all sold.
Even though her grandparents were very poor, they expressed a lot of love to their grandchildren, and that’s where her best childhood memories come from. She loved sitting with her grandma and grandpa and siblings in the living room after dinner, listening to a radio show and chatting.
She never actually thought she would live in the United States someday. She recalls, “My cousins and I used to pretend that a tree in our yard was a bus or a plane, I don’t remember which, and it would take us to California. I don’t even know where I heard of California. I don’t know where we got the idea. But I never really thought that I would come and live in California.”
When Nohemi was 14, she met Carlos, her future husband. He was a member of the army, and he was in a better financial situation than her family at the time: “He was 26. I met him in our neighborhood. When I walked to school, he was always around, and I started noticing him noticing me. His physical appearance was what I liked about him. A year later we started dating. Then I went to live with him after I graduated from high school.” When they moved to Managua together, she sent for her younger siblings to come live with them, to relieve her aging grandparents of that responsibility.
For the next 20 years she had a very troubled relationship with Carlos, who was constantly unfaithful and abusive in all aspects of her life. She first became aware of his infidelity when she was 18, “We were still dating, and my friend who worked with Carlos told me that she had seen him with another woman. He gave me an excuse, and I wanted to believe him, but I knew what my friend had told me was true.”
His infidelity made Nohemi leave him, but then she soon returned because she was afraid that her children would miss their dad, and that they would blame her for taking them away from him. That desire to see her children happy was always her main focus.
She said, “We were really poor when we left… I had always been the one who needed to take responsibility for my family, so I wasn’t so worried about doing it without him. I was more afraid that my kids would blame me. And I loved him. I tried really hard to justify his actions. After my kids grew up a little bit, I didn’t feel that same fear.”
There were times that Nohemi wished she could have gone back in time to when she and Carlos first started dating to warn herself not to get involved with him: “I would have told myself that he wasn’t the right person for me, that I needed to search for a strong religious belief system, and that I needed to make better choices in my life. I’d tell myself, ‘There are better things for you. Please leave this and find something else.’
“Even if it meant not having my children, I would have stopped my relationship with him. I knew that my children shouldn’t have gone through what they went through – that it was a consequence of my decision to stay in that relationship. I love my children more than anything in this life, but because I love them, I wouldn’t want them to have to go through that again.”
Nohemi could see her children being affected both psychologically and emotionally by their parents’ abusive relationship. She recalls, “They lived in a hell which I helped maintain. They saw us fighting and arguing, yelling at each other, and I knew that it wasn’t the right environment for them.”
She was so afraid that her kids would follow the same path as their father and become abusers. She knew that when Carlos was a boy, his father would only come into to town to beat him. Carlos was the child of one of his father’s extra-marital affairs, and if Carlos was not the best student in the state, his dad would come to his house, tie Carlos to a chair, and beat him with an electrical cord. The only time his dad would come visit him was to give him a beating. Abuse was the only parenting method Carlos knew. Nohemi said, “That’s one of the reasons I decided to leave; I was afraid it was genetic. I didn’t want our sons to do the same thing when they grew up.”
The abuse Nohemi experienced at her husband’s hands finally convinced her that she and her children needed to leave: “I got depressed; I didn’t like it at all. When he would leave for weeks and disappear with friends, I felt more like myself. I felt peace, and I could see that my children were at peace. We got along better when he wasn’t there. When he returned, all those negative feelings and memories that I’d experienced with him would come rushing back, and I would lose my peace. I lived in anger and frustration. That’s when I realized that we would be better off without him.”
Nohemi hoped for a change for her and her sons. For peace and happiness. “I wanted to be happy and have my children be happy. I wanted to leave Carlos, forget, and have him forget me and start a new life.”
Nohemi’s mother was a key part of her leaving that part of her life, “She helped me develop my self-esteem. She kept telling me that I could do it, that I was worth it.” Hearing from other women who were successful and self-reliant also helped. Their ideas helped her and gave her courage “to do what needed to be done.”
She had to start from nothing. She worked hard to find a job and go to school. Eventually she graduated with a law degree and got a job working for an international non-profit organization. One of the hardest parts of being a single mom was simply dealing with people judging her, “Society looks at you differently when you’re a single mom. Also, just being alone is difficult, wanting a partner but having to do it alone.”
Finally, she felt that what was best for herself and her children was to move to the US, and they went to California. It was not until after they moved that she felt at peace. And only when her kids were grown and independent did she stop worrying.
When asked what advice she would give to women who are afraid to live independently, Nohemi replies quickly:
“Figure out that you have value, that you have worth. Do your best to prepare yourself. Get an education. When I got my degree it really helped me, because I felt like I had something to work with, something that would help me provide for my children. Find some kind of spiritual strength to rely on, because it is hard to be a parent on your own.
“Keep in mind your well being and the well being of your children. As mothers, we naturally think first of our children, so remember that they need to be raised in an environment of peace. You can do it, because it is better to live without a father in the house than living with one whose presence makes things horrible. Think first of the happiness of your children. Time passes faster than you think. You’ll be able to do it, and your children will be happy.”
Her sons are now married and have children. Two years ago, she married a man who shows her respect and values her. She is extremely happy! She has truly found the peace and happiness she was seeking for so many years.