Former welfare mom escapes domestic violence, regains lifeThe walk could be long and cold, but Marta Ybarra was grateful for it. When the young single mom got a part-time job at a business in Fargo’s Manchester building, she didn’t have a car. So she walked nearly a mile to her home from work. It gave her time to think about the chaos of her life.
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The walk could be long and cold, but Marta Ybarra was grateful for it.
When the young single mom got a part-time job at a business in Fargo’s Manchester building, she didn’t have a car. So she walked nearly a mile to her home from work. It gave her time to think about the chaos of her life. At 24, she had five small children. She was on welfare. And the father of her children was a frightening, violent drug addict.
“For me, it was just to have peace of mind. The walk gave me escape,” says Ybarra, now 29. “Yet sometimes I would almost hyperventilate thinking: What am I coming home to?
“When you are in those situations, it can be hard to come up with a game plan.”
Ybarra’s route took her by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store. On a hunch, she stepped inside one day. She saw a “help wanted” sign by the register. She liked the store’s close proximity to her home, so she asked for an application. She kept contacting the manager until she landed an interview. And she was hired.
Without realizing it, Ybarra’s game plan had begun. That part-time job formed the first step toward regaining independence and confidence. In time, she was able to envision a future free of fear and violence.
“It’s really been a blessing to be hired here,” says Ybarra, flashing one of her frequent, sunny smiles.
“I was kind of inspired by the volunteers I worked with and encouraged to get out of the situation I was in. They were all these strong, independent women, and I thought, ‘This is what I want.’ I want to live for that day and be the best for my kids’ future.”
Ybarra now manages the thrift store full time. People who meet her may assume she has it all figured out. She’s confident, bright, professional and personable.
But beneath her cheerful, well-groomed exterior beats the heart of a survivor.
“A lot of people who come in here probably don’t realize I’m not just another college student,” she says. “But now I’m the one who is talking one-on-one to (abused) women who come in here. I think I’ve lived my life to the fullest at my age.”
Life of ‘scared silence’
A native of Texas, Ybarra moved to the Upper Midwest with her large family at age 7. Her parents were seasonal farm workers, but her mother loved the four seasons of the North so much that they eventually made Moorhead their year-round home.
When Ybarra first started school, she knew more Spanish than English. “I still remember being taunted in school because I was not very fluent in English,” she says.
Shy, sweet and bookish, Ybarra learned fast. She grew into a pretty, petite girl with her own circle of friends. But a month before she turned 18, Ybarra learned she was pregnant. She and her steady boyfriend became engaged.
“I had that ring on my finger, and I thought I was doing the right thing by marrying and starting a family,” she says.
The couple never actually married – a fact for which Ybarra now feels grateful. But they did have one baby after another in quick succession: MaryJane, Blayze, Victoria, Angelina and Maria.
The children’s father started doing meth, and he grew increasingly violent. At first, he just broke things around the house. Then he turned his rage on Ybarra.
Ybarra attributes much of her former partner’s decline to drug addiction. “Meth does change a person. It completely changes a person,” she says. “I saw it firsthand.”
She coined a phrase to describe her state: “scared silence.” By now, most of her family had left the area, and she had no support network. “I felt alone and too ashamed to talk about it to my family,” she says.
Her partner had a job, but most of his money went toward drugs. Ybarra, who didn’t have a high school diploma, had to rely on social services or part-time work to keep her children clothed and fed.
“I lost housing and jobs because of him,” Ybarra says. “He caused so much chaos.”
As her abuser grew more unpredictable, Ybarra tried to distance herself from him. She and the kids made more than one trip to emergency shelters. Through the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, she was able to get an expedited protection order, which he violated over and over. She called the police multiple times, but he would flee and hide before officers arrived.
“It was a huge cycle,” she recalls. “I called the cops repeatedly. I thought, do I need to be dead to have the police listen to me?”
Then, the last straw: One night, Ybarra and her children fell asleep in the basement while watching movies. Their father broke out a window in her son’s bedroom to get into the house and attacked Ybarra. He delivered such hard blows to her head that she suffered partial but permanent hearing loss.
This time, he went to jail. He pleaded guilty to nine felony counts, which ranged from violating a restraining order and terrorizing to breaking and entering. He is now serving two years in the North Dakota State Penitentiary in Bismarck.
‘You did it, Mom!’
Little by little, bit by bit, Ybarra’s life got better. She moved her family from their house – the site of so much violence and suffering. Now, “we live simple, but we have a very humble, happy home,” she says.
Three years ago, she earned her GED. One of her proudest memories was when she accepted the diploma during the ceremony and could hear Victoria, then 5, yell out: “You did it, Mom!”
“It felt good for them to be proud of me,” she says.
And she continued to thrive at work – so much so that she was promoted to manager last year. Ybarra is proud that she finally has been able to buy a dependable SUV. Her walking days are over.
Two years ago, one of her high school friends walked into the store and said: “There you are.” They had lunch and have dated ever since.
“He’s a good father and role model,” she says. “He doesn’t talk at them, he talks to them. The kids have really bonded with him. I sometimes wonder how they could be so open about having him here, after what they’ve been through.”
Another turning point in Ybarra’s healing process occurred when she traveled south to visit her mother. Her mom was dying from liver cancer, but the young woman was able to sit down and tell her that she’d turned her life around. “My promise to her was that I was going to be the strong mother she was,” she says.
Since then, Ybarra has worked hard to live up to her word. The children now range in age from 11 to 5, but she says “structure” is the key to maintaining organization and sanity. Every member of the household is assigned chores and an allowance. And the family sits down each night to a home-cooked meal to talk about their days.
“I’m not a sergeant mom, but I try to keep it as organized as possible,” she says.
She also has worked to preserve her children’s cultures. They celebrate holidays like Day of the Dead and she’s taught them some Spanish. “The youngest is more fluent because she watches ‘Dora (The Explorer)’ hardcore,” Ybarra says, smiling.
Ybarra’s determination has earned her plenty of admiration from the predominantly female volunteers who work with her at St. Vincent de Paul.
“She’s an awesome young lady. You just have to admire her strength,” says Marge Klinger, a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul board of directors. “She still has her struggles as we all do, however, she does not allow that to keep her from failing. She says it only makes her work harder. What an awesome attitude.”
Ybarra now hopes to become a motivational speaker for other abuse victims. “For all of the women out there, I would tell them, ‘There is hope, but it’s up to you to make that decision.’ ”
In fact, Ybarra has decided she will no longer be ashamed – or scared. Her abuser is scheduled to be released from prison in September, but she refuses to run and hide.
“I dread the day he comes out, but I’m ready,” she says, with a steely look behind her sweet smile. “Try me.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or email@example.com