This is Sarah’s story. It is the same old story about love and power and fear and pain, and it began the way it usually does: He wanted her. She was young, 13, and he, 18, was attracted to her vulnerability. Her parents were divorcing, and home life was tough. He wove a fairytale for her, that she was The One, and together they could create a happily-ever-after. He pressured her to have sex. She got pregnant. He said, “We’re starting a family.”
His fairytale had no happy ending, and he was no prince. He never married her. She moved in with his family, and he cut her off from hers. She lost her freedom and her childhood. He trapped her, raped her, and his jealousy and rage escalated. When she was 19, he broke her jaw. “He would get on top of me and put his knees on my shoulder and punch me in the face,” says Sarah. “The last time I was there, he body-slammed me to the ground, kicked me in the stomach.” Their son was screaming, “He’s going to kill Mama!” And their older son, ten years old, heroically intervened, saying, “No he’s not!”
She left before he could kill her. After twelve years of terror and isolation, she was even more afraid of staying than she was of leaving. She slept on friends’ couches and in the getaway car her mother gave her. She reconnected with her own family. After he left for work, she would go back to his place and drive the boys to school. She fought for custody and got it.
Donna Ferrato had been looking for a heroine who could fight her way out of the false fairytale and give the old, sad story a happier ending. Someone who could overcome her fears of powerlessness, of pain, of losing love (hope), of losing her children, of being alone, of being penniless, of building a new life. Someone who could serve as a role model for girls and young women who are afraid of the men who are supposed to cherish them.
Someone like Sarah.
Here she is: Unbeatable.
Sarah's story debuted at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery, curated by Joseph Mella and sponsored by The Ingram Commons, the College of Arts and Science, the Project Safe Center, and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.
Text and captions by Claudia Dowling.
I AM SARAH
Donna Ferrato | Director
Alex Chadwick | Producer, Concept, Audio & Interviews
Gaia Squarci | Editor