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“I Am Telling The Truth” A Survivor’s Story

Emily Smith and Maggie Wilson supporting one another as they tell their story.
Photo by Dan Cullinane

By Dan Cullinane
Freelance Writer

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The proclamation from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee included the following information: 69,385 domestic violence incidents were reported in Tennessee in 2020.

One in four women and one in seven men in Tennessee have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. This is one of their stories. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent; however, everything else is factual.)

“I didn’t want to believe that somebody who said he loved me could end up hurting me. I couldn’t make myself believe that.” Emily Smith begins shaking and then starts crying. We are sitting in the snug and secure living room of her friend Maggie Williams, and Maggie is holding her hand, but Emily is far away from the warm lamplight. She has returned to May 23, 2021, and she is in agony.

Growing up in Johnson County, the middle child in a family of five, she never expected to have a story to tell. Not a story like this. She was shy and quiet. Her father was a minister, and he and her mother had disagreements, but she never heard raised voices, and she never saw a hand raised in anger.

Emily married Donald Grover at the age of 18, shortly after graduating from Johnson County High School. She quickly realized that she wasn’t in love with her husband, and he wasn’t in love with her, he was a good father, but when he returned from deployment during the first Iraq war, everything changed.

She lived with dailyw emotional abuse for years before she sought counseling from her pastor, who said, “God is for the person. He loves you. He doesn’t want you to be miserable. He wants you to love your life.”

She wanted a divorce, and he told her she had to get out. Soon she had her own apartment and began rebuilding her life. Despite her unsuccessful and abusive experiences with marriage, she
was open and even hopeful when Michael Smith approached her in the car line at Roan Creek Elementary, where she was waiting to pick up her daughter from her second marriage.

The word came back that Michael Smith was a good guy. He’d had some troubles, but he was active at the school and engaged in the church. The courtship was fast, and on February 14, 2016, Emily and Michael were married.
For six months, it worked. “It was like he was waiting for me to get comfortable,” Emily’s laugh is jagged. “And then he showed me who he really was.”

The whiplash of emotions kept Emily off-balance, never knowing which version of the stranger living in her house she was going to encounter when she came home. Now she was also frightened, not only for herself but for her daughter. .She paused in her story, unable to continue. Maggie got up to get water and a box of Kleenex.
“Why did you stay?” I asked her. “It was getting worse. Anyone could see that.”
“I didn’t want to be a failure in God’s eyes again,” she replied.
So she was still with Michael Smith on May 23, 2021.The police report reads aggravated assault as domestic
violence, and the medical report lists periorbital contusion, closed head injury, and traumatic left 5th rib fracture as the first clinical impression. A broken eye socket, a broken jaw, and a concussion would be added later, but what Maggie Wilson remembers most after she sprinted into her best friend’s bedroom was that she couldn’t
see Emily’s face underneath the blood and the bruising.

Maggie and her husband Daniel had received a phone call from Michael as they were preparing for bed. “There’s been a big fight,” he said. “You need to come over.”

Emily’s voice begins breaking. Her voice gives way to sobs; she says, “Seeing his arm come around my neck and his fist was in my
windpipe, and I guess I blacked out.”

When Maggie and Daniel arrived, they raced Emily to the emergency room. Later Maggie would watch what unfolded on the Ring camera Emily had installed to check up on Dana. “He beat her with his fists after he choked her out,” Maggie said.
She watched as Michael smashed his fists into her friend’s unconscious face, breaking her jaw and kicking her unconscious body, breaking her ribs. Then she watched Michael try to clean up the porch before calling for help.
Michael was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and spent seven days in jail before his coworkers bailed him out.

Emily is determined to use her experience and anguish to inform people about domestic violence. If she could advise her younger self, she would say, “Don’t get married
so young. Finish school, go to college, establish your
career. Learn how to be a happy person, just you, by yourself.

“Recognize red flags in a relationship. If they interrogate you if they have to know every little move you make if they have to know every person you’ve been
in contact with throughout the day. If they’re that insecure, walk away. Get to know the person first, particularly
if they have children.”

“I should have walked around town so they could see what he did to me and that I am telling the truth.”

Michael Smith will next be in court for a hearing on his charge of aggravated assault on November 15.
He is attempting to have the charge reduced, but Emily has found a substantial record of violence, assault, and
domestic assault in his past and has offered it to the Johnson County District Attorney.