by Bobby Anderson, Staff Writer
It wasn’t until the bullets engraved with the initials of her and her children were placed into her hands that Krystel Huddleston, RN, realized just how close she had come to death.
Eight years later the nurse manager who lived through fear, isolation and abuse wants to make sure others in similar situations know that there is hope.
Born and raised in Texarkana, Texas, Huddleston fell in love early at the age of 14. She met a man 10 years older she was sure she would spend the rest of her life with.
As a married woman high school seemed frivolous so she dropped out.
Three kids soon followed as did the isolation and belittlement intermingled with mental and physical abuse.
“I actually got into nursing because he chose that for me,” Huddleston said of her ex-husband. “He felt like that was predominantly women and I wouldn’t be around a lot of men.”
Staying home and playing World of Warcraft and Everquest were at the top of her husband’s agenda.
Huddleston’s husband drove her to nursing school every day until she became an LVN.
Huddleston would cook, clean, go to school, do homework and take care of the kids, all while being kept inside a trailer with locked windows and no other contact.
“I really felt like I had a normal life,” said Huddleston, now a nurse of 12 years and a manager. “I remember getting out into the workplace with strong women and strong personalities. I remember sitting at the nurses station one year and a seasoned nurse was talking about Dr. Phil.”
“I said ‘You’re allowed to watch Dr. Phil?’ She looked at me and asked if I still lived with my mom. I told her my husband says I couldn’t watch that because it gives women ideas.”
“I remember that exact moment realizing my life isn’t normal.”
“I knew the abuse was not normal and he was extensively, creatively abusive,” she said. “I knew that was not normal but I also knew if I catered and walked those egg shells I could find my way around.”
There were good years, but the alcohol and mental health issues began taking their toll.
While Huddleston was bettering herself with a career her husband’s love for the couch, ice cream and playing video games caught up with him.
He developed uncontrolled diabetes. Huddleston had to take care of him, too.
“As he was getting weaker I was getting stronger being in the workfield around strong women,” she said. “Finally, I decided he was going to kill me if I stayed or if I left so I was going to at least make it worth his time.” She went to work one morning after hearing the clicking sound of an empty gun pointed at her temple.
She called the police to pick up her three boys.
Her ex-husband beat the female officer who responded.
Three months later her husband shot himself.
Going through belongings after the funeral, Huddleston began questioning herself.
Was it her fault? Did she do something to make it happen? What could she have changed?
As she dug through personal belongings she found an envelope.
In the envelope was a receipt for five burial plots.
Letters written to her parents and his explaining the family’s planned death were also included.
“His full intention that day was to kill everybody but something intervened and he only killed himself,” Huddleston said.
The irony of her ex-husband choosing the one career for her that would set her free was never lost on Huddleston.
“At first it was very intimidating – just more bullies,” Huddleston said of entering nursing. “I felt I was the low man on the totem pole and I knew nothing. But as those women became my colleagues and I was learning and seeing them interact with spouses I pulled from that and I grew from that.”
“That really helped me become a stronger person.”
Huddleston had one boss that really poured into her. She challenged her to stop being negative, realize her strengths and push forward.
Some scars will always remain.
To this day she’s still not a hugger. She admits she can be uncomfortable with touch.
At restaurants she sits facing the door. In meetings she has her back to the wall.
Don’t sneak up on her.
She’s remarried, though, and moved on.
“I still have my moments,” she says. “Some days I can be confident and be great and nobody knows. Other days it’s one bad event after another.”
The future she’s given herself and her boys is the stuff Lifetime movies are made of.
“There’s always a chance. Take that chance,” Huddleston said of getting out. “It’s worth a chance to try.”