When Bobbi Jo Nadeau walks downtown, sometimes she can’t remember why she went there or how to get back home.
She panics and is overcome with fear.
Sometimes, in Walmart, she takes body wash off the shelf to smell its fragrance, places her wallet on the shelf and spends the next hour and a half frantically scouring the store, looking for it.
“I had just cashed my check and had my rent money in it. I was so panicked,” she said. “When I’m in a store, it doesn’t take much for me to get very confused.
Nadeau hopes to get a trained service dog that will help her to remain calm when things like this happen — a dog that will know how to guide her home when she is lost or confused and to alert her and others when she is about to have a seizure.
Nadeau, 44, of Waterville, is disabled. She has epilepsy and debilitating migraine headaches. She suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety. She also has a brain tumor, but she counts the tumor as the least of her worries as it is benign.
“The doctors said it’s nothing to worry about; it’s a lipoma, a noncancerous tumor.”
When I met Nadeau recently, I hadn’t a clue she suffers such physical ailments. The seemingly happy, blond-haired, blue-eyed woman is articulate, bright and talkative.
But her outward appearance belies a sadder reality. Nadeau suffers from emotional trauma that runs so deep she wakes up in the night, screaming in terror. She is a product of years of severe physical and mental abuse from an ex who beat and raped her repeatedly and forced her to be his slave.
She shows me police and medical reports supporting her story and a sympathetic letter from an official who works with battered women.
The letters say Nadeau would benefit immensely from having a service or therapy dog.
“I really think this would be a great help to Bobbi Jo in her daily living, and she really deserves to have this help to live as normal a life as possible after surviving what I can tell you was a nightmare life,” says one letter, written by an official of an outreach program.
Nadeau has called various organizations, asking what she must do to get a service dog. She has been told there are places that help fund such a dog, which costs between $20,000 and $40,000, but she might have to raise some funds on her own.
She went to City Hall in Waterville, where she was told she needed a $60 permit to solicit businesses for money. She visited Jokas’ Discount Beverage on Front Street where staff helped her set up a benefit so people may donate their bottles and cans to her cause, “Stacey’s Dog Fund.” She explains that Stacey is a pseudonym she uses when fearing her ex will interfere. Though they parted several years ago, she still worries.
She shows me a police report, complete with photographs of her in the hospital, her face beaten and bruised. The memory is difficult to revisit, but she wants me to hear about it.
It was 2004 and she and her ex got into a fight. She tried to run to the neighbor’s apartment, but he stood in front of the door.
“Before I knew it, I was seeing stars. Unfortunately, my daughter saw most of it. She was 13 at the time. He had hit me with his fist on my forehead, my frontal lobe. My daughter came out of her bedroom, screaming. I knew if I passed out, she would think I was dead, so I made myself stay conscious. It was not easy, I can tell you that.”
He went to jail; she went to the hospital. Later, he convinced her to get back together.
After that, the beatings got worse.
“I’d have to ask to go to the bathroom. It was so demeaning. He would use, basically, torture devices on me to punish me. He wanted the house to be spit shined. If I didn’t clean the toilet like he wanted, I had to clean it with a toothbrush.”
She said some people criticize her for not leaving him at the time.
“I was too scared. I was too scared to put my hand on my door, let alone open it.”
He eventually left her, but the physical and emotional scars did not.
“Men terrify me, and if they are drunk, forget it. I don’t think the nightmare will ever go away. I’ve said more than once, I’ve made a lot of strides, but I think my ex will be with me for the rest of my life.”
The one man who does not terrify her is her live-in boyfriend, Paul Doherty, 41. He is kind and sympathetic. He understands, as he also is a product of abuse.
“One thing he always says to me — and he’s always right — is, ‘You gotta have faith,’” Nadeau says.
As we sit in their small, warm apartment, where photographs of the couple hang on all the walls and their black-and-white cat, Daisy, tiptoes about, they tell me the story of how they met at the Waterville Social Club three years ago and instantly bonded.
Doherty, who also is disabled, suffers from post traumatic stress and borderline personality disorder and is bipolar. When they met, he was suicidal, he said, and had a plan to end his life.
That has all changed.
“We kind of saved each other,” Nadeau says.
One thing that drew them together was a common dream they had while growing up of living in a quiet cabin in the woods, with a dog lying before a roaring fire.
“We know that we’re probably not going to have it,” Nadeau says. “But Paul says he will make sure we do, even if he has to build it out of Lincoln logs or Popsicle sticks.”
She smiles. A smile so wide it lights up her whole face.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]