What's Up, South Texas: Businesswoman escapes abusive relationship, shares story to empower others

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter, Jennifer Galvan - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - One San Antonio woman is hoping her story behind the start of her successful snack shop inspires other women going through domestic violence.

Mary Lou Gomez is the owner of La Morenita Fruit Cups on McCullough Avenue.

“We opened it up in 2004 and we were opened for about two years,” Gomez said. “I was married at that time but then life happened and at first I thought I would close for six months to regroup but that six months turned into ten years.”

Gomez said it was her son who inspired her to reopen in 2017 to which has been opened ever since. The story behind all of it stems from her relationship that she never thought would end up being abusive.

“It is weird how we me,” Gomez said. “I was a freshman in high school and he was a senior. It was October of ’89. I was at my locker getting my books and someone comes up and taps my shoulder and I was handed a letter and it said ‘Dear Mary Lou’ and it had all of these sweet things in it and so forth and so on. It had an uncommon name on it and I didn’t know who it was.”

She said her friend recognized the name after seeing her reread the letter in class.

“He is like that is my friend,” Gomez said. “He was like ‘Let’s ask him about this letter.’ So we waited in the hallway and You know how out of movies, the doors open and then he’s tall and very handsome. I just had so many butterflies because I am thinking this guy likes me.”

She was soon disappointed to know that he was not the one who wrote the letter.

“I was so embarrassed,” Gomez said. “But after that day, he started coming around a lot more. He started smiling and then started saying hi and then having lunch.”

The rest is history. Gomez and her high school sweetheart would go on to marry at a young age and having a son together in 1992. Unfortunately, Gomez said the start of her abuse began at the start of their relationship.

“In the Mexican culture, there are a lot of men who are machismo,” Gomez said. “Let’s just say he was supportive at first but once I would get going at something, it became something bad for him. He was the type of person that would say do this and we are fine but once I would get involved and he would see me developing and growing and happy and then there came the bringing down.”

She said the abuse was very bad when alcohol was involved.

“I would like to say it like this,” Gomez said. “I knew he loved me. I felt that. But when he was hating me and in his state of mind, I felt that hate even more. That sometimes can really break you in ways that you don’t even know you can be broken into.”

She said at times, days would start off good but have a bad ending.

“We would be great and then go to a gathering of some sort and he would get to drinking and from there he would be somebody else,” Gomez said. “It is hard to tell when the night was going to end because sometimes something so simple would trigger him.”

Gomez said there were several incidents but one in particular came to mind during our interview.

“We were at my parents for a BBQ and I don’t know what he was drinking but he must have mixed something,” Gomez said. “I remember it was time to leave and I went to tell him because our son was already sleeping. After a while, we all got in the car. My family had to help get him in because he couldn’t walk.”

Gomez said she was driving for everyone’s safety when thing took a turn for the worst.

“Just out of nowhere he wanted to drive and told me to stop and I wouldn’t,” Gomez said. “I didn’t because he was too drunk. What he did then was started grabbing the steering wheel and was trying to stop the truck. I stopped because either a cop was going to see us, we were going to hit something or someone.”

Gomez said he reached for the door and she locked it for his protection.

“He kept screaming ‘Let me out! Let me out!’ He was too drunk to even walk. He was going to fall and hurt himself, get run over or he was going to come after me,” Gomez said. “That pissed him off so he just started hitting me and pulling my hair. At that time, my son woke up and was crying and screaming ‘Daddy stop hitting mommy!’ I finally got him off of me and got out and locked him inside. He leaned over and then fell asleep.”

That wasn’t the last time Gomez said her son has had to scream those words. Fast forward to the year 2004, the opportunity to open La Morenita come up on the heels of a major depression Gomez was entering. She had suffered from several miscarriages.

“After I had my son, we decided to have more children,” Gomez said. “My cervix was too weak. Two years after I had my son, I got pregnant and lost the baby at 12 weeks. I got pregnant with twins but lost them at 5 in a half months. My water bag would break and I would be in the hospital for about two or three weeks then finally contractions would come. They couldn’t stop the pregnancy. Forced labor would come. The babies would come but they would be too small to survive.”

But later, a miracle happened. Gomez had a baby girl.

“It was the same long procedure I would go through but everything worked out just fine,” said Gomez. “She was about a year and a half when the conversation opened back up about the business again. I had just went through all of those miscarriages and my son was 12 at that point. I just wanted to be with my daughter and spend time with her. I wanted to open up later but my husband and mom who owns the Little Taco Factory wanted to go ahead and get started.”

That night on the drive home, Gomez said the abuse kick off.

“I heard it,” Gomez said. “’You’re worthless. You’re good for nothing. You don’t want to do anything. You are not going to amount to anything. You never help me.’ I have always helped. I have always had the good jobs. But I told myself that I was going to prove him wrong to let him know that he was not going to get under my skin. I am going to show you and I am going to be successful.”

Gomez did just that and she said in the beginning, her husband was very supportive and helped get everything running, but then it became something negative to their relationship.

“The business was booming,” Gomez said. “We were very busy and getting a lot of business. It went from ‘You’re worthless and never going to amount to anything,’ to ‘You are never home. You need to take care of the kids. You need to clean the house.’ This was that machismo.”

She later had another miscarriage at four in a half months which sent her into a deeper depression.

“I couldn’t handle staying open,” Gomez said. “I needed to stay home. I planned to stay closed for six months but that went on a lot longer. I wasn’t getting the support I needed for the grieving of the baby or anything. I just couldn’t come out of the depression which became another problem because he started verbally abusing me for that.”

In 2008, Gomez unfortunately caught her husband cheating and though she tried everything, she decided it was time end it. She filed for a divorce which was finalized in 2011.

“I went to work after that,” Gomez said. “At that time, I was volunteering at my daughter’s school and this one program was there that helped parents and I got more involved with the school and parents and part of the personal building they were doing helped me get out of my depression.”

Fast-forward to 2017, Gomez decided to open La Morenita again but this time on the grounds of happiness, confidence and empowerment.

“I just started coming out of that state of mind that I was in at one point. I literally thought I was worthless. I literally thought I was no good and what have you because for so many years I had been hearing it from the person I loved. I identify with a butterfly because the pain and struggle, I’m sure, it goes through to break out of its cocoon and spreads its beautiful wings. That is exactly how I felt when my divorce was over. I spread my wings.”

She said though it is a struggle running the business, she is more happy which makes it all worth it.

“I have God with me and I know he is going to be with me and I know he is going to help me and I know I am going to come out of this,” Gomez said. “People were worried if I was making the right decision and I had no second thoughts after my son brought it to my attention again. I know God is with me throughout it all.”

Now Gomez hopes to open another place that would help women going through hard times get back on their feet with resources.

“I don’t know when, but I am still thinking of a name,” Gomez said. “I see that there is a lot of women out there that need the support and the talk and the guidance and advice or sometimes just someone to listen to them. I want to help empower them with strength to not be afraid to break away from painful relationships. La Morenita stands for so much more now. It stands for happiness. It stands for strength. It stands for confidence. It’s just a different light. It’s a different everything. I just want everyone to have faith and to keep fighting.”

If you know someone like Gomez who is making a difference in the South Texas community or who has a unique story, send us your tips. Contact Japhanie Gray on Facebook or @JGrayKSAT on Twitter. You can also send your tips to KSAT 12 & KSAT.com on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 by KSAT - All rights reserved.