Simmons, Kent

Kent Simmons prizes this portrait, created in pastels from separate photographs of him and his late mother, Kathy.

THERESA CHURCHILL FOR THE HERALD & REVIEW

To look at Kent Simmons, you'd never know one of his front teeth is fake.

He lost the original while working on a car when he was 12 or 13. He didn't remove a spark plug fast enough, so his father ripped the ratchet from his hand and hit him in the face with it.

You also cannot fathom the years of horror the event signifies, not even if you know his father is serving a 45-year prison sentence for beating his mother to death.

“In retrospect, it's very easy to say you should have done this, you could have done that,” Simmons said. “But when you're living that existence, it's just a cloudy pool that swirls and you can't find your way out.”

Kathy Simmons, the assertive former cheerleader who taught him tumbling and the hard worker who put herself through school and supported the family as a nurse, didn't find the exit in time. She bled out from a lacerated liver she suffered March 26, 2003, at her home near Burnside, Ill., which is about 150 miles northwest of Decatur, near Macomb. 

Prosecutors believe she was struck multiple times with the dowel rod she used to hang wet clothes out on her porch to dry. She was 45.

Now that Kent, 38, is approaching the same decade of life, he has begun telling his story in hopes of saving others from the quicksand of domestic violence. The Bloomington man was guest speaker at Dove Inc.'s, DeWitt County Candlelighting Ceremony.

The event was one of four such ceremonies Dove held to mark October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Teri Ducy, director of Dove's domestic violence program, is only sorry more people were not present at St. John The Baptist Catholic Church in Clinton to hear Simmons. “He has a heart-wrenching story,” Ducy said. “I so admire his strength and perseverance.”

Simmons and his partner, Chet, have been together since 2008 and have two teenage children. He has worked as a teacher and a coach and is now self-employed as a cheerleading official and judge.

He said his sensitivity to the people around him helps him connect with his students but it also makes him uncomfortable, even afraid, when he's around large groups he doesn't know. He kindly agreed to share with me a longer version of his life than he could while speaking in Clinton.

“We had violence in our home at least weekly,” Simmons said. “We had cabinets ripped off the wall, doors pulled off the hinges, knives pulled out of the butcher block and held up to somebody's throat. My sister and brother were hit with a fire poker.

“We lived in constant terror.”

The more Simmons talked, the more amazing his survival became.

“I am not a survivor, because that implies the process is done,” he said. “I look like a normal person, but I'm surviving.”

Theresa Churchill is a retired senior writer for the Herald & Review. Suggest places, people and topics for her by emailing theresandy85@gmail.com.

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