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Dear Abby: I am a 24-year-old woman, married to a 44-year-old man I'll call Harlan.

The abuse didn't start until six months after we were married. It didn't happen often at first, so I felt like I deserved being hit. Three years into our marriage, Harlan kicked me until I curled up in the fetal position. Then he soaked me with lighter fluid and told me he'd be right back after he ran a tub of water so he could put me out after I burned. When he left, I jumped into my car and left for the first time.

Soon after, I met someone. He was a great guy and I wanted so badly to be happy, but after six months I returned to Harlan. Harlan had promised that things would be different and, at first, they were great -- until he started drinking again.

Then one day I got in the car with him, and he said we were going for a ride. He pulled out a pistol, pointed it at my head, and told me I'd never breathe again. He made me get on my knees and beg for my life.

Then he ordered me to get into the trunk of the car. I refused, and he fired a shot. The bullet buzzed past my head. Next, he told me to get back in the car next to him. He pointed the gun in my direction and fired. I lost the hearing in my left ear and had severe headaches for months afterward.

You would think after all that I'd leave and never come back, because each time I do it gets worse. I have reported Harlan to the police and they had evidence against him, but still refuse to do anything. My heart is aching and I feel like I am to blame. Please help me. I love my husband, Abby, but I know in my heart if I don't go I'll end up badly hurt.

-- Hurting in Oklahoma
Dear Hurting: Your letter curled my hair. If you don't leave your husband you will wind up DEAD. Although you love him, you must wake up and recognize that his abuse has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. He is sick, without the normal controls that people need to function in a healthy relationship, and he is dangerous.

When dealing with a personality like your husband's, you must be very careful about leaving. The people at the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you formulate an escape plan. Their toll-free number is (800) 799-7233. (They also have a TTY number for the hearing-impaired: (800) 787-3224.) Once you are safely away, you will need psychological help to break this cycle, and I pray that this time you'll get it. You will have to make a new start, and mental health professionals who deal with domestic violence can help you accomplish it. I wish you luck.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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