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Today is a big day for Tege Lomelo.

It is the day Lomelo officially gets on with the rest of her life.

After spending the past two months working to shed the pain and dysfunction of her old life, today Lomelo moves out of the SAFE shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

Born anew from a chrysalis that nourished a new ability to resist the patterns that led her to forgive the drinking, drugs and violence, Lomelo wants the world to know that it is possible to break free, even after spending 24 years in a relationship with an abuser.

"I kept making excuses for it," Lomelo said of her partner's violent behavior. "But I learned over the past couple of months that I've just got to accept it. It is what it is."

Now, Lomelo, 45, will head for a new job in a new state, armed with the self-confidence that she said comes with gaining her independence and achieving the goal of earning her GED - she received her high-school-equivalency certificate last week.

Sitting in the Hamilton office of Literacy Bitterroot before being treated to the cap-and-gown ceremony that Literacy Bitterroot Director Dixie Stark said all her graduates receive, Lomelo was all about the future.

She was also more than a bit triumphant about her progress.

"I don't want to be portrayed as a victim," she said. "I want to be portrayed as a victor."

Grace Keskeny, an advocate at SAFE, or Supporters of Abuse Free Environments, said she was happy that Lomelo took the opportunity to change her life and to move from the role of victim of abuse to that of survivor.

"I think she was ready when the opportunity presented itself," Keskeny said. "And she just kicked that door wide open."

Keskeny said she knows how hard it can be to take those steps, away from a violent relationship and toward a goal like getting your GED.

"Ten years ago, that was me at the SAFE shelter," Keskeny said. "I know that feeling: you accomplish something and you get to start out on even ground and get on with your life. So I am really proud of her. But, I'm really proud of all my clients, and I'm proud that we had a hand in (helping her)."


Lomelo said the final straw in her relationship came when things turned violent on their 24th anniversary.

The up and down of living with an alcoholic had led to previous breakups, even divorce.

But Lomelo said she always had stayed with him.

There would be good times, too, she said, before things would once again disintegrate.

"It is hard," she said. "It's hard to break out of that cycle."

The relationship that began when she was still a teenager mirrored that of her own parents, she said.

There was the drinking and general instability that comes with that kind of sickness. And there was the violence.

In her parents case, by the time her father finally got himself sober, the damage was too great. The marriage was beyond repair.

"That was one reason I stayed so long," she said of her own situation. "It was hard seeing my family break apart."

But Lomelo finally found her tipping point, and once she had finally determined that she was ready to leave - to say goodbye to the things she'd used to make her home, to walk away from the father of her child - Lomelo said it was just a matter of how it went down.

"I had planned on taking a bus and just getting out," she said. "But when I found out I could stay (at SAFE) for 60 days, I thought, ‘I'm going to get my GED.' "

Lomelo's recent gains have fostered some longer-term goals.

A long-time worker in the home health-care field, Lomelo said she hopes to eventually gain the training required to work with the deaf.

Lomelo said she knows that her newfound confidence and ambition are products of her experiences at SAFE.

"If it wasn't for SAFE and the resources they have and their giving me a safe place to stay - and it was a little bit scary," Lomelo trailed off, thinking of the wrenching decision to leave. "But now I can actually pursue the things in life that I want to do. It's one of the most exciting times since my kid was born."

As if her enthusiasm for her hard-won independence hadn't carried the message home, Lomelo paused again.

"It's really only up to me," she said.

Finishing her work for the GED, which she said started with some very helpful instruction in Stevensville, was prompted by an article that was lying around one day during her stay at SAFE, Lomelo said.

In that story, a woman had overcome many obstacles - single parenthood not the least of them - to get herself on track.

"That was just one of those moments where you go, ‘Oh,' " she said. "And I can only hope that if someone hears about my story they may have the same reaction."

Lomelo said that moment spurred her to try again to get her secondary school degree, which in turn was the necessary piece to land the new job.

That, of course, was the key ingredient in gaining her independence.

Now that she has that accomplished, Lomelo said she can hardly wait for the next step.

"I can't wait to get (where I'm going) and start my life," she said. "This year, my Christmas presents didn't come with ribbons and bows, it came from Literacy Bitterroot and SAFE."

Stark said having a hand in that kind of gift is what makes her job so satisfying.

"It's really rewarding to see people who may not have had a lot of options and may have suffered abuse and to see them finish," Stark said.

Reach reporter Sepp Jannotta at 363-3300 or