Audrey May shares story of overcoming hardships

OKEECHOBEE — Audrey May is a great example of faith and determination. Mrs. May grew up in Okeechobee, attended local schools, and is now a college graduate. But her story is far from ordinary.

Last Friday, she was the Student Commencement Speaker for her class at South Florida State College in Avon Park.

Her speech was about her own life, which has had some dark twists and turns.

“My speech was about giving them hope and faith, to inspire people and encourage them to continue with their education. I went through a lot of obstacles, but I told them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Mrs. May said she was emotionally, physically, and sexually abused as a child by members of her own family.

Her family was originally from Puerto Rico. They moved to the mainland U.S. in search of better jobs. Audrey was born in Philadelphia. When she was three years old, the family moved to Okeechobee. Audrey was the youngest of six children.

She said her childhood was marred by abuse and molestation.

“It was a generational curse. It started with an older sibling,” she added. She said the parents blamed the girls for all the abuse and never the boys.

She recalled nearly being raped at age 11 and going to Raulerson Hospital to get help. She told the truth about the abuse and thought her mother was on her side.

“She came back and said ‘Audrey you need to tell everybody that you’re just looking for attention,’” she explained.

Mrs. May said it was then she realized that she had to leave home. She found that the streets of Okeechobee were the best place for her.

“I felt safer on the streets than I did at my home,” she admitted. She slept on benches, in the dugout of the sports complex, and wherever she could to survive.

She said her only happiness came from school. She attended Central Elementary and Yearling Middle School, and has nothing but praise for the teachers who worked with her.

Then she met a man she thought was her savior. The two were married, moved to California and had a daughter. She said she needed a father figure, a way to escape and security. Just when it looked like she had found happiness, the relationship soured.

Audrey was convinced by her then-husband that he had to return to his native El Salvador because he was an illegal alien and was being kicked out of the country. He told her that they had to go to his home country, get new documents, and then return to the United States.

It turned out to be a trick, and several years of domestic abuse followed.

“We actually drove there and you could see the difference immediately.

People were jumping on the vehicle, trying to sell us stuff. I was really in shock,” she admitted.

Her husband promised they would be there only three months. That is the amount of baby formula she was able to bring with her. When the three months passed, she told her husband that they must return to the United States for the baby’s sake. He refused. He ripped up her passport and sold his vehicle.

“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know the dialect. We had no running water, no electricity, and I gave birth to my children at home in a mud hut,” she added.

Audrey had nowhere to turn. With no family support in Okeechobee, and no support in El Salvador, she was stuck in a desperate situation.

“If I said one wrong thing, I was hit with a bull whip. I have scars on my forehead from a machete,” she added.

Audrey struggled with cooking meals in primitive conditions, and ruined all of the clothes because they had to be washed on rocks at the creek. Her children became very sick with parasites. She weighed only 95 pounds and was in poor health.

Her rescue came in the form of missionaries who visited the area. They provided free medicines to the children. She visited the clinic and understood what they were saying in English. This attracted the attention of the missionaries who wondered “who is this woman?”

Audrey told them her story, that she was an American citizen and that she wanted to return to her country.

Soon afterward they came to the village where she lived and devised a plan for her to escape. As a cover, they would study the Bible with her by the creek so they could speak to her privately. One day the missionaries said they would bring her to the U.S. Embassy. They told her husband they were taking Audrey and the now four children to church.

At first, the officials at the Embassy did not believe her story, she recalled.

They questioned whether she really was an American citizen. She convinced them by singing the Star Spangled Banner and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, two things she remembered from her days in Okeechobee schools.

“They were pretty cold at first. After I recited the pledge they were impressed, and found my records and helped me to get back in this country,” she added.

She and the children returned to the U.S., settling in Miami. Later she moved on to Houston, Texas. She got help there and finished high school, and began a career in the medical field.

Later Audrey and her children moved back to Florida, where she found a job at Florida Hospital in Highlands County and she started taking classes at SFSC.

She met Brandon May, who works in the emergency room, at Florida Hospital. The couple were married six years ago.Audrey May unbelievable story pic

“I wished for a happy family in the dugout at Yearling Middle School many years ago. I had always had a strong faith in God no matter what I went through,” she said.

She said her commencement speech, given in front of her children, was meant to inspire. She pointed out that she paid for her college education and has worked hard for everything she achieved. After the speech, she received a standing ovation, and got several hugs from her classmates. Many mothers came up to her and thanked her for sharing her story.

“You don’t have to sit there and dwell on the ugly parts of life. You can overcome it and mentor others and bring out some light,” she added.

She also has found forgiveness in her heart for those who victimized her.

“I keep away from the people that hurt me, but I do give them forgiveness. To prosper in life, you must give forgiveness and hope that they can change one day,” she said.

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