My name is Jennifer Asbenson. I am forty-three years old, and I live in a treehouse.
My life has been a roller-coaster ride. This treehouse feels like a safe place to be completely vulnerable. Let me start by telling you something that shocks most people. When I was nineteen, I escaped from a serial killer who murdered eight women. I am the only one who got away. You may be surprised to hear that the kidnapping and escape are just a small part of my life.
I grew up in an abusive household with no electricity or water. As a child, I was given responsibility for my handicapped brother. I kept him on a rope so he couldn’t get away. I was shy, innocent, and naive. I’ve been through a great deal in life and survived most of it with the help of God, humor, and my imagination. It has been a tough road, but out of everything I’ve been through, loving myself was the most difficult.
I am in the treehouse because one night, not too long ago, my heart was broken by the man in the house. I retreated to the guest room of the house with a full bottle of wine, my cell phone, my laptop, and my earphones. Tears flowed fast and hard until I hyperventilated. Kenny Rogers sang to me while I watched Christmas cartoons on mute.
The experience of the entire situation was a beautiful mess. I cried, I laughed, I drank wine, and, screw it—I’ll be honest—I smoked some pot as well. That same night and half-a-bottle of wine later, I decided I would write a book and finally tell my story. For some reason, I am most creative when I am enveloped by emotional turmoil. I decided I couldn’t live in the house anymore and determined the treehouse in the backyard would be sufficient.
The next morning I woke with swollen eyes and an empty bottle of wine beside me. I also had a horrific headache. Before I got out of bed, the man in the house knocked on my barricaded door. He gently pried the door open and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. I said, “Yes, of course.” Then, I told him I planned to move into the treehouse and write a book. I don’t think he took me seriously.
I now live in the treehouse in his backyard, about twenty feet away from the house.
Now, I must tell you that the man in the house is not a bad person at all. There are just some things in a relationship I no longer tolerate. I am codependent with a tendency toward relationship addiction. And, I have had my share of unhealthy relationships. But I am not disabled; I chose to end this cycle by not accepting any form of disrespect. I made a conscious decision some years ago to end relationships that cause me pain in any way, big or small, because they are unhealthy and not spiritually satisfying. It is very hard to leave these relationships. Some unhealthy relationships in my past took acts of God to end.
I don’t know what will become of the man in the house and me. All I do know is that I feel safest by myself. And, maybe, if I stay in this treehouse long enough, I’ll find and fall in love with the person who has always helped me through turbulent times—myself.
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About the Author
Jennifer Asbenson, author of The Girl in the Treehouse, is a survivor in more ways than most people ever encounter in their entire lives. Despite the challenges that Jennifer has faced early on, she has learned to rely on her belief in God, her sense of humor, and her imagination to overcome all challenges.
As the only surviving victim of Chicago serial killer Andrew Urdiales, Jennifer knows firsthand the aftermath of living through a life-threatening experience. She continues to be an advocate for the victims who cannot speak for themselves and continues to speak on behalf of mental health awareness. She suffers from extreme PTSD, OCD, Bipolar Disorder and debilitating anxiety. Through forgiveness and self-love, Jennifer has regained control of her life and has learned to accept and love herself as she is. When not journaling or helping advise PTSD survivors, Jennifer spends her time taking college courses and reading self-improvement books; she also loves to go on adventures with her support dog Wesley.
Jennifer has been featured on many media outlets including I Survived, 48 Hours and The Dr. Oz Show.