By Jadyn Watson-Fisher Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Salon owner Cassie Cass shares her journey from the darkness of an abusive relationship to the beauty of being business owner, friend and role model for survivors of domestic abuse.
If there's one word that comes to mind when discussing Cassie Cass, owner and stylist at Studio Platinum Salon, it's tough.
It would be easy to put her in a categorical box because of her profession or personal style, but Cass might be the perfect case of not judging a book by its cover.
She isn't tough because someone could see her tattoos and lip piercing and think she's the stereotypical "tough chick" who doesn't believe in nonsense or vulnerability.
No, from the moment you meet her, there's a sense of protection, warmth. Cass is tough because of her compassion and desire to provide safety for others. She's tough because a spirit that could've been broken by an abusive ex-husband has turned into a successful business and a role model for others.
"I never in my past looked at my future and saw this. It is overwhelming and it is one of the biggest feelings. It's the greatest accomplishment that I've ever done on my own," Cass said of the salon. "If I hadn't gone through all of that, I wouldn't have all of this."
'If I stay, I'm going to die' Cass never thought she'd go into hair, but then she needed a way out of an abusive marriage.
A family member suggested she try cosmetology school, and begrudgingly, she did. Cass would drop her then-husband off at work -- they only had one vehicle -- and a classmate would take her to class.
She said it was the hardest year of her life, going to school and subsequently opening the salon with another woman, all while being abused at home.
"There were times where I thought, 'This is it. This is the day I'm going to die,'" Cass said.
Why didn't she just leave? It's a lot harder than just walking out the door and never coming back. It's hard to go to the Police Department and file charges against your husband. The psychological impact was significant.
Things did reach a breaking point, though, when Cass was strangled in front of her children, because her husband, who was on methamphetamine after previously being on K2, a synthetic drug, thought she was cheating on him. He believed she put a device on her phone to prevent him from tracking her; Cass said she didn't know he was doing it.
"At that time I thought, 'If I stay, I'm going to die. He's going to kill me,'" Cass said.
She didn't think her ex would've planned to kill her but the abuse would've gone too far.
"It was hard, but that's what drove me. I had to make this work. This is all I have," Cass said, mentioning she used her tax return to pay for her part of the salon. "I think if it weren't for that situation, I wouldn't have done any of this. I needed something. I needed to feel like I had some sort of control over my life."
'It was normal for me' Cass filed for legal separation before getting a divorce and thought the abuse would stop. She said that's not the case.
Things got worse after she left her husband, with whom she still shares custody of their daughter. After a stint with an Alcoholics Anonymous program, he said he was better and wanted to talk.
The stylist had plans the evening the two were supposed to meet but was anxious and hurried through dinner. He didn't believe she could've finished that quickly and called her a liar. She canceled the meeting. It was clear things weren't different.
Cass, however, wasn't in the clear. Her husband came to her home, saying he'd slit her throat, burn her house down with her children inside and burn down the salon.
Another time, while the state was working on a case against him, he ransacked her residence while she hid in the garage. He was found by police drunk with drug paraphernalia, open alcohol bottles and an open box knife in the front seat of his truck.
Their daughter was in the back.
Still, Cass didn't personally press charges and it took a Sebastian County detective going with her to finally obtain a protective order.
"It's really crazy what an abuser can do to your mind. It's really crazy what they can make you feel for them. I felt bad for him. I didn't feel bad for myself. I didn't want to get him in trouble and that's all I worried about. I didn't think about myself," Cass said. "At the time, I didn't realize how serious everything I was going through was. It was normal for me. This was my life. This was what I was used to."
A refuge from the world Cass can be found in her salon with sewing needles in hand to work on extensions or helping a client achieve a blended color correction.
There aren't a lot for domestic violence survivors -- Cass still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder -- which she hopes will change in the future. Despite this, her salon is a fortress. She's happy. She's safe. She's confident. It's been her support, and she's using it to help others.
Cass recalls her ex-husband -- he's gone through the courts system and is now sober -- being cocky and charming when they met. He was controlling, isolating, angry over small things and always had to get his way. Nothing was ever his fault.
She saw the warning signs but ignored them. Now she encourages her clients to look for those red flags -- "because once you're in love, you're blind" -- to prevent her clients from experiencing heartbreak and potential abuse, too.
"I actually get to talk to women every single day. I was very vocal about my story and still am," Cass said. "Women who go through domestic violence don't talk about it. That doesn't do anything for us. That protects our abuser."
Addison Young, a stylist at the salon for three years now, says her boss does what she says. Cass listens to clients and makes them feel safe, all while doing their hair.
"Working with Cassie and meeting her has been one of the best things to happen to me and my career," Young said. "She motivates all of us here to be better. She wants the whole place to succeed not just herself. The growth that has happened with her, the salon and the workers has been so beautiful to watch."
Cass is a lot of different things. She's a mom, a wife, a business owner, an advocate, a survivor. She's someone who took experiences from five years ago that were once secret and brought light to a subject no one seems to want to talk about. She's tough.
"No one's worth you feeling less than what you are. No one's worth you feeling belittled or small," Cass said. "Someone can love you without controlling you. Someone can love you and you can both be independent. It's never OK for someone to hurt you."
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