Jalleh Arian-Nejad has been through a lot. But her experience, she said, has made her better, not bitter, and has clarified her dream of giving back.
The North Laurel resident, a professional singer, pianist and actress, wants to open a nonprofit shelter for women who have been physically abused.
"I want it to be a transitional home, like the House of Ruth," she explained following the worship service at Calvary Chapel, which meets at the North Laurel Community Center. Arian-Nejad is part of the music team at the church. "The whole plan is to get them back on their feet. I want my music to be a way to jump start the shelter."
For every show she does, she wants to donate part of the proceeds toward the shelter.
The University of Maryland grad, who has performed at venues such as Toby's Dinner Theatre and Sidamo coffee shop in Maple Lawn, is driven by the abuse she received at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, the father of her young son. It began with verbal pot shots, she recalled, before taking the ugliest of turns after they moved in together.
"When I look back now, I was playing house," she said. "We had financial pressures. ... He was very controlling and possessive. He refused to watch our son, even long enough for me to go to the grocery store. There was no reasoning with him. The more I was bothered, the less he cared."
Over the course of her personal nightmare, she endured blows to different parts of her body, including her ribs. It became so bad, she said, she was unable to pick up their son, Jaden. The bruises told the story.
"I was good at covering up," she said. "I was in a weight-training class then, and I made up a story of how I dropped a weight on myself."
Literally and figuratively, Arian-Nejad had hit rock bottom. So she took her son and fled to the Los Angeles area, where she aspired to break into secular music. She worked as a location scout on major films like "The Hangover"and "Greenberg"with Ben Stiller. She also performed in her church on the West Coast. And at one point, sensing her ex was in hot pursuit, she got a restraining order. Still, she remained on the move, staying with a circle of close friends and relatives on the West Coast. Luckily, she said, he never caught up with her.
To help make ends meet — toughened, perhaps, by her own wilderness experience — she got a job teaching hard-core juvenile offenders at a probation school. In order to teach these kids, many of whom were gang members who never finished elementary school, they "locked me in a cage with a probation staff." While the California academic curriculum didn't include Christian witnessing, she said she slipped the gospel in anyway. "I realized they were just kids who needed to be loved on. They needed to talk."
As for her ex, he suffered a brain aneurysm in November, and she visited him in the hospital. Considering all that had happened, it jolted him to realize it was her standing over his bed in the intensive-care unit. Her time with him, though, tore down the wall separating them.
"I used to carry a lot of bitterness," Arian-Nejad said quietly. "Now, I don't. I look at him with compassion." And they will forever be linked by their love for Jaden, now 7.
Through every hardship, she is convinced, is the loving hand of God.
"From what Scripture tells us, trials perfect our faith," she said. "I believe God allows certain things to happen. If I didn't have a reason to depend on God, would I?"