Footnote to Yesterday’s Disclosure

As a footnote to yesterday’s disclosure, I would like to address an elephant in the room. It had actually been ASKED of me way back during my original court proceedings, in several different ways, why I chose my first husband; and that, in essence, what did I expect to get for marrying a black guy from the ghetto? This whole racist shame blame was one of the reasons I stayed married, and tried to make our relationship work, for so long. I didn’t want people to judge my experience as a blanket statement that all black men were a certain way….which I learned, was how many white people quietly felt.

And once I did leave my first husband, and I was asked to start telling my story to help others, I didn’t want my experience as a domestic violence victim to be founded on the premise of the color of skin of the man I married; that would be an evil betrayal of victims of all “skin colors”, including white, that domestic violence can only happen in certain demographics. It happens across, and up and down, the demographic board.

That being said, while I know that there are real men in every racial and ethnic group, I know from experience that there are losers too. Grown males being boys crosses all barriers too. I grew up with an uncle, a white guy, who ended up in prison for years for murder, but not before he first pulled a knife on, and threatened to kill, my aunt. My first husband was African-American and Caribbean. My second husband was Filipino and white. And my third husband was Mexican, Spanish, and white.

So please, when you read my story, throw all notions of racism out the door. The issues I’ve dealt with in relating to the men in my life are defined by the heart and character of the men I’ve chosen, not the color of their skin, ethnic heritage, or even religion. It’s about power and sexism and patriarchy, and a crippling misunderstanding of what it means to love and respect women, no matter the cultural background.

My parents raised me to always look at the heart and soul of a person, not how they look or where they were from, to determine their value in your life. And I ask you to still do the same. The brokenness of the men in my life was not because they weren’t white, or were white, or rich, or poor, or from a dysfunctional family, or spoiled. Their brokenness was caused by choices they made that, as an adult, they still chose to define themselves as victims, boys, and in need of being babied at all costs, all the time, instead of being the men that they had the potential, and were intended, to be.

I saw that potential, and loved that possibility and often times promise, rather than who each of them very clearly lived their actual lives being. My mistakes were in misjudging character, not culture. Please don’t do the same. There are amazing men out there that never get the chance TO be judged by their character, because they are too quickly judged and written off by their culture and color.

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

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This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.

 

 

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.

 

Reluctant Warrior

I am not a confrontational person by nature. I don’t like arguments. I’ve never been in a fist fight. I’ve never swung a punch. I don’t like loud voices. I physically shake when I feel threatened. In fact, I’ve repeatedly been known to do the worst thing possible DURING a disagreement; rather than fight or flight, I freeze. I grew up middle-class, where you talk, or give the silent treatment, to show your disdain for something; stubbornly changing the topic rather than every raising your voice… Heck…  I didn’t even say my first swear word until well into my third decade of life.

I was raised with this unspoken assumption that, when people around you are violent, you try to become invisible. You shrink yourself so that, if even only in your own mind, you get out of the way. If the rage is directed at you, then you acquiesce, you passively defer, you make yourself little, so that the other person feels powerful, in control, so that the bully can reign unchecked. You simply say “I’m sorry”, and “You’re right”, and “I’ll do better”, and “Please forgive me”, simply to diffuse the onslaught, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. I basically believed that, if I lost myself, I would at least save myself, right?

I adopted this perspective, in part, because I believed that true peace was the absence of confrontation; that submission was the absence of a second voice (mine); that being “nice” meant that one had to justify another’s venom and wrath; and that people who hurt people, were “hurting” people, that simply needed to be loved enough, so that they would become loving too.

This personal dogma led to the series of unfortunate events wherein, for 12 years,  I was punched; pinched to broken skin; hit;  kicked; spit on;  pushed down stairs at 8 months pregnant; pushed out of a car; scratched; had glass cups thrown that shattered on my head;  arms and face bruised; and suffocated in bedsheets….just to name a few  of the ways I was physically abused alone. I put up with all of this treatment ALL in the name of “keeping the peace” and “loving my significant other”. I had forgotten my own worth, vehemently denying any foul play even when various loved ones questioned the bruising they saw,  or the riotous rages they heard. So full of shame and disbelief was I , that denial was my only form of survival.

Then the day came that my six year old came home from preschool and said to me, “Mom, we played husband and wife today. And I told the boy that if his “wife” didn’t do what he told her to do, he could slap her in the face. That was ok, right? That’s what love is, right? That’s what daddy does to you, and you guys love each other, right? ”

Time stood still. My heart momentarily ceased beating. A reality check of a mirror had just been held up to my silhouette. My life changed forever in that freeze frame of time. I realized, in that instant, that whatever I was willing to put up  with for myself, for my own life, however much I had lost my own compass to reality, and that however dangerous of a home life I had shriveled up my psyche to live in, this was NOT the life I envisioned for my children. This was NOT the legacy I intended to leave.  I was instantly drenched in a pail of ice cold water. The frog had gone from slow roasting in the meanderingly rising heat, to being scorched by the broiler.The struggle had just been jarringly brought into focus. This mama bear had finally found her fight.

That day, I made a pact with myself. I refused to raise my children to ever believe again that a war zone for a home life was normal. And I grew into the paradigm shift that day that peace is not the absence of conflict, but the snuffing out of injustice; that power is not legitimate unless it’s shared and garnered through respect; and that your voice is something that no one should ever have the where with all to silence….  That was the day that, at under 100 pounds and my hair falling out due to unchecked prolonged stress,  I became a reluctant warrior  That day, I took up my shield and my sword, and I have never been the same.

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