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.

Full Disclosure of My Greatest Shame

This is a full disclosure post on the part of my life that I’m most ashamed of, even though those who know my story well find no fault for me in my journey, only a well-advised directive that my choice in men has to reflect my worth, not their potential.

And while this has been a developing thought process over the last several years, it was brought to a head, for some reason, through the wedding of Harry and Meghan. Weird, because I’m not a Royal family watcher or fan, I’m certainly not a person for power and position, and I am the last person to be formal and fabled. But I’ve learned a powerful lesson from watching these two and learning their story, and it has helped to heal mine.

To set the stage, all I ever wanted to be growing up was a wife and mom. I come from a long line of long marriages, and my soul desire in life was to carry on that legacy. However, the men in my life who loved the best were not men in positions of wealth or power or influence, and then men who were, were often drunk, violent, and unpredictable. I learned to trust the underdog and reject the seemingly accomplished.

Those who know my story know that I was married the first time to my children’s father, my first supposed love, for 12 years, before barely escaping via a full restraining order and police escort, weighing under 100 pounds. I say “supposed” first love because you can’t truly let anyone in who has abused you and controls you, even if you THINK it’s love initially.

And those who know my story know that I was married for eight months, about three years ago, after being a single parent for a long time….having worked hard, hard, to get myself healthy and whole, thinking that I had finally chosen a healthy, whole person, only to find out that he had been serially cheating me with multiple women, the entire time I’d known him, dating, engaged, or married to him, including the solicitation of sex on Craigslist.

Both of these marriages I’ve documented well. But where my shame lies is with a second, rarely mentioned marriage, that occurred about three years after my first divorce. And I’m not sure why I feel such shame, because I chose not to sleep around, I chose not to just live with someone, I chose not to party and drink my blues away, but I was in such a broken, battered, and bruised spot at the time that I feel like I had no business entertaining a relationship at all, let alone a marriage.

We met on MySpace, dated long distance for a few months, married in Reno, and then, 8 months later, after calling me a nympho the first 8 months of our marriage for WANTING sex, he came home one day and told me that he was bisexual, currently having an affair with both another woman AND a man, at the same time, and wanted a divorce. He’d suffered a TBI a few years before from a motorcycle accident, it had completely changed his personality, and he was just figuring out who he was again, is what I was told. All I DO know was that the TBI really did happen.

So that little girl whose only wish was to be a wife of one husband, for a lifetime, was a three time divorcee; a shame that, for me, I’ve been haunted by for the last decade.

And in that process, one has to then acknowledge that their picker is broken, and try to fix it. And in that process, I’ve learned some things about myself. I’ve always played small, wanting to shrink my talents and personality as to not draw attention to myself and to remain in the background. I have a deep anxiety about my worth, or lack of it, and have felt my whole life that I have had to earn the love I’m given. Which has led me to men that “need” me, and need “fixing”, and have great “potential” and that maybe I can prove my worth by helping them find it.

And conversely, men who are confident and who are powerful, or in positions of authority have intimidated me, made me feel more broken than I already was, and I felt like either they wouldn’t truly love me, and only want to control me, using me as their trophy wife; or I wasn’t worth their genuine love and protection because there was nothing to earn, and I wasn’t worth being valued, respected, and loved, simply for being myself, and my imperfect self, at that. I’ve spent years trying to be perfect because then my weaknesses would be strengthened and my armor fortified.

Needless to say, my own hang-ups, and then my life experiences, have done a huge number on me, and my view of men in my life. And it would be really easy just to succumb and wallow in cheap one night stands, or write relationships off completely, but deep inside me I’m still a believer in the love of the likes of Ruth and Boaz, and furthermore, I’m raising a son, and what kind of a man do I want to raise in him?

And then I see Harry and Meghan, a man of power, position, privilege, wealth, and yet when I see him look at her, I see a man who deeply loves and honors his wife, and everything else fades to the background; who, in all his strength, in his wholeness, he chooses her, not because she was the seemingly perfect choice, but because she was HIS choice, and he is made better still by the compliment of her. And her “being” and value to him is based simply on who she is, not what she can offer, make whole, fix, or make small so that he can shine brighter.

So may I raise my son to value himself enough not to remain a victim, but to step into his sacred masculinity like a boss, and love the women he will with an empowering presence. May I model for my daughter to never use her beauty to lord or power over a man, but to also never shrink in their presence to make any man feel more “manly” and in control, at her expense.

And to myself, may I learn to own my story, never play small again, choose not to make equal with me men who can’t even stand on their own two feet; relish my imperfections and scars because they have been forged by me at a great price; not shy away from men who have their s*** together because I’ve worked my a** off to get mine together, and iron sharpens iron, but rocks, papers, and scissors only destroy each other; and to entertain and choose a partner that looks at me the way Harry looks at Meghan, learning to rest and trust in the fact that I am worthy of a man who needs me for nothing other than me simply being myself.

Queen Anne’s Lace Tattoo

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My daughter was six years old the day I finally gathered the courage to leave her, and her brother’s, father. That day, with the cathartic seriousness of a therapist, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up. You’re finally standing up for yourself, and us.”

She. was. six.

Growing up, all I ever want to be was a wife and mom. While I was a tomboy in every other way, and I had no desire to cook and clean, I DID want to be barefoot, pregnant, and save the world. Little did I know that the world that would need saving would be the one inside the four walls of my own home, and the people most in need of rescue would first be myself, and my two young children.

Because that’s the thing about being in an abusive relationship/marriage. While in hindsight you can look back and see a million red flags pointing to the oncoming storms, at the time, you simply feel the stillness in the air, and hold your breath.

And the deeply etched heartache in the abusive context isn’t just the victim of direct abuse, but it’s the children. The little’s that everyone thinks can’t hear, can’t see, can’t possibly internalize the electrically charged atmosphere; can’t possibly remember years later, if not in conscious memory, than subconscious muscle memory, the stealth terror which froze them in their beds at night, clinging to their stuffed animals; or the stealth fear during the day at not wanting to let their abused parent out of their sight for fear that they can’t protect them; or the stealth anxiety that eats away at their childhood, clawing away the simple joys of the newness of the world, and instead replacing it with the simple and singular focus of realizing that their world isn’t safe, and how do they defend themselves, and those they love, against it?

Which pops the bubble of yet another childhood idealism for children of domestic violence relationships, that of a child being able to trust that the adults closest to them will first and foremost protect them.

That’s where this tattoo comes into play. When I left my abusive marriage, and my daughter spoke the words that have haunted me to this day, I was NOT the person I was supposed to be. And yes, I can justify and explain, and even use solid research to back up why I was an absolute mess at that time in my life. And that matters. And it’s a million conversations for another day.

But today, it’s about her. My then six year old who lived in constant fear and constant anxiety. My six year old who chose to step in the middle of me and her father, because she wanted to protect me from his blows. My six year old who hated all dark colors because they were a sign of weakness to her. Why? Because I only wore dark colors at that time in our lives, and until the day I left her father, she saw me as weak. My six year old was my emotional strength, and what kept me sane, in those early years when I felt like my world was crashing, and spinning, and destructing, before my very eyes; but she carried a burden that was not hers to carry.

And another aspect of being a child of an abusive marriage is that they struggle to know who to “align” themselves with. While they want to protect the parent that is being  hurt, the survival mechanism kicks in as well. So their young and innocent mind decides that they better draw close to the abuser, as scary as that can be, because it’s probably safer than being closer to the abused; heck, the abused can’t even defend themselves, how will they be able to protect them? Their world of clarity and truth is obscured by the dense clouds of confusion, and fraught with the discordant rhythms of a childhood that has been stolen from them.

Then, besides having to heal from all the other trauma that we lived through, once the three of us escaped the situation, another challenge confronted us. I had to earn back the right to be respected, and the right to be the authority, and the right to be the creator of a safe and trusted place…… so that slowly my daughter could learn to be carefree in who she was….. a now 7-year-old. I had no voice, no commanding motherly presence ( still working on the commanding part), and I offered very little hope. And while my love for my children was large, and wide, and deep, and overpowering, it wasn’t expressed in the language where they could sense or feel it. So I had to heal myself,  heal my daughter, heal my relationship with her, and heal our home, all under continuing adverse circumstances. Our home was no longer a war zone, but many other places were still. And I had to learn how to fight for her in those areas too.

Which means that we kinda raised each other. Which means that there have been many days when we have been more like sisters than a mother and daughter. Which means that I have worked overtime to ensure that my daughter trusts my authority, feels safe with the boundaries I’ve drawn, and is secure enough to fall apart herself, knowing that I will be there to pick up the pieces.

We were discussing tattoo ideas a couple of years ago. She turns to me and says, “mom, I think you should get a Queen Anne’s lace tattoo.” I look up at her and ask her why.
“Mom,  the meaning behind a Queen Anne’s Lace is ‘haven, sanctuary, place of safety and rest’. You have been, and are that, for my brother and I. You need to have your next tattoo be that as it tells the next part of your story,  our story. We feel safer with you than anywhere else or with anyone else, now; and you don’t understand just how important that is. My brother and I would be involved in so much s*** if it wasn’t for you and your example. ”

And once again, like the raw emotion I felt the day she was six, I look at her, stunned,  in wonder and amazement.

All those sleepless nights, all those deep conversations, all those occasional yelling matches and slamming of doors, all those days when it took all the energy I had to physically cradle her through her rages, all those times I did not back down when she challenged me, the time I believed her when she disclosed the unthinkable abuses that had been done to her……all of the underpinnings of parenting that were magnified a zillion times in our case. All… of….. it….. mattered…. All of it made a difference. All of it created a world of order from chaos, hope from despair, and peace from what started as a war zone.

There are a lot of things I’ve failed at in my life. But being a mom evidently isn’t one of them. So while others toast to celebrate, I get inked.  Cheers!

 

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

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.

 

Ecclesiastes Tattoo

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I come from a long lineage of very long marriages.

My parents have been married 47 years, and counting. They haven’t killed each other yet    (although they’ve had some doozies over the car AC, especially).  At the height of my parents marital stress level, right after my mom went back to work after being a stay at home mom for nearly a decade, I heard them arguing one night. This was the only time I have EVER  heard a SINGLE uttered swear word in my home growing up. It stressed me out. I asked my mom if she and my dad were going to get divorced. She looked at me increduloulsy and said, ” No. I made a commitment to God to love your father until the day I die. I might KILL him so that day comes sooner, but I will never divorce him.”………ah….my life was rebalanced again….

My dad’s  parents were married 41 years before my grandma died.

My mom’s parents were married a month shy of 70 years before my nana died. 70 years!!! I asked my Boppo one day, if he had to do it over again, would he still have married my nana? He looked at me, ever earthy and blunt in nature, and said, laughing gruffly, “Yes I would; it’s been hell WITH her, but it would be hell WITHOUT her too.”

And even though none of these marriages were perfect, they were what I aspired to. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. Period. I saw life as something less than the ideal if I had to walk it alone. And THAT was coming from an only child who loved solitude and being alone.

My parents were a cross-classism couple, my dad being from a working class, “Oakland flatlands” family, and my mom being from a white collar “Kensington/El Cerrito hills” family. Progressive and all-inclusive was how I was raised. Color and class didn’t matter. All that mattered was whether someone loved God, and respected himself and his family, or not. So to marry someone outside of my given social status was irrelevant to me. Love conquered all. I saw itplay out  repeatedly within the four walls of my childhood home.

When I got married to my children’s father, it was for a lifetime. Come hell or high water. Come interracial couple backlash. Come class conflict. Come parenting challenges. Come financial issues. Come drug addiction……..come domestic violence…….come child abuse………

Slowly my ideal dream of being married for a lifetime, and being a couple like my parents and grandparents, slowly slipped through my fingers like sands in an hourglass. I fought it. Boy did I fight it. Probably 11 years too long. I gave up everything to keep my marriage in tact. Because I believe that marriage is worth fighting for; that the person I pledged my life to, to love in good times and bad, sickness and health, deserved my loyalty, because, if you aren’t supported in your own home, nothing else makes much sense.

Until the day I realized that the refuge I had created for him, had conversely become a war zone, battleground for me and our children. And then I had a huge decision to make. Did I leave my marriage, and quite possibly save myself and my children, literally? Or did I hang out, and go down with the sinking ship, keeping the candle lit until the fierce winds engulfed it’s light?

I went to church that Sunday. The weekend where everything had come to a head. By myself, as usual, at that time. A white woman, in a predominantly black church, carrying a burden about my black husband, where I felt like years of racism and oppression and institutionalized “everything”, had fallen on my shoulders. So many things went through my head. Was his brokenness my fault? Was the fact that I was white push him over the edge? How did I reconcile what I know was a very traumatic past on his part, with how he was traumatizing everyone in his present? How did I extricate myself from an abusive marriage without the expected and judgemental mindsets whispering, “See, you should never have married a black guy anyway,” or, ” What did you do to him, you oppressive white chick?”, or ” He just needs to be understood, he’s  a black man in America. That should say it all.”

I struggled and struggled with this, until MLK’s words came to my mind. To me, how my then husband acted in the four walls of our home wasn’t based on the color of his skin, but the content of his character. And his own demons, black, or brown, or yellow, or white…. were winning, at the cost of all of us involved. It was a pastor at this church who said to me, “Marriage is a very personal thing; and while everything that happens outside of that home does effect the inside, each adult is responsible for what they allow of themselves, and each other, inside those four walls. God did not create marriage to be a punching bag of any kind, for anyone. And the second that you are afraid to be home, is when you need to forget everything that you think should hold you there, and fight for the things that should make you leave.Your children need to have a man in their life who handles himself as a true man, with honor and protection of those he loves, rather than abusing them. And rather than feeling like you are letting a black guy down, look at it as though if this is the only black guy your children will know, what will they think of them? The stereotyping can go both ways.”

The sermon that day was on detours that God puts in our lives. We are going one direction, and all of a sudden, the road verges sharply in another direction. And  those detours are God’s way of recalibrating our lives, refocusing our priorities, and rebalancing the status quo. The passage the pastor preached  from was Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time for everything.

A time to be born, and a time to die; 

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to seek, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to sew, and a time to tear;

A time to keep silent, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate;

and a time for war, and a time for peace. 

And just like that, I knew it was time to let go; to release what I had so tightly held; to embrace the unknown of a detoured road; to trust a God who loved me enough to disrupt the status quo, who embraces His people more than His expectations for His people.

And this tattoo was born. Changing Autumn leaves to represent the changing of our lives, and to celebrate the idea that sometimes certain dreams have to die before they can be reborn, that the Phoenix must burn before it can rise again.

 

 

 

 

The tribe that created my village

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My daughter graduates from high school next week. Her ceremony will be small, as she is graduating from a charter/home school institution….We were discussing who would be invited to her graduation. She’s not a talker, or a “feeler” in particular, or even a social person much; rather an extreme introvert. She likes relatively few people around her, and MUCH time in solitude.

 So her text late at night, words that tore into my heart, surprised me as much as they made me acutely aware of MY feelings, of love, and inadequacy, and heartache. She shared that, in her dreams for her graduation day, there would be a huge family, making lots of noise, cheering her on, and christening her with LOTS of leis…..that this is what she had always imagined the perfect ceremony to be. And she knew hers wouldn’t be like that, and she was really grateful for all that I WAS doing, but she wanted me to understand why sometimes she was sad.

See…we have a small family. My parents, and her brother, and I, are pretty much it. Her father isn’t allowed to see her, the rest of his family lives back East, and we have no extended family that we are in contact with. And in this life, we have known a lot of tragedy. We have suffered a lot of loss. We’ve had a lot of unexpected endings, and seemingly rock-solid alliances, that have been torn away. We’ve had family that we have held dear, repeatedly violate our love and trust, and do unheard of things that “family” doesn’t do, necessitating us to build walls around our castle, keeping all but the most tried and true, out.

And her shared thoughts made me sad, filling me with grief for what I couldn’t offer her, for where I had let her down, for needs that I couldn’t fill with the resources I had….

And then I was thinking about the friends that have become our family over the years. Those that have been there when we needed a safe place to go to escape a violent home; or those that have picked us up when we were a million broken pieces lying on the floor, telling us that we would one day be whole again; those that have walked every weary, back-breaking path with us… understanding our silence, holding space for our pain, and slowly encouraging us to breathe joy once again; those that have stood as stoic, unmoving soldiers, fiercely defending and protecting us when we couldn’t protect ourselves; and those rejoicing with us over the simplest of pleasures, encouraging us to laugh, and to sing, and to dance…. and to reassure us that we were safe, finally, to do so.

And it was then that I realized that we may not have much of a blood family, but we have a tribe surrounding us. This tribe has both kept our village safe from the outside, and kept us celebrated from the inside. It is this tribe that has been there all along, and it is this tribe that will surround us this coming week.

So no, dear daughter, it may not be much blood family that will be standing with you as you embark on this next moment of your life. But the tribe that WILL be surrounding  you will be thicker than blood; with respect deeper than our strongest fears; and pride wider than our greatest worries; and most importantly, with love that is chosen rather than expected. YOU my child, are a warrior that is invaluable to it’s pack. So confidently take your place, stand tall with your shoulders back, and roar.

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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