Aware Pt. 2

Just walk out the door.  When you leave an abusive marriage, you are surrounded by a forcefield, making you impervious to all future harm.  Once you pull yourself up by  your bootstraps, end your chronic need for a relationship, conquer your fear of being alone, you drive into a new world filled with pink sunsets.

According to the movies.

I become angered whenever an individual casually says, “Why don’t you just leave?”  It indicates an ignorance about the mechanics involved with abuse and rebuilding one’s life.  As though a person who has made controlling and misusing a person their favorite pastime, will just let that go without a fight.

Of course, escaping an abusive relationship is a huge step in the right direction, it is just that – a step.  My first real life account of domestic violence was Tracey Thurman (now Motuzick), when I was about 11 or 12.  She met Charles “Buck” Thurman in 1979, married him in the spring of 1981, and they separated in the autumn of 1982.  For eight months, he stalked and harassed her to the point that her friends filed a complaint on her behalf.  In this time, she called the police on Thurman 19 times.  On June 10, 1983, Thurman violated a restraining order, prompting Motuzick to call the police.  When the police arrived, Thurman attacked Tracey, stabbing her 13 times.  The police officer, in a profound lack of judgment, took the knife, but left Thurman unsecured, allowing him to grab their son, and stomp on Tracey one final time, breaking her neck. Tracey’s account of this story can be heard here.  Connecticut’s Family Violence Prevention and Response Act of 1986 was essentially created after Tracey’s ordeal.  The most prominent change is that the abused individual is no longer asked “do you want to press charge,” but rather it is up to the assessment of law enforcement to determine whether or not a crime has been committed.  Again, progress.

And yet, Yvette Cade still happened. Yvette’s tragedy received national attention, thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey having her on her show.  Again, this is the case of an estranged couple, where a wife had taken out a protective order against her husband.  What makes this story different, however, is that Prince George’s District Court Judge, Richard A. Palumbo, dismissed Yvette’s protective order three weeks prior.  Her estranged husband, Roger Hargrave, showed up at her job at T-Mobile, doused her with a Sprite bottle filled with gasoline, and set her on fire.  She spent three months in the hospital, and has had dozens of surgeries.  Her physical appearance has been altered forever, due to having the guts to leave an abusive situation.

There is no magic bullet once you find yourself in an abusive situation.  Most domestic violence resources will prepare you for the threats that loom once you leave.  Once you remove the abuser’s primary means of control – unfettered access to you – most times they become even more unstable.  I was stalked for a year and a half.  In that time, I had developed my own personal police officer (who came so often, I don’t think he believed that I was not still involved with my ex-husband), and he assaulted me in a public hallway outside of my cousin’s home.  It wasn’t until he was ultimately arrested, I refused to drop the charges, and they (miraculously) had record of every single report against him I had ever filed, that he stopped harassing me regularly.  (This, however, did not stop him from physically abusing his current estranged wife, including breaking her jaw.)

One of the most eerie facets of domestic violence is the offender being positively oblivious to their problem.  Thurman originally was there to beg for Tracey’s return, yet when he was angered by the police presence, savagely beat her.  Hargrave, shortly before his trial, attempted to call Yvette from jail.  I am willing to wager that any woman who has endured domestic violence could recount a similar story.  I would also believe that they would admit that they still exist with a certain amount of fear.  Even now, almost eight years later, when my ex-husband was in town for a mere 18 hours for Finge’s graduation, I was ridden with an enormous amount of anxiety.  It’s not something that you just “snap out of.”

I commend Tracey Motuzick and Yvette Cade for using their experiences to help other women.  Tracey is still involved with The Susan B. Anthony Project. Through the Yvette Cade Fund, Yvette has used her own story and testimony to push for legislation to protect victims of domestic violence.

The path to leaving is not easy.  Abusive people will use anything at their disposal manipulate you into coming back.  Your friends, family, church members, children – nothing is off limits to them.  There were days where I didn’t know if he would be outside of my job, or sitting in my home waiting for me.  Despite the fear and uncertainty, it is all worth it.  I have never regretted the day I chose my own well being, and the well being of my children, over an unstable person so mired in his own insecurities and self-hatred, his only outlet was to attack.

It can’t be said enough.  Your safety is worth the struggle.

Aware Pt. 1

In addition to October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, the incomparable Flahy Blak Chik brought to light the fact that it is also Domestic Violence Awareness month.  She has a great testimony on her blog, and I recommend you check it out not only for that, but also helpful statistics and information as it pertains to domestic violence.

Those of you who have been with me through the years (do you recognize it will be almost SIX?!), know of my own experience with domestic violence.  Of course, a man that batters a woman has issues on top of issues, but I don’t want to focus on that today.  I want to talk about why I stayed, and why I left, in hopes it can help the next person.

My marriage was ill-conceived and ultimately, unhappy.  However, we were both raised in religious households where children out of wedlock was a problem that needed to be “fixed,” and divorce was the most unsavory of options.  He obviously did not want to be there.  I felt trapped.  He frankly, was not a stand up guy, so it was no surprise to me when, less than four months into our marriage, he pushed me down for the first time.  Subsequently,  incidents where he would show disrespect or disregard for me and our family in general became common place.  Even when he was not pushing me, or physically restraining me from leaving, he would break things, or exhibit other violent behavior.  He would blow up, I would bundle up the kid(s), leave until he cooled off, then I would go back home.

I stayed because I believed that due to my own unhappiness, I somehow provoked his outbursts, or exaggerated their meanings.  Simply put, I thought it was my fault. To divorce him, I feared, would be letting my entire family down, so I lived my life around his outbursts.  My hair began to fall out in clumps, I gained a tremendous amount of weight, and I was fatigued beyond measure.

My family, unable to remain silent finally spoke up.  Though unaware of the whole story, something was obviously wrong.  My initial reaction was to gloss over everything.  I believed that I could handle it, despite his escalating behavior.  Halfway into the conversation, something clicked in me and I was blessed with the strength to tell my father everything.  The family that I was so fearful of disappointing did everything they could to support me, and provide a safe place for me.

I am grateful that my support system came from within my family blood lines, but it does not have to be limited to that.  If your loved one has become isolated, or exhibits other symptoms of abuse, speak up!  Even if the person being abused rejects your help immediately, know that with abuse comes a great deal of shame and embarrassment, so do not take it personally.  Make it known that you are there them whenever they are ready.

If you are being abused, mentally or physically, LEAVE.  As I will highlight in the second part, it will not get better.  You can not “turn” someone into an abuser.  It is who they are.  The same person that I was married to, remarried and savagely beat his second wife as well.  Abuse is not something that you “deserve.”  Get out and get HELP.  Though Flahy Blak Chik included the contact information in her blog, the numbers for the National Domestic Violence Hotline are as follows:

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Always know that you are worthy of help.

When I grow up

“___ is the new ____.”

Peter Pan syndrome is rampant.  There are a thousand reasons offered as to why we shouldn’t have to grow up, or feel our age.  In truth, yes, we should not allow our age to stop us from achieving goals and dreaming big.  I know of several people who did not quit their dream of higher education, obtaining degrees in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s.  It’s important to dream, have goals, and not be deterred.  This takes true grit.

Dear 40 year-old aspiring rappers and those of your ilk, this does not apply to you.

Certain behaviors carry expiration dates, and we would do well to adhere to them.  Trying to break into the rap game on the verge of being a “Pe-Paw” is one example, but by no means is it alone.  I find a lot of people, in the name of still claiming or holding onto youth, being absolutely silly.  It would be absolutely foolish to assert that once a person hits 30, their entertainment should only consist of baccarat, macrame, and Newshour with Jim Lehrer.  However, there comes a certain time where we know better, and are charged to do better.

I won’t go long with this, but people, grow up!  Easily, 75% of the unfavorable circumstances we deal with can be traced back to some sort of immaturity, whether it’s the inability to control one’s tongue, spending or body parts.  Get it together!

Tired of playin’ ’round here.

“I want some of that purple stuff…” (c) Dave Chappelle

Some ideas sound good, others are good; however, the meeting of the twain is not always inevitable.  Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson, respectively of New York City and State, have petitioned the federal government to eliminate sugary drinks as eligible purchase items for food stamp recipients.  Health initiatives are not new to Bloomberg, as New York has become all but smoke free under his administration.  It’s not surprising that he would tackle the growing problem of obesity.  Sodas and similar beverages hold little to no nutritional value, and are directly linked to obesity.  Additionally, anyone who simply goes outside in the morning has seen a small child gulping down a sugar boosted drink, quite possibly accompanied by an equally unhealthy honey bun.  The eating habits of this country are out of control.

In support of this initiative, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley and New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard F. Daines penned the op-ed article “No Food Stamps for Sodas” in the New York Times today, stating:

The city’s proposed program would not reduce participants’ food stamp benefits or their ability to feed their families a nutritionally adequate diet.  They would still receive every penny of support they now get, meaning they would have as much, if not more, to spend on nutritious food.  And they could still purchase soda if they chose — just not with taxpayer dollars.

Simple enough.  Something needs to be done.  Something other than this half-cocked, presumptuous proposal.

Let’s first address the aspect of what is and is not being done with taxpayer dollars.  We live in the United States of America, where money is so much of a religion, the words “In God We Trust” are printed on it.  After seeing the ten thousandth person joke/comment about their tax dollars being spent on food stamps and welfare, I decided to research how much was actually being spent on those programs.  I had to do a lot of digging to find the answer. The percentage, when I looked it up in 2004, was in the single digits.  Don’t believe the hype – this country is not going broke taking care of poor people.

But so what?  The people receiving this money are receiving taxpayer dollars, right?  So why should they be able to buy a Coke at my expense?  Perhaps because they’re buying it at their expense.  Though it would be convenient to believe that every food stamp recipient is a welfare queen that does nothing but drink, smoke, and collect government funds, many recipients work; some work full time jobs or are full time students.  Every working American can recall that sickening moment when they looked at their first pay stub, and realized that Uncle Sam’s cut goes all the way down to the bone. 

What’s that son?  You only made $85 for two weeks?  You sure?  Looks to me like you made $75 for two weeks.  *snatches your ten dollars from your boss’ hand*

This jack-move does not exclude people who scrub floors, bag groceries and hold down other honest jobs for peanuts.  Annually, a minimum wage employee, working 40 hours weekly, will earn $17,160.00 before taxes.*  Two children would put an individual with this income below the federal poverty level.  In theory, one could use this example to espouse the benefits of higher education and achievement.  Yet that begs the question, in a nation full of doctors, lawyers and engineers, who’s going to mop the floor?  Who will work for the business owners who unscrupulously schedule a person to work 28 hours weekly, because at 30 hours, they would qualify for health benefits?  Once someone steps up and assumes these tasks, how much are you willing to pay them?  These jobs almost invariably start at minimum wage.  It is ludicrous to assert that these tax-payers do not have the right to marry, procreate and feed their families.  I would be remiss if I did not point out to tax-payers not on public assistance, that they are looking to levy higher taxes on soda purchases as well, so before you wage war against the under privileged, put down your cash purchased soda and mull that over.

Things such as this pick up speed, because middle class American’s of all walks of life, will only look at the term “government assistance,” and immediately turn up their noses.  Momentarily they forget that, oft times, they are within $1,000-$2,000 annually from public assistance themselves.  They won’t address some of the public programs that they have lied about to attain eligibility.  (People talk, and every single one of you at least knows someone who has done it, if you haven’t fudged a bit yourself.)  A large swath of the United States is in the middle to lower-middle class trenches, but unquestioningly will leap on the side of the privileged on this matter.  The majority of working people would be forced to make a bee-line the welfare line when faced with unemployment.  But until then, it is okay to cast shame and aspersions on those in need, without thinking for one moment that those on assistance were once working stiffs like them.

In addition to the concern about tax-payer dollars, Bloomberg simply wants to see if this will have an effect on New York City’s obesity rate.  As a mayor, he could set an example, causing a ripple effect throughout the US.  Well, what about as a business owner?  According to the New York Times, his company, Bloomberg LP, offers free snacks to its employees.  Included amongst those free snacks are sodas, far as the eye can see.  Why did his initiative not begin there?

The only reason this proposal will quite likely fail, is because of the effect that it will have on larger business owners, such as Coke and Pepsi.  Of course, this forces the question, if we are penalizing the consumer, WHY are we not obligating these soda companies to start their own health initiatives?  Why isn’t it being demanded of Coke to build free or low-cost fitness facilities?  Or even further, why are supermarkets and distributors not being taken to task for the price-gouging that makes healthy eating so much more expensive?*  And if they start on soda, what will cause them to stop there?  Agendas such as this start in on those without voices, but there is quite often a distasteful ripple effect in bigger picture.

A larger scale proposal, impacting sellers and consumers would indicate sincerity in tackling this countries obesity problem.  Until then, the message will read, “You’re poor, you don’t deserve this, so I will make this unaffordable to you simply because I can.”

*I would absolutely LOVE to hear why a thigh and a breast can come from the same chicken, yet the less healthy thigh is $0.99 a pound, whereas the breast is upwards of $6.00.  Is there a rare all-breasted chicken of which I am unaware?

Reconnection

Tyler Clementi’s death should weigh heavily upon all of us.  In a universe of self-absorption and amusement at the expense of others, this young man took his life when his roommate and an accomplice, recorded and live streamed an intimate encounter with Tyler and a man.  Though an exceptional violinist, his name will be attached to a tragedy that, truly, did not have to be.

For a moment, let’s eliminate the fact that he was gay.  Tyler Clementi is a heterosexual teenager, whose performance is being analyzed by a group of people who do not care for him.  This still has the potential to be a traumatic situation.  There are still people who view their intimate moments as private, and rightfully expect to be free from scrutiny and malice.  Replace the fact that Tyler WAS a gay, and apparently (at least partially) closeted teenager, and this makes this invasion even more traumatic.  There had to be a certain level of fear, not only of how his peers would react, but members of his family, his primary support system.

I began investigating the topic of teenage suicide, and came across The Trevor Project, an organization specifically meant to support LGBT teens.  It offered sobering facts pertaining to suicide rates amongst LGBT teens.  The two that struck me hardest were:

  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007)
  • Questioning youth who are less certain of their sexual orientation report even higher levels of substance abuse and depressed thoughts than their heterosexual or openly LGBT-identified peers (Poteat VP, Aragon SR, et al – Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 2009)

It is indisputable that Tyler Clementi was a victim of homophobia, and the fear of being outed as gay was much more than he could bear, but there are so many other openly gay teens that weather the storm (for better or for worse), so I see this as more than just an issue of sexuality.  I also see this as more than just “giving up,” the simplistic light some cast upon suicide.  In cases of completed and attempted suicides, though there are major catalysts that may be pointed to as the trigger, there are more often than not underlying factors bubbling beneath the surface.  Though they are at greater risk, not every gay teen completes or even attempts suicide.  So why Tyler? The Trevor Project addresses this as well:

  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are more than 8 times as likely to have an attempted suicide than LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection (Ryan C, Huebner D, et al – Peds 2009; 123(1):364-352)

Though I admittedly know nothing of Tyler, his background, and his support system, alienation from one’s family plays a major role in depression and suicide.  This is by no means the time to single out parents, but rather, how we deal with our youth who do not subscribe to societal norms as a community.  When we began looking at children as someone else’s problem rather than valued members of our village, we began losing the battle for our youth.  Though not (currently) dealing with an issue of this magnitude, as a parent, I still realize my role as a support beam for those two lives for which I am responsible, as well as the other young ones in my family and community.

The simple act of being a teenager is a challenge in and of itself.  Our kids walk a razor’s edge between coolness and marginalization.  We’ve heard the saying time and again, “Kids can be cruel.”  These are not just empty words.  But, as parents, how do we react toward our children?  As adults, how do we treat the children we encounter?  I can walk past the most unruly group of youngsters, and simply acknowledging their humanity with an “Excuse me,” or “Good afternoon” can make all the difference.

From a personal standpoint, I had to take a brutally honest look at how I deal with my own children.  With my mouth, I consistently encourage them to come to me with problems, or be honest with me when they fall short so that we can work things out together.  However, with my actions, I’ve actually heard my inner voice saying, This is why they didn’t want to tell you.  In situations where my kids legitimately screwed the pooch, I yelled, I berated, and I harped on those things.  Ultimately I calmed down and we hashed the situation out, but what adult would want to weather that storm to attain resolution, much less a child?  My reactions to missed buses, forgotten homework and miscellaneous preteen screw ups were all the same: ultimate meltdowns.  Yes, kids have to be responsible, but not every snafu is World War III.  If he can’t tell me that he had problems on a math test, how could I expect him to confide in me with larger problems?  What type of foundation am I laying?

In the case of LGBT adolescents, saying I love you no matter what is meaningless, if my deeds scream Homophobe. How could a child come out to me?  Why would they count on me for love and support?  And when they are targeted by children, who often use malice to cover their own insecurities and uncertainties, who should they believe will shield them?

I realize that fear and lack of understanding may make coping with certain things difficult, children are simply of us, they are not us.  They are not programmed with our opinions and precepts, and even once we pass those things on, it is possible they will reject them.  We can guide them and love them, without owning and controlling them.

Of course, no parent is perfect, so we can be thankful for the wealth of resources that help us to effectively support our children.  The Trevor Project is but one.  There is CDC led initiative STRYVE, as well as the Children’s Safety Network, both which serve as resources in the prevention of youth violence, including suicide.  The CDC has also been conducting research on implementing suicide prevention initiatives at the state level.

On a micro level, let’s take it upon ourselves to examine the environment we are fostering.  Bond and and form networks with other parents, so that we can give our children a platform in a safe place to share their concerns.  One of the suggestions offered by the Children’s Safety Network was “strengthening norms that support help-seeking behaviors.”  Let’s bridge the gap between the things we do and say, so that our children can see us as confidantes.  Let’s prove to our children that we want them healthy and alive.

The Quest for Inspiration

Today is one of those days that I have to remind myself that writers must write.  I’ve long since abandoned the necessity to be inspired, and therefore have a plethora of unpublished material.  This year, though I planned to enter the Boston Review short story contest, I wasn’t satisfied with my progress, so I’m looking at other options.  Of course, my goal is still to become published.  Though I could have pulled a Hail Mary and entered it, I think I started falling flat and losing my way.  I suffer from being my own worse critic.

That being said, I didn’t let “not so great” ideas stop me.  My project has its own fair share of “so not gonna use that” in it, but it has a whole lot of good.  Good enough that I won’t let it fall by the wayside, and I know it can be a catalyst to something more for me.

It’s not that I don’t have a whole lot to talk about: I’m a single, black woman raising two children in the United States; the topics are endless.  But tonight, I just wanted to be who I was.  I’m not any one thing, but more than all others, I’m a writer that still struggling to find her rhythm everywhere, but didn’t want to leave you guys hanging.

Smooches