I rolled my eyes in disbelief when I got word that an online publication wanted me to write about my “survival story.” I feel so separate from that young girl who found herself in an abusive relationship all those years ago and there were sooooo many other things I could talk about. My survival story??? I write poetry. I write plays. I do healing work. Couldn’t I talk about that??? But I got myself together and wrote the article (the day before it was due). As karma would have it- they chose a more “relevant” celebrity focused story and only use a snippet of mine.
October is my birthday month. It’s also Domestic Violence Awareness month. As my favorite time of the year comes to a close….I decided to share a chapter of my life that changed so much of who I am and who I thought I was………
My relationship began like most abusive relationships. It started fast. He was nice, interesting and interested in me. Then, things changed. He started telling me what to wear and what not to wear. He wanted to control who I went out with and called me all the time. It seemed he always wanted to know where I was. I was young. I thought his behavior meant he cared. In a few months he was putting me down and calling me names. I didn’t tell anyone because I thought if I showed him that I loved him the behavior would stop. Then he started pushing me around. I still didn’t tell anyone because now-I was ashamed. I decided to end the relationship before it got really bad. Then he started stalking me.
The following is an excerpt from my book, Dirty Laundry: Women of Color Speak up About Dating & Domestic Violence. It’s a true account of one of the most frightening nights of my life. That night and the days that followed changed my life-forever.
“I’m sorry, I been dreaming about something a lot. I didn’t mean to and I woke up screaming, because I feel bad.
“What, Joaquin?” I asked.
“I can’t say,” he said.
Finally, I said half-joking, “About killing me?”
He screamed, “Yes.” and started sobbing.
From that point on, I went into strategic survival mode. I got up and dressed quickly. I walked to the door with the phone in my hand.
“Remember our promise. Don’t tell anyone. Okay?”
The right words came from a place wiser than my 21 years.
“I won’t, but why do you want to kill me?”
“I want to die, but I don’t want to be alone.” He said. “And your attitude was so cold. You were so mean to me.”
“So you wanted to kill me?”
“Yes, but I don’t now. Do you believe me?”
“Yes,” I said. “How were you planning to do it?”
“I was going to kill myself and have one of my brothers kill you. But I changed my mind. Do you still love me?” He asked.
The door was open, and I had my purse in my hand. “Yes.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” He asked.
“No,” I said.
I heard something that sounded like a pop and I dropped the phone and ran out of my apartment. I ran to the parking lot, threw my clothes into the car and took off. The next morning I called my job to tell them what happened. My boss was very supportive. When I returned to work, she informed me that Joaquin had been calling for days. We came up with a plan that included giving the security guard his picture, changing my work schedule and moving. Some of my friends and family thought this was extreme. But I believed that someone bold enough to tell me how they planned to kill me should be taken seriously. It wouldn’t be long for people saw that my instincts were right.
According to a study done by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, the number one killer of Black Women ages 15-34 is domestic violence. In my experience, (professional and personal) black women are often not believed, not supported and are blamed (covertly or overtly) for the violence that is committed against us.
My father moved most of my things out of my apartment, but there were a few things left and my friend and I decided to go get them. My friend asked if we should call the police. I said no. I figured we’d be in and out quickly. Before turning onto my street, something told me to call the police. The officer that came had to be the rudest on the force. I had a feeling something was off and was afraid to enter my apartment. Terry who was older and White said, “She’s scared. Can you open the door?” He sighed, walked up the stairs, snatched my keys and begrudgingly opened the door. The next thing I knew, his gun was drawn. The last time I saw Joaquin, he was being taken from my apartment in handcuffs.
I wasn’t believed or respected by the police. In fact, I was questioned like I was the criminal. The courts didn’t protect me either. By the time I got the notice about Joaquin’s court case, the date had passed. But because I had good friends, a supportive family and a job-I was one of the “lucky” ones. I decided to move away.
My healing began the minute my feet hit the soil of my new home. My new life was about the written word, service to others, creativity and the world of spirit. I devoured books by Wayne Dyer, Florence Scovill Shinn and others who talked about how our thoughts impacted our reality. Iyanla Vanzant taught me about black spirituality. Paula Giddings schooled me on black feminism. I hosted and attended sister circles and poetry readings. I surrounded myself with people who “got me” and released those that didn’t. I chronicled other women’s stories of abuse, volunteered at a home for AIDS patients, fed the homeless, did clothing drives, started recycling initiatives and became a vegetarian. I worked on getting out of “my story” and re-wrote a new one. I took yoga, meditated, studied metaphysics, and questioned my ideas on love, family and my place in the world.
I joined the domestic violence movement cause I wanted to make a change. I spoke nationally/internationally and collaborated with some of the smartest women and men working on the issue of violence against women. Today, I’m a Reiki Master and artist. My healing practice is about helping folks move forward in their lives. My plays and poetry are about truth telling. I believe that every moment is a choice between liberation and enslavement and I choose liberation-hands down.
Join me Thursday, January 26 at 6pm for OPEN Expression! Each month they feature an amazing poet/musician/writer/performance artist, fun and the place is superb! I’m the feature for the 3rd time!! If you find yourself in Harlem on the 26th come check me out!!!
She dresses and undresses
She is done and undone.
She is stubby legged and pot bellied.
She is no thoroughbred.
Breasts downturned she is known
His familiar She circles
She circles herself circles the floor
He dresses and undresses her promise
Her insecurity comforts
and is home to his selfishness
He dresses and undresses her dignity
leaves it laying in heap
beside bed post
There are no secrets between them
She takes what is given
And for the moment he is grateful
By Zoe Renae Flowers