The older I get the more I realize, EVERYONE has a story. Women and mothers are no different. Some stories are liberating while others just make you want to dig a hole and jump right in. Women and mothers go through ALOT. Some women fall prey to the negative circumstances surrounding their lives and SINK into a sea of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. Others make a decision to rise and SWIM as if their very life depended on it.
Back in February, Island Moms Rock decided it was time to hear from our island mothers. Simply, we wanted to reward a GLAM photoshoot experience to one special mom for telling her very personal story of redemption. We asked the women of St. Croix to submit essays that illustrated their journey through a rough patch in their lives as mothers. Our hope was to receive stories that would penetrate the heart and soul of other women and men alike, inspiring them to keep pushing, trying, praying, believing…to keep SWIMMING.
I don’t think our team was ready for what we read in the first essay received. I still remember the shock as I scanned through all seven pages of her email. Her name is Karen and she had a story to tell. A young St. Croix mother of five children, her story grabbed me at the first paragraph, third sentence, “I am a mother of four boys and one girl ages 20,19,17,16 and 11.”
A victim of domestic violence for fourteen years of her young life, she introduced herself recollecting her former life riddled with pain, suffering and humiliation.
By the age of twenty-one, Karen had four kids and dropped out of high school. The tears began rolling down my face as I hesitated to read more, but this was just the beginning.
Karen refused to hold back the details of physical and emotional abuse from her then parter. While many come to the beautiful sandy shores of St. Croix to experience paradise, Karen writes about her life “everyday of my life was spent locked behind closed doors. I wasn’t even allowed to move the curtain to look outside because I would be accused of cheating and physical punishment followed.”
Her then lover isolated her from her family and friends and threatened them using emotional tactics. As a result, her sole interaction was with her children. Karen’s essay went deeper recalling him denying her and the children sleep by rubbing Vicks, Bengay and toothpaste under their eyes when he was up binging on cocaine. Other recollections made the hair on my body stand up straight.
Somehow reading Karen’s words, I became deeply melancholy because I know there are more Karen’s going through similar and worse experiences.
“Everyday I would lock myself in my kid’s bedroom after a beating and ask God why are you letting this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? I would ask God to take my life repeatedly just to end my misery. I was so tired of living the life I was living with no way out. It wasn’t even about love anymore between us, it was about surviving and doing what I had to do to keep my kids and myself alive.”
“He always had a favorite tactic that he would use to instill the perfect fear in me. He would tell me if I left I would never be happy, ‘I will make sure I burn down your house and car, I will set our children on fire and I will cut you up in little pieces and disappear where no one will ever find you.’
According to Karen, “I didn’t know who to talk to or where to turn to. I lost faith and hope in life and humanity.”
KAREN’S ROAD TO REDEMPTION…
“In between the time I was being abused I tried to better myself as much as I could since I wasn’t allowed to leave the home. There was a point where he was incarcerated in jail for a fire arm charge and I quickly took this opportunity to enroll in Adult Education to obtain my high school diploma. I would go to school at night and carry my kids to my father’s house and then pick them up when classes were over.”
“He eventually came out of jail after six months and returned right back home. He immediately started with the same old bullshit and wanted me to drop out of school but thankfully God was on my side and I continued school without force…I figured with my high school diploma I would have something that was mine..I am somebody after all.”
However, as time dragged on so did the abuse. I couldn’t believe what I read next.
“…3 years later I had my fifth child and right after joined the police academy (Police Auxiliary). That didn’t go to well since I broke my right foot three weeks before graduation and decided against 21 weeks of training all over again. I eventually became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) when I graduated from The St.Croix Educational Complex Technical School. During this entire time, I was still being physically and emotionally abused. Going to school was the only time I had freedom to think to breathe and even then, I was scared that he would catch me too relaxed.”
A SLOW UPHILL CLIMB…
“In 2010 I started to work at The Queen Louise Home taking care of mentally and physically disabled adults and children. It felt so good to be independent. I was getting a pay check doing what I loved to do best, help others…[My then boyfriend] decided since he had put up with me and our children so long that now it was my turn to pay him back and decided that half of my paycheck was his which was $300. We struggled everyday to make ends meet. Bills unpaid…if we had a bar of soap or toothpaste that said a lot…things were hard.”
“One day I felt ill. I was hospitalized with walking pneumonia and diabetes. Things didn’t look so great for me as my diabetes was out of control and my right lung was not clearing up. I lost my home and furniture. At this weak time in my life, he would visit me in the hospital room and accuse me of cheating and would tell me ‘I hope you die from cancer.’
At this point I was numb on the inside. I didn’t cry or feel anymore…. Eventually I was discharged from the hospital and me and my kids moved in with my mother and stepfather because I had no place to live. I was still very sick, and my mother was helping me get back on my feet. Thankfully he was not welcome in their home, so he had to move in with his parents. I was finally grateful to have a break from him after 14 years of torture.”
A CLEAN BREAK…SWIM!
“He would call me every day at my mother’s house and ask when we were going to move into a new apartment and I would make up excuses and say I was still sick, or I couldn’t talk right now just to keep him at ease. I was so happy with my new freedom I was experiencing I wasn’t ready to let go. I remember the day I made a statement saying I needed a cell phone to call my family instead of contacting them through Facebook all the time. His reply was, ‘ What do you need a cell phone for? Do you want to talk other people when I am not around? The day you buy a cell phone I am going to break it across your forehead.’
The entire time he was talking, I was thinking I can’t do another 14 years of this, I am going to be 31.”
“Finally, I gathered the courage and said to myself no more!
“I don’t know if I will be surviving this, but I know I am never going back to how things where. I cut all communication with him and avoided him at all cost. He started calling my job threatening to call Human Services on me for being a bad mother and would make sure I lost my job at Queen Louise.
Finally, one day he came to my mother’s house and gave me an ultimatum. He said if you don’t come back home I will kill you and the kids and then I will kill myself and he proceeded to take out a knife. I turned my back to him and said do what you must do, see you later. He proceeded to stab himself….”
“It was a choice I had to make I could have died that day, but I had to put my trust in God that he brought me this far and he wouldn’t abandon me now.”
Its been six years since I have been out of that hell hole and sometimes I forget that I am completely free. I never give up hope. I know God has a greater purpose for me and that’s why I am here today to share my story with others in hopes that I can save at least one life. If I can get through to one person before its to late then my job here is done.
My hope one day is for all stereotypes concerning domestic violence to disappear forever. I don’t ever want to hear:
She Stayed Because She Liked It
She Stayed Because She Is Dumb
Oh That Could Never Be Me
Why Didn’t She Just Leave?
I want the world to know: WE DON’T LIKE IT; WE ARE NOT DUMB. THAT CAN BE YOU and YOU CAN NEVER JUST LEAVE.
I owe it to my kids who suffered along-side me and to all the victims that no longer have a voice to speak.”
Karen’s story of abuse ends well unlike so many others. If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are resources in your community to get you the help you need.
Karen won a GLAM Photoshoot on St. Croix with her children (only three of the five on island). I enjoyed every bit of this shoot with Photographer Cherise Richards of Cherise Richards Photography and MUA Merlisa George of Merge. Karen and her children were our only focus for a few hours as we captured authentic freedom, joy and LOVE on camera. On and off lens, this family is just happy to have each other as they smiled through their very first GLAM shoot.
Continue to SWIM Karen, your journey is beautiful and so are you!