Open & Emptied Out

Today I draw my knees into my chest and protect my heart.

I recognize that my normal posture is one of an open heart. I stretch my arms behind me and lift my chest, sharing that space with the world. A Care Bear stare, if you will.

Today, my heart needs to be encased and covered.

The weight it has been bearing through the creation of The Firecracker Calendar Project was great and beautiful. I have the names of survivors written on my heart like tattoos. I can see the letters scribbled along the walls beating my blood.

Their stories were heartbreaking and their bravery overwhelmingly courageous.

My breath was stolen, tears came often and I found it difficult to speak.

I am making this sound so terrible. It was not. It was truth cracking open and spinning through the rooms we shared. It was acceptance of the horrific and a moving into the brilliant.

I am probably not making any sense.

All I know is that although in reality the Creole Gallery was a perfectly appropriate space for our gallery showing, it was not large enough for the emotions in the room.

There wasn’t room enough for Chelsea’s spoken word piece. There wasn’t room enough for the moment a survivor’s foster parent thanked me for what I had done.

I replied, “Thank you for loving her.”

He said, “Loving her was easy. What you did for her was hard.”

Is there a room big enough for those words?

There wasn’t space enough for the youngest survivor in the room to smile under the crook of my arm and to be so loved by the other participants helping her down her own path towards healing.

The ceiling should have broken open and the walls should have fallen down to mirror all of the growth that was inspired by the experience.

Even in the midst of all of that incredible hope, light and empowerment, my heart ached. I still want to burn down the house and keep the foundation. For all that I am capable of changing; I cannot change the past for the beautiful men and women featured in Soulfire 2014.

I cannot change our past.

That hurts a little.

Okay.

It hurts a lot.

I don’t like it.  I don’t like it at all.

I have been side swiped. That car came out of nowhere. I didn’t really expect to love them so.

And now I do.

So of course, because I love them, my heart breaks for them and the things I want for myself, I want for them too.

I wish to honor their bravery but more than that, I wish I didn’t have to. I want to go back in time and rescue them. I want to barricade the entry to the path they were set on by force because none of them deserve to be here. None of us ever do.

I look at their intelligent, compassionate, determined, strong, brave, beautiful faces and I cannot accept that they were hurt.

It has been lovely to be the only survivor I know. It has allowed me to live in a quiet place where my wounds never brushed up against anyone else’s. It has afforded me a space where I only had to be intimate with my own injuries.

Isn’t that the strangest thing? I was completely caught off guard – heart open – and in they walked.

To know them, is to love them. Isn’t that a saying?

So my knees are pulled into my chest today. I am coaxing my heart back like turning egg whites into a fluffy, white puff.

Fear not.

It’s always better to know and by my calculations, that means it is always better to love.

Open and emptied out,

Tashmica

Soulfire Photoshoot
Photo Credit: McShane Photography

 

Scaredy Pants: An Indication That You Are Doing It Right

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you see yourself sliding down the hill of self-injury? You know those times when you can feel the slow burn turning into a forest fire but you’re not wearing shoes so you can’t stomp it out.

That is how I have been feeling lately.

It has been a steady stream of bad choices. They are easily dismissed when you excuse them with, “Oh, just this once.”

I have been a hard-drinking, food-binging, insomnia-riddled and over-committed fool of a woman for the past three weeks.

I didn’t even see the hole in the bag where I keep my crazy tucked safely away. It was like an air leak in a helium balloon. You don’t know why exactly but you can feel yourself losing altitude anyway.

I think I am scared.

No. I know I’m scared.

I can see fear poking his ugly head out behind all of my very best self-medicating behaviors.

I’ll have that cheesecake with three glasses of red wine, please. Wait. I didn’t order the fear.

Except, I did order the fear.

Like an appetizer special, I ordered the fear the moment I started asking questions.

I have seen my father through the eyes of people who had no idea what he was doing to me.

I have heard things like –

“He was such a good father.”
“He was they joy, child.”
“He made me feel safe.”

My father was loved. He was respected. He was feared.

My father had to work his ass off to keep the world from knowing that he was sexually abusing me and he did.

He made the choice to hide his crimes against me instead of living honestly and without guilt.

Abusing me was apparently worth the trouble.

That is scary.

Check out how this 6-year-old deals with fear.

the Scared is scared from Bianca Giaever on Vimeo.

It is scary to see my father through the lens he created for others. It’s even scarier to think that of all of the people who knew him, I was the only one cursed enough to travel through the rabbit hole we shared.

FML. Am I right?

There were other rabbit holes though and I am starting to travel through them.

My father’s military records should be on their way to me in the next few weeks. My mother should be delivering a box of family photos for me this weekend. I have to sit down and schedule my first research trip down to Anderson, South Carolina – where my father grew up. I’ve been dreaming and thinking of ways that I can help children who are working to survive our shared story.

Mostly, I have been working hard to avoid one question.

What if I am not strong enough to do any of it?

Followed by the equally useless doubt-filled questionnaire:

What if I think this will lead to some evolution of my spirit and all it will lead to is a nervous breakdown?

What if I am already crazy for even asking questions to begin with?

As of today, I am 7 days away from my birthday month.

I am giving myself 7 more days to be afraid. I am giving myself 168 hours to sit in the reality of what I am choosing to take on. I am accepting with deep breaths that this is some scary ish.

I am repeating to myself that I am not afraid of fear.

On May 1st, the first day of the month I was born in, I am going to move forward again.

I am going to shake out these paralyzed limbs and continue on.

Because sometimes fear is the greatest indicator that you are doing something right.

Like a boss._JRM2362

Or something.

Love to you all.

Tashmica

How I Met My Mother: Notes on Family Interviews

Have you met your mother?

What about your grandmother?

Have you ever asked about who they were before they became your family?

I hadn’t. Not really.

Considering our family history, opening doors behind me never seemed like a wise or safe plan of action.

Until I got this idea in my head about writing a book about the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I assumed that my mother was simply the woman who smelled like coffee and perfume when I fell asleep on her lap in church.

Her definition was (and I imagine still is) wrapped up in my own self-centeredness. She is the one who spent too much money during a hard time so that I could be the belle of the ball at a high school dance. She is the woman who slept with one eye opened and the blue screen of the TV flickering on until I popped my head into her room to say I was home safe. She grew green beans when we were little but for the life of her couldn’t get a tomato to grow in Texas.

She is my mother. I know her well.

My grandmother, my biological father’s mother, I did not know quite that well.

I remember giving her roses at my father’s funeral. She brought me the soft, slow southern drawl of my family’s roots in South Carolina over the phone but I have rarely been in the same room with her. I only had stories. Vague shadows of tales my father told my mother before he died. The death of a family member is often like pruning limbs off of a tree. Sometimes, unintentionally, you lose a few of the smaller branches and offshoots.

When my research began, I had questions. Now those questions are reproducing like a Mogwai eating fried chicken after midnight.

Yes. I googled this to ensure accuracy.

Correction. Based on this chart of the Mogwai/Gremlin lifecycle, my questions are budding like a Mogwai caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella.

This phenomenon has begun because I knew less than I thought. I knew nothing.

I didn’t know how my parents met or how they fell in love. I didn’t know how my grandmother grew up or what her parents were like. I didn’t know what my father’s childhood was like or who his friends were.

I still know very little.

I feel like I need a crime solving board in my attic to help me keep my own story straight.

mason-board

 

My story is intricate, complex and fascinating because it is not mine alone.

It is my father’s, my mother’s, my grandmother’s, my brother’s, my husband’s and my children’s story too.

We are all standing in a piece of the story. Our points of view are different but we are all here tied together.

It’s complicated.

You are probably wondering what I hope to achieve with all of these inquiries into my father’s past.

Well, so am I.

I am starting to be okay with knowing nothing.

At the end of this pile of questions, there will be no definitive answer to the question, “Why me?”

If that question had an answer, I think all of the unjustly injured people of the world would collectively sigh in relief so loudly, it would shift the planet.

The answer to “Why me?” is nearly as annoying as the redundancy of the question.

15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12.

“Why not me?”

After googling this statistic – Don’t hate. Numbers don’t stick with me. – I was kind of sadly excited to be nearly aged out of the high risk ages of 16-34.

*Phew*

Can’t wait to be statistically unlikely to be raped.

And I thought most of my milestone birthdays were gone.

Amiright?

Anyway, with those devastating odds, childhood is still something many people are just blessed to survive.

I am not looking for the final answer to the question, “Why?”

I am looking to start a conversation.

Unfortunately, I am so not alone.

Age of sexual abuse survivors

 

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).

I am so sadly not even special.

About 3% of American men — or 1 in 33 — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

The final answer is not a simple fill in the blank response.

The answer is understanding, empathy and change.

If I can show you how ruinous the experience of sexual assault and rape is by telling you my story, then perhaps you will have more compassion for those that are trying to heal around you. You might even become an advocate. You may, if we are all lucky, help me recreate what childhood means in our lifetime.

_JRM2370Ah-ha!

There’s an answer.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

The Joys of Remembering: The Knowing of Mrs. Pease

It has been 3 months and 10 days since I announced that I was desperately seeking Quick Draw McPease.

During that time, I have requested my father’s military records. my school records, interviewed family members, rambled memories off for my husband to record in one of my many journals, had crazy dreams, drank a lot of wine and sought a lot of professional help.

I sent an email to my elementary school and waited. I had plenty to fill my time until they responded.

Until they didn’t.

So, I emailed again and again.

I was kind of avoiding calling because – well – I didn’t want to tell random secretary lady why I wanted my records and information about a past teacher.

I felt kind of like bathroom-stall-over-sharing-girl.

If you have ever been in a women’s restroom then you know that girl. The one that shares details of her life with you as if you are best friends and you’ve only just allowed her to use the soap dispenser ahead of you. You didn’t realize that politeness was cause for a speech about her current relationship or worse yet, her intestinal issues.

I didn’t want to be random-over-sharing-girl.

I wanted them to simply send me the information without any trouble.

I never received a response.

So crap.

Earlier this week a friend decided to go Magnum PI on google and prompted me to look into some things I hadn’t. We found some options but I had to call.

Of course, I sent another set of emails just in case.

Today I got a reply in my inbox with the last known address and phone number for Mrs. Pease.

I sent a quick note of gratitude and then dialed.

The suspense was a killer – especially when I had to leave a message in a generic voicemail box.

“Hi, my name is Tashmica. My phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. I think you were my fourth grade teacher. *nervous laugh* Would you please call me either way. Thanks!”

I had been making random phone calls with no reply for about two weeks now. I did not expect an instant reply.

At about 3 o’clock today, the Mrs. Pease called me back.

I am still processing our conversation because it exceeded my every expectation.

She didn’t remember me right away. I was 9-years-old the last time we saw each other.

One thing is important here.

When I told her that I was looking for her because she was the first person I ever told that I was sexually abused and I wanted to thank her, she said,

“So many of my students told me that.”

I never imagined that. I never thought about her role as an advocate for others. It speaks volumes that she was the trusted confidant of abused children for decades. Also, it makes me so deeply sad that there were so many abused children coming forward, she needed more details to pin down which one I was.

We chatted. I gave her some details about my family in 1989. I told her my maiden name and how my father had been dead for a year by the time I told her my story. She asked me to remind her of how I told her.

I told her the story and her memories started to pour out.

She said,

“I hope this doesn’t offend you but are you black?”

I laughed hard and told her yes. I had forgotten to mention that one, tiny identifying factor.

She remembered my hair – how my mother twisted my pig tails instead of braiding them. She remembered my constant smile and told me that the world wasn’t right if I wasn’t wearing it.

She asked me to tell her everything. I tried.

I told her how old I am, where I live, that I have been married for nearly 9 years and am raising three boys.

She laughed and kept interjecting,

“I am so proud of you. I am so proud of you. Good for you! I am so proud of you.”

I told her the most important thing.

“You were a link in the fence that saved my life. Statistically speaking, I am not supposed to be doing so well. You believed me, supported me and advocated for me.

My life would have been very different without you. Thank you.”

She said she was so grateful for my call and that we should stay in touch. (As if that were ever a question.)

Lisa, that’s the name grown-ups use for her, had a lot of wise things to say. She quoted statistics about child abuse. She knew that healing has its own time and she cursed – which of course made me giggle.

More than twenty years later and in one conversation I am convinced that she was placed in that classroom for me. And now I know she was placed there for so many others too.

It has not been an easy time for me. Looking into my past and asking questions has been quite terrible actually. The memories are dark, scary and full of problems I cannot solve now. I only look to understand bits and pieces of a mismatched puzzle. None of it makes sense.

The fact that I was sexually abused will never make sense. No matter what I find in my research, my father made a horrible choice and there’s no explaining that away. It is a hard thing to remember.

It is painful, therapeutic and important but it is not awesome.

This story is different.

I don’t want to drown myself in wine and fall asleep. I don’t want to go to counseling to work through something caught in my throat. I don’t need to decide if I am angry, hurt or ask “Why me?” for the millionth time. I don’t want to run away.

Today, there is joy in remembering.

Mrs. Pease said one more thing that I will never forget.

She said that after all of these years,

“We never stopped knowing each other, did we?”

It’s true. She was a part of my story and I am a part of hers.

I am so grateful for the ability to celebrate a memory.

It is good to remember that although I was treated despicably, I was tremendously loved and that is what made the difference.

Love is what always makes the difference.Tashmica at Skatie Hawkins

I am still kind of overwhelmed and exhilarated. At first, I didn’t even know how to celebrate but then I figured it out.

I celebrated a joyful remembering with song and dance.

I truly am blessed and highly favored.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – Thank you to all who shared the original link or tried to help my search in any way. I appreciate you.

I Blame You.

I am going to do something incredibly selfish.

I am going to tell you the whole truth.

I know that you have your expectations of me. When you see the link pop up in your feed or in your inbox, you hope for something funny, even if it is darkly so.

I am positive that I still have a few laughs still in me.

However, over the past two weeks, I have not been laughing. I have been dealing.

Well, okay. I still laughed. You know me so well.

The “dealing” was not pretty.

In the process of writing, I had this memory that I unzipped and climbed into like a jacket. I pulled it close to me and smoothed the fabric over my body. I pulled up the collar around my ears and peered down into the darkness. I saw things I couldn’t explain and I single mindedly searched for answers.

I interviewed my mother about six times in one weekend. I googled. My friend Suban googled. I cried…but only a little. I wrote a bit and then it came.

This wave of anger and indignation.  I am not even sure if anyone could see it radiating off of my body like heat waves on concrete. Under anger, there is always something else.

It was sorrow and lamentation.

The interesting part about this cycle is that when I first began this journey nearly 17 years ago, it was about forgiveness. It took me an entire year of prayer, meditation and angry fist shaking at the sky but I did it. I forgave my father.

Jokes on me. Forgiveness for something like this comes and goes like those waves of anger. You forgive and then you realize you have to deal with this other issue that was stirred into you as a little one. Then you get angry again which of course is all sorrow and lamentations. Then you forgive.

Again and again and around and around it goes.

The difference this time is that I went looking for it. I attacked my past with a machete. I poked it a little at first and then I hauled off and started whacking at it like I was trying to break open a coconut.

I realize now that I kind of was trying to break open a coconut.

Over breakfast with my derby wife, I realized something in talking to her.

Every time I remember a secret and tell it, I feel vindicated. I feel empowered. I feel like my story is mine again and not his. I feel like he doesn’t just die and get away with it.

I feel like he doesn’t get to die and destroy me. I feel like I win.

I feel like I wrap the tiny girl that I was in a blanket, hoist her up near my chest and climb out of the grave he dug for us. It is not an easy climb. The grave is huge and we are both injured but now is the time to do it.

When I was 15-years-old I could have never even attempted a journey like this. Nor could I at 22.

Someone told me recently that God allows you to remember things forgotten about trauma when you can handle them.

I blame you.

Okay. Maybe not you specifically.

I blame the people who love me.

I blame my husband for not thinking I am crazy. I blame my family for answering my questions and believing that somewhere in their answers, I will find my own. I blame my friends for checking in on me,making me laugh and hearing me out.If I were not completely drowned in their incredible love, I would not be able to go down this path. It is only through their love and confidence that I keep climbing.

I didn’t even know it but this is the perfect time to tell this story.

Finally, at the end of two weeks of anger and menacing dreams, it all turned to sorrow and I sobbed. I cried harder than I can ever remember myself crying. My husband held me and I just lost my shit. I thought I was going to have a panic attack and I didn’t. I just fell asleep and woke up with swollen eyes.

I dealt with it. I faced it. I survived.

This weekend, I will write that chapter and shut it.

Timing is everything.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

 

 

 

 

No Fair: A Mother Allergic To Hugs?

This morning I awoke to the soft carpeted thuds of my seven-year old’s feet rounding the side of my bed.  He quickly scurried under the covers and his head popped up next to mine.

“Good morning, Momma.”

Isaac & Mommy

“Good morning, Little Fish.”

I smoothed back from his forehead dark hairs recently parted by a mischievous scissor incident last week.  He wrapped his arms around my waist and folded into my body.  I love that my children are still small enough to fit so close.  I can imagine I am still carrying them in my womb.  I miss that time of wonder and flesh rolling with their bodies shifting under my skin.

Within minutes, Levi came to us in a flying leap.  He kissed his daddy on the face about 13 times, rolled over, lifted his arm and said,

“Mom, smell my armpit.”

I don’t know why I get armpit and dad gets showered with kisses.  Levi made it up to me by rolling over again, announcing more than asking, “Dad, smell my breath.”, before breathing hot into Paul’s face before he could contest.

For a time, we are cuddled in a warm cocoon.  Limbs all tangled with covers as we put off heading into a day apart.

Suddenly, I realize that I cannot move my arm.  I realize that I cannot quite roll over because my legs are under the dog.  I find my body in a contorted position that I cannot change or control.

And just like that, the panic sets in.

Continue reading

Mrs. A. Lincoln

I had hoped by now that my dark cloud would have lifted. I had hoped that it was a partly cloudy day in a mostly sunny week. The reeling has not stopped and now I am getting angry and indignant. I want to be able to move through the day without the tugging of sadness on my sleeve. I want to speak to my children without the inner motivational speaking that forces a happy tone. I can’t even fake it for Facebook.

Now you know that is bad.

After dropping my two oldest children off at school this morning I stopped in to visit with my Father in Law. He immediately set to work preparing a breakfast of eggs, fried potatoes and toast. He knows that fried potatoes are my favorite and he usually calls me on the phone joking that my potatoes are ready. He warmed my coffee cup twice and fed the baby small slices of fruit. When he left he told me I could stay as long as I wanted and I did.

In the light passing of conversation and the warmth of a house steadily being covered by snow flakes I remembered something forgotten. Even as my spirit was discontent and uneasy I felt comforted. My father-in-law is a man of decision. Not in the way of great political thinkers or entrepreneurs. He moves into what is best regardless of his obstacles.

I am currently enjoying a fictional novel about and named, Mary, Mrs. A. Lincoln. I love historical fiction and since my mother-in-law ‘knew that I would love it’, I went against my rules of order and disregarded a stack of already borrowed library books to begin it. I have probably heard more than my share of information about President Abraham Lincoln but his wife has never crossed my mind. She had a fierce need for the world to see the goodness of her husband, suffered the loss of three sons and a husband who was assassinated and finally was wrongly committed to an asylum by her own first born son.

Throughout her life she struggled to rein in her “excessive passions” while trying to mourn with dignity. She had a large portion of her own very dark days. Chapter after chapter, she fought her way back. She dove into having another child to substitute the lost affection of another. She “unsexed” herself by overly involving herself in politics to do everything she could to ensure that the nation recognized the good of her husband. She pushed her self through doing the tedious of household chores just to keep her focus anchored to her priorities.

I hate schedules. I don’t like to have to do anything. However, I can see her logic…for someone who was eventually committed. The few spots of joy I have felt in the course of the past week have involved my one year old who now knows where his nose is, my four year old who wants only to be physically connected to my person at all times and my eldest son who I can now have a conversation with.

For a fictional crazy person’s account, I think there is wisdom in just doing the next thing. I will allow myself the gift of rest as I finish the last few chapters of this book. When I am done, I will focus all of my energy on doing the next thing. I expect that the first few tasks that I force myself to do will hurt a little but it won’t be worst than pouting under this cloud.

I am now deciding the weather and it will be partly sunny.