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

 

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

Hopeful Days

It is finished.

Well, actually, it has all just begun. However, my blog break is over.

School. Derby. Work. Family. Friends.

Life is in full swing and not in that order.

It is not swinging on a gentle breeze. It is surviving gale force winds and wrapping itself around the poles that are struggling to stay cemented in the ground. This mad rush follows a difficult research period that has left me trying to find words for the things I experienced.

It is not that I don’t have the words. I do not have polite words. They are angry words complimented with a rich abundance of curses. I am sorting those feelings out and deciding where they belong.

I gave myself the gift of January to settle into a very challenging season professionally, personally and in the world of roller derby.

It was a wise decision.

My goals are big for this year and can easily be rattled off.

  • Be more present with my family.
  • Love my body
  • Pass my classes with flying colors
  • Raise more money for Nyaka than last year
  • Train to skate like an athlete
  • Start speaking publicly
  • Do enough research to justify a research trip for my book
  • Oh! And write a book.

Of course, this list is nothing more than the cliff notes version of the minutes, hours and days structured towards so many coveted accomplishments.

So far, I have a list of things that have developed in response to my goals for 2013.

  • I have almost cried on my way to roller derby practice out of exhaustion. (I will admit that I was about to start my period.)
  • I have stayed up far too late studying because I won’t allow myself to fail.
  • I will be speaking at She Laughs VII tomorrow night to benefit the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing and decided the topic in a Microsoft shower moment this morning.
  • I have chosen to eat and drink with health and fitness in mind.
  • I am saying a big, fat, NO to opportunities that are not in the best interest of my family and our quality time.

I am uncomfortable. I am challenged. I am exhausted.

I can tell I am doing it right.

When have positive changes come with a big, cushy spot of comfort and ease?

Never.

It comes with hunger pains over those donuts someone brought into the office. It comes with the muscle aches of an injury slowly healing. Change comes with the awkward stagger in shoes that need to be broken in.

I am changing. We all are. Up and down, positive and negative we make changes.

It is what we are in the world. We are transient souls.

In the past, I didn’t make goals. I used to shrug them off as bench marks to an unavoidable failure.

I think everytime you look at yourself and decide that you need a change or a transformation you have to have faith in your ability to change before you can take that first step.

I believe that my list is not full of resolutions.

My list is a reflection of just how much faith I have learned to have in myself.

It is based on all the hopes I have for my future and a guidepost on my journey toward loving myself regardless of what value my past tried to dictate.

This is a new perspective for me but it fits.

Everything else is new. Why shouldn’t my perspective be too?

All of my faith, hope and love is invested in that little abreviated list of hope-filled minutes, hours and days.

I wish you enough faith in yourself to do the same.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

Happy Birthday, Isaiah!

Dear Isaiah,

The day you were born,

I held you in my arms like a secret the world didn’t know yet.

Even in your mystery, I felt like I had always known you.

You existed in me long before the moment you were placed warm on my chest.

Even now, I cannot imagine the space where you begin and I end.

Happy Birthday, Isaiah.

With all of my faith, hope and love,

Mommy

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.

A Fatherless Child

The man who I call Daddy calls me “Baby Girl” as if he were still living in the day that I was born. As if he were the one who made me, named me and counted all ten toes when I entered this world.

He was not there on the day I was born.

He came much later after the damage had already been done.

I imagine my memories are like lottery balls in a cage. They are spun around with all of my present thoughts, dreams, ideas and new memories. Every once in awhile the ball that pops out is a memory of my biological father and a cloud of darkness shrouds my space on this earth. A melancholy shadow spreads from my heart and infects my soul in it’s entirety.

My father sexually abused me. I am sure at this point maybe you are becoming a little uncomfortable. It has been many years since this information has been a secret and because I have done nothing wrong, I have no qualms in sharing this information with anyone. If you don’t know it now, trust me, it’s because it has never come up. Feel free to stop reading now.

A few days ago I found a picture of my father and it’s as if I personally opened Pandora’s Box. It is no longer the abuse that affects me so greatly. It is not about the manipulation, the physical damage or the innocence lost. It is the frustration that even now a simple photo can stop me in my tracks.

It is the weary place in my heart that is still negotiating the unfairness of the abuse. How a man that bought me a telescope and taught me about constellations could have been so cruel. How the man who taught me to sing could attempt to destroy my voice. How my interpretation of God and Fatherly love could be so warped by the same man that tried to teach me those truths.

On days when the shadow lurks, I lay on the floor kicking, pulling at my hair and screaming, “It’s not fair!”

I hold my children and beg God for their safety with no assurances and I whisper, “It’s not fair.”

I remember that I must forgive for every ounce of rage that I conjure up and I squirm in the unfairness. I tend to wallow in self pity, holding and petting the unanswered question of  ‘Why?’.

All the while, I know there is no answer.

Tomorrow, I will step out into the sun from underneath the shadow of my Father’s crime and the unanswered questions will rest in the hands of a God that comforts the fatherless.

On those days, I feel lucky to fall into that category.

You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.
~Psalms 10:17-18