Bird has a job.

I’ve been struggling all day with how I am going to break this story down and give it to you in short form. This weekend I went to the Bronx for my first official research trip. *trumpet blast*

It was a trip full of deep emotions and strong words. Words like;

Villain. Deliverance. Refract.

Other phrases followed me in the door as I arrived home. Like the scarves you tie to luggage to help you identify your belongings in a crowded baggage claim, they wafted off of handles and out of pockets.

The Land of Make Believe. Parallel lines.

Let’s begin this story with a new platitude that I feel very strongly could become the next big thing.

Nothing bad ever happens over a slice of pizza.

pizza

Like all other platitudes and positive affirmations, there’s exceptions to this rule but dang, don’t you agree that this should be a universal truth. If bad stuff happens, it should never happen over pizza.

Good friends make excellent mirrors. Jena & Me.
Good friends make excellent mirrors.

Over a slice of pizza, my friend Jena told me that she was shooting a wedding in New York and asked me if I’d like to come along. I said I’d check my calendar and see if I could swing it.

“I have to do some research there anyway.”

It took a few weeks of moving things around on the calendar but in the end, it worked out. I didn’t tell anyone I was going. If you know me, you know that there’s not often a thought that passes between my ears that I don’t blurt out.

I was nervous.

Technically, this was the first trip I had accidentally planned for the specific purpose of researching my father’s life. At the time, it seemed like a convenient, economical way to begin the process. Plus, I’d have the support of my friend to help me through any of the rougher spots.

Every idea seems like a good one at the time. (It was a good idea but we’re not at that part of the story today.)

After 15 hours of traveling, Jena and I approached the city in our rental car. She squealed, “Yaaay, we’re almost there.”

I sheepishly squealed back. Or maybe I said,“Baa…”

Nope. It was definitely a squeal.

Suddenly a tsunami sized wave of self-doubt came crashing into me. Hard. I felt a shortness of breath as I looked at the city stretching out around us for miles of darkness marked by sparkling lights. I was suddenly confronted with a very harsh and unrelenting interrogator.

Who do you think you are? You think you can just come into this city and ask questions? Who do you think you are that you deserve answers at all?

The voice in my head kept berating me and I slowly leaned over, put my head between my knees and started to do some deep breathing. I steadied myself and eventually, the voice quieted down a bit. At least it quieted to a volume that allowed me to hear my own thoughts.

The days that followed found me challenged. I asked questions that resulted in 3 different reactions.

  1. Here is your answer.
  2. You don’t want to know.
  3. I don’t remember.

And maybe there was one more.

4. You’ll never understand.

For the answers, I was grateful. For the rest, I was insistent. I tried to balance being respectful of a place in time many didn’t want to revisit and honoring my own right to know about my father.

In front of my Great-Aunt Catherine's apartment.
In front of my Great-Aunt Catherine’s apartment.

It felt like balancing on a tight rope at times. The tension in my own spirit was difficult to carry and the self-doubt kept revisiting me every time an answer was hard to extract. Always reminding me that I would never find the answers I was looking for. Always cajoling me to move on and let it go.

I cannot.

I was not my father’s only victim. I have known that for a while but I was not aware of the full story. I was able to hear more than I ever heard before. I was able to look into eyes, hold hands and drink in the energy in the room.

As a side note, that story only came to be known through my willingness to share my story. From that, there was a seeking of deliverance and healing.

Dear Self-doubt, Suck it.

I learned that they called my dad by the nickname, ‘Country.’ He came to the city by way of Anderson, North Carolina. He was a big, strong, country boy that people feared and loved. I saw the hospital where he was born. I met friends who knew him as a teenager. When I asked one friend about his gang life, he told me that my father was a villain but he loved him very much.

It lead us to have a conversation about how we all have a dark side. It made me think of all of the people in my life that I had loved regardless of serious character flaws. It made me wonder how his friends would feel if they knew what he did to me.

I didn’t tell them. I’m not sure why.

I think we all tend to think of good and evil as parallel lines. We think of them as living in a 3 dimensional space and never intersecting. But they do. They are as intertwined and inseparable as bones and flesh.

I am tired today. I’ve spent much of the weekend trying to do the opposite of what I want to do: shut down.

I’ve cooked healthy foods for myself. I’ve allowed myself to get completely sucked into mundane tasks. I’ve listened wholeheartedly to my children. I’ve been to yoga and gone on walks. I’ve returned to my blessed present.

I even watched a few movies and was hit by this phrase from Cold Mountain.

Bird has a job. Shit has a job. Seed has a job.

As I stood outside of the housing projects my father lived in, I listened to others talk about their experiences living there. I remembered how much my father wanted the lives of my brother and I to be better. He never wanted us to return to the place where he lived as a villain.

11147903_10203134145953987_9193105674401880192_o
Aunt Deborah & Me

He wanted us to live in a home where the Cosby’s were our role models. He wanted us to live in a community where drugs wouldn’t be involved in our daily interactions. He wanted us to speak properly and stand up straight. He wanted us to be educated and took us to museums we passed on road trips.

He gave us a good life amidst the evil he was doing in secret.

Shit had a job. 

On Sunday afternoon, I practiced yoga in the back of the class with 3 young survivors of sexual trauma and their parents and guardians. On their way out the door, I gave them new art sets and neon sparklers. I chose not to write them a note inside it. I left the pages blank in honor of their ability to tell their story in the way that they want to.

Like me.

Seed has a job.

After my travels were over, I said goodbye to my friends and sat on my couch. Other than to meet my basic needs, I didn’t get up again until that yoga class forced me up and out the door. I sat shell shocked watching episodes of Parenthood.

If you’ve ever seen that show, you probably already know that as far as a tool to wrench choked back tears from your body, that show is the top of the line. On a normal day, I cry at the end of every episode.

Seriously. The show has some tear inducing magic spell attached to it.

There’s always a sort of hangover effect that comes with doing this research. It’s like my heart gets locked up, my tears are frozen to the inside of my eyelids and I can feel my body twisting into the knots sailors must’ve used to keep their sails tied down in the worst of storms.

I have learned through this process that it’s my job to unlock, defrost and untie. It’s my job to unbind myself from any negative energy, any scary remnants of the past and any emotions waiting to be released in a safe space.

I sat on my couch and I waited to cry. It took an episode or two but sure enough, Max got into that really great school and I cried. Once the dam was broken, I jumped into the waters that rushed through. I was gone. Crying my eyes out and it felt good.

Bird has a job.11268367_1040474219326260_1577484150989361945_n

Sincerely,

signature1

 

 

 

Dear love, favor me.

Good afternoon Ms. Torok,

I don’t always have success when searching our archives, but was able to locate your father’s obituary. It published Oct. 18, 1988 and I have attached a screen shot of the page. I hope this helps.

My father’s funeral was on a Wednesday afternoon. I didn’t know that. This is not exactly headline news but I enjoy the details. Our family greeted visitors between the hours of 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. After nap time but before dinner. I wonder if that was a consideration.

 

He was addressed as Sgt. and I was called Tashmica. That seems formal for a time when everyone called me ‘Tasha’. A little girl nickname for a little girl.
 
There’s more. Names I recognize and a few that I don’t. The name of the jump school where he died. The information about military services performed and by whom.

 
Every sentence, a snapshot of our lives at the time.
 
I didn’t think I would be able to get this information. I don’t know if you guys know this but, it is now the year 2015. Why in the world do they even keep this stuff?
 
Answer: People like me.
 
People who make the phone calls to ask the questions that may lead people to laugh at your foolishness. Turns out, no one laughed. Not the obituary staffer and not the funeral home representative.
 
They went to work. They did some research and now I have more answers that inspire even more questions. As a matter of fact, I have strong indications that a gentlemen may be searching a secondary location’s files to help me answer questions I never mentioned to him.
 
Curiosity. Gratitude. Progress.
 
Although I am a little disappointed that I won’t live up to the romantic image of visiting some library basement and sifting through microfiche to find clues about who my father was.
 

Oct. 18, 1988 pg 2 clip

 
I am processing the information. I’m thinking about the leaves in October and the dirt road that led us from my grandmother’s house to the funeral home. I’m hearing the gun salute that shook my mother into tears and the flag folded in her lap. I am also wondering how many other clues will be so easily uncovered.
 
“Love, like Fortune, favours the bold.”
E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly
 
Dear love, favor me.
 

 

 PS – New mantra: Your addiction of choice is boldness.

 

Inconvenient.

I have a plan.

It’s a loose one with one end result in mind: 2015 is the year I finish my book.

Making goals is so scary. Once I say it, then I feel like it’s a matter of pride. My name is now Inigo Montoya and I have made an oath. I don’t know about you but Inigo and I take our oaths very seriously.

Don’t fret. No one needs to die in the process.

Over the course of last year, my writing stalled. I wasn’t sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I was building my dream nonprofit, skating and being a family lady. Not necessarily in that order.

It wasn’t just that I was busy. It was also that I am a master of the art of avoidance. It’s a gift that I have perfected by binge watching netflix and scrolling endlessly down my Facebook newsfeed. If you need lessons, holla!

It wasn’t the writing I was avoiding. As 2014 wound down, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I hoped to achieve in 2015 and what obstacles seem to  be tripping me up the most.

I, Tashmica Torok, am afraid of being an inconvenience.

As I sift through my childhood memories, I am left with a pile of questions. I have these dots that are vivid but nothing to connect them. They’re each floating without a number and members of my family who were adults at the time are the only ones who know the order of things.

I have to ask questions.

I have to be a bother. I have to make phone calls and remind the people I love that my father was not who he said he was. To get the answers I need, I’ll be pulling the bones of betrayal from the skeleton in the closet.

I’ll be risking secondary trauma for myself and for those I love. Even if I recommend that everyone go see a therapist (PRONTO!), I cannot enforce that they do. And still, I will be there with my questions.

I have this need. It’s been pulling at the hem of my sweater for years. It’s a question with an elusive answer.

How did my father sexually abuse me for so long and no one ever noticed?

This may appear to be a question intent on shifting blame. It is not. It is not about blame. It is about understanding because this story – my story – is not unique. My family’s inability to see the symptoms and diagnose the disease is not their inability alone.

It is a significant blindness that effects the human race globally.

Maybe my story will help lift the veil. Maybe it will help other survivors heal. Maybe it will help family members of survivors understand trauma so that they can be a better support system.

Or maybe, somewhere in my spirit, there is a need to write the little girl that I was a love note that says – I noticed.

As of today, I am giving myself permission to be a total bummer. I am allowing myself to inconvenience a few people. I am devoted to drawing lines to create a fuller picture of the consequences of my father’s actions.

I’ll likely be using this space to track my progress. If this is boring to you, I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.

Except I’m not.

Tonight I listed my cast of characters and printed off what I’ve written so far. Every month, I intend to tackle one vivid memory for investigation. This month, I’m thinking about my father’s funeral.

The ultimate equalizer – death. The moment when I realized that he was gone but his secret remained in my 8-year-old hands. Mourning is meant to be done in community and instead I felt isolated with the burden of one man’s reputation. What an incredibly cruel legacy.

As I’m asking questions, I invite you to comment with your own. I’d love to hear your thoughts. At the end of the year, I hope to have a powerful collection of stories to offer.

This is my plan.

You, dear reader, are now my accidental accountability partner.

I feel like I should offer you swag or something. 10421337_10152916021378588_1898813583640583186_n

Inconveniently,

 

 

 

PS – Don’t forget to check out this new way to connect. Totally personal. Just for you.

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

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.

Links to Cut

I have been finding my father all over the place.

My first stop was Ancestry.com.  It seemed like the best way to begin.  I entered in his information and my mother’s information..

Bingo! Bango!

There they were.  I found the names of 25 of my ancestors.  I found their names on Census, public and military records.  People in my family that were the first (so far) to be freed from slavery.  Some working in fields illiterate while younger members of the family attended school.  I found the suggested plantation my family was enslaved upon.

Family lore tells me it was Fort Hill or what is now known as Clemson University.  The jury is out about that.  However, my pompous African-American Studies professor from college who mocked me arrogantly about the myths of African Americans…well, I just wish I had his email address. :)

So, what am I looking for?

When I attended an African American studies course in college, we were required to read several books.  One of them discussed the idea that sexual assault perpetrated against slaves caused a shift in their culture.

I know, this sounds very Captain Obvious.  Bear with me.

  • Common place rape of slaves by masters who could have been raping their own daughters, sisters, etc.
  • Forced copulation for improved slave population .
  • Public fondling at slave auctions.
  • Powerless family members having to watch the victimization of other family members.

This is a piece of my family story.

My great-grandfather was born a slave.  He died when I was one or two years old.  No one knew how old he was exactly.  All I really know about him was that he was wearing a knit beanie the first time he held me in his arms.  He looked at my bald head and said, “Gurl, you gotta grow some hair on that head.  It’s cold out there!”  It was summertime.

The thought still makes me smile.

I am a piece of my family’s story.  What happened to me does not make me special.  It makes me a link in a culture ruined.  Sexual abuse was the disease that followed us like a scourge from the plantation.  It was headed my way long before I was born.

We, the African-American culture specifically, talk a lot about moving on.  We hush, we distract, we keep moving forward.  We forget to heal.  We are too blessed to be stressed.

I just want to know.  I want to know if anyone else saw the disease-spreading.  In a space free of blame or guilt, I just want to know if anyone else saw the symptoms.  The manipulative power of a pedophile is such that they go unnoticed.  Not completely but those in their presence may not be able to see the whole story until it is far too late.

It is far too late but I want to know the symptoms.  I want to write them down, share them and say them aloud.  This is how future diagnosis is made.

This is how I heal.

Surviving sexual abuse did not make me special.  It shattered me.  It made me a master at puzzles.  It made me the final link in a diseased family story.  Although, I hate the idea that somehow this happened for a reason, I will say it made me a little fierce.

I will write the symptoms down for you.  We have some links to cut.

“Perhaps the greatest horror of slavery was that you were denied your own children. You were denied indeed your own birthright. You were born into the world, but the self that you were, descended from your family, …was taken away from you. You were suspended in time. You were in limbo. You could not even have your self under slavery. Your selfhood was denied.”

– Catherine Clinton, historian