Weeping Willow

If I were a tree, I would be a great willow.

I’ve always loved the softness of their tiny leaves, the flexibility of their branches and their melancholy, weeping appearance.

When I was a little girl, I swung from the branches of three willows in my grandmother’s yard.

I hid amongst the sweeping, canopy in the summer afternoons of visits to Michigan.

This winter has left our trees snapped, cracked and broken. Branches are lying in the snow. The ice was too heavy for their boughs and even in the lit up, crystal beauty of the storm, injury occurred.

I have always hidden my broken branches.

In middle school, while girls giggled about their first kisses and sexual experiences, I struggled to know enough to be cool and not enough to be considered a slut.

When I was triggered by my relationship with people, places or things in the world, I withdrew. I asked my mother to pretend to tell me that I couldn’t go out so I could avoid seeing anyone.

I didn’t know the word ‘trigger’ at the time though.

As we approach the 6 month anniversary of The Firecracker Foundation, I have experienced what I can only compare to the feeling of astonishment. After we met our fundraising goal last year, I felt stunned.

I felt paralyzed. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to breathe, or bend or stretch.

I wanted to be still.

What is this that I am feeling? Why am I afraid to move?

I felt as if my movement would shatter the world.

I felt like if I stretched everyone would finally see all of the broken branches at my feet. I felt like my warm breath would melt the snow that had hidden them so well.

Because I am broken. Right?

That’s what I’ve been surviving. I’ve been healing all of the things torn away from me in childhood. I’ve been mending, bandaging and wrapping up wounds.

I’ve been hoping, for the most part, that I hid it well.

Look at that smile. Look at that capable, smart, creative girl. Look at that mother and wife. Look at that derby girl. Look at that giving, compassion loving lady.

Look but don’t look down. There are branches scattered all around me.

Sure, I’ve shared pieces of what I’m healing and where in this blog. I’ve definitely had tearful heart to hearts with friends too.

I still maintain that I have never met a thought I couldn’t share.

However, in some ways I’m still that 8-year-old girl hoping no one notices she’s really just dirty and broken.

Some of the branches I lopped off myself. Self destruction and worthlessness can make you try and burn off the things you’ve been convinced are wrong with you. True or not, the shears come out and you prune like Edward Scissorhands to make yourself normal like everyone else.

Or normal like no one else but less like you.

Here I am after the launch of an incredibly supported and embraced foundation and I am feeling through it all.

What is this frozen, stunned, catatonic state? Why does this growth and expansion make me so uncomfortable? Where has this journey brought me?

It has brought me to discover and examine the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I am not broken.

Maybe the branches at my feet are broken but I am still the tall, sweeping willow tree.

Is it possible that I have been hiding a secret deformation that never existed in the first place?

Is it possible that the abuse I suffered did not make me inherently dirty, misshapen, worthless, incompetent or broken at the core?

It is possible.

It is possible to heal from an injury without always thinking that injury somehow makes you a lesser human being.

It is possible for branches to break off of a strong, living tree. It is possible to love the deep, digging roots, the thick trunk and the wide spreading canopy of leaves without assessing it a lower value because of unexpected and undeserved losses.

I’m still pulling the word broken out of my trunk like a fence line tangled too close.

I’m figuring this one out. I’m letting it sink in.

It’s a whisper. It’s a half question, a wonderment. It’s the possibility that I made a false agreement with myself under duress.

I’m toying with a declaration:

I am not broken.

From the roots to the tree, let it be.

Love from the branches of a weeping willow,

Tashmica

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

 

Come Dance With Me

It has been nearly two months since #Stargazing2013.

I wore my Joanie dress. That’s what I love to call the green dress that I feel channels Joanie’s style from Mad Men.

The room was filled with family, friends and even a few strangers. I was nervous. I nearly lost my temper looking for my other earring. Emotions were running a little high.

Don’t worry. I founded it and kept my cool.

Once I arrived, warmth, love, hope and encouragement seemed to be hanging from the ceiling. It tinkled like crystal chandeliers and inspired hugs that rose out of the ground and up through entire bodies.

I told my story. I cried. I even got that verklempt voice. You know the one that sounds like a duck. I kept it together. Breathed. Paused. Continued.

2013-08-01_002

It was not easy but it wasn’t terribly difficult either. Love is a funny thing that way. It inches stepping stones closer together and opens bolted doors to meadows filled with fireflies.

I shared my big and scary dream.

I started an organization that aims to –

Honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma with a community invested in the healing of their whole being.

It’s called The Firecracker Foundation.

I want to make sure that children who survive what I did, have the love, therapy and support they need to have a healthy and happy future. I think our community should be invested in their healing.

I know that we should not leave them behind to fend for themselves.

I asked everyone who attended #Stargazing2013 to join our community. I told them – you belong with us.

Everyone agreed.

Some donated. Some pledged. Some volunteered.

Offerings of gifts I do not own.

And then we set some stuff on fire.

2013-08-01_011
You are looking at a very bad idea.

Sparks flew. The fire launched and it seems to be heading for a steady blaze.

Just a few days after the event, Louise Knott Ahern told my story in the Lansing State Journal and then it was picked up by the Detroit Free Press.

Thirteen men and women volunteered to share their stories and images in a calendar project that will be sold as a fundraiser. Their vision turned art photography will impact the hearts of fellow survivors and gift others a deeper understanding of what it means to have to live with the consequences of sexual trauma.

FC - Survivors 2013

Yoga studios around town are offering donation based classes to fund yoga classes for trauma survivors. The first one was yesterday and you can view a full schedule here.

My board of directors is training, strategic planning and committee building. Grants are being researched and programs are being built with the honor of our youngest survivors in mind.

2013-08-01_004

Holy cow.

And how do I feel?

It’s taken me a few exhausted days of stumbling about to figure that out.

I am proud.

I am proud and deeply in love with what is happening around me.

I am proud, in love and filled with so much gratitude, I can hardly contain it.

And, if I were being completely honest, I would admit that I’m a little frightened.

A good healthy fear never hurt anyone. I’ve heard that pride goes before a fall but perhaps if it’s tempered with crashing waves of gratitude, I’ll be able navigate this sea without too many shipwrecks.

Most of all – more than anything – I feel…

Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange

I want the whole damn world to come and dance with me. 

Dancing so hard,

Tashmica

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.

Quick Draw McPease

I remember a lot of things about Mrs. Pease.

I remember that she laughed hard and often. She had short curly hair that she parted to one side. When a fly had the gall to sneak into our classroom, she would adopt the persona of Quick Draw McPease and hunt it down with a fly swatter. We all giggled watching her stalk the tiny buzzing intruders.

In the fall, when we all had the sniffles, she would conduct an orchestra and point to us when we were supposed to sniff, cough or sneeze on cue with the music. I’m going to bet that the halls of North East Christian Academy never sounded so ill. ;)

One day, we had a special presentation about abuse. The presenter talked about neglect, physical and verbal abuse. It was the first time I recognized what had been happening as something universally frowned upon. The sexual abuse had felt wrong but I was confused and disillusioned by years of lies and manipulation.

At the end of the presentation, the presenter asked us all to put our heads down on our desk, close our eyes and raise our hands if we wanted to talk about any abuse we had experienced.

Listen.

My momma didn’t raise no fool.

There’s always some jerk watching during an altar call. I didn’t know this person and I was for sure not sharing even the smallest morsel of my secret with this stranger, if that was his real name.

After he left, our day went on. I felt like I should say something but to whom? I sat in my desk thinking through the possible scenarios. I thought through all of the threats and realized that because my father was a year dead and in the ground many would likely not be possible. I watched Mrs. Pease and wondered if she would believe me.

I raised my hand as my classmates worked through their assignments.

“Can I talk to you alone?”

She said yes and walked me out into the hallway.

I don’t remember crying exactly. I don’t even remember what I said. I just know that she was there and she told me that we needed to tell my mother. I was terrified. The cat was now out of the bag.

The rest of the day was suspense on meth. Mrs. Pease called my mother in for a meeting. I thought my chest was going to close up and cut off my air supply. I waited to die.

When my mother arrived I sat down in a chair next to her and Mrs. Pease. I remember looking down at my feet. I felt so small. I was so small.

Mrs. Pease probably tried to prepare my mother. I don’t remember that part. I just remember her asking me, “Do you want to tell your mom or would you like me too?”

I asked her to and then, just as my mother heard those hard words, I begged her not to hate my daddy.

I was still so worried for him.

I remember a lot about Mrs. Pease.

I remember one thing the most.

She stood by me. Even in the midst of delivering some of the worst news my mother will ever hear, she stayed with me.

She also listened, believed and advocated.

Somehow, her physical presence and support is what I remember the most.

So now, I am thinking through the right questions to ask my old school to get the answers that I want.

What I really want to know is, where is she now?

She is just one of many women who saved my life and I would like to say thank you.

If you happen to be from El Paso and know who she is, I would be over the moon to talk to her again. Spread this. Share with your friends. Ask around.

Help me thank her.

Desperately Seeking Quick Draw McPease,

Tashmica