V-Day

We stand as one among countless families affected by violence.  Families whose lives have been changed. Abuse, molestation, rape, murder.  We have survived  and we stand together in working for change.

I wanted to write something as a reminder of V-Day around the world. Not necessarily a reminder of what has gone before, but a reminder of what we can help to overcome.  Because love and the strength of togetherness is a badge.  We wear our courage in our everyday lives, in our willingness to move through the world in the face of possibilities that we know too well exist.  We wear it in our willingness to live, to learn, to forgive and to become.

And then I remembered my daughter’s piece that she wrote 22 years ago.  Today when I read it, I cry.  I couldn’t express it better than this.

This is re-printed in honor of the following women.  In their names and for the sake of women everywhere, please be aware, pray, meditate, teach, learn, love, change what you can.

Tiffany Schultz

Janene Weinhold

Holly Tar

Elissa Keller

Pamela Clark

Amber Clark

                           *****

Originally published in the Eugene Register Guard, April 2, 1995.

I am standing at the edge of the light.  Maybe I am submerged just underneath it.  I can feel it.  I can see its fuzzy outlines, but I cannot touch it.  I can’t pull the murky elements into focus.

The phone rings at 6:10 a.m. on this Saturday morning.  There is no phone upstairs, so I run downstairs to get it.  I am usually two steps out of bed before I am consciously aware that I am heading for the phone.  This morning I am barely coherent even after the trip downstairs to the kitchen and the insistent ring.  It is a small apartment, so it can’t be more than 20 or 30 steps.  I do not remember them.  I answer the phone on what could only be the third ring.

I am not awake.  I was out late the night before helping host a Valentine’s Day party for the women’s network that I helped start just two months before.  My head feels stuffed with the packing that fills an aspirin jar; I am having difficulty extricating the fuzz.  My father is on the phone.

I strive desperately to pull the meaning of the words into focus.  My father’s deep voices pushes into my ear and brain.  I am still unable to reach the light.  The words swim in individual incoherence.  Someone was killed.  Mom’s nephew? No, he repeats my cousin’s name. 

I think he says my cousin James has been killed.  I immediately envision a car accident and all the statistics about teenage boys and their driving skills.  I shape the word, “James?”

“No,” he says, and repeats her name.

And with the name comes the understanding of the words he had already said, “She was murdered, Dad?”

“Yes.”

I search for mooring in the murkiness.  My sleep-drenched brain flashes open and closed like a strobe light.  Only parts of the word are visible with each illumination.  There is no more sunlight.  It is dark.  Only the occasional strobe breaks the darkness.  Each searing flash of brilliance illuminates the encroaching fear.

I ask him useless and incoherent questions.  I ask him for my and uncle’s address.  It is in my address book, but I am not conscious of that now.  I write their telephone number as a single stream of numbers.  No parentheses or hyphens – just 10 numbers that would be difficult to comprehend eight hours later when I call them.

Inexplicable, I ask my father for his brother’s zip code.  I can hear the confusion in his voice.  Why do I need the zip?  “I need to send them a card,” I say.  It is all by rote  – some rule that I absorbed somewhere about crisis.  I hang up and go back upstairs.

I crawl into bead begin to shake.  My mate asked who called and what is wrong. “it was Dad.  My cousin was murdered in her apartment in San Diego yesterday morning.  They notified her parents at one a.m.”  I begin to cry.

It is still dark.  I can see my body curl into a ball on the bed.  I resist the touch of comfort.  All mooring has disappeared.  I am floating in a shoreless sea of fear.  I ache for my parent’s home 500 miles away.

I am a child.  My cousin is sitting at my side while I write a story about her.  She is small and quiet – an only child.  I am the oldest of four unruly ruffians.

She is the pride and joy of my proper uncle and his socially graceful wife.  In my silence I am louder than she will beer be in her wildest moments.  I am cold. and numb.  I stay in the ball.

The phone rings all day long.  My parents are encouraged to know that we will all fly to  our aunt and uncle’s home before the service.  Mom thanks me.  I wonder aloud what they would expect.   Mom just says, “You never know,” and cries.

I touch base with my two brothers.  They are numbed into monosyllables.

I talk to my sister countless times that day.  She is in San Diego.  She lives across town from my cousin.  Their names appear one after another in the phone book.  She is panicked – the baby and so farm from home.  We talk each other through calling our and uncle.  I agree to call first.  I am the oldest.  I will call her after I have talked to them.

The ringing stretches like a yawning black hole.  I float in dread of an answer.  I am so sure no words will come when it is time.  My throat closes further with each ring.  My uncle answers.  ‘I am so sorry.”. I remember only his brittle voice.  “Thank you, Honey.  I love you.  Your dad’s on his way here to be with us.”

The walls begin to crumble.  The ball is not wound tightly enough.  I am a child.  I stumble in the oversized shoes of my adulthood.  “Good-bye. I love you.  I’ll see you Sunday.”

I assure my sister that she can call.  There will be no hysteria to contend with.  Only grief unimaginable.

I meet them at the San Francisco airport.  We will go on together.  My grandparents seem so tiny.  They are pale.  I am proud to her my grandfather has stayed sober.  I know I have barely hung on.  My mom and brothers offer stoic hugs.  We avoid too much warmth.  It will melt us.  There is no time to feel now.

My sister will meet us at our destination airport.  Dad is already there.  Mom talked to him before they boarded the plane from home.  I hear more details as we wait for the plane.

They think it was a serial killer.  I struggle with the television quality of the idea.  Searial killers do not kill senior college students in their apartments at 11 a.m.  She was baking cookies.  She was stabbed to death.

The fear resolutely buried, bursts through the surface.  The fragile box that I keep tightly locked inside is shattered.  I am painfully, sharply aware of my vulnerability.  My skin burns with the slightest brush.  My insides tie into a quivring knot that has yet to completely unravel.

We sit in silence – women in a fear that is incomprehensible to the men with us, and men reeling from the implications.  I see the shame tingeing the edges of their rage, while fear surrounds ours.  They cannot protect us; we cannot protect us; there is no safe place.

The trip is short.  My grandmother remarks that it has to be the shortest two-and-one-half-hour flight she has ever taken.  We are met by friends of my and uncle.  We believe that we will go to the hotel first.  We are wrong – we will go directly to the house.

My siblings and I look desperately to each other for salvation.  Mom and the grandparents are in the car ahead of us.  I wonder if they are as terrified of the grief we will soon face as we are.  We breathe deeply, almost as one, ad hurtle towrd their family home.

The car glides in replay slowness to the front door.  We have arrived first.  The generations ahead of us bring up the rear.  My father comes out to meet us.  Before my eyes his face crumbles.  

Slowly, as if he were melting clay, he cries at the sight of us.  I am seeing my father cry for the first time in my life.  Now, I am sure I will not survive this.  Who I was slips forever into memory., and I am forged anew.

We are holding him, comforting him.  In those few steps from the car to his arms we stoutly cloak the frightened children that we are and don the role of supporters.

We enter the house stripped of joy.

*****

Comments

  1. I have to admit I expected something totally different for Valenntine’s Day. And then, this. I haven’t made this exerience. Death yes, but not murder within my family. I can feel the numbness and despair in your daughter’s writing.

    Have so many women in your family been killed? That’s so terrible. I also feel that women often have to suffer the most. Even if they still live, they may have been abused, raped, violated. My heart goes out to those women. It makes me cry. I’m one of those who survived, but I know life will never be like before again.

    Like

    • Talk to me...I'm your Mother says:

      Hi Kath…yes, this is a bit different from the hearts and flowers…but there is an international organization called V-Day which works to end violence against women.

      The list of women are not all from my family. These are the women killed along with my niece in 1990 by a serial killer.

      I have not listed the women in my family or the women I know who have been abused, molested, raped and violated. I have no freedom to do that, but we are all survivors and I care a lot to try to raise conciousness about this.

      Thanks for your caring comments. We are all in this together, aren’t we? xxoo

      Like

  2. It’s thoughful of you to include women who are having the opposite experience. We shouldn’t suffer our relationships. They should enhance our sense of well being. Thank you for this timely reminder.

    Like

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