Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Well...for those of you still patient enough to log on, between problems with the computer (I apparently need a new motherboard, but the tech showed me how to override the problem, at least temporarily) and being on the coast for the last several days, therefore have been unable to blog through my phone as I have in the past.
Anyway...I am finally leaving the coast and am moving inland, therefore can again give you updates from the streets of the Pacific northwest, perhaps, if not daily then at least a few times per week. I am thrilled at this prospect of course because I am so far behind on blogs due several shelters we have visited. For now however, I think I'd like to catch up on lessons learned for a bit. I know I have friends out there who are a bit worried since you haven't heard from me for a while, and I thank you for the good thoughts and prayers.
I have a friend who recently told me she did not know the now solemn, demure, humbled, Lynn that stood before her and she was 100% correct. I return to Oregon a different person than when I left. I know I have said this before, but I believe it will almost be a new mantra. I set out to change the world and instead the world changed me.
I look at the world through a homeless set of eyes now. When I walk into a grocery store, the things I take note of are not the freshness of the produce look, nor what's on sale. The first thing I look for are the hours of operation. Are they open 24 hours so if I have to relieve myself I can do so with dignity and not have to pee in a cup to be disposed of at a later time? The second is the location of those emancipating restrooms, and the third, is there a soda dispenser in order to get fresh water, and ice. The final thing is the location of the street lights. It's hard to sleep with a spot light shining in your eyes, so we look for the darkest corners if we choose to sleep in a busy parking lot.
One of the things I have mentioned recently is the wild fennel that grows rampant on the California Coast. Lavender and rosemary, my favorite herb of all time, grow in abundance as well. My traveling companion always gets a kick out of how I constantly run my hands along the fresh exhilarating, oil laden leaves. He jokes that I am the only woman in the world he knows that uses rosemary behind her ears instead of perfume. The fact is in my homeless days of long a long, I discovered that not only are both fennel, and rosemary invigorating, but they are natural deodorizers. When we are not able to bathe for more than 2 days in a row, I will break a piece off and rub it on my arms, and my neck.
As we drive along the good earth the Lord has provided, we notice the beauty of it secondary to, where can we park the car and sleep privately for a night. There is a nook here; a cranny there, but questions arise such as will it be safe here. Not necessarily from human intruders but from bestial ones. There have been times we have come across mountain lion, bear, and even rattlesnake warning signs that have us wondering if our choices are once again, so smart.
It was explained that the foods eaten by the homeless are foods that are meant to fatten you up. High fat, high carb foods that will keep meat on your bones in colder days. This made sense of course once we actually took note of the homeless we interviewed and saw throughout each city. After all, the majority of the homeless spend much of their time walking, day in and day out. Much more than I did on this trip, and as I looked around I thought to myself, I have yet to see a skinny homeless person. So they are eating well, not necessarily so healthy.
One thing we heard from more than one service provider was the fact that many times formerly homeless people have something similar to survivors guilt. If a family member or friend needs help financially, these formerly people will, to the detriment of their own finances, give to those in need. Even if they know the reasons are bogus. They fear letting them down even if these people have let them down time and time again. Some have been known to pay a relative rent before they pay their own. They give the shirt off their back so their relative will not have to suffer the same fate as they had.
That fact shouted out to me as if it were written in neon lighting. I do exactly that. I act with good intentions, but those actions are not always so smart. My heart tells me; they have three children. They can't always afford to pay their rent. But then you hear how she gets her hair and nails done each month as well as goes tanning twice a week. He took the family out to an amusement park and spent more than $150. You hear how he bought several rounds of drinks for his friends, but can't pay his phone bill.
My head tells me logically of course, you can't do that. You can't afford it. You will loose your own home, your own vehicle, food out of your own mouth, never mind the fact that you know what they are in trouble because of their own doing. I believe it's called co-dependence personified. I suppose I could say the same about me right this very minute.
Before I began this trip, my thoughts were on being a good samaratin and helping others. It turns out, it has been once again, at my expense, pun not intended but apropos.
Since my car was going to be just sitting for four months (now 6) I loaned it to a family that greatly needed it. Sadly it no longer runs. It was an oldie but a goodie, and now it exists no longer.
I loaned someone else my bed. The home it went to is flea infested, not to mention that the child of the household, wet the bed time and time again. Now apparently the bed has been disposed of because it was in such horrible shape. The family cannot afford to replace it for me.
In my arrogance, I gave away ALL of my clothes, thinking because of the amount of walking being done I would drop 70 or so pounds. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since I ate the same foods the homeless ate, I only dropped a bout 10, maybe 15 pounds. So now, all I have when I come back are the clothes I brought with me. That will teach me to think so well of myself.
While on this trip, I gave every one of my blankets, coats and gloves to the homeless. Although on limited funds ourselves, when we could, we bought a meal for a homeless person here and there. Mostly we listened and offered a prayer or two.
Do I regret these actions. I'd would be less than truthful if I said no, but it was done with the best of intentions, without the expectations of recieving anything in return. The regrets are only that I have no means at this present time or replace these things for myself. Am I asking for a handout for myself? Heavens no! I got myself into this mess, I will get myself out. I have a merciful God who knows my heart was in the right place even if my logic was not.
I share this to give you a better understanding of how some people get themselves into financial difficulties out of acts of co-dependent love. This 'ever enabling mother' has learned her lessons well.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Although limited, there is space available if you are single with a child, pregnant with a child, even married with a child. There is space if you have a drug addiction, if you are an alcoholic, or if you are mentally ill.
If you have been beaten to a pulp by a loved one you can not only get into safe housing but you can be given your own apartment paid for, at least for the first 90 days.
Now, here's the rub. If you are a woman who has been told by her roommate that she no longer wants a roommate, as in my case, or if you are a woman who was out of work for more than two years because of a work injury, also as in my case, or if you are a woman who is just down on your luck, then it seems you are out of luck because other than a first come first serve basis dorm of beds, there is nothing out there for you.
I can tell you that we have met many, many homeless men and women who do not want to be in the streets, but due to unforeseen circumstances they are. They also feel a huge sense of hopelessness for they are low on the totem pole as to who is a priority in who receives help.
So what do we do about it? Other than opening my big mouth and protesting the inequality of the system, I haven't a clue. Any ideas?
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Andy Parker slept under the stars for the first time last night. He didn't notice the glow of the starlit evening. He didn't notice the light they gave off illuminating the path he could have chosen. Instead he lay shivering, huddled under a piece of cardboard, barely big enough for his not yet fully grown body. He thought of his mother then, wondering why?
"You're just like your no good daddy," she shouted, exhaling a veil of sour liquored breath. "You ain't good for nothin are you boy? You're probly gonna leave me high and dry just like he did, aren't you?
"But Ma," Andy protested, "Daddy didn't leave you. He died.
"Well he ain't here now is he Mr. Smart Mouth?" Andy turns to let his mother stew in her own drunken stupor. "Don't you walk away from me boy!"
He stops, turns and ducks, just before the blow would have struck his face. He didn't want to explain another black eye to his teacher.
"Get out!" his mother shouted. "Get out of my house."
"But mom, where will I go?"
"Ask me if I give a rats ass," she said under her breath. "You can go to hell for all I care. I don't ever want to see your sorry face her again. You hear me boy?"
'An innocent' they called Andy. During the month he had been in Balboa Park, he had earned the nickname Pony Boy, after the youngest character in the Outsiders. They stood together, the dozens of teenagers that became 'family' to Andy. They watched each others backs.
Andy was the one they watched out for the most. He was the only blond haired, blue eyed of the bunch. He was the kind the men in the BMW's, Cadillacs and Mercedes who came around after dark sought out the most. It was cold the night Andy found himself alone. He had been sick all day, so the others had gone to find food without him. He knew they'd bring some for him.
"Hey son," the bald man in the jaguar coaxed. "Want to earn $100 dollars?" Andy nodded. "My wife's away for a few days. It gets kind of lonely in the house."
Andy looked around for guidance. No one was there. If there had been, they would have recognized the look of desperation on Andy's face. They had all been there before.
He pushed away the thoughts that begged him not to go. The call of warmth and a full belly beckoned to him. Andy shrugged and walked to the car, feeling the blast of heat before he sat down. The man smelled of sweat, stale cigarettes and too much English Leather. He ignored the sausage like fingers that now rested upon his knee.
Andy walked toward the overpass at I-5 and Friars Road. You know. The high one, out near Murphy Canyon Road. He forgets the crisp $100 bill, hidden safely in his pocket. He doesn't feel the warmth of the sun on his back. He doesn't hear the blaring of the horns, warning him to steer clear of the heavy traffic. In his daze, he hears nothing. Not the screeching of tires; nor the pleas for him to get back from the railing he just stepped over.
A single tears escapes him. He thinks of the man who stole from him last night, the last ounce of childhood Andy had left. He takes one more step, and falling, his last thoughts of the mother who threw him away. He wondered if she would ever think of him again. Thirteen year old Andrew Parker died that sun filled Indian Summer day in San Diego. He was 'an innocent' no more.
Monday, August 23, 2010
What I wouldn't give for the privacy of a shower curtain, or a toilet within walking distance of my bed. While in Washington, and Oregon we had rest rooms at our disposal what with all of the rest areas available for a travelers convenience. Since crossing the California border however, not only have our safe sleeping accommodations been taken away with the closure of their rest areas, but so has our ability to relieve ourselves privately, when nature calls in the middle of the night. So what do we do?
During the day of course is a different matter. There is always the local McDonalds, or library or other establishment whose doors must by law remain unlocked to the public. At night however, the police, for the most part, look the other way. They are overwhelmed by the homeless situation and it is far beyond their control to arrest 6,000 people each night.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
The truth was, when we arrived in Oklahoma, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a bigger snow storm than the one that stranded us for an evening in Ohio. The flakes were fat and feathery. The kind you’d rather watch through the safety of your living room window while doing jigsaw puzzles in front of the fire, instead of our intermittently working windshield wipers.
It was a beautiful sight and the kids hadn’t any play time since this whole ordeal began. Although I hesitated at first we took a break at a rest stop. We bombarded each other with snow balls for a full thirty minutes of freezing on purpose, and called it “having fun”. Val and Dominick had always been guarded at home and taught by their father that children should be seen and not heard.
He was no where around to hear their howls of laughter, which to me was the most beautiful sound in the world. It did my heart good, not having heard the children laugh so freely in quite some time. By the time we headed back to the truck, we were half frost-bitten, wet, exhausted and deliriously happy. Only I noticed that the short walk to our awaiting chariot was getting a bit slippery.
With Val soon asleep, wrapped in a blanket on the floorboard and Dominick beside me, just beginning to allow his eyes to close, I felt myself getting drowsy as well. I slapped my cheeks, willing myself to stay awake and alert. I would stop soon and sleep for a while, but right now I wanted no more delays than necessary and decided to weather the storm (no pun intended) and forge ahead before the roads became impassible.
It seemed like a matter of moments before I found myself jolted by a thud. To my horror, I had in fact fallen asleep and begun to run off the road. I righted the truck just in time to see ahead, a large dark shadow in the middle of the highway. Although a city girl, I do know a bull from a horse from a deer and what was looming ahead was none of the above. I blared my horn which roused my son but did nothing to dispel the creature I was about to strike. I did the only thing I could do and slammed on my brakes.
The back end of the truck began to swerve to the left although I was turning to the right. With Val lying on the floor board wrapped in a blanket, she was somewhat protected. Dominick however was being tossed around like a rag doll. On this partially deserted highway in Oklahoma, I just knew we were going to die.
We hit the center railing, jumped the median and were now headed in the wrong direction, yet the truck still had not stopped. It was careening towards a ditch that, although as we found out later was no more than three feet deep, it was deep enough to make the truck turn over once and somehow right itself. The world had finally stopped spinning.
I released my breath which, until now I had not realized I was holding. In less than a second I assessed the situation. Val seemed unscathed; rubbing her eyes as she sleepily emerged from her cocoon. Dominick whose grin would have given the Cheshire cat a run for its money, seemed no less for wear either.
“That was fun mommy,” he chimed. “Let’s do it again.”
Obviously, the only one with frazzled nerves, I gathered my children up in my arms and held them tightly, making a sound that was half laugh and half cry. I had put my children’s lives in jeopardy. I had taken my kids from one dangerous situation and had put them in another. I never could have known that this was only the beginning of a new perilous life.
No one that stopped to help us was dressed in overalls. I was now sure that the grandmothers in Oklahoma helped more in the fields along side their husbands than in the kitchen, and their hearts were larger than the state itself. I say this simply because of the three women and six men that showed up at our wreck. It was the women who took control and calmly assessed the damage both to us and the truck. It was the women who were calm cool and collected and did more than just stand around and observe the scene. It was the women who had the strength and the backbone to get things done, and I wanted to be just like them when I grew up.
Miraculously, not only were none of us damaged too much, but neither was the truck. Oh it had scratches up one side and down the other, but the dents were not nearly as bad as I thought they would be and it was still drivable. The women fussed over us, brought blankets from their car and one even offered me a shot of brandy from the flask she had taken from her husband.
“No thank you,” I declined politely. “I need to get back on the road.”
“Not tonight you’re not,” the woman with the brandy declared. “I’m taking you home with me sweetie and I don’t want to hear a word about it. You and your children need to settle down for the night in a nice warm bed, not the front of a truck.” Before I could say anything she turned to whom I presumed to be her husband. “We’ll see to the truck, won’t we Fred?”
“You bet Ethel” declared the short round bald man.
“Fred and Ethel”? I thought to myself. As if she could read my thoughts Ethel turned to me and with eyebrows raised scolded, “Honey, don’t say a solitary word. We’ve heard all the Fred and Ethel jokes there ever was and if it weren’t for the fact I love this old coot I would have divorced him long ago just ‘cuz I can’t stand our names.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.” I wouldn’t have either, but only out of politeness.
“Yeah well, I heard those wheels spinning up there. Anyway, let’s get you to a nice hot bath and feather bed. You can tell us in the morning why you’re out here all alone with two kids and not a husband in sight.”
I had seen that look on my own mother’s face to know there was no arguing with this woman. I took my kids by their frightened little hands and followed the leader.
Chapter four to be continued
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Whichever the case may be, it is still the footwork for future Change-for-Life endeavors. I am as you read this blog, putting together plans to do the East Coast walk next year. Now I of all people fully understand that plans can change on a daily basis and that God may be having a good laugh at my expense, but I with the success of this trip, I hope next years will not only happen, but will be even more successful.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
First you cry. Fear sets in as you lie in bed and think of your future. Will you have one? How do I tell my husband? How do I tell my children? How can I get through this? Why me?
Your body changes. You look in the mirror and no longer see the same woman. He walks in and you grab a towel. You hide. Don't look at me. I'm ugly. Don't touch me. Keep away.
He takes the towel aside, kisses the breast that is no longer there. He touches your cheek, turns, and walks away. You won't be okay for your life has changed forever, but you will go on. You have love on your side.
The doctor gives you the update. You release the breath you didn't realize you had been holding for months. You will live to see your grandchildren grow up.
One of my dearest friends, Paulie, was the lucky winner of two tickets to the cancer ball. She has an amazing faith in a God bigger than life itself, and the love of a wonderful husband who carried her through it all when she could not carry herself.The link below is a tribute to women who have survived cancer. It is well worth watching and what prompted the writing of this blog. I do hope you will watch it before reading the remainder of this blog.
Three years ago, I found a lump in my breast. The day I went for the testing that could have changed my life forever, Paulie showed up to be there for support. Being single, she wanted me to know someone cared, someone loved me enough to offer a shoulder if the news was bad, or a celebratory hug if the news was good. Thank you was not enough to express how I felt, but just having here there by my side meant everything to me.
For most women who live in the streets there are no friends, there are no Paulie's to hold your hand when your afraid. There are no such things as yearly exams, or even self-examinations. If they even find a lump it is often to late for medical treatment.
What happens to any type of medical care when you live in the streets? Where do you get your insulin? Your high blood pressure medicine? What about heart conditions? How are these treated? In Los Angeles, it's at the Weingart Center for Community Health.
With some insurance plans each time you go in to see a doctor, you never see the same one twice. You're just a number, a dollar sign, not a person with problems that may go deeper than a stomach ache or a even a lump in a breast. Not at The Weingart Center for Community Health.
If you live on skid row, The Weingart Center for Community Health, a state of the art comprehensive health facility, wants you to have a Paulie in your life too. Therefore at skid row's only health clinic, your doctor will be the same from the first visit to the twelfth, even the fiftieth visit. You will have the comfort of knowing that someone cares. You won't have to repeat your medical history to everyone you see.
If you need blood work, there are labs on site. If you you need an x-ray, machines are on the premises. Heart problems? There are specialists on staff. Dental work can be taken care of. Glasses can be prescribed, and the worries of no care for ill health can be put aside.
You are offered a personalized plan to a life free of the enslavement of addiction. If you need help to get through this traumatic time in your life, the same psychologist will see you each time you come in. The list goes on.
But most importantly, at the Weingart Center for Community Health, you are not a bum. You are not a vagrant. You are not an alcoholic, nor a drug addict. You're not even homeless. You are someone who matters. You are someone with a name. You are a Ruth. A Caleb. A Jessie. You are a person who deserves to be cared for with respect, compassion and love. All you have to do is walk through the door, and let The Weingart Center for Community Health be your Paulie.
Friday, August 13, 2010
I don’t understand why anyone would live like that. He’s an old man. He’s filthy, he stinks. He’s disgusting.
There is someone walking behind you,
turn around, look at me.
I look at the picture of my little girl I haven't seen in more than 20 years. I miss her terribly, my Lizzie. She's the reason I'm still alive.
There is someone watching your footsteps,
turn around, look at me
I found a photo of my dad in my mom's belongings. I hadn't seen it for years. My dad had left when I was just 9 years old. I always wondered if he was still alive? If he is, where is he? Why did he leave? Mom told me he came back from Vietnam a different person.
There is someone who really needs you,
here's my heart in my hand.
Why am I alive and they weren't? I started doing heroine in the jungles of Vietnam. I would do anything to numb the pain of losing his friends one by one. But the drugs hurt my family. So I left. It was the best thing for them.
Turn around, (turn around,) look at me,
(look at me,) understand, understand,
This wasn’t what I meant when I told the pastor I wanted to volunteer where I was needed most. I’d rather be somewhere else than here serving meals at a homeless shelter.
That there's someone who'll stand beside you.
Turn around, look at me.
That could be her. She has that little mole right above her left eye. Wouldn’t that be something if it was her?
And there's someone who'll love and guide you.
Turn around, look at me.
Who laughed? Who was it? It’s my father. I know it is. I will always remember his laugh. Where is he?
I've waited, but I'll wait forever for you to come to me.
It is you Lizzie! My little lady bug, all grown up. Don't look. I don't want you to see me like this.
Look at someone (look at someone) who really loves you,
Daddy? Daddy is that you?
yeah, really loves you.
Lizzie. I miss you. You do see me don't you? Can you really see past the drugs, past the dirt? Please see me Lizzie. See Me.
Turn around, look at me.
Turn around. Look at me.
Monday, August 9, 2010
When I began this trip the only expectation I had was to walk every step of the way. By the end of the trip, I know some people were disappointed in the fact that although I walked until I could not walk any more, I opted to bypass the more extensive rural areas. The decision did not come lightly, especially since with the falling off of steps, the media fell off as well. Disappointing as it was, this trip was not about the media. It is not a Lynn McPherson walk, nor a Guinness World Record walk. It is a homeless awareness walk.
The cows and rabbits inhabiting America’s amber waves of grain need not be educated in the fine art of homelessness. They are already homeless. They will always be homeless. They had no interest whatsoever in what I was telling them, so why bother?
I could have, and actually did start out walking each and every step of the way, trusting that Google Maps would not mislead me. Wrong. On day one, the beloved mapping system had me taking a 4 mile detour for what should have been a football sized stretch. Had I gone the route of Google Maps, the walk from Medford, Oregon to Redding California would have taken an extra four weeks. Now as much as I am an avid lover of four legged creatures, two legged creatures are of much more importance to me.
Had I continued to literally walk every step of the way, I would have spent about 4 hours walking through Seattle; two or so hours walking through Tacoma; three hours through Portland. Even Los Angeles would have gotten only four hours of our attention. Bypassing the fruited plains allowed days, not just moments, in each city to meet with the homeless, interview service providers for the homeless, and to educate the public on homelessness.
I can tell you that had I taken my time, and merely enjoyed the lovely scenery of the west coast, I never would have met any of the 50 some odd service providers who are all so dedicated to their beliefs which mirror mine. Beneath the drug addictions, beneath the alcoholism, beneath the tough guy exterior, beat shattered, broken hearts of hurting men and women who for one reason or another, are not always capable of asking for help. There is a story behind each and every face; A story that would melt even the coldest of hearts if only we, as Americans would take the time to listen.
If you have been keeping up with my blog, you would know that there were times when I wanted to give up; Times when the emotions of being back in a place that has haunted the back of my mind for decades almost sent me to the nearest airport home; Times when the physical pain sent me to sleep in tears. Had I, not taken the time to listen to the changes God had for this walk, I would have made it to the finish line and although it would have been a coup for me, I would have gone home thinking I had failed at what I set out to do. I would have gone home thinking that all the time, effort and hardship was all in vain.
Had I selfishly gone the way I planned, walking step by literal step, instead of the way God had in mind for me, I never would have had the opportunity to meet so many men, women and children who had the courage to take that first step forward and ask for help. I never would have met the George Hill, who had 13 years of living on skid row in Los Angeles; Carleton Griffin who overcame 25 years of heroin addiction while homeless; Gina Parnell who spent 33 years as a drug addict in the streets of L.A. and is now grateful for the life she never knew she could have if it weren’t for places like the shelters that gave her sanctuary.
But, it is these people, and the thousands of other I encountered on the way that encouraged me so much more than I ever encouraged them. The ones who have made it into transitional housing or those who are no longer living in the streets gave me the confidence to continue. The ones still out there are the ones that make me know I must go on. If I were to do it all over again would I change anything? Not a single step.
I may have set out to change the world, instead the world changed me. This trip was and continues to be about 'doing the right thing'. It is my hopes to continue through the remaining 47 states. If I zigzag the way I am now through each state it would take 22,356 miles of step by step walking. An average of 15 miles per day would take 1,490 days or a little over 4 years. That is four years of no stopping and talking with the homeless or their service providers, no days off to rest; no time for holidays or birthdays with family or friends. No time to breathe really.
But if the only way to get people’s attention is to walk each and every literal step, then I’ll do it. I’ll travel across the states, and back on my hands and knees if that will get the Brad and Angelina’s of the world to donate that million dollars in their own back yard, without the tragedy of a natural disaster. But, to zigzag across the states step by step, would take years and I do mean years. Many of the homeless don’t have years to wait.
I am an individual, not an official non-profit therefore since no one has stepped up to the plate to sponsor this trip in its entirety, it is 92% self-funding. The remaining 8% has come from generous donations of friends who believe in what I am doing. For now, as long as the funding keeps trickling in, I am going to continue as if these past 1863 miles were just the beginning.
As of today, I am continuing North and will visit many cities I was not able to call upon on the way South. There is so much more to write about, therefore, I will continue to blog as daily as I can. I do hope you will follow.
I will take time off in November to find someone to partner with or if that doesn’t pan out, I will set the wheels in motion to become an official non-profit in order to apply for grants or scholarships that will allow me to continue educating people all across the nation on the etiquette of homelessness.
It takes just one thing to end homelessness. One person; One voice; One step; One Penny. Be that One.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
35%, or 1,365,000 of all homeless Americans are women. Of that number 68%, or 928,200 are in the streets because of domestic violence. That means that 2,543 women turn to the streets each day to escape domestic violence. To pay homage to those women I have met along the way, and in honor of Downtown Women's Center in Los Angeles, I thought 'the Clothesline Project' I closed my article on the Downtown Women's Center with, was important enough to receive a blog of it's own.
HISTORY OF THE CLOTHESLINE PROJECT
According to the Men's Rape Prevention Project in Washington DC, 58,000 soldiers died in the Vietnam war. During that same period of time, 51,000 women were killed mostly by men who supposedly loved them. In the summer of 1990, that statistic became the catalyst for a coalition of women's groups on Cape Cod, Massachusetts to consciously develop a program that would educate, break the silence and bear witness to one issue - violence against women.
This small, core group of women, many of whom had experienced some form of personal violence, wanted to find a unique way to take staggering, mind-numbing statistics and turn them into a provocative, "in-your-face" educational and healing tool.
One of the women, visual artist Rachel Carey-Harper, moved by the power of the AIDS quilt, presented the concept of using shirts - hanging on a clothesline - as the vehicle for raising awareness about this issue. The idea of using a clothesline was a natural. Doing the laundry was always considered women's work and in the days of close-knit neighborhoods women often exchanged information over backyard fences while hanging their clothes out to dry.
The concept was simple - let each woman tell her story in her own unique way, using words and/or artwork to decorate her shirt. Once finished, she would then hang her shirt on the clothesline. This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the Clothesline; it becomes a healing tool for anyone who make a shirt - by hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away; finally it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone.
October of 1990 saw the original Clothesline Project with 31 shirts displayed on a village green in Hyannis, Massachusetts as part of an annual "Take Back the Night" March and Rally. Throughout the day, women came forward to create shirts and the line kept growing.
A small blurb appearing in Off Our Backs magazine was picked up by Ms magazine and everything changed for the Clothesline Project. In the following years, the Ryka Rose Foundation and Carol Cone's advertising agency took an interest in our work and helped create a national push with small pieces appearing in USA Weekend magazine, Shape magazine and others. This outreach created an overwhelming national response and brought the Clothesline Project from a single, local, grassroots effort into an intense national campaign.
At the moment we estimate there are 500 projects nationally and internationally with an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 shirts. We know of projects in 41 states and 5 countries. This ever-expanding grassroots network is as far-flung as Tanzania and as close as Orleans, Massachusetts.
Survivor = A woman who has survived intimate personal violence such at rape, battering, incest, child sexual abuse.
Victim = A woman who has died at the hands of her abuser.
The Clothesline Project honors women survivors as well as victims of intimate violence. Any woman who has experienced such violence, at any time in her life, is encouraged to come forward and design a shirt. Victim's families and friends are also invited to participate.
It is the very process of designing a shirt that gives each woman a new voice with which to expose an often horrific and unspeakable experience that has dramatically altered the course of her life. Participating in this project provides a powerful step towards helping a survivor break through the shroud of silence that has surrounded her experience
White represents women who died because of violence;
Yellow or beige represents battered or assaulted women;
Red, pink, and orange are for survivors of rape and sexual assault;
Blue and green t-shirts represent survivors of incest and sexual abuse;
Purple or lavender represents women attacked because of their sexual orientation;
Black is for women attacked for political reasons
"NO" means NO.
"Not Now" means NO.
"Maybe Later" means NO.
"I Have A Boy/Girlfriend" means NO.
"No Thanks" means NO.
"You're Not My Type" means NO.
"*#^+ Off!" means NO.
"I'd Rather Be Alone Right Now" means NO.
"Don't Touch Me" means NO.
"I Really Like You But ..." means NO.
"Let's Just Go To Sleep" means NO.
"I'm Not Sure" means NO.
"You've/I've Been Drinking" means NO.
SILENCE means NO.
"__________ " means NO.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, please don't wait. Help is out there for you. Someone really does care. Please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Normally, my blogs are about homeless issues. Not today's. It was a surreal moment when at one of the many California Missions we have encountered along the way, we came across a group of young men on bikes. Now I am not one to stop and ogle men, especially ones my sons ages. In their modest white with green lettering uniforms, I don't think these tall, muscular, handsome young men actually stood out to anyone but me, but something about these young men caught my eye.
As I got closer to one of them who was taking a sip from his water bottle, I noticed the message they were carrying. "R.O.M.P. Range of Motion Project. Riding from Oregon to Guatemala." At the same time I finished reading his shirt, he finished reading mine. "I am walking through all 50 states to end homelessness. What are YOU doing?"
I smiled and said "Are you really?"
He smiled and said "Are you really?"
"I am," I replied.
"I am," he said in return. We shook hands, gave each other a hug and wished each other well. That was it. The end of our conversation which took place close to a month ago.
As I near the border of Mexico, and the end of the first phase of this now 50 state stroll, for some reason these men are still on my mind. They have completed their ride and may very well be relaxing in their homes at this very moment. All I know is even though this is not about the homeless, my walk is more about "doing the right thing", therefore, today, I share their story.
Riding For ROMP 2010, is a 3,500 mile bicycle trek from Eugene, Oregon to Zacapa, Guatemala to raise both awareness and funds for amputee projects in Haiti and Guatemala. But nothing could tell the story of why they do this more than the following excerpt from their blog.
Wow! Riding for ROMP's kick off event from Skinner Butte Park, Eugene, Or last Saturday was a huge success. Pat and I felt so supported and loved. With 100 people in attendance, half joining us for all or part of day one's ride to Florence, the media, some of our sponsors and nice weather we couldn’t have asked for more.
Michelle Turkelson, a Springfield native, shared her story of loosing a leg, below the knee, after being involved in a motorcycle accident that shattered the tibia in her right leg. "She talked about how her prosthesis allowed her to return to an on-your-feet career, as well as to swimming, cycling and playing with her grandchildren. Accident victims in most other parts of the world are not so fortunate, she told the group."
After listening to Michelle share her story, I shared the story of Maribelle, one of ROMP's recent patients, who has overcome an incredible amount of difficulty in the last two years of her life.
"Maribelle was brutally attacked with a machete by her husband; leaving her with two less arms and two children with no father. She left her hometown in Honduras to find the nearest place to receive prosthetic care. She, like so many others, ended up at ROMP’s clinic in Zacapa, Guatemala, hundreds of miles away from her home, during a coup d’etat that was unfolding this past summer in Honduras. She spent a week at the clinic with her Grandmother. ROMP staffers worked endlessly to treat her and some 25 other patients in just that one week! By the end of the week, we had finally managed to design her a pair of prosthetic arms that allowed her to write us a letter. Even after seeing hundreds of other patients go through physical therapy, or walk for the first time in years, I have still to this day never been witness to anything as courageous and powerful. The human spirit that allowed her to travel under the cover of darkness, with two recently amputated arms, following a shred of hope that she would someday be able to comb her daughters’ hair, tie her shoes, or even bathe was embodied in that moment that she wrote us the letter. ROMP has since treated hundreds of others just like Maribelle. We ride for these individuals."
I may never encounter these young men again, but I think of them often and I'd like to think that we are both out for the great good of humanity. Although we may not physically see the growth of the seeds we have planted along the way, I think there is a small garden growing along our paths.
Please take time to watch their video and check out their website.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I once had a therapist who asked me why I didn’t commit suicide. She said, “After hearing your life story...well, I think most other people would have.”
All I could think of to say was, “Am I crazy because I didn’t?” You know what she says to me?
She says “No. You’re not crazy. You’re one of the most courageous women I know.”
“Not me,” I tell her. “I’m the biggest chicken shit in the world.”
You never saw it coming. You spend days wondering what you had done to deserve it. "It's my fault" you think. "If I hadn't burned the toast; if I had only finished the laundry before he came home; if I had have hung the towel back on the rack the right way." You can think all the 'If I's' you want to, but it won't change what he is.
You never know when it will happen again. You walk on eggshells trying to figure out what will you’ll do next to set him off. You try hard to be the Stepford wife. Perfect in every way; never giving him a reason to be angry. Then you wake up, and realize he doesn't need a reason. You can laugh the wrong way; sneeze the wrong way; yawn the wrong way. You can be sound asleep, and the way you breath can send him into a rage. And if he's in a mood, he'll strike out.
The moment you feel that first punch, with the same breath that is sucked out of you from the impact, your dignity leaves as you exhale, and you just know , this time he’s going to kill me. He doesn’t. You’ve had enough. You weigh the odds. Do you choose the violent and drug riddle streets of the big city, or living with a monster? You make the only choice you can.
Dignity is the first to go. Decorum is a thing of the past from the moment you squat in the woods, or pee in a cup. Your pride leaves when you stand in line for hours for a lukewarm bowl of soup or a day old doughnut that actually tastes like heaven for you haven’t eaten in days. Paranoia kicks in and in the wee hours of the morning, you cling to the backpack that contains all of your worldly possessions.
What do you next? Where do you go? If you are in Los Angeles, you go to the Downtown Women’s Center, where you will find a hug, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to lean on and shelter from the storm your life has become.
Rosa was one of the women who chose the streets of Los Angeles. You could find her pushing shopping carts down the streets of skid row. She’d put big cans of water out in the morning so they’d heat up during the day. She’d put up barriers so she could bathe with this heated water privately. She’d also cook on a makeshift stove and often you’d find her sharing her meager provisions with others who were as unfortunate as she.
The founder of the Downtown Women’s Center started to work with her, and found it a very profound experience. She realized there weren’t specific resources down here on skid row for women. She founded the Downtown Women’s Center with that purpose. The mission of the Downtown Women’s Center is to help women suffering from homelessness and extreme poverty.
Downtown Women’s Center is not a shelter. They offer supportive services, a day center and permanent supportive housing offer sanctuary to approximately 50 ladies. They feel solutions do exist to homelessness and it starts with them.
The women in the mural that surround the current Downtown Women’s Center, are the women who are living within its protective walls. Many of the women are elderly. Rosa, is now in her early nineties. You can find Rosa painted in the middle of the mural. She’s the one with all of the roses, and her beloved cat on her lap.
Many of the ladies who are living within the confines of the center may experience mental health issues, domestic violence issues, and extreme poverty. But they also see some much younger women who are there due to unemployment. The average stay is 7 years but some will stay at the center for a year or two as a stepping stone, and then move on elsewhere.
Of the Skid row homeless population, women make up about 35%. Do to the rising numbers in homeless women; the Downtown Women’s Center has outgrown their space. Their new location, due to open in December of this year, can be found on San Pedro and 5th, the heart of skid row. In their new digs, they will be able to provide about 100 units. They will also be opening the first full spectrum medical and mental health clinic designed especially for the women on skid row, focusing on preventative health care. Health Screenings, mammograms, mental health management, and medication management will be offered daily and they are working on getting the first mammogram machine on skid row.
The new building was purchased from the city of Los Angeles for $1, with the condition that they restore it to its 1920’s elegance. Five years in the making it will be a lead certified green building. The staff of the Downtown Women’s Center worked closely with the ASID American Society of Interior Designers, and put together 6 themes ranging from modern to traditional, Mediterranean to country. For most of these women this will be the home they live in for the rest of their lives and the Downtown Women’s Center wanted them to feel at home, therefore, each lady got to pick the theme they wanted. Each floor will have a common area as well as a roof top garden and a second floor garden.
Rosa is going to move. It’s going to be hard for her after 30 years in her cozy refuge. Each lady has been assigned a moving partner or mentor if you will. It started in February with a moving mentor working side by side as the current residents began the process of de-cluttering, packing, and of course dealing with anxiety issues. This is their new permanent home, but it is also a big transition for them.
As I toured the current facility, I was delighted to hear laughing; those deep from the belly kind of laughs that you know only come from feeling safe and secure in your environment. There is not a lot of shaded green space on skid row so in the back of this small community as you go through the open kitchen with the hearth and home feeling, I find the source of the peels of gaiety.
There, away from the violence their lives once were, we find a beautiful serene garden where the women can sit and relax, listen to the birds, the water and today have mani’s and pedi’s.
You will find more than a sense of community and support at the Downtown Women’s Center. Here, you will find a sense of home.
Today was a special day for many of the residents here. They were able to shout to the world that they will no longer be victims. Through the Clothesline Project women can express their emotions by decorating a shirt. They then hang the shirt on a clothesline to be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women.
Monday, August 2, 2010
I had been driving for about two hours, having no particular destination in mind. Just away was all I knew. Driving kept me connected to everything somehow. As long as I was driving I could ignore the fact that I had no real place to go.
The sun was beginning to rise and with it my hopes that my parents would finally relent and give us shelter. They couldn’t refuse to help me now could they? I stopped at a rest stop phone booth and made the collect call to my parents.
“I told you we would help you,” boomed my father’s voice after I confessed what I had done. “But you know the conditions.”
“I can’t leave my kids, dad. You know I can’t.” I began crying. My parents were my only hope, and they were telling me to throw away my heart.
“Then there’s nothing we can do for you. You made your bed when you married him. Now you have to lie in it. Grow up Linda Jean. You should never have been a mother. You’re not very good at it. Look at the shitty life you’ve given them already. You live no better than the bums in the streets. The best thing you can do for your kids is to let Rudy have them. You’re a McPherson, and that name is worth everything. Don’t muddy it any more than you already have.”
“My kids are worth everything, Dad.” I wondered if he had heard me. I assumed he did since I now stood there with the receiver still in my hand listening to a void of static in place of my father’s voice. I stared into this emptiness, not seeing or hearing anything around me, but having this all-consuming knowledge that at the tender age of 24 with two kids in tow, I was still alone.
What would I do now? What would happen if the money ran out before I could find a place to settle? Sell my body; Never. Sell my blood? Only drunks and outcasts did that. Sell my soul? Hadn’t I already? I was all there was in this world for my children, and somehow I had to be enough.
My husbands thoughts were usually centered on schemes to make money through ill-gotten gains, which to him was the easy way out. So, it had not been too difficult for me to con him into a divorce the previous year. If we were divorced, I could collect welfare. Easy money. Money he never let me see.
I did discover however, that when he was drunk, it was easy to slip money out of his wallet. He was constantly buying drinks for his friends, so he rarely knew how much he spent anyway. After months of sneaking a dollar or two here, five there, and on rare occasions a ten, I had pilfered three thousand dollars. Now that we were gone, it had to be enough.
In the fashion of bruises, sunglasses are a compulsory accessory. The ones I chose to wear this day were not only to hide the contusions, but to hide the shame as I walked into the store. I was now working on automatic pilot and everything that had been drummed into my head over the last five plus years was indecent, immoral and illegal. I knew that one more indiscretion would not make a bit of difference as to whether or not I would burn in hell.
Stealing was much easier than I thought it would be. Since I didn’t know where we were going or how long we’d be living in our car, I chose sleeping bags for warmth, and a camp stove to save on the cost of eating out every night. A tent seemed a necessity if we were to go camping; a large cooler to keep our food refrigerated; a first aid kit, for with two small very active children, I never knew when Band-Aids, or worse would be needed; a slew of travel games to occupy those very active children; an atlas to reach our destination, whatever that might be; a CB radio in order to hide from Rudy and soon the police; and last but not least, hair dye.
I took a deep breath and walked up to the cashier. I watched as she carefully entered each code into the register. When the grand total came, it matched my calculations exactly. I wrote the check, for the full balance, knowing it would not clear.
My transaction complete, I walked towards the exit with cart and children in tow. As I was leaving the store with my purchases I hesitated for a moment before passing through the threshold. I just knew that the silver haired lady who wore red tennis shoes and carried a cane was really an undercover security agent. I realized when I made it all the way to the car without a single incident, how foolish and paranoid I was being.
What I didn’t realize, was just how small a Vega really was until I tried to fill it with all of our newly acquired possessions, which filled the trunk and back seat. I crammed the last item into the car and had the kids share the front seat. We drove away, ready to begin our new lives together.
In my mind’s eye, I had envisioned spring flowers and sunshine while making the journey to our now chosen destination of California. Somewhere around Columbus Ohio, Mother Nature decided to have a good laugh. In the warmth of an International House of Pancakes the kids and I ate our first actual indulgence, which consisted of hot chocolate and pancakes for dinner. While dining, we watched as the twenty-three degree gray cloudy evening turned into a full snow storm.
I decided to get a room at the attached motel. My father, in all of his infinite wisdom, taught me how to drive in New York city in the middle of a snow storm, thinking that if I can drive under those conditions I could drive anywhere. I was not at the time however driving with two very frightened children in the front seat. The idea behind my leaving was to keep them safe. How could I do any less now?
We drug in our suitcase and some games and spent a wonderful afternoon playing Parcheesi, Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land. After our dessert of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, washed down with tap water, I tucked the children into the single full sized bed and kissed them goodnight as I had done every night of their lives. I went into the bath and looking at the bathtub longingly, I opted for the shower anyway. I really wasn't sure if I would ever again be able to take a bath after my last experience in one.
There is something soothing about an evening shower. It’s not something one can really describe other than the passage of being able to wash away the days cares with the stream of hot water, and for the first time in years I was able to linger within that passage and enjoy the soothing comfort of the cleansing waters. As I stepped out into the fog of steam I knew from this moment on our lives would be different.
It had been years since I had slept soundly and every little noise seemed to bother me. I heard a loud noise outside my window, and when I woke with a start a bit disoriented, forgotten momentarily where I was and that I was safe. Nothing could hurt me or the children now.
Not being able to go back to sleep, I rose, dressed and allowing the kids sleep a bit longer, I slipped out of the room for some fresh air and coffee. This trip was rough on them, I knew, and as much as they feared their father, they missed him as well.
I inched my way down the icy stairs, taking care not to slip. It wasn't until I had reached the last step that I noticed the small crowd in the parking lot. It was then I realized what had actually woke me up. As I parted the onlookers, I knew my bad luck was still ongoing.
“I tried to stop,” cried an absolutely horrified old woman.
“We know you did doll,” comforted a waitress. “We saw it all.”
“I hit a patch of ice. The car just kept on sliding.”
The waitress looked up and seeing the look on my face as I stared at the carnage that was once Vega, deduced that it belonged to me. “It really was an accident. We all saw it,” she stated in the old woman’s defense.
As a solitary tear escaped from beneath my closed lids, I took a deep breath and nodded. I turned to the woman and gently touched her arm. “Don’t worry. Accidents happen.”
The waitress patted my hand and then led the old woman into the warmth of the restaurant while I remained outside coatless, shivering and disheartened. What was I going to do now? I couldn’t afford to wait while the repairs were made, if they could be made at all. I needed to get back on the road this morning.
“I’ll buy it from you.”
When I looked up I couldn’t help but chuckle. I didn’t know if it was due to shock or to the fact that staring at the wreck, was a middle aged balding man, trying unsuccessfully to hide his bald spot, by wearing the four or five strands of hair that he did have parted on the side and over the top of his head.
“I’ll buy it from you,” the stranger repeated.
“I’m sorry?” I wasn't grasping what he was saying.
“You’re obviously headed somewhere and this will just hold you up. I’ll give you one hundred dollars and take it off your hands.”
I didn’t know if I had spoken out loud before or if my thoughts were that well read on my face, but it was an answer to what I was going to do. I calculated as quickly as my addled brain could go and thought at the cost of a truck rental for the five days I assumed it would take me to get to California I would need ninety dollars. I wasn’t touching the three thousand.
“How about one hundred and fifty?” He opened his wallet and took out a significant amount of bills.
“Two hundred,” I heard myself saying.
He thought momentarily and gave me the amount asked for. I knew when he parted so easily with it that he’d probably still make a profit from it even as is or he would not have agreed so heartily. My loss, his gain. Either way, I had to get back on the road.
My kids and I were waiting at the truck rental store before they officially opened. Within minutes I was signing a contract for the smallest truck available. Together the clerk and I walked out to the truck for the customary inspection. He went over all of the details necessary for me to know in order to drive the truck properly. In only an hour’s time, we were back on the road once more headed towards our new home.
Saturday, July 31, 2010
In the wee hours of the morning, I sit here in the local Mickey D's, a homeless man walks in and begins to eat the dregs of another’s' breakfast, directly out of the trash. Two other homeless men are waiting to use the single lavatory. Three more are sitting outside hoping for a crumb or two to be sent their way.
A far cry from the Weingart Center just a few blocks away. If you choose to walk through the doors of the Weingart Center, you are choosing a future. A future without rummaging through trash; A future without despair; A future where you no longer have to beg for crumbs of humanity. Dignity, respect and esteem are offered freely from the moment you enter the sanctity of the Weingart Center.
The Weingart Center is at the epicenter of skid row. They are at ground zero, the heart of city where more than 48,000 homeless people can be found wandering the streets on any given night. They are also the heart of firsts.
The Weingart Center Association transforms lives by providing high-quality human services to homeless men and women, giving them hope and an opportunity to lead productive lives off the streets. The Weingart Center is a pioneering force in developing programs and innovative solutions to help break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. The Weingart Center helps individuals address the daily personal challenges they face by giving them the basic skills necessary to stabilize their lives, secure income and find permanent housing. Located in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, the Weingart Center is one of the largest human and social service agencies serving the homeless population on the west coast.
Beginning with the big man on campus, CEO Gregory Scott, who is no stranger to poverty himself, “It starts with me" is their motto that is lived up to in every respect. Staff members set the example by voluntarily giving back financially to the organization, with 'more' in mind. By giving back, they become an integral part of feeding more people, housing more people, employing more people, and offering more services to the people.
The staff at the Weingart Center do not see you as indigent, or as a drug addict, or alcoholic. They do not see African American, Caucasian, Latino, and Asian. They do not see Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist. They see a man. They see a woman. They see a person. They see a whole person and as such, they determine what can be done to treat the whole person. They get to the heart of the matter starting with one on one case management, and continuing to work with you towards a life you deserve.
The levels of services offered are very advanced. Once an 11 story hotel, the rooms have been converted into mostly private residences, rooms one can call his or her own. Meals are served at the Weingart Cafe where Weingart Center residents partake of delicious healthy breakfasts and dinners and are offered a bag lunch to go.
• Detox/Substance abuse treatment
• Permanent supportive housing
• Short term housing
• Workforce development and education
• Employment assistance
• Vocational training
• Medical and mental health care
• HIV and AIDS programs
Non-resident homeless are able to reap the benefits of the Weingart Center assistance as well. Here are just a few of the many service offered:
• Information and referral services
• Bus tokens for transportation to and from appointments
• HIV and STD testing
• Mail Services
• Community voice mail
The Weingart Center also partnered with the JWCH Institute and the LA County Department of Health Services, to put forward a model of comprehensive health care. The state of the art 22,000 square foot building, offers a team of professional doctors, psychiatrists, chemical behavior specialists, and pharmacy services as well as dental care, optometry, and a full laboratory. They are proud to offer a health care similar to private insurance. Every patient that walks through the door has one doctor assigned to him or her. They don’t walk in and see a different doctor each time they come. They walk in and see their doctor.
Through a partnership with AmeriCorps, formerly homeless men and women can provide the homeless of skid row specialized services such as clinical information, program and services referrals and the distribution of hygiene kits.
We had the dubious honor of being invited to stay the night at the Weingart Center. I was pleasantly surprised at the camaraderie within this towering refuge. I cannot say what I was expecting, but what I experienced knocked my socks off. The staff was warm, and friendly, and treated everyone with the same respect, and dignity with which they treated us.
We had our own rooms as do most of the residents here. They are small but when you come from the streets, a room to yourself feels like the presidential suite. The showers were spacious, bathrooms freshly cleaned, and floors sparkled with the reflecting lights above. There was even a recuperative care, hospital like division complete with attending medical specialists.
Services offered by the Weingart Center are too numerous to mention all of them, but I will leave you with this, this may be skid row, in the heart of Los Angeles, but the Weingart Center has certainly left their mark on the men and women who reside there, the city of Los Angeles, and on this Oregonian journalists heart.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
"I am the conscience of all those who knew something - but did nothing." - Oskar Schindler
I learned early on in our marriage to not argue with my husband. He made quite sure I understood he was never wrong. I was his punching bag, his doormat upon which he often wiped his feet, his captive, if you will. I rarely argued, out of fear. I rarely stood up for myself, out of fear. More often than not, I found myself cowering at the sound of footsteps, wondering whether or not it would be my last day on earth. I became this docile, subservient, governable, chattel, walking on eggshells every waking moment of every miserable day.
The rare occasion, on which I did stand up for what I believed, usually resulted in some act of violence against my person. Our five year-three-month, and thirteen-day marriage resulted in broken bones, missing teeth, cigarette burns, sexual assaults, and the annihilation of Candy, my nickname since junior high school, for there was nothing sweet about me anymore.
February, 1979. It was almost 1:00 in the morning. The kids were asleep, but I hadn’t been sleeping well at all. I couldn’t seem to turn off my brain. Paranoia was taking over. My husband would find out I was leaving him, and the thought of what he would do terrified me.
After lying awake for more than an hour I decided to take a bath. The hot, scented water would be calming and perhaps help me sleep. As usual, I avoided the mirrors, feeling my bruised reflection was a brutal reminder of the violence that my life was. The remnant of the cigarette burn on my right breast, didn’t need a mirror to be seen.
I slipped into the soothing comfort of the water, sunk down low in the claw foot tub and closed my eyes. I dreamt of happier, bright sunny days by the ocean. Val, Nicky and I were running, laughing and free. My kids would no longer have nightmares of the monsters in the house, for our monster would be thousands of miles away.
I struggled against the force of the hand pushing me below the surface of the water. I thrashed about wildly, taking in water as I tried to scream. This was it. I was going to die. My kids would be at the mercy of this tyrant.
I don’t know if it was survival instinct or the protective mother instinct, but the strength came from somewhere. I pushed with all of my might and my tormentor lost his balance. In one move, I rose from the water and hurled myself from the tub, knocking him off his feet, causing him to bump his head on the freestanding radiator. He rose with an aggression that only bloodshed would soothe.
I had long ago chosen to wear my hair short. It was less for him to grab. It didn’t matter this night. Before I caught my breath, he seized a handful of hair and dragged me naked from the warmth of the bathroom. The house was chilled and there was a breeze not normally felt in the hallway he was dragging me through.
Humiliation is a powerful weapon. If used enough, even the strongest of people can succumb to its dispensation, and I knew, as I was unceremoniously thrust through the open front door, that I had admitted defeat for the last time.
The bitterness of the snow-covered February morning hit me with a force that belies any meaning. I shivered uncontrollably. I tried to push my way back into the house. Rudy not only blocked my way, but shouted to my neighbors what was being done, as if demanding them to bear witness to whatever my indiscretion had been, and daring them to stop him.
“Look at her,” he shouted. “Look at this cheatin’, lyin’ bitch I married.” Lights went on. Curtains parted. “She’s a whore. She’s a freakin' whore.”
He hit me then, for what would be the last time. Clutching my cheek, I stumbled backwards from the blow. He used that moment to close and lock the door, becoming a barrier between my children and me. I kicked at the door, pounding with every ounce of strength I had in me. It didn’t budge. I turned, and saw the last of the neighbors closing their curtains and shutting off the lights. I would receive no help from them. I was alone.
With the outside temperature being less than twenty degrees, the drops of bathwater remaining on my exposed flesh, began turning to ice. Every hair on my body stood erect in defiance of the cold, as a cat’s does in the throes of a battle. I tried once more in vain to open the door.
“Get a grip, Linda Jean. Get a grip.” I spoke out loud to myself as I rubbed my hands over my face and took a deep breath. As I did so, I took back the control that had been pilfered from me. I looked around and not seeing anything to cover myself with, made my way to the cellar. I hoped there would be something in the basement to keep me from hypothermia.
Reaching my destination, I discovered the door slightly ajar which meant no reprieve from the cold just yet. It smelled musty, this crypt of the past. I hoped it would not be my final resting place as well.
I found the string to the solitary overhead light bulb hanging from the ceiling and pulled it, illuminating the shadows and cobwebs that hopefully held for me a shroud of warmth. After tearing open the lids to many of the boxes, I was disheartened to find mostly papers. It wasn't until I had gone through the last of the cartons that I noticed the old tarp left behind by the painter the previous summer. I did not care that it was covered in feces of local rodents; I only cared that it would offer me a tiny respite from the cold.
Wrapped in this cloak of many colors, I made my way to the access of a clandestine passageway I had discovered when we first moved into this house. The passageway that would not only bring me back to my children, but if luck was with me, bring us to our freedom as well. As quietly as I could, I moved the drawers of the wardrobe, which was the hidden entrance to our apartment. I climbed through the opening and feeling like a cat burglar, I slyly made my way back to the main part of the house.
It was there I discovered the front door not locked, but barricaded by the comatose form of my husband, lying in his own urine. I stared at him for a moment, wondering if I had the courage. There was no doubt in my mind.
I knew every minute counted as I dressed quietly, not bothering to clean the dust and feces from my body. I went back to the wardrobe and reaching up into its bowels, removed the hidden firearm. With silent, purposeful steps, I moved towards the heap that was once something I dared to love. I stood over him for one moment longer, greedy with power, knowing that in less time it took to draw a breath, my nightmare would be over.
The cocking of the firing pin was so loud I wondered for an instant had I inadvertently pulled the trigger. I held the gun to his head. Just as I was about to pull the trigger a noise from behind startled me. I spun around, aiming at the predator.
There before me, stood my six-year-old daughter, rubbing her eyes from disbelief as much as sleep. With my knees turning to gel, I dropped the gun, and gathered her in my arms. I thanked a God in which I did not believe, that in my haste, I had forgotten to load the gun.
I heard it then. A deep guttural sound like a wounded animal coming from within the depths of my soul. There would have been no comfort, no solace that could be offered had I killed what I treasured most. The only taste of consolation came from the gently whispered words, “Its okay, Mommy. Don’t be scared, I’m here.”
I opted to not look back as I drove away with my children sheltered in the back seat of the Vega. What was left behind was now the past. What lay ahead was our future, and good bad or indifferent; it had to be better than the life we led here