By now, everyone who has read my blog knows that I ended up living in the streets because of domestic violence. When I was married there were no laws to protect battered women. The laws didn't change until 1984. There were no shelters to be safe in, no agencies that advocate on your behalf. Seems pretty sad to me that we have come so far as a nation but yet these laws were only passed just over a quarter of a century ago.
What I have discovered on this trip however is that it doesn't matter how many laws are passed to protect women, they still get battered. Restraining orders are often worth nothing more than the piece of paper they are written on.
I have talked about what it's like to be in the streets or what it's like to sleep in the front seat of a car or even how it feels to sleep in the same room with a hundred other men or women. What I haven't talked about yet is what it's like to go from hopeless to home.
In 1984, when I finally transitioned into a small, and I do mean small apartment in San Jose, California, it actually took months for me to be able to sleep in a bed. I got so used to sleeping on the ground or on a church pew or when I was lucky in the front seat of a car that being in a bed was actually overwhelming. I still ate things you didn't have to cook because that was simpler.
The biggest transition was people. You get used to being by yourself; doing everything alone and sometimes even talking to yourself for you are your only companion. Different degrees of paranoia set in and when you transition back into society, it takes a lot for you to even say hello. You get so used to looking over your shoulder that trust is no longer an option.
You move into a home and suddenly you have people in your life that just a few short days ago did not know you existed. Do you trust them? You are friendly to them but you don't trust them, so the wall goes up. They may not see it, but it's there like this invisible force field that no one can penetrate.
I sleep with my doors unlocked. Always. Windows are open. Always. I know it frightens many of my friends that I do this. Knowing the reason behind it doesn't make them any less uneasy for my safety. For me, and many of the women I have met over the years who do the same thing, it is actually a safety mechanism. If he starts hitting, I can't always get out if the doors are locked. It takes a few seconds, sometimes more to open a locked door and at times that extra second can make a difference between safety and a broken jaw.
The most difficult transition however is a combination of street and domestic violence gut reaction. You either don't trust men at all or you are so desperate for love, for human touch, that you trust them too much.
I met Patrick, my traveling companion, 11 months after I got out of the street. It took me close to 10 of our 25 year friendship to trust him. Patrick has always said when it comes to me, "You either help or get out of her way." Sadly, right this very moment it's often get out of my way. I am discovering on this trip that in some respects I still don't trust him. We have talked about this and although he understands, I think it still hurts him.
I didn't know how much of an issue men still were until this trip began. Let's get real here. Although I am a very strong women in so many respects, when it comes to relationships, not so much, especially with men. I know, that I know, that I know he would never hurt me. He loves me and yet, I want to be with anyone else, anywhere else, but here with him. He graciously gives me the space I need which in this van is hard to do, but he finds a way.
We are in California. An area where I spent more than half of my homeless days. An area where at different times in those 3 years, I was shot at, stabbed, raped, and beaten and left in the road for dead. I am frightened to be here in this state and I am not even in the area that these events happened. It is because of those events of my past that today I cannot sleep near Patrick without hating what he represents to me. I am frightened to be so close day in and day out with this man I have known and been friends with for years.
With so much violence in our world today, rape seems to have so little meaning. I hate the word. It seems to be used so casually. Most people think it's about sex, but they are wrong. It's about control, shame, violence and terror. It is because of the many homeless women who choose the streets because of those violent acts, that I choose now, today, this moment to share this part of my story.
I wrote this letter about 20 years ago and I don't think of it often, but every once in a while I do. Today I am.
I write this letter to you so that you will remember me always because I think of you every day of my life.
I could go into all the gory details of what happened but I won't because you were there so you already know what you did to me. You used sex as a violent weapon when sex was meant as an act of love.
Words cannot begin to express to you the pain, the degradation and humility I felt while you were raping me. You were turned on by it. I wanted to die. You denied me any rights as a person. By the time all of you were through with me, I was a very different person than I had been a few hours earlier.
I had always been one to trust people and you took that away from me too. Each of you who took a turn at violating my body, violated every aspect of my life. You turned my world inside out in less time than it takes to take a bath.
The permanent damage you did was not to my body but to my mind, to my life. You didn't just savage a woman's body. You savaged a whole person and everyone I am close to. You took away my dignity; you took away my freedom of choice; you took away my soul and left in its place a shattered scrap of relationships and feelings that came before you and have come since.
The people who knew me and loved me no longer know who I am. My friends, who knew of what you did cannot look me in the eye. When they do sneak a quick look, it's one of pity. My parents have never been able to accept what happened. They refuse to talk about it.
I have three children. Because of you, they have never known the freedom of confidence because I have none. They have all grown up cynical and unable to trust because I have passed on to them what you forced upon me. You deprived them of the carefree happy childhood they deserved.
How long will I be a person who is withdrawn, distrustful and always stays in safe places, even now? I loved once. Before you, I could express that freely. You have stifled that.
For years I have not been able to have a sexual relationship. I may never have one again because with the mere act of being naked, every moment of that brutality is brought back. I cannot look in the mirror without shame. Every time I shower I am reminded when I would scrub my flesh until I drew blood and even then I could still feel your slime on me. I can still smell the foul odors of your bodily fluids. You haunt my dreams at night. I cannot get rid of you.
I could tell you about the fact that you will never be punished for what you did, but you already know that too. If there had been a trial, you would have had time to prepare and defend yourself. I wasn't given that opportunity. I have been through a lot of pain in my life, but nothing, none of my experiences prepared me to deal with how you violated me.
I am sure you are just aching to know how I am doing after all these years. I'm not doing well but then again I don't expect to do really well ever again. My life is going on but thanks to you it will never be the same again.
I share these thoughts publicly not for sympathy, because I fully accept what happened to me and know that the events of my past are what have prepared me for my life's calling. I share them knowing full well, there may be even one woman out there who needs to hear that they are not alone and there is hope.
These words may not reflect that, and you may not yet feel it, but believe me, there is a God out there watching over you and his name is called love.